The Scar Project

A sermon preached today in the Chapel of The Presbyterian College.

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Nadia Myre is an Algonquin and Quebecois artist originally from Maniwaki who now lives and works here in Montreal. She’s not well known across the country, but her work is significant enough that she has a solo show at the Musée des beaux-arts here in Montreal right now. That exhibit explores the encounter between the Indigenous peoples and western, colonial cultures – an encounter she actually embodies in her own person.

Nadia Myre is perhaps best known for what she called “The Scar Project.” It was 8-year undertaking that ran from 2005 to 2013. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Myre’s own work. Rather, the scar project was a communal work – a work created by many people over those eight years.

13-Nadia-Myre-Scar-ProjectOver those years, the artist invited participants to sew their scars – physical scars, emotional scars, or psychological scars – to sew their scars into a 10-inch by 10-inch canvas. Each participant, each person, was given their own framed canvas, into which they could sew representations of the pain of their lives, the scars of their bodies and souls. Each participant was also invited to write a narrative, short or long, to accompany their canvas. Myre brought this project to schools, to seniors residences, to museums, and to galleries – and over the eight-year period, a total of 1,400 canvases were completed. She then exhibited them in a variety of contexts and a variety of ways. Myre created both a video installation and a book that brought together the images with the stories. Let me give just two examples of the anonymous narratives shared as part of the project: Continue reading

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Safe Sex?

I came across a quote about safe sex, today, from Wendell Berry, and was reminded of this article I wrote for the National Post about 14 years ago. I might change the tone and style slightly today, but the basic argument is one that I think is worth repeating. 

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Sex-education and school children can be a volatile mix when parents believe the curriculum offers more detail than their children need to know. This perennial debate arose lately in New Brunswick, where parents have vowed to fight for changes to a new sex-education program they consider too explicit. In Marysville and Woodstock, concerned parents have gathered in recent weeks to ask whether their middle-school children need to know the details of erection, vaginal secretion, ejaculation and masturbation.

The new program, based in part on a University of New Brunswick study of parental attitudes toward sex education, introduces abstinence alongside such issues as sexually transmitted disease, masturbation, birth-control methods, teen pregnancy and the nature of a healthy relationship. That isn’t good enough, however, for those parents who want their children’s understanding of their sexuality to be governed by the conviction that abstinence is the best choice, the right choice—dare we say, the only choice—for their sexual health.

Beyond the explicit nature of the New Brunswick’s Human Growth and Development curriculum, there is also a concern that it gives abstinence short-shrift. While abstinence certainly isn’t ignored, a number of parents in New Brunswick want to see advocacy for it given a place of prominence in the curriculum. Continue reading

Bodies in a Digital World

My latest in the Christian Courier, also found here.

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Who would have predicted that the vinyl LP would make such a comeback? But here we are. In 2018 you can get the latest musical release in 12-inch vinyl format, whether Ed Sheeran’s Divide or Kari Jobe’s The Garden. In our digital world, where a thousand songs can be stored on your phone, the cumbersome and bulky LP (long play) record is available again.

There are, of course, important differences between these two musical mediums. When we listen to music on an iPhone or MP3 player, the music has been stored in digital format – parts of the original musical sound waves have been captured or sampled and then converted to a series of numbers for software to interpret. On the other hand, when we listen to a vinyl record, the music has been recorded and stored in analog format. This means that the recording is shaped by the full sound waves originally produced by voices and instruments.

I would be out of my depths if I tried to say much more about analog and digital recording. I’m not even sure I can tell the difference when it comes to the quality of sound – and as you can imagine there’s an animated debate on that question in the world of musical connoisseurs! And to this whole conversation we must add the complicating factor that many of today’s vinyl albums are based on digital recordings – that is, many newer LPs don’t offer a fully analog listening experience. Continue reading

Fashioning our Self

My latest in the Christian Courier, here.

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A good number of Canadians are sporting new outfits these January days. We are wearing our Christmas gifts – or, perhaps more likely, we are newly-attired from our own post-Christmas bargain shopping. There are a good many of us who got into a new pair of jeans this morning, or put on a crisp new shirt. A cool new knitted hat to top it off?

At one level this exercise of putting on new clothes is innocent enough. It is, after all, a very common experience. But if we were to turn a critical eye toward this practice, our first thought might be that we have bowed to the god of consumerism. We simply do not need these new things, there was nothing wrong with the old, and our financial resources could have been more wisely spent.

This is an entirely reasonable critique of the compulsion to shop in our culture. But perhaps it is worth attending to another dimension of that experience of putting on a new outfit; of checking ourselves out in the mirror. Specifically, we should pay attention to the fact that putting on new clothing is a practice by which we establish our Self. The capital “S” is intended, since its our identity we are talking about. Continue reading

Advent Psalm (126)

Advent Psalm (126)

Weary and sleepless,
caught off guard by
racing pulse, panic, vertigo;
rare reprieve to breathe,
palpable lostness.

Heading for home,
down old Highway 6 through tears,
Aberfoyle, Puslinch, Clappison’s Corners,
steering south on automatic pilot,
college kid’s stick-shift Jetta.

Over Skyway Bridge,
past belching steelwork ugliness,
along escarpment’s familiar lines;
angled off-ramp deceleration
toward welcoming place. Continue reading

Judgment and Grace of Strangers

My Christmas column in the Christian Courier.

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It is one thing to be rebuked for something you’ve done. It is quite another to be rebuked by a complete stranger.

I was in line for a coffee at Second Cup in downtown Montreal – and was checking my phone as I came to the counter. I started to order a small, dark roast, but the guy at the cash paused for a moment, waited to get my full attention, and then said: “I wish we could go back to the days before those phones, when we could have some human contact.” Oof. The feeling of embarrassment and shame was immediate for me. What was I thinking!?

And just to be clear, this wasn’t some cranky baby boomer objecting to smart phone reality in general (we tend, mistakenly, to associate grumpiness with the older set). No, this was a twenty-something guy who was tired of serving coffee to people who wouldn’t even look at him. Continue reading

Northern Advent (poem)

Northern Advent

Scattered desiccated leaves cling to branches
against autumn’s churning winds,
resisting deciduous barrenness,
new coloured prominence of
Red Pine, Juniper, Hemlock.

Feathered, long-distant migrants
soar, flit, and fly from greyed terrain
for southern home and habitat;
wintering chickadees cache seeds
in creviced bark for hunger’s moment.

Poet’s romantic autumnal landscape
lost on those sleeping rough tonight,
rougher for indifferent wind, sleet,
and world.

Wax and wick, strike of match,
white phosphorous flare and flame, Continue reading

Face to Face in Quebec

My latest in the Christian Courier, found here.
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Quebec has been in the news again over recent weeks. And again it is in relation to questions of religious tolerance and religious accommodation. In this latest round of political and cultural controversy we are in the news because the government of Quebec has passed legislation that prevents those with covered faces from receiving government services.

Arguments against this legislation have been widely rehearsed over past weeks, and most opposition to the law is well founded. The Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallé tried to argue, for example, that the law applies to anyone with a covered face, including masked protestors – as if the government is addressing a question of public security. But it is more than obvious that the government is targeting niqab-wearing, Muslim women.

It has also been pointed out, rightly, that Muslim women who wear the niqab are very few in Quebec – and, that this marginalized group will only be further marginalized by a law that cuts them off from public services. If there is a question about the wearing of the niqab in Quebec, presumably there were constructive ways to approach this as a social question, other than with the full weight of the law. Conversations with women who wear the niqab might have been a good place to start.

Face to Face in QuebecAll of this is to say that I am in very real sympathy with those who object to this law. I think it should be retracted. But having said that, I also want to suggest there may be two important intuitions beneath the surface of this legislation – intuitions worth attending to. Continue reading

Daycare Debate (reprised)

A piece I wrote 14 years ago this month, published in the Montreal Gazette.  Time has flown, but the cultural issues are much the same.

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A child’s first birthday is a wonderful event in the life of a family – filled with balloons, cake and party hats.  For many parents, however, the joy of first-birthday celebrations is tempered by the realization that mom’s year of federally-subsidized maternity leave is coming to an end.  Going back to work means finding someone else to take care of a child.  And as my wife and I recently discovered, a year of advanced notice doesn’t make it any easier to work through this time of transition.

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They are all angels while sleeping.

As a part-time pastor and full-time graduate student, caring for our little one didn’t seem to be in the cards for me – time was in short supply.  And my wife was returning to full-time work as a nurse.  Her twelve-hour shifts, seven days out of fourteen, meant that we needed someone to care for our daughter two or three days a week.

Thus it was that we turned to daycare, that near-universal institution, to solve our dilemma.  It wasn’t easy to find a daycare that would accept a child for only two or three days each week (five-dollar-a-day daycare seems only to be available to those who part with their children five days a week), but we eventually found a non-subsidized daycare space we thought would be good for our daughter.

The first week of September our daycare ordeal began – and it was an ordeal.  Day one was no problem – our daughter found everything new and interesting at the daycare.  Day two wasn’t so pleasant – this time she knew that mom and dad were leaving her behind and she clearly expressed her displeasure.  Days three through four left us guilt-ridden and in tears – our little one was equally teary-eyed on each morning’s hand-off, and again at pick-up. Continue reading