Friday, November 30, 2007

Oh seasonal Tree

Wheat Sheaf recently wrote about the Dutch Santa Claus tradition, in which Sinterklaas and Zwart Piet go around giving toys to good children, and coal to bad children (and, apparently stuffing REALLY bad children in a sack). He was examining the Dutch attempt to come to terms with multiculturalism and the suitability of a character such as Zwart Piet (potentially colonized servant/slave of white St. Nick) in modern Christmas celebrations.

Well, I don’t have an easy answer for WS, but his post did get me thinking of other Christmas symbols. At work, we’re starting to decorate for the holidays –something to take our minds off the fact it’s getting dark at freakin’ 4pm, as we head into the final month of the year. I overheard a (non-Christian) co-worker reminding the organizer of this initiative that the decorations should be non-denominational – which is only appropriate, in my view.

It got me thinking, though, about what would be acceptable in this context. Obviously, the crèche is out, and probably angels too. But what about Christmas trees? Christians notoriously borrowed a wide variety of fertility and solstice symbols from other traditions as the faith spread throughout Europe back in the day. The tree is a prime example of that – associated with Christmas, but having its roots in pagan beliefs (and I use that in the sense of revering the earth and its inherent power, rather than in any pejorative way), and today the epicentre of the secularized commercial face of Christmas – where all the gifts come to rest. What about lights and candles – also appropriated by the Christian faith to symbolize the star of Bethlehem, or the light of God entering the world in the form of Christ – but originally designed to take peoples’ minds off the fact that it’s getting dark at freakin’ 4pm.

To me, these symbols are completely secularized, and actually can detract from a Christian’s interaction with the spiritual element of the season. However, I know that I am speaking from a position of privilege as a member of the Christian (or nominally Christian, at least . . .) majority. Maybe the fact that they’ve been appropriated by Christianity is enough to make others feel like they’re having the faith pushed on them, and we should be respectful of that. But I do feel like we could all use a little light and green at this time of year, and hope that these symbols can continue to evolve as the culture does, and belong to everyone.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I have been blogging for a year now. I am not as prolific as Wheat Sheaf, who hit his 100th post last week, after only blogging for 4 months, but it's still a milestone. I can also be proud that I inspried Wheat Sheaf. My blogging inspiration, Constant Traveller, killed her blog after a few months.

Blogging is an interesting phenomena. In exploring blogs, I have discovered that most people use them either as a way of sharing what they've been up to, or they seem to have blogs that centre around specific passions. I don't really do either. I am a bit reticent about being too autobiographical in the broad forum of the internet, and I am much too flaky to keep a whole blog going on one subject. A friend of Wheat Sheaf's was teasing us about blogging once - saying that nobody wanted to read that I biked over to his place for a bbq and ate a delicious salad. Well, many people do blog that kind of thing, and I have to say it's strangely compelling - and maybe my friends who are all over the world WOULD be interested to know that . . . That's not why I blog, though, I do it to force myself to develop my thoughts, and to put them out there in a coherent enough form that I am not embarassed to have other people read them.

It's been interesting to look back and see what topics I revisit. My blog is a record of what I have been thinking about, or what's got me agitated. Seeing the themes laid out over a year has been revealing - I don't think that I realized I was so fixated, for example, on possessions and clutter. It's also affirmed what MB noticed once - I've become quite a feminist in my old age.

Sometimes I have a lot of time to read the paper and be aware of what is going on in the world. Sometimes (like this week), my days are full of work (which would be much to dull to keep a blog going, even if it wasn't privileged), and my evenings are full of working out, laundry, and personal stuff (which is also either too dull or too privileged to post to the world at large). During these times, it is good to have my blog, to challenge myself to have at least one coherent interesting thought a week . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

one of those days

It’s one of those days. It’s one of those days that follows one of those nights (those nights when you try to go to sleep and then go downstairs and huddle under a blanket reading until you are too tired for your scattered thoughts to bombard you). It’s one of those days when people you know and care about are dealing with big crappy issues, and it’s all part of life, and you realize you’re grown up and it’s going to become more frequent, not less, that people you love will face big crappy issues, and you’ll be looked at for a source of strength. And sometimes you’ll give too little too late, and you’ll have to live with that. And sometimes you’ll be the one who needs the support. It’s one of those days when Pakistan is disintegrating and children are dying in Sudan and being sold in Cambodia, and the malls are already playing bad Christmas music. It’s one of those days when it’s unseasonably warm, and you know that more people are glad than freaked out that the natural order is off. Yup, it’s one of those days.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

community of strangers

At Ecclesiax, we want to be a community. We don't want to be a church that people come to on Sundays, kinda get some kind of spiritual fix, and then leave until the next week, without getting into each others' lives. However, it seems that for many people we are a church that people come to on Sundays, get some kind of spiritual fix (I hope . . .), and then leave until the next week, without getting into each others' lives. And, I don't know know what to do about that. It seems that we need to have things going outside of Sunday, where people can get to know each in a smaller setting or through having a more hands-on shared experience. We need small groups and events, but to have small groups and events, we need people to lead them, and we need people to come to them. We've tried some things over the past few years where there's been pretty dismal turn-out. Even the craft workshops (which, by the way, are great) have more non-members than members. So, how do we get people coming? And do we get to throw up our hands if they don't come to what we offer, but then complain that they don't feel connected? How much of creating a community is the responsibility of the church leadership, and how much is the responsibility of the people who want to plug into it?

I am tired today, so I don't have many answers to this, or even the ability to flesh out the issues completely, but it's something that's been on my mind this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the road to hell

I saw my first glimpse of the Chadian orphan debacle was on the TV at the gym – it was when the story was first breaking, and all I saw were the allegations that these people were trafficking the children into sex slavery/ black market adoptions. Since then, the news has suggested that the French “traffickers” were trying to rescue orphans from Darfur and bring them to France. The idea (I think) was that the children would be hosted by French families, and could claim refugee status. I think they thought that the appearance of these helpless orphans on French soil would arouse a groundswell of support for their cause, and the cause of Darfur in general.

Contrary to the first report I saw, it seems that these people aren’t slave traders, but it seems they’re still not quite the saviours they want to be – the latest allegations have included the fact that most of the children were Chadian, rather than Sudanese, and actually had parents or close family members who could look after them. All in all, it seems like a very misguided mission – as a French official said in one of the articles I was reading – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And the road to hell can be seen in this whole confusing story . . . Republic of Congo has already cancelled all international adoptions, keeping bona fide orphans from finding a new home in a western country. Children ranging in age from 1 to 8 have been away from their families for over a month. NGOs that have tried to work with the local people are under suspicion.

As someone who can understand the urge to DO SOMETHING about the horrible things happening in the world, I have a certain amount of sympathy for these fools riding their chartered jet straight into the gates of hell. Furthermore, this whole thing has left me wondering when I have been responsible for misplaced good intentions. I think that it happens whenever we go galloping into a situation, determined to help, without stopping to get to know, or to actually listen to, the people we are aiming to help.

While I was at law school, the Christian Legal Fellowship did Operation Christmas Child every year. I would marvel at some of the items that would come in the boxes that people had assembled to send overseas – stuffed snowmen and other Christmas kitsch, candy and bath gel, despite the instructions to avoid things that could leak or melt . . . the people who send these gifts mean well for these children, but have not stopped to consider the context these kids are living in. Now, I wonder if the idea I’ve been batting around to send toys to Cree kids is any different. In my defence, the idea came from someone who has spent time in a Cree community, but still . . . do these kids really need teddy bears? And do they need teddy bears from me? Ecclesiax has worked with some people in the area, but this gift could still be perceived as a bunch of useless crap from whites in the south . . . should I send it unless I know that this will not be the message?