Saturday, May 13, 2017

Grit

What did I have to lose?  So I took the quiz, just for fun.  Not one of those Facebook quizzes to see if you can spell (I’m a crackerjack speller, but then, I’ve known that since forever, especially since Grade 11 when my English Composition teacher said he would give a quarter to any student who could spell acquiesce, but then defaulted after I spelled it correctly, an action that still seems to retain some angst), or to find out what your hemispheric dominance is, or what your last name might be in another life, how much history or literature you might know, or what historical character you most ressemble.

This quiz wore legitimacy.  Sponsored by the New York Times, no less, the two-part Gail Collins quiz purported to assess what a person knew about the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.  On Part I, I scored 15 / 16.  I missed the question on the Ben Carson "listening tour": 

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson embarked on a “listening tour” around the country.  A high point came in Miami, where Carson …

1.            Took a week off to go to the beach.
2.            Got stuck in a housing project elevator.
3.            Kept pointing out that he never claimed to know anything about the federal government.

I chose three.  Wrong.  He got stuck in a housing project elevator.  Oh, the ignominities of political life.

The tally came with a comment:  You may be thinking too much about this.  (By the  way, I scored 16 / 17 on part 2 of the same quiz.  The comment there was, You know more than he does.  Well, that doesn’t take much, does it?  The bar is so low, it’s an insult.)

Seriously?  Of course I’m thinking too much about this.  To help the cause of journalism, pivotal in these dark times, I’ve subscribed to the Globe and Mail (Toronto), the New York Times, and the Washington Post.  I read Truthdig and Mother Jones.  I even gobble reports on the French election.  Le Pen, I know something about; Macron is a newbie, so I learn what I can about him, and update my knowledge of his rival.  Is the Macron victory a glimmer of hope? 

Now, days after the Comey dismissal, I still can’t understand how anyone can be played to the degree Trump continues to play his supporters.  I can’t understand how almost all of the Republican Congress can lie, shove all but the wealthiest Americans under the bus, and then self-congratulate.  How can this happen?

I have always believed that the lessons of autocracy, that insidious dissembler in its rise and in its consequences, had been learned after World War II, that the spilled blood of heroes had been shed to preserve a way of life and to teach enduring lessons.  How can a governing party be so cavalier in its dismissal of their sacrifice?  

Maybe they are busy ignoring.  As Margaret Atwood says in The Handmaid’s Tale,  "Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." (66)  As she recalls fond memories associated with hotel rooms of her past life, Offred, the heroine of that prescient work, realizes that she "wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen . . . Careless.  I was careless, in those rooms." (60 – 61).   You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, in other words.  She didn’t realize what a treasure her former life was until everything changed.    As the society around her was being transformed, she didn’t pay attention.  She "lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print, . . . in the gaps between the stories." (67)  The events didn’t concern her in particular, so why be concerned?  She learned, though, that one command can deliver the coup the grâce to a privileged way of life whose  underpinnings have become brittle.


So, let’s not be careless with our privileged life, with truth, facts, and democracy itself.  Let’s not live in the gaps between the stories.  We have to know too much, no matter how stressful that might be.   We are strong.  We can manage the stress.  We have the inner grit to live with awareness and to act.   Atwood’s advice, back in 1985, is appropriate today:  Nolite te bastardescarborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.”

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ministry

This evening, I was asked to speak about ministry at our parish's Family Worship Night.  I felt honoured.  This is the text of that talk.

Good evening.  I’m honored to be asked to speak about ministry.   Why me?  Well, I’ve been a part of music ministry in this parish for more than forty years.  In the last year, I’ve  also become involved in social justice and refugee sponsorship.  So, I’ve been here a long time.  How long?  So long, I’ve been called the "church lady". 

The first time was at the Co-op.  As I chatted with the parent of a student, her four-year-old son interjected with, "Hey Mom, that’s the church lady."  The second time, though, was in Hawaii.  Yes, Hawaii.  My husband and I had just entered the gate to Diamond Head.  As we made our way to the trail head, I heard someone yell from a car window nearby.  I learned a long time ago to ignore loud sounds from car windows.  Moments later, though, a van crept up alongside us as we walked.  This time, the driver, head out of the window, yelled, "Hey, church lady, there’s someone in here that knows you and they want to give you a ride!"  Turns out that relatives of our parishioners had seen me during liturgies they had attended in our parish with their family!

This church lady’s message this evening is about stepping up.  It’s a message in five parts.

1.             Yes, you can.
You already have everything you need to get involved right now.  You don’t need special training or a particular skill of some kind.  All you need is to say, like Samuel, "Here I am."  Just show up, like you have tonight. 

2.             Think small.
You are already giving witness by being here tonight.  One action.  One decision.  You don’t have to sign away your life or be in the public eye.  You can smile and say hello to people you meet, honoring the God that is in them when you do that.  You can attend church, and give witness that time for God is a priority.  You can sing from the congregation or as part of a leader group, mow the grass, water plants,  contribute to the Food Bank, help with the MACC community meals.  Or all of the above, if you wish. 

3.             Expect some bumps.
I wish I could tell you that stepping out of your own world to lend a hand will be a smooth ride.  But that hasn’t been my experience.  When bumps occur,  step back.  Ask yourself: Do people have a point?  Could I change something?  What can I learn from this?  When you’ve extracted the take-away, chalk up the experience and keep on doing.     Service is not just something nice we can do.  It’s our duty as Christians.

4.             Yes, you must.
It’s not like stepping up is a choice, you know.  Service is a duty.  Yes, a duty.  Why?  Because we are baptized Christians.  Because we are citizens of Canada.  Because we have privilege.   Every chance she had, my mother said to me, growing up:  From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  Those lines from Luke are worth hearing again: From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  So, Yvette, she would say, "God gave you life, food, safety,  two languages, education, books, music, and love, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?"  The bar was set high and getting higher all the time.  I’m so grateful to her for instilling in me the obligation to step up, because, and this is #5,

5.             It’s worth it.
Ministry has been transformational.  I am a different person because I do ministry.  Think of it—me, a person with a small amount of musical knowledge and, according to my teachers, not much ability, got to do music with  professionals (my husband, Elmer, Len Gadica, Len Varga, Paul Winichuk, Rob Dzubas).  As a result, my own musical capability increased exponentially.  I learned so much.  Every day, the dedication and tireless efforts of people I get to work with in social justice and refugee sponsorship inspire me and keep me hopeful.   I like to think I may have made a difference over the years.  Really, though, I have learned so incredibly much more than I have given.

To conclude, let me say: The world needs you, every single one of you.  Be what you want to see in the world.  After all, as the Jewish saying goes, “If not us, who?  If not now, when?” 

And remember,

Yes, you can.
Think small.
Expect some bumps.
Yes, you must.
It’s worth it.