Monday, June 30, 2008

Pixar: Where All The Best Kid's Flix-are.

Saw Wall-E with my family the other day and was it ever good. It is the 2001 of kids movies actually. In fact it has 2001: A Space Odyssey all over it, which I might call a cheap rip off except that it was so well done. One of the amazing things about this children's movie is that for the first 20 minutes or so there is absolutely no dialogue, yet it maintains even the children's fascination. This is impressive for any genre.

I just thought this was a clever and captivating film and highly recommend it, even if you don't have kids. Even the short film at the beginning was fantastic. And all this leads me to wonder:

Is Wall-E possibly the best Pixar film yet? Actually, when you think about it, there are some tough ones to beat [and this is coming from a guy who can't stand Disney movies (i.e Lion King & Little Mermaid), so hats off to Pixar!]. Here, then, is my attempt to rank the Pixar "kids movies":

1. Toy Story 2
2. Wall-E
3. Toy Story
4. Cars
5. Finding Nemo
6. Monsters Inc.

I'm not exactly sure whether I am missing any or not.

The only non-Pixar children's movies I can think of that would come close to getting on this list would be Babe and Babe: Pig in the City (what a gem!), or maybe Tarzan or Fox & the Hound. I admit I haven't a lot of the Disney ones, but aren't they all basically the same?

Care to weigh in with your Pixar rankings or your other favourite children's movies? (Bear in mind that you may be mocked for anything you say. Feel free to mock me as well, and then to see me defend my choices resiliently).

Oh Canada!

We sang the national anthem in church on Sunday. This is always interesting to me. I think good things about it and I think not so sure things about it. Anyway, here are the lyrics, as based on the original version of Robert Stanley Weir's 1908 poem, with some of my questions and comments inserted. This is going to sound cynical but I don't mean it that way. I just have always meant to think about the lyrics and this time around I did so, and found I had some questions . . .

O Canada!Our home and native land!True patriot love in all thy sons command.
It rarely occurs to me that this is us singing to Canada asking it to command true patriot love in all its sons (we still aren't gender inclusive on this one). What did it mean in 1908 to have "true patriot love"?
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,The True North strong and free!
In what sense are we "strong" and "free"? Just curious. I'd like to know what most people think they mean when they say that---at hockey games, and especially in church. What did it mean to be "free" in 1908? What does it mean in 2008? In what sense is this a biblical notion of freedom? In what sense is it not?
From far and wide,O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. I'm not sure we know what it means to really "stand on guard" for our country. I don't, anyway.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow. Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.
Lordly. That's a funny word.
How dear to us thy broad domain, From East to Western Sea,
True. It is pretty cool.
Thou land of hope for all who toil! Thou True North, strong and free! God keep our land . . .
"Land of hope for all who toil." Hmm. What are we talking about here? I'm very very curious what that meant in 1908. I feel like there are some colonial-capitalistic overtones here. Maybe I'm just listening for them more this year after thinking so much this year about the scar of our residential schools legacy (and what did first nations people think when they sang "God keep our land" in the early 1900s?). Still, I suppose we could sing it now with the "toil" for reconciliation, truth, and healing in mind. That would be a hope worth singing for.

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skiesMay stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
Ahhh, I've always loved the word "stalwart". And it is good to see the maidens mentioned here.
To keep thee steadfast through the years From East to Western Sea, Our own beloved native land! What do immigrant Canadians think about when they sing "native land"? Insert any kind of Canadian in there, I'd like to know the answer to that. For me it just means I was born here and its a part of me. Fair enough.
Our True North, strong and free! God keep our land . . .
I like how our anthem defines us according to our proximity to other nations, mainly the U.S. (admittedly I'm reaching for cynicism a bit here. I don't know how anyone could call us the True South, West, or East). Still, there is a bit of an insight into our inferiority complex in that line isn't there?

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
I'm amazed that this is the poem behind our anthem. I don't think for a second that the nationalistic prayers of old were all pure and spotless in their Christ-likeness, but it is interesting how much things have changed. We are fairly thankful for our freedom of worship, but with that comes everyone else's freedom of worship, and with that comes the cancellation of stanza 4 from the official lyric sheet. Even "God keep our land" is bound to go eventually, I would think. Maybe not. We'll see.
Hold our dominion within thy loving care;
That's a decent prayer. What's a dominion?
Help us to find, O God, in thee, A lasting, rich reward, As waiting for the Better Day, We ever stand on guard. God keep our land . . .
Wow, ending with some pretty fine eschatological tension. Sweetness.

Incidentally, my favourite thing about the Canada Day sermon today was that the pastor honoured the PM for doing what was right this year and submitting a national apology to first nations people. Yes! Truth and reconciliation: A nation that got serious about that . . . now that is something I am/could be really proud of.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cloud 9 vs. Earth 2.0

I have to tell you, I'm very interested to read NT Wright's new book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

That's a lot to rethink. And I'd probably pass it off as another attempt to make a buck at the bookstore if it weren't written by NT Wright.

Besides, the truth is that I've been rethinking these issues already.

The Bible is full of different images of the end times and the everlasting life. At points it seems like it is saying there is a cataclysmic end and a total new beginning in the sky somewhere. At others it seems like the earth itself gets reborn. At points it is cloud #9 and at points it is earth 2.0.

At different points in history, Christians have gravitated to one or the other. Post world wars we have been living in the pendulum swing to the escapist "sweet-by-and-by" version. I grew up under the fear mongering and escapism of this view as it dominated the evangelical mainstream.

But then I read Isaiah. And notice in Revelation that the New Jerusalem comes down to earth, and we don't go to it. And things like that. And I study texts that have been used to support the ideas of pre-tibulational rapture and millenial kingdom and armaggedon and I find them flimsy indeed.

But I don't know what to make of it anymore. And Left Behind has been the only real discussion of this issue in recent decades to be embraced in the church (another issue it is easier to avoid in order to maintain status quo), and unfortunatly it was hardly a discussion, and hardly holistically biblical.

So where to from here? I don't fully know. I have some ideas, but I confess the need to really give this some thought and further study.

Enter NT Wright. I was recently introduced to his take on Mark 13 and Daniel 7 and found it very compelling. (The Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven is a reference to Jesus being vindicated and coming--not to earth from heaven, but from earth to heaven--in vindication as the King of the Jews victorious over sin and death.) I want to hear him out on other matters. Especially this one. Here is a scholar who is decidely focussed on Scripture, and yet allows it to breathe fresh in dialogue with the church past and present, as well as current scholarship and cultural questions.

I recently heard this provocative quote from Wright: "Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world." Needless to say, he is causing quite a stir. I am going to look into this further. Incidentally, here is a Time interview, a Christianity Today article, and even an interview on The Colbert Report. I'll be looking at these in the next few days and hopefully I'll have more to say about this in the future. Perhaps you'd like to join me in this.

With all the apocalyptic movies out there and the whole rage of "save the world" propaganda inundating us every day, I think that the Christian message has two elements of truth wherein it meets contemporary thought head on and yet needs to sort itself out and decide what it has to say. Truth is, I think it has something to say in the World War era as well as the Green era that should challenge us more than Al Gore ever could. We'd best get to that, else I think our eschatology simply becomes irrelevant fodder for scary movies, and nothing else.

I think the Bible intends to be far more than that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Happening

There are artists who earn your trust. You know you just have to buy the next thing they put out. Right off the shelves. Without hearing a single, seeing a trailer, or hearing any word of mouth. You maybe don't feel the need to line up at the doors 36 hours before the the CD/tickets/book goes on sale, but you will be there pretty quick. M. Night Shyamalan is that way for me. Maybe not anymore. We'll see.

Maybe the man who made such amazing films as Signs, The Village, Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable just ran out of gas. I don't know what it was, but The Happening did not live up to expectations. Like Lady in the Water before it, it was just kind of a dud. However, at least Lady still had some acting and storytelling and cinematography to go for it. This had none of that. It was like a TV movie, really.

The cinematography was boring. Grass and trees everywhere. And wind. That's it. There's your bad guy. Thing is, that's kind of a cool idea. An invisible and completely natural villain. Imagine you step outside after the movie and the wind blows in the trees above and you get a chill, expecting any moment to be dead---that would be something. If anyone could pull it off and make it scary it would be M. Night. But he didn't.

The music didn't help. It just wasn't the stuff of his past works. Not once do I recall being captivated. Past soundtracks held me in their icy grip from start to finish, and hours afterward.

The acting was nominal at best. A film like this needs good casting, but there was really only one "extra" (the military guy) who I felt did a better job than I would have done. The supporting cast was alright. The lady who played Mrs. Jones was phenomenal, and gave the movie its only bright spot. What a great bunch of scenes at her house. Literally made the night for me. The main actors fizzled. I like Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, but they just lacked spark. I didn't care. And usually M. Night does such a good job getting child actors to be convincing, but the kid in this one was like a next door neighbour reading a book--cute and all, but not something I care to watch for very long.

When we got home from watching this one, our sitter had The Village on. We sat and watched the rest of it and remembered why M. Night is so great. The color, the story, the acting, the filming, the extras---it is a stunning picture. This film is so inferior to that one it is perplexing.

Even stuff that M. Night used to do well was done poorly here. The long agonizing close up on the person before you see what is behind or above them---if done right it is gripping, if done poorly it is just frustrating. In The Happening's first act, when people are falling from the roof, I'm sorry but, dude, you gotta look up a lot sooner. People are falling from the sky! The realism decreases exponentially when you keep on looking around at the ground confused. We realize pretty quick that the director is toying with us, and when he sacrifices common sense to do so, we just don't like it. The story begins to feel stupid.

I realize most of my criticisms come from comparing this film to M. Night's past flicks. Maybe he set himself up for a few letdowns. It does cause one to wonder what M. Night is up to. The best theory I've heard, over at Watch It Movies, is that he's not concerned with a wide audience anymore and is just doing what he wants and depending on his cult fan base. I don't know, I say get a team around you that will keep you up to your standards.

Whatever happened with The Happening, I hope it doesn't happen again. There are glimmers of hope, though. The plot-line was a good idea (but what happened to the bees? Why didn't that play a bigger role?), and there were some good scenes (everything with Mrs. Jones). To be honest, I still look forward to his next stuff. But I must admit it is kind of sad when a favourite artist loses a bit of that favour.

Still, we'll always have Signs. And a night at The Happening is still better than 75% of the movies out there. So let's keep perspective. Don't anyone panic. I'm sure it won't happen again. One good thing about this movie is that I think it made me like Lady in the Water a bit more.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Actual Review of Viva la Vida

I have to admit I'm a little tired of the title track from Viva la Vida already, but the rest of this album has me in its grip, that's for sure. The opening track is pregnant with expectation as it builds one of the snappiest instrumentals I've heard in a long time. The second song makes me feel like maybe its a walk in London, and I like that very much.

The third track, Lost, is like the theme song of the album, and you can see Chris Martin talk about it on The Hour here. (Incidentally, if you follow that link you'll also see him make a short comment about every track on their first two albums as well as a really funny line which reveals something about his own nerves and honesty about putting his music out there).

42 is probably my favourite right now. There is so much going on in this one. It also convinces you that they were serious about letting the guitar take the lead this time. Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love is a great slow down leading up to the "singles", of which Violet Hill is currently most captivating to me. Viva la Vida is an awfully religious-sounding song. Since I don't listen to "worship" music, I enjoy it when artful bands touch a spiritual nerve for me. Strawberry Swing is a sweet change of pace. It is like a lilting summer day.

The final track is Death and All His Friends, and I think the anthem on here is really inspiring, actually. Maybe I've been reading too much Miroslav Volf, but something about these lines captures the longing for redemption that I find so compelling. This probably drives musicians nuts, I don't know, but I quoted them in my sermon in chapel on Thursday. Here are those lines:

No I don't want a battle from beginning to end
I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge
I don't want to follow Death and all his friends

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reviews of Coldplay's Viva la Vida

The new Coldplay album, Viva la Vida, was finally released in Canada on Monday. It could be heard on myspace before that, but I wanted to reserve comment until I'd heard it on something other than my computer speakers.

I find it an enjoyable album to listen to. It is hard to say whether it will "stay in the CD player" (an outdated metaphor, to be sure) for a year straight and become one of the greatest rock albums of all time, like Rush of Blood to the Head did a few years back, but it is good.

You'll read mixed reviews about this one. Some are just happy it isn't X&Y. I don't know. I liked X&Y. It was never going to be as good as its predecessor, and I rather liked the way it went all out and epic. "Fix You" is timeless, and the last half of the album is as good as any.

But Viva la Vida isn't X&Y, and I suppose that is a good thing. It has been well noted already that it has moments of U2 and moments of Radiohead. A few have called them a Radiohead clone. I think it is fairer to say that they are Radiohead if they'd stuck with The Bends and played more piano, or U2 if the Edge would have stopped playing with his gadgets.

Apparently, in a new Rolling Stone magazine article, Chris Martin says, "Sometimes I feel like they (Radiohead) cleared a path with a machete, and we came afterward and put up a strip mall. I would still give my left ball to write anything as good as (beloved Radiohead album) OK Computer."

Thing is, when people compare them to U2 or Radiohead in this way, they are usually trying to put Coldplay down. I'm not. I'm quite happy to have all three. Radiohead is easily the most creative band of our time. If there ever could be another Beatles it would be them. They have pushed music like no one else. There are bound to be some people that come along after them and sound sort of similar at points (try the song "42" on Viva la Vida for instance). But I think this is a good thing. Same with U2. How many U2 wannabes are out there? How many are good? Few, if any. (Let's not even talk about pop-"worship" music now). But Coldplay is good. They fall within (or between) genres, and yet transcend being a knock-off. You can't be a knock-off when you are genuine, and that's one thing I like about Coldplay. They really seem genuine to me.

And don't get me wrong: There is nothing I dislike more than trite lyrics, predictably boring tunes, thinly-disguised plagiarism, and mass-produced sound. (Again, please don't get me started on "worship" music).

I've read a few other comments about the new album, good and bad, including a review from someone who wanted to hate it but still liked it. Another who was surprised to like the album somewhat said "Coldplay is ok music for people who like bad music." While I know what the person means, that seems like a comment written by someone trying to feel high on himself and his musical tastes. I think it more accurate to say that Coldplay is popular music for people who like good music.

All this serves to remind me that it is tough to review music. Even moreso than film. You listen to music while you drive your car with the windows down, sulk in the rain after a tough week, hang out with friends, gear up for a difficult meeting, celebrate a victory, or enjoy your first dance with your baby in your arms. (Incidentally, Coldplay has walked me through all of the above.) The experiences are so varied, and so incredibly subjective. You can take it or leave it, love it or hate it, and sometimes it will have more to do with where you are at and how you take it. Frankly, I admire musicians who are willing to put themselves out there like that. Good for them. Good for us. I am so glad to have music to listen to that I feel like comes from somewhere, and hits me somewhere, and helps me "live the life". Maybe that sounds trite. But its true. Maybe I can keep it fresh by saying it in French: Viva la vida.

And at the end of the day, that's how I feel about Coldplay. Perhaps it is because their last three albums have been the soundtrack to raising my two sons and going to seminary. Perhaps it is because it is just really good music. Perhaps it is because the album cover reminds me of Les Miserables. Any way you slice it, they've got me, and Viva la Vida has not disappointed. I had pretty high hopes too. It is wonderful when a band lives up, and yet manages to keep it real.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Prince of Peace Smokes a Peace Pipe

What follows is an abridged version of a paper I am grateful to have had the opportunity to research and write last December. I have removed the footnotes for blog-friendliness, but if anyone would like a copy or wishes to track down a quote, let me know. If you feel like sliding down to the end I've added a personal response to today's events.

The Prince of Peace Smokes a Peace Pipe:
A Theological Analysis of Canada's
Truth and Reconciliation Commission

All of Canada needs to face its residential school legacy and pursue truth and reconciliation among its peoples so that it can not only chart a new way forward for Aboriginals but also foster a better society. Euro-Canadians need to listen to Aboriginal Canadians so that the truth can be known and healing pursued. Aboriginal Canadians need to take the opportunity to free themselves from unwarranted guilt and shame, renew their cultural distinctives and identity, and contribute afresh to the societal dialogue. Grace is needed. Christians need to engage in this reconciliation process not as detached consultants, but as society’s humble frontrunners---recognizing the image of God in Aboriginals that has been so shamefully denied by colonialism; confessing and repenting of the attitudes that enabled the residential schools to operate; and committing to a re-harmonized country that sees Aboriginals as partners rather than obstacles. . . .

When early Aboriginals offered the "sacred pipe" to Europeans it was a full-bodied extension of good will and trust between peoples that was then trampled on by colonial powers. That this pipe is still being offered (e.g., to Brian Mulroney in 1987, and Chuck Strahl in 2007) is a tribute to the grace of Aboriginal Canadians and a testament to the recurring need to seek healing and peace. If there was ever a time to smoke the "peace pipe" it is in the ugly wake of the residential schools debacle. But such an opportunity should not be taken lightly. There is no peace when truth is swept under the carpet. Truth and reconciliation go hand in hand. . . .

Peace and justice are never perfect in this world. There are quite simply too many variables in the irretrievable past, the complicated present, and the unknown future to make things absolutely right again. Christian theology sees peace as something worth striving for and justice as a human responsibility, but measures peace and justice relative to that which will only be had fully at the judgment day of Christ and the onset of a new creation. Christian or not, it is clear that the day-to-day alternatives are vengeance and the perpetuation of enmity or truth and reconciliation. Though neither offers perfect justice, one works toward peace and the other succumbs to the downward spiral of discord. For optimal reconciliation both the offended and the offender must take a relational, rather than a vindictive, posture. If people find it within themselves to take this posture it is tribute to the image of God still screaming out from inside the marred souls of humanity. Everyday, however, one sees how quickly this posture can be lost. Where the human heart fails, theology finds the resources for reconciliation in Christ. For Christians the activity of reconciliation is not a replacement for Christ, but a witness to Him. He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus said the peacemakers would be called children of God. . . .

The enmity between Euro- and Aboriginal-Canadians did not begin with residential schools, but with influx of Europeans and the wrongdoings of colonialism. . . . Early Canadian politicians found it difficult to reconcile the Indian way of life with the developing European ideals of capitalism, and vice versa. In 1846, Indian Superintendent P.G. Anderson addressed the Aboriginal’s situation: "You will not give up your idle, roving habits to enable your children to receive instruction. It has therefore been determined that your children shall be sent to schools where they will forget their Indian habits and be instructed in all the necessary arts of civilized life and become one with your white brethren." These early rumblings of the coming "cultural genocide" led to the Indian Act of 1876, which was, in Sir John A. Macdonald’s words, "to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the dominion, as speedily as they are fit for the change." The Department of Indian Affairs annual report of1889 clarified that the purpose of the new boarding schools was to thoroughly "civilize" the Indians so that nothing Indian was left.

Despite some good intentions and some good teachers, this paternalistic attitude prevailed, and was the breeding ground for a bad situation. Although "the thought even before the deed . . . was violent in its intention to ‘kill the Indian’ in the child for the sake of Christian civilization," the recipe for disaster was complete when combined with "the most persistent flaw in the system – chronic underfunding." . . . An already inadequate system became a pressure cooker for all kinds of misdeeds and abuses. Over the course of a century 130 residential schools housed between 100,000 and 150,000 students, and killed as many as half of them. . . .

A note of dissent appears in the records in 1908, from Superintendent General of Indian Affairs Frank Oliver, who questioned the forcible separation of children from their parents:
"I hope you will excuse me for so speaking but one of the most important commandments laid upon the human by the divine is love and respect by children for parents. It seems strange that in the name of religion a system of education should have been instituted, the foundation principle of which not only ignored but contradicted this command." . . .

In 1948 a superintendent told his superiors "If I were appointed by the Dominion Government for the express purpose of spreading tuberculosis, there is nothing finer in existence than the average Indian Residential School." Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, strictness and brutality, filthy living conditions, and rampant illness abound. But even if a few alarm bells were sounding, little was being done. Agnes Grant noted that it was "the prevalent attitude about sexual abuse in Canadian society at that time. . . . [that] you didn’t talk about it."

This is clearly not the type of tolerance that makes a peaceable nation. Canada must be very careful not to build itself on a false peace, where "the role of the dominant group is to live without raising questions about the sources of and supports for the privileges it so easily takes for granted. The role of the subordinate group, on the other hand, is to learn to survive in a dependent and subservient role." A society must ask itself if it is promoting the kind of moral courage to effect change when change is needed. . . .

In society, the truth sets people free in proportion to how fully societal dialogue is able to agree upon that truth. Once that truth is agreed on, it must be owned up to and confessed. Where individuals and organizations find themselves connected in culpability to the original offense or the perpetration of the problem they must confess this and agree with the offended about what has gone wrong. . . . Noting the colonial skeleton in Canada’s closet, Michael Ignatieff noted that "the truth of what happened is not yet part of the shared historical record of our country and until it is we will continue to talk past each other." Without a "deep remembering" of past victims a society can end up with little more than a "victor’s truth" that serves to benefit only those in power. . . .

As Gary Redcliffe says we need "a change in our spiritual capacity to identify ourselves with the residential schools’ story. . . . to see ourselves as heirs and continuing participants in the colonialistic narrative of Canada, as sinners and wrong-doers in need of repentance, confession and the grace of new life." . . . Canada sits on the verge of an opportunity to write the story in a new direction together or to continue to rehash the old one. . . .

Pierre Trudeau "famously characterized apologies as efforts to fix history, and he refused to have anything to do with them," citing it as "our purpose to be just in our time." On the other hand, Robert Weyeneth said that apologies reduce "the number of permissible lies in a society." Though Trudeau underestimated the need for and power of an apology, he raised the important point that an apology alone still leaves much to be desired. In real reconciliation, confession becomes repentance. . . .

But what does societal repentance look like? If wrong can never be fully made right, when is the level of repentance satisfactory to warrant forgiveness, or to become the basis for reconciliation?
The cycle of reconciliation is rarely a neat and tidy step by step process. There will be much give-and-take and likely many stops and starts. For the cycle of reconciliation to continue past repentance into forgiveness, however, there must be an initiated repentance of considerable substance. This is where the words and symbols of an apology combine with well-planned
commitments in order to initiate and enable a society’s turning from wrongdoing. Once this takes hold it can issue forward into the repeated and sustained commitments of reparation. . . . Without a posture of relationship and societal dialogue this can all seem very wooden. Indeed it will end up having to be solidified in legislation. But the posture of embrace remains crucial.
In the TRC process it is quite possible that those Canadians who are not directly involved with Aboriginals might see it as something from which they can remain aloof. But the message must go out that the ripple effects of colonialism are far reaching for offended and offender alike. When one residential school survivor was asked in 1965 by the government to recount his story he had misgivings, explaining that "really this is not my story but yours." Indeed, Euro-Canadians and Aboriginal-Canadians alike need to see this as the story of their past and must be ready to turn from any underlying wrong attitudes and actions that surface in the process. If either party disengages en masse, the society will suffer. It is true that a widespread lack of public participation [in the TRC] would only be ‘another slap in the face to the survivors."

One could analyze the requirements of justice forever and never find a satisfying reparation for the wrongs that have been committed. At some point a society has to decide to do whatever it can instead of doing nothing because it can not do everything. Reconciliation should not be seen as a replacement for justice, but as an attempt to do what justice can not do on its own, which is to build a better society. Ironically, if a society values exact justice over reconciliation, it will watch both slip through its fingers. . . .

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of reconciliation is forgiveness. In South Africa a witness famously declared to the TRC that they "could not and should not ask her to [forgive], nor offer forgiveness for her." Can a society have corporate forgiveness without trampling on the dignity of individuals? A recent study on societal reconciliation asserted: "It is wrong to say that only the victims can forgive. . . . It is essential to take the intergenerational impact of suffering into account and to involve the coming generations in the processes of forgiveness."

A people group should certainly consult its members before offering words of corporate forgiveness. In this process the repentant party must be patient, "recognizing that the willingness to forgive is related both to the healing journey of the Aboriginal community and also to the healing journey of the church itself." Even when communal forgiveness is granted, it must not be taken as a blanket amnesty or a presumption of individual forgiveness. It is rather the posture which a people take toward one another that enables the cycle of reconciliation to continue.

Forgiveness is, of course, not something that only benefits the offender. This is well expressed in Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, as a clergyman considers whether to forgive his oppressor or not, saying: "I have one great fear in my heart – that one day when they turn to loving they will find that we are turned to hating."

As Michael Marrus explains, societal reconciliation "comes in varying degrees. In ‘thinner’ versions, the two parties could agree not to kill each other; in ‘thicker’ versions, they could show mutual respect and agree to work together; and at the ‘thickest,’ the former enemies could commit themselves to friendship and solidarity." For all that has been said about facing Canada’s colonial legacy, it can be dangerous to assume that the residential school survivors can bear the burden of bringing healing to society.

Dale Turner has gone so far as to say that if the approach to these issues does not "adequately address the legacy of colonialism" and continues "to stake a unilateral claim over Aboriginal people without entering into a meaningful and participatory dialogue with them" then the proceedings do not count as a "peace pipe". Though it will be difficult sometimes to discern where ultimatums end and meaningful dialogue begins, these kinds of statements need to be heard. At the same time, it must be the commitment of all parties to neither resist reconciliation process because it is incomplete nor cop out of it because it can never be fully satisfactory. In a phrase, all involved need to find it within themselves to take a posture of relationship and to both hear and speak the truth in love. Can a nation find this within themselves?

It is difficult for a Christian to imagine such a thing happening outside of the knowledge of Christ’s love and his promise of eschatological justice, but it does seem that the Spirit has been stirring up reconciliation in the world nonetheless. Perhaps this communal focus in society can revive such a thing in the Church and provoke Christians to engage the reconciling activity of the world with the resources that come from Christ and lead ultimately to his plan of redemption. It is entirely likely that were the Prince of Peace here in the flesh he would take up the offered peace pipe and smoke it, perhaps going so far as to multiply it, like he did the wine at the wedding at Cana, so that many more could take part.
Though the Church had its hand in the sins of colonialism and failed to love its neighbor as itself, it can have a hand in redemption by submitting to the Spirit’s reconciling work and encouraging things in the trajectory of Christ’s example. True ambassadors of reconciliation will want to see the truth set people free.

At the same time, Christians will realize and remember that for truth and reconciliation to fully be known these efforts will need to lead to Christ. By being involved in societal reconciliation they will be in the best position to witness to Christ and serve His concerns in the world until He comes, bringing perfect peace and final justice with him. How long, O Lord, how long?

As I listened to the speeches in our House of Parliament I was both optimistic for out country and saddened by the knowledge that the reconciliation efforts can not possibly right every wrong. But at times I also welled up with tears as I felt like I was getting a very small foretaste of a banquet that awaits when the nations of earth are healed; and it was a tiny glimpse of a vision I've read about and yet found hard to imagine. Today for a split second or two I could actually imagine it:

And he carried me away in the Spirit
to a mountain great and high,
and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem,
coming out of heaven from God.
It shone with the glory of God . . .

I did not see a temple in the city,
because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light,
and the Lamb is its lamp.

The nations will walk by its light,
and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
On no day will its gates ever be shut,
for there will be no night there.
The glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into it. . . .

Down the middle of the great street of the city
On each side of the river stood the tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Apology

On Wednesday (tomorrow as I write this) Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give a public apology in Canadian Parliament to all those who have been affected by the Residential Schools travesty which so darkens our nation's past. I hope you will be listening along with me at 3:00 Eastern.

This is an important day for our country. It is not the end of the road, nor the guarantee of healing, but it is a highly significant moment. As someone who has done a little bit of digging into the story behind this issue I must say that I hope there is sincerity in our Prime Minister's voice and in all of our hearts as this public apology is given on behalf of Canadians past and present.

We will hear much debate about the effectiveness of this apology and of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that follows. Much of that will be appropriate. But if it is a cop-out for actually owning the reconciliation opportunity then it will be a sad day for us all.

To what extent can a nation be sorry? How can a group of people forgive? And how can anyone propose to do either on behalf of others (some of whom are long since dead)? Certainly this apology can not be more than it is. But I still think it can be a lot. Especially if we mean it. I really think we all need to take pause and consider the legacy of the residential schools and our complicity in that legacy, simply by virtue of being Canadian. We inherited this injustice, and it is important that we take part in this act of peace-making, else we perpetuate it by ignorance, indifference, or worse, insolence.

The injustices of the residential schools are not confined solely to the past. The ramifications are felt in the affected families for generations, and are still being felt today. It was an attempt by our country to commit cultural genocide. I am not exaggerating. That is what the UN called it. A people were told to become European, and families were torn apart to make it happen.

Of course, it got worse than that. The funding was not there over the years even to see to the health of those children taken from their families. Their teachers were working with some warped values (by today's standards) and were left high and dry (in many cases) by their government. Abuse, illness, and death were rampant. Families were ripped to shreds. Alcoholism, depression, and perpetuation of abuse were just some of the after-effects within those children and families that tried to piece things together.

To fail to empathize, grieve, and even join together as a nation in this apology will be at best a missed opportunity to participate in the road to redemption and at worst a perpetuation of injustice.

This apology will not make everything better. But if we listen to it, and own it, I think it can go a long way, not only to the healing of the victims (to whom my heart goes out), but to the healing of the country; the perpetrators; the bystanders.

I pray for healing, redemption, truth, and reconciliation. I believe this to be something that can ultimately and only be had in Christ, but I see His Spirit at work in this process, and I pray that our country, and our aboriginal peoples, will get a taste of redemption this Wednesday. I pray for their forgiveness. I pray for the end of racist ignorance and repent of my own. I pray for a country that is willing to rebuild itself with empathy and the energy required to help restore the hurting and the destitute. I pray for the wholeness, dignity, and courage of those still living with the vestiges of the harm that was done. I pray that the echoes of suffering will get fainter still and will be replaced by the sounds of hope.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Unity in What?

This past Sunday at church we wrapped up a class I'd been teaching on a fairly controverted topic. (It was on gender roles acc. to Scripture). I was very thankful for the opportunity to broach and discuss this subject in our church. More than that, even, I was glad to be with church people who were willing to discuss rather than avoid controversy. That takes a special kind of unity. Sometimes it is in the throes of debate that unity is seen most powerfully.

One of the main things you hear when church's consider the possibility of talking about this issue is that there is a fear of division over it. This is a legitimate concern; you do have to find the right time (although "never" is not a time). But it struck me as we were preparing for and doing this class that one of the surest ways to become divided is to be united by something false. False things eventually cease to ring true. Mirages disappear. Houses of sand collapse.

If we are united in a common fear, we are united by something very weak.

If we are united by conflict avoidance, we have false peace.

If we are united by mere tolerance, we are not united but gathered (which is a start, however!).

If we are united by the target group's favourite way of doing things, we are not united but pandering.

If we are united by convenience, we are just people who happen to be in the same place at the same time.

If we are united by default views that can't be questioned or discussed, we are simply falling in line, and could even be lying to each other.

Unity is a slippery thing, when you look at it. And if unity is thin it does not hold up to stress.

For this class I prayed that we would have a unity that would be strong enough to handle discussion and diversity. The discussion was driven toward a hoped-for agreement, but there had to be unity experience this side of that agreement or it really was only a hoped-for unity. What would be the thing that would hold us together and one day get us there?

It occurred to me that we could be united in Christ, even if we were united in nothing else.

We could be united by a force and not by a doctrinal statement; by a common reason to talk and not by a common decision.

I began praying every week that our discussion, even our debate and disagreement, would be an expression of our unity in Christ rather than a threat to it.

If we were to express Christ than we would make it our goal from the outset to speak truth in love. It is too easy to just speak truth, or to just speak love, or to think you have truth and never risk speaking of it, or to say you love but never speak of anything consequential.

If we believe in truth, we should believe it is true enough to withstand scrutiny. If we believe in our common humanity we should believe it valuable to listen to one another.

Furthermore, if we believe in Christ, then we believe not just in common humanity but in a common Human who reconciles humanity. And if we believe that, then what do we have to fear from confrontation? The Reconciler works well with confrontation!

In fact, avoidance of confrontation can very easily become avoidance of the Reconciler.

I'm not calling for confrontation at all costs. Love looks for the right time. Love thinks before speaking. Love does not assume. Love trusts and listens and speaks well.

But if I can argue with a person and then take communion with him or her, I think it says something very powerful about unity, about Christ, about faith, and about our church.

Should we seek resolution of said argument? Of course. But our unity is in Christ and not solely in our mutual assent to this or that.

It is time we stopped looking at our conflicts and disagreements simply as threats to our unity. What we need is to see the process of discussion, and dialogue, and debate as an inevitable part of being people who might not otherwise be in the same room except that Christ has brought them together and is doing something in their midst.

It is time to see our confrontations and our discussions as an expression of our unity in Christ, rather than as evidence against it (which is a pretty surface-view of things).

It is time to let the gracious reconciliation that we have in Christ be what unites us, rather than some sort of human powers of persuasion or gospel of mere tolerance.

Beware of false unity: Unity in demographic; unity in conflict avoidance; unity in worship style; or even unity in dogma (although certain things will always be central magnetic fields that bring you together). Let our unity be in Christ, and when disagreements and diversity come let us make them a reminder of the power of that unity.

Let us express our unity by speaking truth in love rather than short-circuit the latter to get a false version of the former.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Rain

Yesterday the rain fell in buckets
and spoiled my son's parade.
It was to be his night for soccer,
and all God sent was rain.

"But the farmers need it badly,"
I stared into his tear-filled eye.
This was a teachable moment,
yet the student was not he, but I.

In our prayer at dinnertime
I told God my boy was sad.
But when I thanked God for the rain,
I could see my son grow mad.

"You shouldn't say that, dad,
that's mean! Don't thank God for the rain!"
I'd thrust on him false piety
and trivialized his pain.

Hours later we were able,
to talk about the farmers.
We talked about the grander scheme
and understood they needed water.

But I'd forced it on him earlier,
instead of letting him lament.
I'd taught him the right lines,
and forgotten what they meant.

We thank God because he cares for us,
and when we lament it is so too.
What's the point in praying
if the prayer isn't true?

With Christ it doesn't end there,
but he wept at Lazarus grave.
He had to know what was coming,
but he taught us how to grieve.

Is one lost rained-out soccer game
really all that big a deal?
It is if God has walked this earth,
and felt those thunders peal.

"Let the children come to me."
"Blessed are the poor in spirit."
We'd hear more people speak to God
if we ever stopped to hear it.

Parenting is hard, I know
but I must say this to my shame,
I could have led my son to talk to God,
instead I tried to clear God's name.

I think we must remember
that in real time Jesus cried.
Until we fathom what upset him
we cannot know for what he died.

So if we sterilize the pain
before it can be offered up.
We'll never share his body,
and we'll never drink his cup.

(If you think I make too much
of one small soccer game.
Think of when you asked for sun
and all God sent was rain.)

I can't pretend to know
why every raindrop falls,
but I think there is a reason why
we have our wailing walls.

There is a point to yearning,
for longing, hopeful tears.
There is a point to crying,
because there is a God who hears.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Reliving the Wonder

One of the uniquely pleasant surprises of being a parent is the opportunity to truly relive some of the wonder of childhood. I call it a surprise because it has to be so. I am not condoning the type of parenting which attempts to plan and push the child into a reenactment (or even a reversal) of everything the parent did or experienced growing up. You have to let it happen. But that doesn't mean it can't be a great joy and privilege when it does.

For the first few years of his life it looked like our oldest would not be too into sports. That was fine with me. In fact, he was so into music that I was discovering something through him that I actually never had as a child. I was dancing with him to music. Something I don't remember getting into until late in my own life.

But this past year he (and his younger brother following suit) has not been able to get enough of hockey, soccer, football, and now even baseball and basketball. And here's the thing: I had forgotten how much fun these things were for me at his age.

I remember the anticipation and baited breath I would have as I waited for my Dad to be able to play floor hockey in the basement, or take us outside to play soccer, or suit us up in snowgear to play football in waist deep white stuff. These were quite literally the thrills of my young life and, due to the pressures of life and "wearing off" of some of that original wonder over time, they have been tough to match.

So a week or two ago I watched the delight in my son's soul written all over his young face as he scored his first real goal in a soccer game. He was beside himself and frankly so was I. Then there are those times where I am shooting little plastic pucks at him and he's diving to make saves (and even doing replays and commentary like I did as a boy) and I know exactly what he's feeling inside. I can hear it in his voice. I remember it well. Its the wonder of play. And I'm feeling it again.

Then there was last night. Game five of the Stanley Cup goes into OT. We were in Saskatoon all day and had to listen to half the game on the radio coming home. Thought my boy was going to miss watching the Stanley Cup paraded around the rink. Then five minutes from home Pittsburgh scores in the dying seconds to tie. I'm thinking: "Its time for my boys to stay up late for their first overtime". Sure enough, it takes until the third OT for the Pens to win it and, though my youngest had opted for bed, I could feel in my oldest's heart the very things I remember feeling past my bedtime in the early 80s when the Canucks met the Isles or that amazing night when Pat Lafontaine ousted the Capitals in 4 OTs. Wonder. Excitement. Nerves. It's awesome. It is still the thrill of sport for me, at 32, to be honest, but it is all new and fresh again through a 5 year old's eyes.

And it is not just sports either. My youngest has recently realized he is funny. You can tell he knows it and that he genuinely enjoys being able to make people laugh. And while it reminds me of my brother's childhood more than my own, it is a joy to see it light up this young life and be so contagious to those around.

Of course, you also have to put up with jokes told 38 times straight, or the next morning "grumpies" from the boy who stayed up late, so don't get me wrong. But for all the trials and sacrifices of parenting (and there are many), there is also this great surprise: to get to relive that wonder and have so many simple parts of life made totally new and fresh and thrilling again.