In 2017-2018 I found myself available to consider new ministry opportunities, and so when "a friend of a friend" invited me into a project in Kitchener, I joined in. St. Paul's Lutheran Church/Bridgeport was looking at alternatives to closing their doors. Together with the minister (at the time) and the church council we began imagining "outside the box" possibilities. The church wanted to find a way to maintain their almost 150 year presence in this community along the Grand River. Out of their core values of faith, service and fellowship we identified what that might look like in the present moment. Through some "dream sessions" and a call for partners, a partnership emerged with MennoHomes and Parents for Community Living.
St Paul's Lutheran/Bridgeport has merged their 2.5 acres of high-value/high visibility property into the project, with MennoHomes now taking the lead in developing the building and property. As you can imagine a partnership like this takes a substantial commitment of time, trust, relationship building, and mind-boggling budgeting exercises. The St Paul's congregation just recently moved out of their building which will be demolished in March as construction gets underway. A recent article in The Record (K/W paper) tells some of the story.
The link here takes you to MennoHomes site with some background on the need for affordable housing in the region and more info about the financial model required to bring it to pass, including substantial grant funding (millions $) from levels of government.
The Tyndale Intercultural Ministries Centre (TIM Centre) in Toronto (connected with Tyndale Seminary) has just released a book to which I contributed a chapter. I have been involved with this learning community for almost 15 years. The collection of authors have contributed greatly to my understanding and practice over these years.
From the Amazon blurb:
This book is a collection of essays written to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tyndale Intercultural Ministries (TIM) Centre (1998-2018). Each chapter is written by a reflective practitioner engaged in ministry to, through and beyond the diaspora. They write, not as leaders who have all the answers, but as servants of God who are “building the bridge as they walk on it.” The TIM Centre is one of the key pieces of Tyndale’s Open Learning Centre, a strategic part of the ministry of Tyndale Seminary, located in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Believing that mission is not one-directional, “the West to the rest,” TIM Centre sees mission as from everywhere to everywhere, beginning on our doorstep and going to the ends of the earth. As you read this book one theme is constant throughout: We are living in a changing cultural context where the proven solutions of the past no longer relate to the questions being raised in the present. This book challenges us to be aware of the assumptions we bring to our ministry context and to be willing to evaluate them as we engage the global community that now resides in our neighbourhoods. This will require a spirit of humility to listen and learn from people of different cultures that God has brought to our doorstep.
Several years ago I read Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden. A film adaptation of this story premiered at TIFF recently. It's a powerful story of contemporary indigenous life set in both Northern Ontario and several mega-cities. At the time of the book's release in 2008, it was highly acclaimed. As was his previous novel 2005 novel, Three Day Road.
It was only after the release of his 2013 novel, The Orenda, that Boyden began to be questioned about his claimed aboriginal identity. I have a suspicion that the shaming of Boyden began because certain elements didn't like the content of that novel. There is so much to be explored in the story of his shaming -- the "real" issues behind the APTN "expose" of Boyden, and the white liberal, neo-colonialist progressives who made the story "popular," etc.
But what really grabbed me this week was this CBC conversation with Tina Keeper, one of the aboriginal producers of the new film. She's a personal friend of Joseph Boyden. The article touches on an issue that I raise frequently, "who gets to tell whose story?" Keeper is aware that working on a project like this involves a cooperative, collaborative process in an industry where indigenous people are in short supply. She says:
"There are some cultural elements that need to be addressed and how we work together, absolutely. I'm not talking about those things, I'm talking about how do we collaborate and work together," she says. "Because I know [Indigenous people have] been so discarded and so dismissed in the history and the cultural memory of this country, so I just feel that it's important for us to understand all of that when we're collaborating."
For me, that is a positive "way forward" approach to navigating our differences. Being aware of our own "stuff," paying attention and listening authentically to others, and then collaboratively finding a way to work together -- because together is much better than separate or oppositional.
Interesting reflections on the social and cultural milieu that we find ourselves in -- in this book review/essay by Brad East, Holy Ambivalence, in Los Angeles Review of Books. And what it means to be the people of God in the midst of these times. His question, What to do about Liberalism?
There are four basic approaches. First, retrenchment: liberalism has problems like anything else, but it’s nothing a little more liberalism can’t fix. Second, ambivalence: liberalism has endemic, insoluble problems, but it’s what we’ve got, and the status quo, however bad, is better than any known alternative and thus worth ameliorating in whatever small ways we can. Third, rejection: liberalism is an abject failure, unworthy of being propped up any longer, though admittedly there is no ready-made substitute for it. Fourth, replacement: liberalism has reached its end, and there are far more just political forms available if only we would have the courage to open ourselves to radical change
In short: “Liberalism has failed.” But “not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded.” Indeed, “the ruins it has produced are the signs of its very success. To call for the cures of liberalism’s ills by applying more liberal measures is tantamount to throwing gas on a raging fire.”
Apart from its effects, what is most insidious about liberalism is the way it hides itself as an ideology. It is so deeply interwoven with our life and thought that it has become the air we breathe, the water we swim in, the operating system we take for granted — until the whole system crashes. We are, Deneen argues, in a version of Plato’s cave, so mesmerized by the movie-set backdrops on the walls that we don’t realize they are two-dimensional projections. We need to get out, to seek the light. We need to expose our condition for what it is.
Liberalism was sold as a rescue from the state of nature, in which isolated individuals languished at war with others to secure their interests. But no such state ever existed, nor its lonely human protagonist — until liberalism’s triumph, that is. The liberal state created the subject it purported to save.
East then examines James K A Smith's recent, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology, where ensues a discussion about how Christians should conduct themselves in our interactions with the public space.
We are first of all, not thinking or believing creatures, but desiring animals. And what we love above all we worship. Such worship is neither individualistic nor disembodied but enacted in corporate rituals of ultimate concern. These practices habituate us, forming and redirecting our loves to objects that constitute visions of the good, of what it means to flourish as human beings. Such routines of the body do most of their work at an unconscious level; the mind follows the heart, and the heart directs the body, which reciprocates in kind.
Smith's classic illustration of this (from earlier works) is the shopping mall; our weekly trips habituate us to consumption; and the vicarious habits of screen-viewing (whether FB, gaming, TV or Netflix)...
Smith’s answer is threefold. First, the church is called and sent by God into the world to love its neighbors, serve the common good, and bear witness to the way of Jesus. So there is no avoiding the encounter, because it is divinely mandated. Second, the church’s own liturgical practices are the heart of its life for a reason: centered on the worship of God, who alone is worthy of it, they have the power, through God’s own action, to form, equip, and commission believers for faithful life and witness in society. Their loves properly ordered, Christians are empowered by the sacramental practices of the local worshiping community to resist the liturgical capture of the state — though this contest of loves ought to be made explicit, the better to know where the danger lies.
That's what I have appreciated about Smith's suggestions over the years -- the church needs to proactively provide an alternative formation to what we are already formed by -- the social and cultural milieu in which we swim/navigate each day.
In sum: Worship as “the civics of the city of God”; mission as the motivating force for participating in the earthly city; holy ambivalence as the character of such participation; hope in the heavenly city as the tether suspending its citizens here below, as they await the return of the King.
That's the phrase that caught my attention -- holy ambivalence. I've voted on the left side of the political spectrum all my adult life, and will probably continue so. There is just as much "disconnect" from a Christian worldview in conservative politics as there is in liberal politics, so I choose the vision that "up-front" says we should care for the vulnerable among us. But my personal stance is one of ambivalence -- there is no perfect political system conjured by human beings. In the end it is how we conduct our personal lives and the community of people we do that with, that makes any real differences.
I have found the understanding of human psychology and sociology (the human condition) that Christian Scriptures describe to be very accurate in my own experience. I find the loving, sacrificial, others-orientation of the Jesus story, as a response to the human condition, to be both challenging and transformative. And "in the meantime" (as we await the better world we all desire), we are called, as the church, to provide an alternative formation -- habits and practices consistent with the notion that God, who is Other, needs to hold our attention and shape our attitudes and behaviours better than we have been managing.
East concludes his review and reflections with:
But whatever strategies we devise, whoever comes our way, the waiting will continue. Smith, with Augustine, is therefore right to hallow patience as the church’s central political virtue; right to remember that Christian hope has no earthly term. There is no living beyond one’s time: perseverance does not mean impatience. Even liberalism can be endured.
Or, why I prefer to nod and smile affably and not contribute to the debate on identity politics, while getting on with actually bridging differences.
A lot of the current debate on identity politics tends to emerge from those who hold what are regarded as socially progressive views about these topics. For the sake of argument, I would like to suggest that there are actually two fields of study that are part of this debate. The disciplines of sociology and psychology.
Psychology constitutes, by means of the scientific method, a body of organized knowledge, the purpose of which is to describe, explain, predict and in some cases influence behaviour. "Behaviour" includes conduct and internal processes (thoughts, emotional reactions, feelings, etc) that may be inferred from external actions.
Sociology is the study of human relationships, the rules and norms that guide them, and the development of institutions and movements that conserve and change society. Sociologists now study the historical development of class relations and its relationship to economic, political and ideological processes.
For most of the 20th century, the discipline of psychology was prominent in the public consciousness with such personages as Skinner, Freud, Piaget, Erickson and Rogers. The discipline of sociology grew in increasing significance during the late 20th century and also has its well-known names: Durkheim, Weber, Foucault, Habermas and Bourdieu.
A simple, however reductionist, summary might be: psychology examines individual human behaviours, while sociology examines collective human behaviours. Again, fearful of simplifying, we might say there is a debate going on about who or what is responsible? Individual human responsibility or collective social systems? Again, fearfully broaching… In the Boushie/Stanley encounter, who/what is responsible? Two individuals making very emotional responses and stupid behavioural choices that ended in tragedy? Or two products of socially pre-determined systems where this outcome was completely predictable? Interestingly, the court system is built on the notion of individual responsibility (intent/behavior) and verifiable proof – thus the outcome of the trial. The popular media and a generation of millennials raised on sociology (systemic responsibility), not psychology (individual responsibility), however, see through the lens of the socially pre-determined inevitabilities of racism and unconscious bias.
In search of more clarity, I would like to introduce the discipline of anthropology into this conversation:
Anthropology is the comparative study of past and contemporary cultures, focusing on the ways of life and customs of people around the world. Applied anthropologists use their knowledge of peoples and cultures for practical purposes. They do this framed by anthropological concepts and a methodology - ethnographic fieldwork - that portrays people in their actual circumstances.
Anthropology has a long tradition in Canada. In fact, Franz Boas, considered by many as a founder of the discipline, did his most significant ethnographic work among Canadian indigenous peoples in the late 1800s. One of his students, Edward Sapir, was chief ethnologist for the Geological Survey of Canada (1910-1925), producing seminal work on linguistics and culture before his death in 1939. He was also an ardent pacifist and humanist who challenged narratives of European cultural superiority over Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Other students of Boas included Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.
It is within the learning framework of anthropology that I have spent most of my adult life. I was born and raised for the first 11 years of my life in the multi-ethnic mix of 1960s northern Ontario. I was exposed in everyday life to multiple, first-gen central and eastern Europeans, with some Scandinavians thrown in. This social context also included First Nations peoples. As an elementary school-aged observer, the stark reality of “poor living conditions” and “people in distress” was apparent. My parents, primary influencers of my early worldview, spoke of “these poor people who need help.” My parents, generally, had a positive desire to be service-oriented rather than judgmental or derogatory toward First Nations people; this included several summers where we “camped” on, or near reserves, to facilitate religious education experiences. My father tells a story of visiting in Norval Morrisseau’s home in the late 60s.
These early life exposures were fundamental to my understanding of difference. Languages, foods, living conditions, customs, values, were “interesting, but different.” To be explored and understood. I would go on to have other experiences with First Nations friends (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Huu-ay-aht First Nation). Further life experience has led me to engage with people and explore cultures in Mexico (6 weeks), Egypt (14 months), Cyprus (1 month), South Africa (6 years), Hungary (5 weeks), Niger (2 months), Ghana (6 weeks), Sri Lanka (8 months), India (2 months), and The Philippines (1 month).
OK, thanks for all that, Dan, so what’s your point?
“Applied anthropologists use their knowledge of peoples and cultures for practical purposes.” How does this knowledge and experience of diverse peoples help us in this current conversation? One of the applications of anthropology is to the discipline of intercultural communications, which aids in the development of intercultural competence.
Intercultural communication is defined as situated communication between individuals or groups of different linguistic and cultural origins. This is derived from the following fundamental definitions: communication is the active relationship established between people through language, and intercultural means that this communicative relationship is between people of different cultures, where culture is the structured manifestation of human behaviour in social life within specific national and local contexts, e.g. political, linguistic, economic, institutional, and professional. Intercultural communication is identified as both a concept and a competence. Intercultural competence is the active possession by individuals of qualities which contribute to effective intercultural communication and can be defined in terms of three primary attributes: knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Let’s catch up. Psychology situates the debate in individual terms, sociology as systemic and collective. Intercultural communication (an area of applied anthropology) says, "hold on, let’s sit down and figure out what’s going on and how we can move forward." This debate has individual, social, cultural, linguistic, political, economic and institutional implications. Meaning, engagement and dialogue is complex and any simplistic, reductionist media bites (on either side) completely miss the point.
The person who says “get your act together and pull up your bootstraps, Colten/Gerald” is missing the more complex work that needs to be done. As is the person who says “systemic racism caused this tragedy, we need to deconstruct the system.” It’s clearly both/and. But you know what? – all that takes time and commitment to engage, while suspending judgement in the meantime. And “the meantime” may take a long time.
Intercultural communication/competence provides these clues to the work that needs to be done:
And that’s my point. I’m tired of the debates – they only lead to further polarization, an entry-level phase of developing intercultural competence. I’m tired of the arm-chair, sophomoric social philosophers. I’d rather just sit down and spend some time engaging with, and learning from, someone who sees things different from myself – and doesn’t feel a need to convert me to their way of thinking. Maybe after I’ve listened long enough, I might get a chance to respectfully share my thoughts.
So I would respectfully suggest the beginning point is individual response (engagement, rethinking, changed behaviour) that leads to changes in systems, over time, because enough individual responses produce systemic change.
In light of ongoing social ferment in 2017 on both sides of the US/Canada border, I offer some insights from Jurgen Moltmann, written 40 years ago. Readers of Volf's Exclusion and Embrace will recognize Moltmann's influence on his thought.
In a social context where often we are only getting perspectives that represent a humanist worldview (i.e., a world with human capacity for self-improvement at the centre) or distorted Christian civil religion (with Christian semantics employed in the service of patriotism), we need to take the time to reflect more deeply on a revealed tradition that for millenia recorded a perspective on the distorted human condition that can only be rectified by outside intervention. We can't fix this of our own accord. History is witness to that reality.
"Birds of a feather flock together." But why? People who are like us, who think the same thoughts, who have the same things, and who want the same things, confirm us. However, people who are different from us, that is, people whose thoughts, feelings and desires are different from ours, make us feel insecure. We therefore love those who are like us and shun those who are different from us. And when these others live in our midst expressing their need for recognition, interest, and humanity, we react with defensiveness, increased self-confirmation, anxiety and disparagement. This anxiety is indeed the root of racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination against people with disabilities, and, not the least, the lack of relationships in the congregation. "Birds of a feather flock together": that is nothing other than the social form of self-justification and the expression of anxiety. This form of self-justification, therefore, never appears without aggressions against that which threatens its security. It has no self-confidence. It has no ego-strength.
"Accept one another." As we have seen this imperative unfortunately has its limitations. The roots of these limitations lie deep within ourselves. They appear in our anxiety about ourselves, and then in the self-justification which is so deeply ingrained in us.
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you" (Romans 15:7). Only this attitude can give us a new orientation and break through our limitations so that we can spring over our narrow shadows. It opens us up for others as they really are so that we gain a longing for and an interest in them. As a result of this we become able actually to forget ourselves and to focus on the way Christ has accepted us.
... We can mutually accept each other because Christ has accepted us...
(from Jurgen Moltmann, The Open Church: Invitation to a Messianic Lifestyle, SCM Press, 1978.)
Charles Taylor is one of the sane-ist people living on this planet... here is a very recent article, which addresses, implicitly, a lot of the polarization going on, on multiple fronts these days, from Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter & LGBTQ, Take a Knee, Vilifying Jordan Peterson, Niqabs in Quebec, Rachel Harder's ostracization, to Muslims taking over the World.
(a couple excerpts)
Modern democracy as we know it - unlike ancient democracy - is universalist. We believe that citizen rights should apply to the whole population, without exclusion on grounds of gender, property, origin and race.
But, in a paradoxical way, democracy can also generate exclusion, and regularly does. This means that our really existing democracies have to be continually vigilant, and ready to combat this thrust towards exclusion whenever it arises.
How does this tendency towards exclusion come about? It comes from another feature of democracies, both ancient and modern.
Here we have a classic case of democracy turning against itself. We might say, its "immune system," which should be detecting betrayals of its ethic, is turned against potentially "friendly" cells. So that democracy generates exclusion when its "immune system" turns against itself. This is what we are witnessing today...
Last week my wife and I visited the National Gallery of Canada to wander through the new display, Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967. I'm always inspired to stand or sit in front of Tom Thomson's Jack Pine or something by Emily Carr. This time I saw Yvonne McKague Housser's Rossport, Lake Superior. I've seen it before but I was startled again by how significant that sight is -- of this little village overlooking the lake, just down the road from where I was born. Aside from the early Modernist colour scheme, that's pretty much my "impression" from the early 1960s.
They also had a couple of Norval Morrisseau's pieces among many other indigenous artists that have been given a higher profile in the Gallery in preparation for the Canada 150 business. I have several Morriseau prints because I have been intrigued by his work since I was a kid. In the 1960s Morriseau lived not far from where I was born. Shortly after the kerfuffle with his work at Expo '67 he got a lot of press and certainly became a household name in my family. My father visited in his home around that same time period.
This morning as I was driving I listened to a podcast of Roberta Jamieson on CBC's Ideas program. Ms Jamieson is from the Six Nations of the Grand River, just outside Hamilton, where I live. She was recounting the history of indigenous and settler populations in Canada. I am continually amazed by how much of the history of colonial engagement and deception is unknown to large swathes of the Canadian population. [I think there is something about each generation needing to be retold the story, to give perspective on the present]
She also began recounting the steps that have taken place over the past 50 years to begin telling a different story. She mentioned that despite the perspectives of others, she would be celebrating Canada 150, because she sees reconciliation emerging in new and hopeful ways that haven't been there before. She feels the "Canadian" values of inclusion and welcome (although indigenous people have felt like outsiders for so long) are actually indigenous values that were demonstrated, practically, centuries ago, at first contacts with traders and settlers.
I would highly recommend listening to her talk, for history, reality and generosity of spirit. https://podcast-a.akamaihd.net/mp3/podcasts/ideas_20170630_64034.mp3
One of her thoughts was that we need to move beyond apologies and neo-liberal/progressive hand-wringing (she gives a throw-away 'tsk, tsk' to the whole "cultural appropriation" debate from this spring), to concrete action. She says don't come with your ideas on "how to help us;" just come and listen and explore together the way ahead.
On that note, I want to share this link to another podcast talking to my friend Darryl (a school teacher in Saskatoon) about his walk through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission summary, and his own neighbourhood to listen, explore and learn to adjust and create new things together.
In January 1998 I spent a week in Manila, The Philippines. This was in the midst of the time that Kathy and I were living in South Africa planting a church and developing community-based missional responses. For us that included developing an affordable housing company (managing 50 units) and an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims. The visit to Manila was to participate in a round table learning encounter with other urban ministry practitioners from around the world (Africa, Asia, Caribbean, England, USA) sponsored by Food for the Hungry, World Vision and the Fieldstead Institute. One of the products of that work was a book published by MARC, entitled Serving with the Urban Poor, edited by Ted Yamamori, Bryant Myers and Ken Luscombe. Kathy and I contributed a chapter on the work we were connected with in South Africa.
Among the many other learnings from that rich time was the opportunity to learn from Fr Ben Beltran, a Divine Word missionary working at Smokey Mountain, at the time the largest garbage dump in The Philippines. In the sessions, Father Ben shared his own experience of living and ministering on/in Smokey Mountain as an incarnational activity. He described the life of the church community (in a building built from scavenged garbage) as grace-radiating substance. That is, a faith community celebrating the Eucharist and reading & applying Scripture, in that setting, was both a physical and spiritual manifestation of the presence of God. That was a new thought for me at the time. That just to live, minister and "be" the presence of Christ in that space was witness. That God would give the resources to live that kind of life was, in fact, "good news." Interestingly, Ben also helped us reflect on a theology of holistic ministry by employing a motif from Philipino worldview -- the notion of human being as defined by relationship to others; "to be" is "to be in relation." Rejecting a dualistic western understanding of sacred and profane. Relationship with God, with others and the created earth is, "of a kind," not separate things.
[recent writings on the idea of "place" in Christian ministry: Where Mortals Dwell, No Home Like Place, The Space Between, The New Parish. Good thoughts here from the late Richard Twiss, on an indigenous theology of place.]
As I returned to our ministry in South Africa, this led me to work toward deepening our practice regarding our location as a city centre, multicultural faith community that was expressing itself in the provision of affordable safe housing and care for those impacted by domestic oppression and violence. Those were issues "of" our place. This amplified insights from my study with Alan Roxburgh a few years earlier, who asked us, "what are the themes that emerge from your social context? what does the gospel/good news look like in relation to those themes?"
In the midst of our affordable housing development we received a major grant from the South African government's Dept of Housing. We decided to have a "thanksgiving service" (a very African thing to do) right on the building site, on a major traffic route through the city. So amidst the building rubble of demolished older buildings with new sections going up, we had an open-air worship service with full band and sound system, we had some traditional dancing and choirs, obligatory speeches and we celebrated the Lord's Supper as servers tried not to stumble over bricks and puddles of water. Grace seemed very tangible that day.
Today, in Canada, I am convinced more than ever that issues of place and context need to impact our practice and our communication. The incarnation of Jesus (local communities of the Body of Christ) in place and time must reflect good news to those who see and hear us.