Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Liturgy and Honesty

We went to church on Sunday for the first time in a very very long time; to an Anglican church with a socially-relevant and historically-grounded sermon and worship that as a mix of Coldplay and the Common Book of Prayers. I have never been a big fan of liturgy – I find that the words can easily be rattled off without sincerity or thought, and that when I do stop to think about what I am mumbling with the rest of the congregation, I am often unable to actually proclaim the words with the heart-felt conviction that I feel like a communal profession deserves.

But, while I still stayed silent for parts of the recitation of the Creed on Sunday, I had a realization: there may be space for people like me (that’d be people who call themselves Christian, but don’t profess many of the tenets that other Christians deem “fundamental”) in the liturgical practices of a Church like the Anglican Church. You see, when a more evangelical church says the Apostle’s Creed, or includes it in their sources of doctrine, I generally assume that they are interpreting it literally – that this is the starting point for their theological framework. And, in this context, standing up and saying it along with the group when I don’t believe everything it says “we believe” feels false and uncomfortable.

But in a church that is based on liturgy, it feels like the intention of the community in saying those words changes: the Creed becomes a placemarker in the tradition that the church comes from. Saying it is as much about situating the congregation in a historical and global community, rather than as a literal affirmation of everything it says. And I feel like there might be some room for me to be there, honestly; that I can read it as metaphor and history and poetry, and it’s ok if I don’t read it as fact. I don’t think I’ll ever escape from the feeling of impersonality that comes from a heavily liturgical service; and maybe I am reading into this completely wrong, and the Anglicans read the Creed because they each individually are professing the belief it espouses, but I think that in some ways, a more “traditional” service structure may actually open up more freedom to participate honestly while staying true to what I believe.

Monday, October 17, 2011

in which the author descends into a completely post-modern world-view...

I recently finished reading A Strange Stirring by Stephanie Coontz, a book which is essentially a “biography” of The Feminine Mystique, the seminal book on housewife dissatisfaction that came out in the 1960s. It was a fascinating read, but what really captured me the most is how so much of what is considered the “traditional” North American family, and what many people (a large number of whom share the same faith tradition as me …) are fighting to preserve, is really quite a recent phenomenon. In fact, Coontz suggests that it’s normal for societies to go through waves of conservatism after times of upheaval – in other words, what’s exceptional about the post-war suburban nuclear family dream is that it lasted for so long. I was struck by the same theme when we read Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God last winter – this time with regard to theology and Biblical interpretation. Armstrong also highlighted how what is often termed “traditional” is actually relatively recent tradition, and we can quite easily look through history to the time before that tradition took root. Which has got me thinking about the importance of knowing our history: it’s so easy to assume that the bounds of one’s own experience encompass the world as it is, because we all live in our own point of view, but stepping out of your own (historical or cultural) place can quickly reveal that there’s a whole world of points of view out there, and you only live in one of them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

where i was when ...

Having just been called out for claiming, 3 months ago, that I was going to fill the handbasket with goodies once more, and then sitting back and doing nothing but reading other peoples' blogs in the intervening time, I am really and truly back. A very hot summer has come and gone, in which I saw my triumphant return to the stage (Question Period the Musical at the Ottawa Fringe), spent a full week at the cottage truly doing nothing except for reading, swimming and hanging out with family, and had an amazing two-week trip to California with PJ. And now, it's the fall which, after years of programming, is still "back to school" time in my mind, even though it's been 5 years now since I actually WENT back to school after Labour Day.

The year between my undergrad and law school was the first fall that I didn't go back to school. It was also September 2001. As yesterday was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I've been thinking about where I was. I was at a farm belonging to family friends. The daughters of the family were also done their degrees and between travel and work, so we hung around a fair amount that fall while we were all back in the homeland. They had 5 or so Scottish lads visiting - these guys had been in New York the week before, and were spending some time experiencing the famous hospitality at the farm. I'd stayed over after a dinner party the night before, crashing on the couch. So, I watched the second tower fall live on TV with some of my oldest friends, and a group of guys who I'd known for a few days.

After sitting in stunned silence for a few hours, and after the guys had all managed to call home to a) reassured their parents that it was last week that they were in NY, and that they were safe in rural Canada; and b) be reassured that family members who worked in European capitals were ok, we went to the lake and went canoeing and swimming. It was warm and quiet, the motor-boaters and week-long vacationers having left with the close of the Labour Day weekend. And we felt like we shouldn't be getting on with life, enjoying ourselves, when we were pretty sure that the world had just changed. But we also knew that you can't not get on with your life. And so, when I remember that day, I have sympathy for the young New Yorkers who were photographed sitting in the sun as the towers burned in the background, and have been accused of being callous for looking normal while they sat and processed what had happened. Because we, who were more removed from the tragedy, drove away from the TV altogether down a country road and out onto the lake, even though we didn't yet know all that had happened, but knew the world had changed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Zombie Blog Returns from the Dead

I thought this blog was dead. I told people who asked if I was still blogging that I had slipped out of it. That I had found myself thinking about issues, but not in a way that leant itself to blogging. Or I was only thinking about issues tied up in my work, which I am less comfortable blogging about. Or that I wasn’t thinking about issues at all. Whichever way, Hell in a Handbasket was dead. If I blogged again, it would be something different, something in a new home. That I would move to wordpress and reinvent myself as a food blogger, or something. But recently, I’ve felt the blogginess coming back. The rants and explorations that have made Hell in a Handbasket seem to be percolating once again. So, what the Hell – I just might resurrect this zombie blog, and see if it can say anything coherent without eating my brains.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lakeshore - the Cultural Mosaic gets Trashed ...

I, not having cable, have never seen Jersey Shores. But I HAVE seen the promo for the Canadian rip-off, Lakeshore, which is coming soon to some channel near you that will, thankfully, not be beaming in through my bunny ears. This promotional video is so mired in reality television tropes, that I seriously thought it was a satire when I first saw it on a friend’s facebook feed (he was so appalled that he didn’t want to confirm it was real, and didn’t want to check up on whether it had been mentioned in the news so he could remain in his belief that it was a joke …. But of course he shared it with the rest of us …). We have the under-dressed 20-somethings who all describe themselves as “fun”, “sexy”, “crazy”, or some combination thereof. It appears they do things like drink a lot and show off their chests. They maybe live in the same house, but there doesn’t appear to be any kind of contest inherent in the show. What is fascinating is that the producers have decided to cast all first- or second-generation Canadians, who are identified by their ethnic origin: “the Armenian;” “the Vietnamese” etc. There is nary a WASP in sight. On the one hand, it’s an interesting concept – a recognition of the cultural mosaic that is Toronto, which is a good thing. But, ah, then you have “the Turk” saying “I’m not racist. I hate everyone equally. Especially Jewish people,” and I’m pretty sure that this stereotypical parody of a reality show is going to keep its cultural diversity message at the level of stereotypical parody of the stars’ native cultures …. I sure hope that fine minds at Racialicious get a whiff of this – I’d love to see some good analysis from someone more qualified than myself (and, uh, with cable …).

Too Smart for Everyday Life

As a child, I benefitted from our board of education’s “enrichment” program. I got to leave class to do fun activities once a week, and spend a day with kids from all over the county once a month. We did science projects and word puzzles. I remember visiting the weather station in Wiarton once. We made friends and had crushes on all the “exotic” kids who were from some small town other than the one in which we’d grown up. But I spent most of my time in my own class with the kids who lived on my block, who were in my Sunday School class, who were born down the hall from me at the same hospital.

And I am very grateful that I had the opportunities I did through Trail (as our program was called). But I am also very grateful that I did spend most of my time in my “normal” class. I think that growing up with people with different interests and abilities is important. As I’ve continued my education, my direct circle of friends and acquaintances has become more and more educationally (and socio-economically) homogenous. What would I have gained if that streaming had started when I was 8?

All of this is one of the many reasons why I was so annoyed with the following paragraph in a Globe and Mail article about “gifted” programs for children: “Calgary parent Ralamy Kneeshaw didn’t want to wait until Grade 4, so she worked to get her son enrolled at Westmount in Grade 3. “They don’t become gifted at Grade 4,” she says. Her son was enjoying some extra attention at his old school in a “pull-out” program once a week, but it wasn’t enough. “He was only gifted for an hour a week. He loved that. But then he had to go back to regular everyday life.””

This parent has a completely skewed vision of what it means to be “gifted”. Her child is “gifted” all the time. Whatever intellectual capabilities have gotten him labelled as such exist no matter what kind of classroom setting he’s in. It’s the preferential treatment that he only gets once a week. And maybe that’s ok. A lot of life, even for those of us blessed with a superior intellect at the age of 8, as this child apparently is, is “regular everyday life”. I can hardly imagine that this parent is helping her son to be anything other than dissatisfied with it, if she expects his talents to be developed and catered to every minute of every day. A child who is raised to believe he’s too good for regular everyday life is not likely to turn out to be the kind of person we will want leading our next generation – an aspiration perhaps worthy for overly-involved parents of gifted kids?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Shameless Self-Promotion Edition

For the past several months, I have been volunteering as a coordinator for the One World Film Festival. It's been a challenge - it's a lot to do in my spare time, and I've frequently felt out of my element. More than once, it looked like the festival might not happen, but now it's only two weeks away, and we have a line-up of amazing films. And, one of our amazing volunteers has made this amazing video to promote it!

The video makes me excited about this event that has consumed so much of my summer and fall. And to all of my 8 faithful readers ... help to make OWFF a success - come watch fabulous documentaries at the Library and Archives, November 5-7, and tell 8 of your friends ....