Friday, February 25, 2011

Me Man. Me like poem.

In a town where a man is measured by the height of his truck and the length of his snowmobile track, poetry features right up there with butterfly tattoos and simultaneous lavatory visits on the list of male faux pas.

Come to think of it, the use of French phrases like “fox pass” is likely also on that list. But I digress.

In the spit and fart of rural Canadian maledom, poetry does not register. At least not formally. But lean in close to your computer screen and I’ll whisper a secret: The rough and quiet bushmen in your life are poets.

They’re poets who just don’t know-its. (Exhibit ‘A’)

Ask these guys about what compels them to get up at 4:30 to stalk a buck, look what happens in their eyes when they re-tell turns on the South face of Mt. Such-n-such, listen to one of them struggle to describe a quiet moment with his young daughter, or fumble to explain why he risked personal injury for the sake of the neighbour’s cattle last time the river jumped the dyke. You will almost certainly not hear poetry. But if you’re leaning in close enough you’ll smell the breath of a poet, you might almost hear the thumping heart of one, and if you’re poetically open yourself, you very likely will be handed – plainly and without pretense – a little piece of the intangible.

Truth is, there are certain subjects that simply exceed the capacity, the payload, the GVRW of ‘normal’ ways of speaking. When we aim at these subjects, the targets are so beyond our regular range of thought that we need a heavier calibre. 

Sometimes poetry is just the right tool for the job.

An Embarrassment - by Wendell Berry

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in a company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.

I have professional experience with dressed-up prayers that rise full of promise gracefully off the ground only to hover briefly, shift direction and then land with gentle disappointment. Albeit less – and less by far – I also have some knowledge of the scandalously intimate kind of prayer.

Keeping in mind that I have a large, loud truck, that I scratch frequently wherever and whenever it itches, and that I enthusiastically model many other established rural male stereotypes, I will offer some awkward honesty of my own: Whenever I’ve experienced the real, long-range, maximum-payload kind of prayer, I am not the dominant male with the party-stopping libido. I am the embarrassed wife swept into a quasi-erotic embrace. Straining against it, struggling for decorum, shocked, appalled; I am the weaker vessel at the mercy of the strong and determined grace of God.

So thank-you, Wendy, for the image. You nailed it. Macho never looked so un-macho. But don’t worry, we’ll keep the secret. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Christians and Yoga: Strike or pose?

“Yoga Schmoga.” So goes a window sticker on my buddy’s pick-up truck. I’ve always admired that sticker. In a town where Yoga is as close to being a state-endorsed religion as Christianity was on the eve of Constantine’s coronation, the casual flippancy of “Yoga Schmoga” has an attractive subversiveness to it.

And it’s meant to be funny too. This is important because humour suggests this Christian man has gauged his opinion of Yoga at least a few notches short of sheer panic alarm.

But let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t just fancy stretching. So what is it then? Isn’t Yoga spiritual?

And there it is. The question that haunts many a pious soul, right out there in the open with no bush to beat around.

That kind of frankness deserves an equally straightforward answer. Is Yoga spiritual? Yes. Of course it is.

And so is everything else.

Everything is spiritual. Of the many things worse than getting caught up in whatever ‘spiritual’ tangle there may or may not be to the Yoga nearby, one of the very worst would be thinking life, the world and everything can be divided neatly into bits that are spiritual and other bits that aren’t. As if there are issues and events that require religious consideration and others that somehow do not. This is about as close to the worst possible per-version of the Christian message that I can presently imagine.

Wendell Berry, an American poet, farmer and cultural crank traces the Christian version of this poison to the pulpit: “No wonder so many sermons are devoted exclusively to ‘spiritual’ subjects. If one is living by the tithes of history’s most destructive economy, then the disembodiment of the soul becomes the chief of worldly conveniences.”

If we are going to live whole and even remotely holy lives, we need to wrest the word from those inverted commas. ‘Spiritual’ means a lifestyle that requires more contortion than a Yogi attempting an upward facing peacock-crane.  But plain-ol’ everyday-spiritual means keeping our feet grounded and firmly in step with the namesake of this buzz-word.

Yes, [insert suspiciously religious activity here] is spiritual. But so is shopping for [insert suspiciously cheap consumer item here]. And so is eating [insert suspiciously tender meat or suspiciously flavourless fruit here].  Deny that and arrive at Berry’s ‘disembodied soul – destructive economy’ scenario. But if we are to take the Apostle’s advice seriously (Rom. 12.1) then all of life is charged-through with spiritual connections; from mundane and seemingly innocuous things like doing the laundry and changing the oil to glorious things like riding fresh snow and casting to rising trout.

The question then is not if something is spiritual but how. And before we even begin to answer that question we see that it will require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If Christian faith is as big as it claims to be then it includes complexities that resist reduction to binary alternatives. And that means, among other things, that there is space for a range of responses when we wonder about things like Yoga. Alarm and debate can be an appropriate position in some cases. But confident respect can be a healthy posture too. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sled Dogs Down: Mea Cullpa

“We’re going to give you a fair trial, followed by a first-class hanging.”
– Sheriff Cobb (Silverado, 1985).

By now most people in this corridor have already conducted their own little trials about the so-called ‘cull’ of 100ish sled dogs somewhere between Pembertopia and Whistneyland.  Although local reports initially refrained from using names, that modicum of discretion has since – excuse me – gone to the dogs.

I don’t know Bob Fawcett. But I like people who like him, and that gives me pretty good grounds for expecting him to be likable. It’s a bit early in my blogging career to rest an opening point on a cliché, but here goes: When it comes to people I don’t know, I’m a fan of a simple little nugget, “Any friend of X is a friend of mine.”


Let’s note this is not AFXAI (‘any friend of X is always innocent’). Nor is it AFXNMM (‘any friend of X never makes mistakes’). None of my friends are always innocent and all of my friends make mistakes, often. And I’d guess that’s true of you and also true of all of your friends’ friends (and I hope we’re all following the circle in that logic).

All “AFXFM” really means is that although a person may technically be a stranger to me, I will nevertheless begin relating to him or her with a measure of grace and respect similar to the amount I extend to a well-known friend.

Friend. “F” is the operative letter in this awkward acronym. Friend is the crux in this cliché.

A friend snaps us out of ourselves, shattering our own incessant self-regard. A friend wakes us up so that if even for a brief moment, we are free to live outward, for this other. Friendship, at its best and most basic, is an intangible impulse, a spiritual instinct that whispers and sometimes screams: In order to really live we must somehow love others as we love ourselves.

So the little nugget has led us to the mother lode: Let’s treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves. This is not a new vein, and everyone seems to have mined it at some point or other. But getting the gold into our hot little hands is only half the task. If I’m going to take real stock in this most valuable of commodities then I need to admit the possibility that I have and will again make a mistake, that I am not now nor have I ever been completely innocent.

When I make a mistake, I like to be treated fairly. When I am found guilty, I like to be treated justly. Sure, if I am guilty of a really big mistake then impending justice would be intimidating and even frightening. But enter Golden Rule: If I ever find myself in such a situation then I’d at the very least like to know that justice will be served and not the appetite of an angry mob.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Blog Start: Isaiah 58

 1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. 
   Raise your voice like a trumpet. 
Declare to my people their rebellion 
   and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 
2 For day after day they seek me out; 
   they seem eager to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that does what is right 
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God. 
They ask me for just decisions 
   and seem eager for God to come near them. 
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, 
   ‘and you have not seen it? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, 
   and you have not noticed?’
   “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the LORD?
 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
 13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
   and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
   and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
   and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
   and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
   and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.