Tuesday, December 2, 2008

and the band played on . . .

We live in strange times. Last week, the world was riveted to the story of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. This week, here in Canada, we’re waiting to see if the government will fall. Ever since the unravelling of the American economy back in October, it has felt like the world is on the edge of something momentous, while at the same time the enormity of it all seems surreal – it’s happening and I am continuing to go from day to day doing my thing – work out, go to work, cook, eat, make Christmas gifts, repeat.

I was looking at the Globe’s “day in pictures” collection one day last week, and there were two shots that stuck out in my mind – the first was of a huge Buzz Lightyear balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the second was of a child in a refugee camp in the Congo wearing a clown suit. Neither of these shots were about the all-consuming stock crashes or corporate bail-outs, they were about the rest of our lives, that are going to be lived regardless of what happens.

Sometimes I feel like it’s inappropriate to just go on doing my thing when the world is in some kind of crazy spiral of uncertainty and change. But I guess the truth is, there is always going to be uncertainty and change – and while I am not advocating complacency, I want to avoid getting paralyzed, or blinkered, by the headline news items. My life is happening right here, and the whole world is continuing to turn. Gotta live it and live in it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

the act of creation

Yesterday, I had the day off work and spent it sewing, punctuated only by coffee dates with a couple of friends. The sewing machine currently resides in the bedroom, so I set up the ironing board and a cutting table, put my music on shuffle, and had a wonderful day stitching bits of brightly-coloured scrap (thrown all over the bed and floor) into crazy quilt blocks. I’ve also been knitting, for the first time in over a year, and that’s felt good too.

I have come to realize that I have an inherent need to create, and when I am not exercising it, I feel out of sorts – much in the same way as I do if I am not exercising physically or giving my social and intellectual muscles a stretch by spending time with interesting people.

There was an article in Geez a few issues back that outlined a theory that God is creativity. Not that he is the creator, or the source of creativity, but that creativity itself is actually the embodiment of the divine spirit. I was intrigued by this concept – it’s maybe a bit further than I am willing to go, but I cannot argue that there is something integral in the experience of taking raw material (whether it’s a pile of fabric, a bushel of cucumbers, or a blank piece of paper) and making it into something.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a gospel I can preach

Over the past few months, as I’ve had time to recover from our pastorless state and have removed myself from the board at Ecclesiax, I continued to find church to be a somewhat empty experience on more Sundays that I’d care to admit. It was partly that I was so used to church being a place of stress and business, and feeling responsible for everything that happened there, and I needed time to come down from those associations. There was another part, though – I’m going through another period of examining and deconstructing my faith, and the conclusions I am coming to make me wonder why I am there.

Throughout the fall, I’ve had the nagging feeling that, while church means something to me, it is not what it means to everyone else. If I am honest, I don’t really believe that the point of Jesus is that he died to remove our sins and bridge the gap between us and God. But I am still there, calling myself a Christian – so what is the point of Jesus? Because if there is no point, I might as well stay home on Sunday mornings and read the paper (and sometimes I do).

This past Sunday, I remembered why I was there. One of our members was giving the sermon, and he preached the social gospel. I’ve had a similar experience, when my faith was teetering on the edge, and an uninspiring looking Bible study book full of liberation theology was put into my hand. It was a similar jolt of recognition this Sunday, while I was sitting in the back corner knitting. Jesus is an example of an inverted social order in which the last will be first, and his message is about experiencing and serving God by recognizing the dignity and worth in every single person in the world. That is a message I understand, and being in a community of people who want to act it out in their lives is a reason to be there.

Monday, November 3, 2008

a positive telemarketer experience

Ok, not exactly a teleMARETER, but after my rant about the cable TV guy, I wanted to share that I just had the opportunity to participate in a survey on waste collection in Ottawa, and say things like "we should totally get a green bin program and make people pay to get rid of their garbage . . . ." Yaay!

Friday, October 31, 2008

green. relativism. muddle . . .

The other day, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about “eco-bullying” – i.e. people at work who make other people feel bad for photocopying single-sided or throwing recyclables in the garbage. And, of course, I did what I do against my better judgement whenever I read something in the Globe online that I don’t agree with – I read the comments. And, of course, the comments reaffirmed that I am actually a freak who is way off the mainstream. Because I THINK IT’S OK to make people feel bad for being environmentally irresponsible – and was shocked by the self-righteous attitude of the people who feel it is their right to be wasteful.

As I was processing this, my first thought was that I would write a blog basically explaining why we SHOULD be going out of our way to carry our pop cans down the hall to the recycle bin. But as I am thinking about it, a more interesting issue comes to mind – why are some people (particularly those from a similar cultural and socio-economic background to myself) not concerned about waste, while it strikes me as fundamentally wrong?

And, I guess, since I do believe that it’s important not to waste, the next issue that comes to mind is – how do you bring someone with a different value system alongside your point of view? Judging from the invective in the article in the Globe, nagging doesn’t work – it just makes people resentful. So what does work? I guess leading by example is the least obnoxious method – but is it really effective? And then to give some credit to the ranters in the Globe – should I even be trying to change people’s behaviour? I think I should, because I believe my perspective is right. But I would be annoyed if someone, for example, tried to make me wear skirts all the time, because it’s their idea of what is right for women . . . . and is this any different? Relativism always seems a bit too convenient, but absolute right and wrong is hard too.

More questions than answers today, folks . . . .

Friday, October 24, 2008

my favourite telemarketer conversation

el Maggie (eM) - Hello?

Cheery Telemarketer (CT) - Hello ma'am, I'm calling from Rogers, is Mr. E-M there?

eM - No, but you can talk to me?

CT - Are you, uh, Mrs. E-M?

eM - yup.

CT - Phew - I never know what to ask there. I am calling with a special offer for Rogers Cable.

eM - Sorry, we're not interested. Thanks for calling.

CT - Oh, is it because of the price?

eM - No, we just don't want cable.

CT - You mean there's something missing in our service that you can get from other providers?

eM - No. We don't have cable and we don't want it.

CT - Is that because of something lacking in our package?

eM - Uh, no. You're talking about cable TV, right? Like a whole bunch of channels on the television? We don't have that and we don't want it. At all. From any service provider.

CT - Seriously?! Uh . . . . thanks for your time.

eM - Have a great evening.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

activists make me nervous

This post has been percolating in my head for a few weeks now, and I thought I better get it written down, or else it would slop away . . . I already realized that it would be a perfect story pitch for the next issue of Geez magazine a day after the deadline!

There was definitely a time when I found the counter-culture allure of “activism” glamourous, even if I was always a bit too goodie-goodie to fully participate in the culture myself. However, I have found in recent years that people who identify themselves as “activists” or state that “activism” is important to them trouble me.

My problem is not with anti-globalization, anti-war, or environmentalism movements – to list some of the ideals that people who call themselves “activists” would generally say they stand for, if pressed to define more precisely what the term means. Nor is it with the “activist” modes of expression, in and of themselves. Protests, rallies, and grass-roots organization can all be powerful ways for a population to express its discontent with the system and to get its message out. Living a life that treads more lightly on the earth and trying to buy products that don’t exploit the people that make them are concrete ways to actually change the system.

My problem is with the appropriation of the term “activism” to embody a specific subculture. Because, of course, there are other things that go with the subculture beyond the idealism and action that the idealism inspires: as a subculture, activism is also about a certain look, listening to a certain type of music, etc. etc. And the problem with this is twofold. First, it’s alienating and, second, it divorces the idea of activism from action, in all its myriad forms.

Defining activism as the counterculture is alienating because it doesn’t leave room for people who might be behind the movement, whatever it is, but don’t participate in the subculture. People who believe in the environment but like bubble-gum pop, or elderly church ladies who believe in peace may feel there is no place for them in the movement, if it is populated by a group that believes that the only true agents for change are part of the subculture. Even if those on the “in” don’t actually believe that – there’s still an “in” and an “out”, and it can be hard to face that barrier for someone who feels out.

The other problem is that when activism becomes a subculture, it can actually become divorced from action. By its very nature, activism is about doing something – not just listening to Ani Difranco. Activism is like politics – it should be a means to an end, not an end itself. Listening to people say “activism is important”, I wonder if they remember that what’s important is protecting the planet, global equality, and safety and security. Activism, whether through letter-writing campaigns, chaining yourself to a tree, or buying fair trade coffee, is all about creating a better world for everyone, even if they listen to bubble gum pop.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

3 days of Ramadan

Last week was the first week of Ramadan, and I spent a few days in the most populous Muslim country in the world. I have to admit that, despite being used to facing preconceived notions about Christianity, I still came to Ramadan in Indonesia with my own cultural assumptions. Fasting seems like such a hard-core thing to do, and I guess I had it in my mind that anyone who was willing to go without food or water from sunrise to sunset would be extremely pious. As a result, I associated fasting with other signs of piety in Islam – modest dress, prayers several times a day, etc. It’s not like that though – women who bare their shoulders, people who date westerners, people who try to pray regularly (since it’s Ramadan) but are flexible about it, all participate in the fast.

In general, there is as much diversity in the ways that, and degree to which, Indonesians practice their religion as you would see in “Christian” countries. It’s kind of like I imagine Canada was in the 1950s, when the majority associated with the Christian church, though the actual day-to-day practice of the faith varied greatly.

While in Indonesia, I was generously given lunch by locals who explained what all the dishes were, and then sent me away to eat in another room because they weren’t going to be eating until the sun went down, and I also had the opportunity to break fast with my Indonesian counter-parts once the sun did set. All in all, I left being reminded that the diversity of humanity is a beautiful thing, feeling blessed by the tolerance and inclusion of my hosts, and impressed by these people who would practice such self-denial, one month of the year, to stay in touch with their faith.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Style v. Substance - Olympic Style

I have to admit, I haven’t exactly been caught up in Olympic fever. However, like any other non-sports fan who likes a good story, I am still willing to get caught up in the controversy of the faked aspects of the opening ceremonies.

My first thought on the matter was that it was, if not exactly outrageous, kinda ridiculous . . . it reminded me of reading about how, during the cultural revolution, farmers would take all of the rice from several fields and transplant it into one plot so that when Party leaders came to visit the village, they’d see how much it was prospering. While I am by no mean an expert of all things Chinese, computer-generating fireworks when the actual ones came out a bit fuzzy seemed like just another example of Chinese smoke and mirrors – a desire to put appearance before substance.

But then the more I thought about it, I thought “so what” – the opening ceremonies is a show, and it’s hardly a trend unique to China to put flash before substance in the name of a good show. Are the opening ceremonies of the Olympics any different than a good movie – the point is to use spectacle to move people and create a mood. Having perfect fireworks achieves that goal better than ones that are supposed to look like footprints, but don’t quite. The producers of the opening ceremonies, after all, are not the athletes – they are not there to be judged on the technical success of one specific performance.

But then I’ve been thinking more about the little girl who lip-synced during the show – apparently the real singer wasn’t cute enough, and China didn’t think she portrayed the right image to the world. While that may be just another example of pageantry and the desire to put across that perfect spectacle, I find it more troubling. Not because it was lip-syncing in general, but because it is sad that in “putting its best face forward” a country would only want to showcase beautiful people. Apparently, the little girl who did the singing was very talented, and the message in keeping her hidden from view is that that isn’t enough –her talent is undermined by her appearance. That’s a sad message to send out to little girls the world over at the dawn of the Olympics, an event that is supposed to be about celebrating skill and talent.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

spouses subsumed

How many jobs are there where your spouse comes to the interview with you? Where one partner is hired to do the job, but the other is expected to take on certain roles and responsibilities within the organization? The only one I know is ministry – it is common practice for the position of “pastor’s wife” to be viewed in the church as a vocation, in a way that no other spousal role is. I don’t expect that I will ever be expected to show up at PJ’s place of work and tutor because I am the professor’s wife . . . and as a lawyer’s partner, he might have to go to boring dinner parties, but he’ll never have to come to the office and type up my submissions – nor was he called upon to give his opinion on the carriage of justice before I could be called to the Bar.

I know that Ministry isn’t like any other job –your role is to be a spiritual and moral leader, and this makes a pastor’s home-life more relevant to his job than it is for most other professions (I am referring to pastors as men and their affected spouses as women throughout this post because I have not seen the same dynamic play out in situations in which the wife is the one in ministry).

However, it still makes me uncomfortable. I am sure that there are couples where the man is in ministry and the wife’s true calling is to be in ministry along-side him. However, I suspect that there are an equal number of families in which the wife has a passion and calling that is separate from her husband’s. By relegating her to the role of “pastor’s wife,” she cannot follow her own passions, and her identity is subsumed in his.

A marriage should be a partnership in which each person supports the other in becoming the best individual they can be. I worry that by making pastors wives an annex to their husbands’ ministries, churches (which generally consider marriage to be a sacred and important thing) are undermining the very foundation of this relationship in their leaders, by expecting the support to flow only one way.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

dancing around the world

I just came across this strange video , which in some ways is hilarious, but in others is totally touching. It's by the guy named Matt, and basically what he does is goes around the world and does this silly dance, and gets people to dance with him. He dances in the rain in Montreal, with kids in the Philippines, in the DMZ in Korea (they guard does not dance too . . .), on the beach in Rio, in the mountains of Bhutan, etc etc etc. It's always the same silly dance. But what's so cool about it is that he looks so happy doing it, and this very silly dance becomes an expression of profound joy. Dancing happens across cultures - I think it's a fundamental human experience, and Matt catches this, by dancing badly, but having so much fun doing it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Canada the irrelevant

Poor Canada. Like any nation, we want to believe that we’re leaders on the world stage. When we manage to escape the usual trap of negative identity definition (i.e., we don’t know what we are, but we sure aren’t America . . .), we have relied on some pretty tired images to define ourselves. Lester Pearson came up with the idea of a UN peace-keeping force back in the 50s, so we define ourselves as a nation of peace-keepers. We have a lot of rocks and lakes and trees, which we quite enjoy, so we define ourselves as environmental leaders. If you look at the evidence, though, neither of these characterizations are exactly true in 2008.

Not only are these tired and not-so-true definitions becoming globally revealed as the empty shells they are, but by hanging onto them so strongly we are quickly moving to – horrors – global irrelevance. I was looking at international coverage of the G8 summit, which is currently taking place in Japan, and the pundits were weighing in on whether the G8 serves a useful function and, if it does, whether its membership should be amended. In the discussion about amendment, Canada was one of the main targets for questions about the relevance of the current membership. Canada has a smaller economy than Spain – why is one included and the other isn’t? Canada “brings nothing to the table,” and emerging super-powers like India, China, Brazil and South Africa have as much right to be there as we do, if not more. Apparently, PM Harper has been talking about the importance of the G8 as bringing together “the major advanced democratic nations of the world,” but it seems that fewer and fewer people are buying the benefit of these annual summits.

It seems like it’s time for us to look long and hard at what we do, and how it’s perceived, if we really want to continue to be a “leader on the world stage” – or maybe we don’t, and we should just strive to be a middle power with the best domestic policy possible, in which case we are still going to have to take that good long look in the mirror, and figure out what facets of our identity actually stand up to scrutiny.

Monday, June 30, 2008

totem figures

Yesterday afternoon, I managed to catch a show by Fringe Festival regular, TJ Dawe. Dawe is a bit of a legend, having done the Canadian Fringe circuit for 10 years now, with a new one-man show each year, but this is the first time that I actually made it see him. His style is more creative monologue than play – part seminar, and part story-telling.

This year’s show is “Totem Figures” – an exploration of, as Dawe puts it “the Mount Rushmore, or Sergeant Pepper’s Album Cover of my life.” For Dawe, his totem figures included his father, Jesus, Robertson Davies, and Luke Skywalker, among others.

But the larger message, of course, is that we all have a personal mythology – we all have historical or fictional characters that speak to us, or that we identify with more than others in an ensemble work. What are mine?

When Dawe was talking about authors, the one that came to mind for me was Margaret Atwood. I have been reading her for over 15 years now. I think I’ve read every novel she’s written, and most of her poetry. I read “the Edible Woman” when I was too young to get it, and again when it made perfect sense.

Other figures that have resonated with me include U2 (from songs like With or Without You that are as haunting now as they were when I first heard them as a teenager to the electronic era and back again), Trudeau (who made Canada believe in itself, and kinda made me go to law school), and my Grandma (who has always been a curmudgeon, but has always been there, grumpily proud of what I’ve achieved).

What are yours?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

eco-rant of the week

I was biking home last night, enjoying the fact that it actually hadn’t rained all day and I’d had a two-way goretex-free commute for the first time in several days, while also noting how green and jungly all the paths were as a result of all the rainfall. And then, when I cut off the path system to head home, I passed a house with the SPRINKLER ON! That’s right, folks, after an exceptionally rainy June, these people were watering their emerald green lawn (and a good portion of the road and sidewalk). Sometimes I don’t think that people in this country deserve the resources we’ve been blessed with, if we’re going to waste them so blatantly.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

south of the border

I am always surprised when I go to the United States, because I expect it to be just like home, but it’s not quite. Little things (like advertising for prescription medication) and big things (like the shrine-like monuments to presidents past on the National Mall) jar my senses, when I am expecting business as normal. When I was in DC last week, I was struck by the use of military language in advertising – when I was riding the subway, I saw a variety of ads for things like investment banks and software products that used language about “knowing the enemy” and being “ever vigilant.” It was weird – it wasn’t necessarily that fear was being used as an advertising tactic (à la “buy our insurance or your family will end up on the street when your house burns down and it will be all your fault”), but just that this was a metaphor that the advertisers were using to speak to their audience – as in “everyone knows how we have to be ever vigilant in war, so clearly this translates to business too . . .”. This highly militarized discourse was particularly interesting in light of another thing that I have noticed about Americans – they’re generally quite friendly. From my experience, on the one hand, it’s a nation that can be convinced to buy through mention of “the enemy”, but on the other, it’s a society full of people who are quite happy to start up a pleasant conversation with a stranger in the elevator. Weird.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

the appearance of action

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of going through airport security (pre-clearance for flights bound for the United States) twice in about as many hours. I was on a flight that was cancelled, so they took us out through security - and by the time we had collected our bags, my colleague had called the travel agent and booked us on another flight, so we basically looped through the line and went back through security. On the second pass, the airline said they wouldn't book us in if we had to check our luggage (I am not sure if that was a time constraint issue . . . though as it turned out the plane didn't arrive in Ottawa for another 4 hours, so that doesn't seem quite accurate.) In any regard, on my second pass, I had my suitcase with me, whereas I had checked it on the way through before . . . and I had carefully put my liquids in a ziploc for clearance, but they TOOK MY HAIR STUFF because it was 150ml instead of the requisite 100. I was really annoyed (remember, this is after doing the thing involving taking my shoes off and my laptop out and filling out a customs card twice in as many hours . . . ) because, seriously, my extra 50ml of texturizing spray is not going to make our plane any less safe. Even if I was planning to make a bomb out of hair products and toothpaste, it would probably not be that extra inch of product that would make my devious plan a success. Obviously, we need airport security, and I can accept that I can't carry on my swiss army knife (which I got busted for the other week because I am an idiot and put it in the wrong make-up bag), but the shoe thing and the liquid thing are way more about the appearance of security - by the time those modes of security were implemented, the plots involving shoes and liquids had been foiled, and it is unlikely that anyone intent on doing damage is going to replicate these methods . . . but the general public must endure the arbitrary restrictions on their luggage (along with my personal favourite, the Heathrow one carry-on rule . . . which is awesome when you're transiting through on an airline that doesn't have that rule and are between two other airports that don't have that rule . . .). Ok, I am ranting, but I was supposed to arrive at Regan at 8pm last night, and got to Dulles at 2am, having walked barefoot through the metal detector twice, and stripped of my "trying to look more like a lawyer and less like a 22-year-old-kid" pre-meeting hair routine.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

sexGod review

I just finished reading SexGod by Rob Bell. Bell explores (from a Christian perspective) the links between sexuality and spirituality, his main thesis being that the unity of sex and marriage are the most potent earthly example of the unity that we are supposed to be in with God.

Reading this book is part of a recent foray I’ve been making into reading Christian books once again – now that I am becoming more comfortable with my unorthodox faith, I can appreciate more orthodox scholars, and consider them in the framework within which they are operating.

Generally, I appreciate what Bell is doing with his book – he is honest and compassionate and pays a lot of attention to the cultural context of the Biblical passages he’s talking about. He also makes a valiant effort of examining the passage about husbands being the head of a marriage and wives submitting to their husbands, and situating it in the context of the passage as a whole, saying that really everyone is supposed to submit to everyone, and the husband is supposed to be willing to die for the wife, so really it’s about equality.

I still came out of the book feeling like women are getting the raw end of the stick, though. Despite Bell’s assertions that Paul is talking about equal submission, the overall message in the book is that a marriage is like the church’s relationship to God. God is always the groom and the church is always the bride in these situations. . . . and, well, God is God and the church is people, so I don’t see how that is supposed to be an equal relationship. Therefore, if the analogy is reversed (instead of saying that our relationship with God is like a marriage, but saying that marriage is like our relationship with God) – women are somewhat infantilized (God is, after all, also understood as being the benevolent parent). And that doesn’t match up with my understanding of what or who God is. Which leads me back to my mistrust of the Bible as the Word of God . . .

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

frivolous rage

In the last few months, I have listened to the radio and heard about: monks in Burma being dragged away and beaten by the police for protesting the military control of the country; election unrest and long-simmering discontent leading to ethnic cleansing in Kenya; lawyers in Pakistan taking it to the streets over the corruption of the judiciary; and pro-independence Tibetans facing off with the Chinese authorities. This morning, I was lying in bed while the CBC covered the burning and looting that took place last night in Montreal after the Habs won the play-offs.

I am not an advocate of violence against people or property in general, but in looking at this list of events – one of these things does not belong. In all of the other situations, people took to the streets because they were oppressed. In Canada, cop cars get burnt because the home team WINS a game. It makes me sad and, frankly, embarrassed to be Canadian.

My first thought in analyzing this event was that this was an indication of western privilege – it seems like only a nation with the luxury of knowing that you can torch a police car and they won’t open fire into the crowd, and most likely won’t beat you, can riot over something as frivolous as a (won) sporting match. But as I was writing those words, I thought that there have surely been similar riots over soccer in developing countries . . . so I realize that this analysis might be open to challenge.

Setting aside a contention that only rich nations would have the luxury of rioting over hockey games, I think that last night’s activities are still telling that something is just a bit off in the society that we live in. Canadians don’t generally riot, and when compared with the Pakistani lawyers and Burmese monks, it’s a pretty sad event that’s made us rage against the machine. While we do have it pretty good, our nation is not without injustices, and yet it took a professional sporting match to inspire the kind of passion that was exhibited in Montreal last night. That’s sad.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


While in Washington last week, I was up late with one of my friends discussing criminal policy (hey, I never claimed to be cool or interesting . . .) – we were talking about criminalization of various sexual things, and I came up with the proposition that sexual activities that caused harm should be criminalized, and that those that didn’t cause harm shouldn’t. My friend challenged this notion, coming from the position that too many people justify doing morally questionable things by saying that they aren’t causing harm. The idea of harm as a grounding principle for criminalization is interesting – we were trying to think of crimes that were only against oneself, but had a hard time coming up with any – drug abuse could be seen as causing harm to society because of its drain on the health system and other social services; some people would argue that prostitution is a victimless crime, while others would say that the women themselves are all victims (or, by extension, women at large, who must deal with the consequences of a society in which sex and the female body are commoditized).

Whether you ascribe to the harm principle or not, criminalization is all about the social contract – what a given society has decided is prohibited, with the aim of enforcing desirable behaviour and interactions between individuals. Even with the most blatant examples of the harm principle, there is always a moral judgement implicit in criminalization – murder is only illegal because we have decided that life is worth protecting, and that people have a right to maintain their life (whereas if the same person is on the battlefield or attacked first, we have determined that they have forfeited their right to life, and can be killed without it being called murder).

Against the background of these percolating thoughts, I learned that France has criminalized pro-ana websitesthis week. For those of you who don’t know – pro-ana is a movement (I guess it’s a movement) of anorexics who want their condition to be recognized as a lifestyle choice rather than, well, a condition . . . pro-ana websites are forums for anorexics to encourage each other to continue to starve themselves, and to maintain solidarity against the people in their lives who are encouraging them to be healthy.

While I am sure I could write a post or 2 on the topic of pro-ana, what struck me, in light of the recent conversation on criminalization, was comments at the end of the article that some MPs in France were against the move because they didn’t think that criminalization should be used as a tool of health policy. As mentioned above, criminalization is always the tool of some kind of social policy, so this comment in and of itself seems almost naive. Yes, criminalization of pro-ana websites, on its own, will not solve the problem of social pressure on women to be thin. However, along with other moves, such as requiring fashion models to have a healthy weight, it might make a difference. Anorexia causes harm – to the individual who becomes physically ill as a result of this condition, and to society at large, which has to look after these sick women and girls (and, I know, some men and boys . . .). Promoting anorexia, it seems, could cause harm to girls who are battling against this condition, but could be swayed by the “normalizing” effects of pro-ana communities, which encourage them that it’s not a sickness and there’s no need to fight.

On the other hand, though, stigmatizing mental illness has never really done much good to society, and there is a danger that criminalizing pro-ana forums could do just that. France (and other countries that may choose to follow suit), should not refrain from criminalizing pro-ana because of a general notion that criminalization has no place in health policy, but they should make sure that they have conducted a sophisticated analysis to determine whether more harm will be caused by the permission or the prohibition of pro-ana websites.

Friday, March 28, 2008

spring cleaning

I know that I have spilled an inordinate amount of cyber-ink on this blog regarding my battle with “stuff”. The problem is that I want to live simply, and I don’t really like being buried in clutter – but I am a packrat by nature. BUT, we have been back in purge mode recently, and I am always amazed by how good it feels to get rid of stuff. We bought a new (to us) TV cabinet, which had led to a fair amount of furniture moving and reorganizing, and along with that a lot of going through the stuff that lives in/on that furniture. It even kicked me into gear to delve into the coat closet, and a few more things have been freecycled onwards. My next project is to read borrowed books and return them to their owners . . . which should do wonders for our shelf space. I know that I will never cure myself of the desire to acquire stuff, but it feels good to let go and get old unused things out of the corners of my house. Spring may not yet be here, but the cleaning has begun!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

that's me in the corner . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about faith stuff recently – about what I believe, about what most Christians believe, and about the gaps in between and what to do about them. I haven’t been writing much, because I am shy about broadcasting these things. I fear condemnation.

An old friend from the camp days e-mailed me a while ago, and asked about God stuff. So, in my mission to be honest in my spirituality, I tried to explain a bit of where I was at. After a bit of back-and-forthing, the ball is in my court with some questions about a statement that I had made, which is that I don’t know that the Bible is the word of God. My friend asked me what, if not the word of God, did I think it was – and what was the point of doing anything with it if I didn’t think it was divine? Good questions, and ones I’ve been kind of waltzing around for the last little bit.

I guess the first issue, which came up in my friends’ questions, is that I don’t think that believing the Bible contains historical accuracies necessarily leads to the conclusion that it’s therefore the word of God. By saying it’s historically accurate, I mean to say that the Bible talks about things that are backed up by other accounts or by archaeological evidence – I am not trying to make any statements about the objective versus subjective nature of history. The Bible also talks about things that aren’t supported outside of its text (and I’m not suggesting that a lack of supporting evidence in itself means that these things didn’t happen, just pointing out the fact). However, the question of whether the Bible is actually divinely inspired, and was meant by God to be taken literally as the primary source of guidance for humanity exists outside the issue of its historical veracity.

So, when I say I am not so sure that the Bible is the word of God, what I am saying is not that I doubt that there was a guy named Solomon who built a temple, or a guy named Jesus who rattled the authorities and suggested a path of love and humility, but that I don’t think that the people who wrote the many texts that make up the Bible were channelling God’s will into a perfectly discernable resource that we can clearly follow so that we know we are doing what God wants us to. Which leads to my friend’s further question – if you don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, then why believe anything about it at all? Good question – and sometimes I wonder about that myself.

To answer that question, though – I have to answer what the Bible is – if I don’t think it’s a combination of 100% factual history and God-breathed instructions on how to live our lives. I guess I think that the Bible is a story of people trying to understand God – of them putting into words their experiences that they believe were full of him, and their interpretations of how he moved in their lives. As such, I guess I believe that the Bible is one of the sources through which we can understand the nature of God and of the kind of lives he wants us to live. We also see him in our relationships, in the world around us, in amazing art, and in so much more. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t see the Bible as the source of truth about God, but at its best as a source of truth about God. It’s tougher this way – having to discern what I think is actually godly, rather than assuming that it all is. I definitely don’t feel wise enough to make these discernments all of the time – but I also don’t feel comfortable saying that hatred and oppression or disregard for the planet we live on (for example) should be accepted because they are in the Bible.

Working through this makes me squirm, but I know it’s an important thing to do, no matter how much more uncertainty (or unorthodox certainty) lies ahead.

Friday, March 7, 2008

things seen while walking around in Indonesia

Growing Up

I remember when I had just moved into my first apartment, in 2nd year of undergrad. My roommates and I went grocery shopping, and we felt so mature buying fruits and vegetables, and going home to make ourselves dinner. There was the sense that we were grown-up, and yet at the same time, a nagging feeling that we were only playing grown-up . . . as if taking personal responsibility for our nutrition was a temporary gig while our parents were out of town, instead of the new reality of our lives.

It’s been almost 10 years since we lived in that first purple closetless triplex, and all of the roommates have moved onto partners and careers. We’ve all managed to avoid getting scurvy, so I guess we’ve been successful in nourishing ourselves. I still have that feeling of playing grown-up, though. It’ll hit me suddenly when I’m washing the car, or look in the mirror and realize I’m wearing a suit.

What’s even stranger, though, is that I’ll be going about my daily business and suddenly realize that I’m living a completely adult life. I remember when I was deciding if I was going to go to law school, and I had this sense that I was not sure enough of myself to put that kind of time and effort into professional training. This week, I signed my letter of offer for a permanent position at work without a blink. When PJ and I were first dating, the thought of marriage terrified me. Even when we got engaged, I was overwhelmed that I had made the decision to spend the rest of my life with him. Now we’ve been married for almost 4 years, and our inter-connection is a given.

I am still the same person who proudly brought home her very own frozen juice and pasta from the grocery store, but somewhere along the way, I’ve learned to trust my judgement, make decisions, and take care of myself. Weird.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

el Maggie in Asia

I am writing to you all from the Hong Kong airport, trying to mentally prepare for the flight back to Canada, which will begin in a couple of hours. I've been in Asia for a week and a half now, and have just got over the jet-lag in time to turn around and do the 12-hour time change in the opposite direction.

The purpose of this trip was for work meetings in Indonesia. The meetings were in Yogyakarta, a mid-sized city on Java Island. I found Yogya to be pretty concrete and bustling - everyone drives a motorcycle, and those who don't drive motorcycles sit on the back of their friends' motorcycles (or, if they happen to be a small child, in front; or, if they happen to be an elderly woman, on back, side-saddle).

For my mini-vacation after the meetings, I headed to Bali for a few days. I felt very sophisticated jetting off to Bali for a long weekend, let me tell you (a fact which probably belies my lack of sophistication . . .). Bali has beautiful beaches and green green rice paddies. The people there are Hindu, while the majority in Indonesia are Muslim.

I was a bit nervous about travelling alone, but I found it to be actually quite easy. It really re-affirmed how spoiled Anglophones are, as we can go anywhere in the world and people will know our language. I also never felt truly harassed, the constant "where you from? What your name? How many time you in Bali?" didn't really border on anything dangerous - my closest call was to being forcibly manicured, and I managed out of that one. At the end of the day, I am infinitely more wealthy than any of the Indonesian people who tried to hustle me on the streets, and I have come to comsume a slice of their paradise, so who can blame them for trying to sell me an hour of para-sailing, an over-priced silk scarf, or a massage on the beach?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

God doesn't want me to be pretty

Through the blog of a friend, who belongs to a pastor’s wives blog roll, I’ve discovered a woman who is married to a Baptist pastor in Chicago. She is a completely different kind of Christian from me, and probably would not even admit that I deserve the title (and/or would pray fervently for my soul, if she knew about my spiritual state). Anyway, I appreciate her optimism and delight in the world around her, and her solid simple faith in the Bible as the word of God. These are all things which I lack, and while I am happy with my honest doubts, I fear I would look like a grumpy cynic were I to dismiss anyone else whose spiritual walk was not wracked with similar ambiguity.

This woman is leading a woman’s Bible study on "A Woman and her Appearance" which she posts on her blog. Basically, she has looked at various Biblical passages and come to the conclusion that God cares about our appearance, and He wants us to look beautiful and womanly. I, to put it mildly, disagree. In fact, the first sermon I ever gave at Ecclesiax (back in the days of innocence, before I became de facto pulpit supply) was about our bodies – about our need to accept them and then to move beyond them. If I believe anything about God’s interaction with humans, it is that He sees our souls, and that he wants us to do likewise when we look at other people.

I believe that every person has inherent worth, and a focus on beauty separates us from this truth. In our society, old people are considered ugly – but I can’t accept that God does not love old people, or that he wants women to try to hide the outward evidence of their life experience. Also, poor people are often not as beautiful as rich people, because what we consider beauty is a luxury taking time and money - Jesus was pretty loud and clear about his preference of the poor over the rich.

I do not embrace many absolutes in my faith, but from what little I understand about God, I am pretty sure He does not want me to put my energy into trying to be pretty.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

hope's in the bag

I am, as my regular readers might have noticed, a bit of a pessimist. So, it is with great delight that I am able to inform you that I have noticed a trend that is ENCOURAGING, and in relationship to human wastefulness, nonetheless! I am talking about the proliferation of reusable shopping bags. I have been reusing plastic bags or carrying cloth bags for years (my mom started using them in the 90s). Just 5 years ago, I would get confused looks from store clerks, and they would insist on wrapping my meat in a plastic bag before putting it in my cloth bag. The worst, I remember, was when Grandma took Sim and I to Disney World many years ago - if we had a large plastic bag from an earlier purchase and were buying something from another kiosk, they would put it into a smaller Disney-branded bag, even when we tried to say we'd just put it in the bag we were already carrying.

Now, though, I see more and more people with reusable bags. It's more common for store clerks to ask if I want a bag, rather than assuming, when I am getting just a few items or an already carrying a bag. A lot of this spread seems to be related to the President's Choice black bags with green logos on them - they've somehow become cool. I knew the tipping point had come when I was walking across the parking lot in the grocery store and saw your average cool looking 20-something guy (cell phone, flip-flops, baggy shorts, golf shirt with the collar up) heading towards the store swinging his black grocery bag. If cool male university students are doing something that's somewhat inconvenient, as opposed to a more convenient option, you know it's become mainstreamed. . .

Despite my glowing optimism, there are still an awful lot of plastic bags going out of Loblaws every time I am there. We are making progress, and I think we're ripe for the next step - make people pay for every plastic bag they use. The plastic bag tax in Ireland actually reduced plastic bag usage by 94%! Plastic bags are the type of environmentally harmful thing that really only exist for convenience - we're starting to change the culture to favour environmental responsibility over disposabal convenience, and this trend will only continue if we consumers took a hit in the wallet every time they wanted a plastic bag.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

fame and fortune are mine

I am a finalist in the Canadian Blog Awards. Considering, as PJ pointed out, only about 15 people read my blog, I was quite surprised to make it past the first round of voting – maybe all 15 people voted for me! Anyway, there I am, in the top 5 “religious blogs” in Canada – which is a bit funny considering that I actually wrote a post this past summer on the fact that I get nervous putting my thoughts about God and my faith down in such a public forum as the blog.

In this funny little experience, I can also feel the tugging of my contrasting feelings about my blog – I started it imagining that it would only be read by people who I know – it was basically a more formalized version of the group e-mails I would send out with links to interesting news stories. I was a bit weirded out by strangers reading my thoughts and commenting on them. As I’ve been writing, though, I have to admit that I am excited when new people find my blog, and that people actually find what I am writing to be worth reading. My sporadic attempts to publish have led to naught, and this keeps me thinking that maybe at some point I will actually reach that goal.

So, I guess despite my conflicted feelings about my blog becoming public, I am pleased I am a finalist – as Napoleon Dynamite would say, Vote for el Maggie.

Monday, January 21, 2008

deep dark materials

PJ and I saw The Golden Compass the other night. It was a pretty good movie, though it suffered from the common ailment of movies made from long books, i.e. it kinda zoomed through the highlights of the story without much development in between.

The movie got us talking about the Dark Materials trilogy in general, and particularly Philip Pullman's opinion of God. There’s been a fair amount in the media about this – various Catholic school boards have been banning the books for their anti-God stance. It’s been interesting talking to people about this. Non-Christians generally assume that the hysteria is akin to the “Harry Potter is satanic” excitement. Some of our friends, who had seen the movie, thought that it was anti-church, but not necessarily anti-God. Spoiler alert: the series may seem only anti-church in the first installment, but God is clearly the villain by the third book.

I have a Christian friend who refuses to see the movie, as she doesn’t want to support the work of someone who is anti-God. Since she’s a reasonable and intelligent person, this statement challenged me. I knew that I was comfortable with reading these books and seeing the movies, but why? How do I reconcile this with my faith? After seeing the movie, PJ and I were talking about this the other night. It was one those conversations that spanned from the initial topic to issues as diverse as the general inability in fantasy and science-fiction literature to create realistic religions (a topic I plan to blog on soon) and the Dresden fire-bombing controversy at the Canadian war museum (a topic I have previously blogged on, and I have no idea how we got to from the Golden Compass).

To get back to the topic at hand, though: why am I ok with reading books and watching movies by a guy who apparently views God as an impotent and power-hungry old man, and ultimately the enemy of humanity? I guess the first response to that is that I think Pullman is entitled to his views of God, but I don’t think he’s right. And, in some ways, broad exposure to his harsh impression of God may facilitate opportunities for me to talk to people about how I understand the divine. Next, I like having my faith challenged. I would not be following this God if I thought he was an impotent and power-hungry old man – and if one book makes me waver on this point, what kind of faith is that? Finally, though – I appreciate a good story and I think that the Dark Materials trilogy is just that – Pullman creates a compelling fantasy world framework and fills it with interesting characters doing interesting things. In many ways, it follows the basic hero-myth story-arc, with a bratty little girl who grows up into a brave and loyal young woman as our hero. As a longtime female fan of fantasy and fairytales, how can I resist?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

practical theory

I began my academic career as a student of literature. I went into English because I like reading and I like writing – and it also dove-tailed with my interest in theatre, in which I obtained a minor. In the end, though, English was maybe not the best subject for me. When I look back over the essays I wrote during my undergrad, almost every single one is about situating the work in its social or historical context. I never got into heavy theoretical analysis and, in fact, it drove me insane. It has always seemed to me like nothing more than games that we play in our heads, looking for meaning that isn’t there and laying our after-the-fact interpretations on the text as if it’s something definitive. I recently had a conversation with a friend who studied art history, and found the same thing.

When I was almost done law school, someone finally explained the point of theory to me – that we use it not because it gives a full and real picture of the subject we are analysing, but because it gives the researcher a structure framework in which to conduct the analysis. While I still maintain that psycho-analysing Hamlet (a fictional character with no sub-conscious) is of limited value, that explanation made sense to me. I wish that someone had told me that when I first started university – I think it would have made the whole game make at least a bit more sense.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

what it's about

So, I run a church in my spare time. Ecclesiax has been pastor-less for a few months now, and the Board has been keeping things together. It's been exhausting. Two out of the five of us have resigned from the board because it was adding too much stress to their lives. The rest of us really aren't sure what's going to happen next. We have bills to pay, rental contracts to sort out, snow to shovel, relationships to manage, and a budget to write. To be honest, I've found myself wondering a bit too frequently why I bother. And then today, we had a service focused on prayer. I didn't deliver a message, but just led the congregation through a variety of prayer exercises focused on the idea that prayer is basically us saying two things to God: thank you and help. We wrote our confessions on paper and burnt them. We sang a Psalm of thanksgiving. We lit candles as we sent prayers for our community up to God (hmm . . . not sure what the emphasis on fire says about me . . .). Our band played a couple of wonderful songs, but we also had times of silence. It was good, it was like the early days when Ecclesiax was a place of experimentation and vulnerability. We told the congregation how badly things were going, and received a lot of offers of help. One guy who was with us for the first time went right out and bought us salt for the walkway. Leading the service was still exhausting, and I didn't manage to get out of there before 2pm after the offering was counted, but at least I've been reminded that church is a group of people on a spiritual journey together - and that's what it's all about.

becoming one of those people

I haven't been doing too well with my usual attempt to go to the gym three times a week - busy times at work followed by Christmas holidays, followed by more busy times at work and travel with work (not to mention this whole "I run a church in my spare time" thing) have got me down to about once a week for the last month. Yesterday, I actually went at 4pm on a Saturday to at least get that much in - and it felt great. I thought that the cardio would kill me, since I've been so sporadic, but I was feeling wonderful while I did it, and after a walk home with my earphones still plugged into my workout playlist, I felt so healthy and invigorated that I ate a grapefruit. I don't know how it happened, because I never was before, but I have become one of those people who just feels so good when they exercise. Eek - if I'm not careful, I'll be taking up running next . . . .

Thursday, January 3, 2008

new year

For a long time now, I’ve kind of disliked New Year’s Eve. There’s always this feeling of expectations on this one night, and it seldom lives up. We’ve had New Years’ where we’ve tried to see everyone, and therefore ended up spending more of the evening in the car than actually seeing anyone. We’ve also had New Years’ where we waited so long to try to figure out what to do that we really didn’t end up doing much of anything.

The answer, you may be thinking, is obvious – put the expectations behind you and just treat it as an extra Friday night. I’ve realized, though, that I believe in New Year’s. I believe in the significance of the new beginning – when you can officially say that whatever needs to be put behind you will be, and start into a fresh new year awash with fresh new possibilities. It was odd when I realized that I had these deep expectations riding on the day, because I’ve never particularly been one for New Years’ resolutions, and I’ve never really done any great gala New Year’s event (this year, I finally realized my lifelong dream of hosting a New Year’s dinner party – yup, I’m quite the dreamer . . .).

I guess I made this realization because I was hoping for a new start this year. 2007 was a big year, and the fall was pretty tiring for both PJ and I. It was with a sense of dismay that I realized that things were not going to be any calmer in January, and it then dawned on me that I had been counting on the New Year to be a new beginning.

So, now I am trying to figure out what to do with this longing for change on January 1. I don’t believe in ritual for the sake of ritual (which is why, I think, I’ve never been huge on resolutions – I don’t make one unless I think I will stick to it), so I am not going to do something unless it would actually resonate with me – yet I need to in some way acknowledge the potential for a new beginning, even when it feels like I am back to the same old grind.