It is like that …

 

Be careful how you interpret the world.  It is like that.

-Erich Heller

 My laptop is back.  I had noticed it was behaving strangely and taking forever to boot up in the morning, but last week it failed.  I headed off for GeekSquad which had sold me the unit two years ago.    Because I maintain a couple of websites, I stressed the urgency of a repair and went home to wait. I had saved all my documents on USB sticks and the updates were recent.

If you have any doubts about your addictions, take away your devices for a few days. “Left to my own devices” had a whole new meaning and made me ponder my interpretation of the world and what was currently in it.  Here was some of it – readings for a couple of discussion groups, daily piano practice (I’m back doing this after resuming lessons), exercises to remedy a problem with the sciatic nerve, finishing reading a novel, cleaning the apartment, needing to do the laundry, grocery shopping.  These might be seen as a reasonable workload for an 82 year old.

But they weren’t.  I was obsessed with the absence of the laptop.  Where was the more sombre view of what was happening in the US as documented in the New York Times online?  What did I owe the accountant for my taxes – since the invoice now came electronically?  What were they saying on Washington Week?  This might seem obsessively American.  I live in Canada.  I had access to mail on a tablet and a phone.  But I felt as though someone had removed part of my brain and it was in the shop. Where were the 20 or 30 newsletters that came through Unroll,me?

Thus, I was ready for of all things – theology.  A book, Life Abundant, was buried on a shelf but I hadn’t looked at it for years.  I met the author at a west coast retreat centre some years ago and told her I had just bought her book. “Which one?” she asked, and on hearing the title, she responded, “I’m so glad.  I’ve been writing the same book 14 times so far and this is the best version yet”.  Amazon tells me that there are later ones, but this one is more than sufficient.

The book’s subtitle is Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. Sallie McFague taught at Vanderbilt Theology School for more than 30 years and is now based at Vancouver School of Theology where she is still teaching and conducting research.  She starts this book by explaining that she has spent many years teaching religious autobiography, but when challenged, realized that she had never written her own.  It’s a reminder that we all have one – whether we are part of a denomination, or agnostic or atheist. The last thing we generally have time for thought as to what it is.

During re-reading, I was giving myself brownie points that reflection was the most frequent tag on my blog posts, but theology is more than that.  I’m generally optimistic and see life more as a comedy than a tragedy.  These days it’s more like a farce with a reality show leader keeping us all glued for the latest episode where we couldn’t make this stuff up.  We are amused and appalled.  But what does it say about us?  I’m so busy being a spectator of this soap opera that I don’t need to reflect on my own life – and the fact that I’ve got to be further along on the downward slope than I want to be.

The laptop is back.  The hard drive has been replaced and so has a new version of MS Office with an amazing number of new distractions.  I have been surprised at how quickly I am up and running.  Press a button on the modem – and we’re back on line. Bring back the mail services. Check. Bookmark all the frequently visited sites. Check.  Bring back all the saved files. Check. Anything missing?  Personal photos weren’t among the saved files.  I’ve just obliterated a major part of two decades.  Still I later found many of them on a stick.  But the lack of care about what really matters has hit home.

So what is this theology stuff?  McFague says it is “words about God” but refreshingly she reminds us that it is about an interpretation of the world as we see it.  Any theology is going to involve three C’s – context, content and criteria.  That’s going to keep us busy for a bit.

Context reminds us that the documents of any faith are written in a particular time in history. These reflect the interpretation of the writers based on their own understanding of the universe in which they dwell.  The reflections will be of necessity partial and relative to the context. For this reason. McFague says that any theology needs an adjective in front of it to clarify the group espousing it.  The adjective in front of “Christian” for example, might be “liberation, feminist, fundamentalist, progressive – or a name of hundreds of denominations with different emphases and views.  The speaker matters.

Content depends on experience – but again McFague notes that experience is the channel and the means that it comes through – not the content itself.  Something comes into our life as a revelation or an insight that concerns the relationship of a god or creator that is of such importance that it affects our orientation to the world and our behavior.  It’s not religious experience so much as ordinary experience.

The big question then becomes – who is our neighbour.  I asked this question in a discussion group in my parish church last week.  The answers were what I expected – the person who lived down the block or in the apartment next door – whose name we might not know.  But as I look out my window from a high floor, I can observe a barrier around a tree that is going to be removed to accommodate reconstruction of a water reservoir.  I live in a large metropolitan North American city.  Are my neighbours people of colour? People who live in the third world? People of other faiths? Other creatures? Oceans? A tree?

Our world contains questions that are more than we can ask or imagine.  We have to explore further.   The criteria will have to wait for a later post.

 

Seeing

One of my very favourite arrivals on Sunday morning is the latest version of Brainpickings,org – Maria is an amazing curator of interesting sources of reflections on life.  And today’s talk is about busyness.

It’s interesting to read how concerned that Kierkegaard was in 1843 – complaining about people being “brisk about their food and their work”.  So it got me off the hook to spend more than three hours over a relaxing lunch saying good bye to friends who were moving soon – I wish I could say the same about the briskness of daily tasks.

Hesse is also quoted extensively today on other ways to avoid busyness – but there is one way that moving into new quarters has worked for me,  He says:

Just try it once — a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.

On the first evening of daylight saving time even that sky helps take us away from our petty distractions with a moment of awe.

 

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

social-media-icons-the-circle-set

How do we cope with a Tweeting leader?  Should tweeting be subject to censorship when it spreads lies or hatred  by anybody – no matter who?  Are social platforms really publishers even though they think they are not?  What power does an ordinary citizen have? If I protest, do I deserve a backlash from people who voted for the leader – even though they think they had a numerical majority when most reliable sources say they didn’t –  but they believe the lie because a certain leader tells them so.  Now when the press is called the opposition party, I really wish Marshall McLuhan were around to help us straighten out the time worn phrase that the media is the message.

Social media have been professing themselves as merely the conduit of free speech for quite a while.  Perhaps it feels different lately.  Faith in letting people say anything they like seems to be wavering among tech leaders – especially when it affects their own employees as it did last weekend.  We all need to pay attention, reframe and rethink responsibility in a digital age.

Was it a good Christmas?

Rowan

People that I haven’t seen for a while keep asking me this.  Another responded today by showing  groujp of us a video. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke to that question in an address in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London UK earlier this past December.  Williams started by talking about the words of the Christmas carols we sing so enthusiastically – especially the second and third verses which are full of quite amazing ideas that pass most of us by.  You can watch the address and the questions that he answered following the lecture here.

In closing, Williams gave a really important reminder.  Who have we ignored in the past year – and how could we make that better – with a phone call, a letter, letting something from the past go?  That’s a simple way to get the season to end well.

 

Light

candleFor most of my life I have been an inveterate self-help reader – expecting resources from the not-for-profit or the churchy world to provide the answers to my recurring shortcomings.  This isn’t totally bad but it gets complicated when I try to integrate about a dozen of the gimmicky solutions.

Most of the resources have lots in common.  The churchy world ones are often simpler and better – but they come with a lot of baggage that doesn’t make them useful in more secular settings.  So to talk about them without seeming totally arrogant is a challenge.

But here is a small one.  Silence is necessary.  Just shutting up simply allows the quantity of stuff in our minds to come to the fore.  One way to tamp it down a little is to focus on something – and a small candle helps.

This one is more than 10 years old and came from a visit with my late husband to beautiful Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC. Lighting it, looking at it and just sitting for a half hour is one way to try to move into the silence.

Terrorism here and there

I am struck this morning by two New York Times headlines in the daily news feed which I read every day. Scrolling down, I read “2 Die, Including Gunman in Shootout in Washington State High School” and “Two California Officers are Killed in Rampage“.  Five needless deaths. Much higher up in the list of news items is speculation about the motivation of the Canadian terrorist who invaded our House of Parliament this week. One needless death, three injured – and one probably necessary death there.  But what makes it different is to label it as TERRORISM.

I’ve lived in the US and love the country – but we Canadians really are somewhat different. My day of the Canadian shooting started as usual.  I had the radio on and was driving in the car when it happened this past Wednesday.  It was too early for breaking news.  I went to a morning meeting, went out to lunch with a friend, and had a short meeting with a team I am involved with.  I drove back home without the radio on, and then decided to hop on the subway to the Apple Store in one of Toronto’s biggest shopping malls to see if they had Iphone6  in stock.  I’d acquired a hearing enhancement device and the controller can be an Iphone – how cool is that! The Apple Store already had a long line-up for the limited number of the phones arriving daily – but the helpful guy at the door suggested the store on the ground floor might have one if I went with a payment plan.  Since I was going that route, and they had one phone left,  I was all set.

The process took about an hour while they tried to up-sell me on several things I didn’t want or need. I finally left to catch the subway just before evening rush hour.  I came home, checked a few emails and answered some, did a little bit of monkeying with my phone to set up voicemail and checked out a couple of the new features.  By then it was nearly 6:00 pm, so I poured a glass of wine and sat down to watch BBC America on PBS.  This was when I learned of the events in my capital city.

I have to confess that I switched immediately to a Canadian network and got caught up. The story is tragic.  It is still not clear whether the perpetrator was a terrorist sent by others or someone whose mind was deeply muddled by a mixture of dreadful ideology, isolation and misdirected anger. Like all countries we have such individuals but so far we are not all perpetually frightened. It’s comforting to have political leaders who hug each other the next day before getting back to partisan positions – but they get back to work. The headlines of the daily paper and the articles show degrees of media obsession as always we but tolerate it and get one with our lives.The news was out but no one felt they need to comment – I doubt that all the people I met were as unconnected with the news as I was.  We accept both that the world has changed – and that it hasn’t.  One of my sons and I were locked in Tower of London for a few hours in the ’70s days of Irish terrorism- but everyone remained calm.  We once lived across from a high school when a crazed teen came and killed another student.  We’ve lived through the FLQ crisis. We’ve lived through Sars.  People got killed – people got sick – people died – but not everybody did.

We live in a beautful and free world that can turn perilous. Millions don’t and live in real peril all the time.  The challenge for us is to live in both worlds without giving way to perpetual fear and hysteria.

 

Questions in a violent week

The Saturday paper is full of reports of violent events in my city, my country, Canada, my neighbour to the south, the USA, and in the world. “Why?” becomes the question and leads mainly to speculation about the perpetrators. Why did they do it?  What are the causes? What is wrong with their families, their upbringing, their participation in gangs or their solitary withdrawal to video games, the gun laws – or the lack of them? A particularly tasteless but revealing comment in the Globe and Mail’s editorial is that there is “no magic bullet”. It shows how metaphorically bankrupt that we have really become.  The reassurances from the TV are many as well.  It’s not in our part of town. It’s the work of a single individual working alone. Our city, country or our world is really OK because all this is really about somebody else, somewhere else.

But is it? Are these the right questions?

Here are some others:

  • Do we want a world where people are OK with depicted violence, but not with real violence – or a world where now people actually confuse the two?
  • How do we really protect ourselves from fear of others and from anxiety?
  • How do we deal best with complex issues rather than hearing simple solutions like a mayor suggesting that the bad guys be run out of town?
  • How do we start with ourselves rather than assuming that others will solve the mess?
  • How do we start to look for signs before the fact rather than after the fact? If it were known that one person bought three guns and several powerful rounds of ammunition in a two week span, might that have come to someone’s attention as just a bit abnormal?
  • How do we recognize our own capacity for violence and develop ways to deal with it so that we can be a blessing rather than a burden to others?