Tag Archives: Community

“The Secret Life of Bees”: I am enough

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my Dad’s co-worker, a Catholic chaplain at a federal prison. At a Christmas party, we were chatting about authors who wrote on spirituality (like Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Henri Nouwen) and he suggested that I might like The Secret Life of Bees.

bees

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Bees-Monk-Kidd/dp/0142001740

I’ve never spent much time contemplating Mary, the mother of Jesus. Growing up, Mary was part of the Christmas story and didn’t show up the other 11 months of the year. Yet in Catholic traditions, she is part of everyday life. I think I like that: having a spiritual woman part of my everyday life. Reading The Secret Life of Bees truly made me grateful that I am a woman, and that doesn’t happen too often. The love, joy, forgiveness, and genuineness that Sue Monk Kidd creates within and between her characters had me mesmerized. Lily, a young teen with a dead mother and an abusive father, saves her housekeeper from jail and they run away together and into the lives of three extraordinary women: May, June, and August. These three sisters keep bees and sell honey, yet they have also created a community around the tradition of a black Mary. These women support each other and have true friendships that uplift and challenge each other to love more.

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Source: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/secretlifeofbees/

Monk Kidd’s novel tackles racism, abuse, sexism, and depression. She does not shy away from issues that most people like to ignore. In the novel, she creates situations that seem so outrageous, yet most likely happened. Situations of black women being beaten in prison by their white male accusers. White people standing in the way of black people registering to vote. Black teens being arrested for throwing a coke bottle at white men. Yet the three sisters–May, June, and August–are strong and they gather other women around them to encourage them and support them. Lily, who has run away from home, is treated with kindness and love, and with a patience that seems unworldly. As she works with the bees, she learns more about herself and about reality:

“The sting shot pain all the way to my elbow, causing me to marvel at how much punishment a minuscule creature can inflict. I’m prideful enough to say I didn’t complain. After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it. I just dived back into the riptide of saving bees”  (pg 167)

I love Lily’s attitude. Stung, yet dove back into the work and didn’t get angry or upset at the bees. August keeps reminding her to send love to the bees and to remain calm and observe. Life lesson!

Lily isn’t always calm and patient, and has some fantastic moments of rage and pain about how life has treated her. We follow Lily’s progression from an angry, confused girl, into a young woman who is learning that the most subversive thing a woman can do is love herself. As Lily helps the sisters care for the bees, she learns a lot of about herself:

 

Her hands stayed where they were but released their pressure. “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love.”

She paused. Bees drummed their sound into the air. August retrieved her hands from the pile on my chest, but I left mine there.

“This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.'”

I closed my eyes, and in the coolness of the morning, there among the bees, I felt for one clear instant what she was talking about. (Pg 289)

Lily learns something that most people struggle, not only to say, but to believe: I am enough. The three sisters have a statue of Mary that was inspirational to many black slaves in the area and they continue to draw strength from this statue. Yet in this conversation with August, Lily tries to find strength from outside of herself and August reminds her that Mary is there to draw out the best: Mary’s power doesn’t come from her statue, but instead comes from empowering others to see the beauty and love in themselves.

mary

Source: http://beesbeesbees.weebly.com/the-daughters-and-son-of-mary.html

I found this book refreshing: looking at spirituality, Christianity, from a female perspective. And a wonderful reminder in Lent that yes, I am enough!

enough

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/i-am-enough/

“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you.” (From the “Hail Mary” prayer)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary. 2010 Stephen B. Whatley

Source: http://www.stephenbwhatley.com/1_the-immaculate-heart-of-mary-2010-30-x-24in-by-stephen-b-whatley-copy-jpg

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“The Back of the Turtle”: gentle reminder

Thomas King is a brilliant storyteller.  I wished for two things reading this novel: one, that he was telling it to me over a course of meetings over coffee or a meal, and two, that it wouldn’t end.  The world and characters he created were so life-like and curious that I was slowing down near the end of the book to make it last longer.

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Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/09/thomas-king-discusses-the-back-of-the-turtle.html

In the novel, a First Nation on the West Coast is completely destroyed by a newly created bacterium, GreenSweep.  Not used properly, GreenSweep kills everything and everyone in its path in the hopes of clearing brush to lay a pipeline. The irony is that the man who helped to create GreenSweep is Indigenous and knew people in the Reserve that was completely destroyed.  How do you seek forgiveness?  How do you make up for life’s biggest mistakes?

This novel is grounded in the Earth.  It shows the importance of the relationship between people and Earth and what happens when that relationship is taken for granted or exploited?

In the beginning of Barkskins by Anne Proulx, she includes this quotation:

In Anitquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence.  Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated.  By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in the mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. (Lynn White, Jr.)

After years of reading Canadian Indigenous literature, I am still amazed by the generous humour that they employ.  The humour is gracious because the atrocities that have occurred in Indigenous communities is horrible, yet often times authors approach their message with humour, which engages all readers.  We know that satire is one of the most powerful means of bringing about new thoughts and change, yet this story is a gentle humour that is embraces and brings in readers to the story.  The story is then heard by more and thought of more.  Yet, I believe it comes from a generous spirit.

One of the most heartwarming moments for me was the surprise appearance of some Alberta Elders: Narcisse Blood and Leroy Little Bear (pg 119).  I first ‘met’ Narcisse Blood through Elder in the Making, an amazing film that documents Treaty 7 and the people of Southern Alberta. In “Episode 5: A Broken Treaty,” Narcisse Blood talks about his experience in Indian Residential School.  He took an old school and turned it into Red Crow Community College.  The moment that stands out that he says he is a “person that wants to learn.  A persona that respects myself so that I can respect others.  If I can become a human then I can relate to the land better.”  In “Episode 6: Death and Renewal” Narcisse Blood speaks again.  “The land is like our mother…  We don’t take for granted that the sun is going to come up every morning.  We greet the sun because we woke up.  So we wake up and that gives life.  Our non-human relations have rights to be here.  The folly is when we think that man is it.”  The teachings of Narcisse Blood are beautiful and reminded me as I read The Back of the Turtle that as humans we have lost of connection.  In the episode, Narcisse Blood says that our folly is a kind way of saying stupidity.  As humans, we need to reestablish our relationship with our non-human relations.  In Blackfoot culture, they often say the phrase “All my Relations.”  They acknowledge all of creation and honour creation by saying this phrase.

narcisse-at-red-crow

Source: http://elderinthemaking.com/a-triple-tragedy/

Leroy Little Bear is such an important person in Alberta.  He is a Blackfoot scholar is striving to teach us about the connection between humans and the land.  He is also an advocate for justice and works with prisoners and those without means to find justice to work in the system. I know I don’t have permission to say this to make make this judgement, but to me he is a modern day warrior.  He is tenacious, wise, and generous. In a lecture at Congress 2016 in Calgary.  His lecture compares Western metaphysics to Blackfoot metaphysics:”Big Thinking and Rethink Blackfoot Metaphysics: ‘waiting in the wings’.” He talks about the difference between Western and Blackfoot ways of knowing.  In Western culture, we value reason and work around the idea that God’s creation is good and therefore stagnant.  In our thinking, we categorize and run experiments.  We value the objective facts and like creating and finding order out of chaos.  In Blackfoot culture, they think differently and so see the world differently.  As Little Bear says everything is in flux and motion, and the Earth is never stagnant.  People are made of energy waves, and once they die the waves stop but are not gone.  Blackfoot culture sees more in observation and processes.  Blackfoot draws from the idea that chaos is a constant, and ceremonies seek to bring order.  So when a Blackfoot person says “All my relations” they are talking about non-human relations because they see all of Creation as animate.  For Blackfoot people, renewal is essential.  Ceremonies are all about renewal that use the same songs, prayers, stories, and ceremonies to bring order to the chaos.  An essential way of thinking is sustainability.  Little Bear says that Native Science is grounded in sustainability and our work is to engage in the process and action of renewal.  Even the languages show this difference: in English we like nouns and naming things, yet in Blackfoot it’s all about process and actions, movement.  So when we learn, we need to renew, collect, and see the connections, not divide and create dichotomies and cause and effects.  Within the novel, King shows the difference between different creation stories and different ways of working with the Earth.  Little Bear in his lecture talks about how Western thought likes to create prophets, people who can predict what will happen.  That is shown in King’s book how Dorian tries to control and predict how to manage environmental disasters caused by his company.  Yet in the end, it is Creation itself and the chaos she creates that brings the characters together, even strangers, as they seek to push a boat off of the beach.

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Source: http://theweal.com/2016/03/29/we-are-not-forgotten/

Later in the novel, King references another large personality: “The Donald.”  His character Dorian is the CEO of the company that created GreenSweep and it is his job to try to make the devastation of the use of GreenSweep, and later a tailings pond spill in Northern Alberta near Fort McMurray to go away. As he is looking for a place to eat, he is referred to The Stock restaurant in the Trump Tower on Bay Street.  As he describes his decision, he says this about Trump: “The man was extravagant and arrogant.  A loud-mouthed egotist who gave wealthy people a bad name.  Trump might have been nicer, Dorian speculated, if he had made his fortune on his own rather than having it handed to him by his parents” (Pg 367).  King shows the lack of connect to land.  He shows what happens when people manage nature instead of exist and work with nature.  The thinking is different.  Trying to predict, manipulate, and exploit seemingly stagnant resources shows the complete disconnect to Creation and the different way of seeing it: not as chaotic, but as something ordered and reasonable to gain from.

What happens to communities, people and places, when environmental disasters happen?  Gabriel, the man who created GreenSweep, comes back to his community and becomes part of the people who bring the community back to life.  It’s different, yet they are in it together and connected to the land and the place.  In the end, King offers hope and a way forward.  Nature recovers and is strong, and people are the same, if we just stop to observe.

thomas-king-quote

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-tuesday-sept-2-1.2925685/the-back-of-the-turtle-thomas-king-s-first-literary-fiction-in-15-years-1.2925694

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

sunday
Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

held
Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

communion
Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

welcome
Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html

“The Outside Circle”: hope for healing

Two items came across my Facebook creeping this week. Both are timely and important.

The first: a video of Wab Kinew talking about common stereotypes Canadians have about Aboriginal people.

The second: an article from the Toronto Star by Noah Richler called “The hard, important truths of Indigenous literature: The “truth” in Truth and Reconciliation is not a surprise to readers of Canadian and First Nations stories.”

Maybe I am more aware of these videos and articles because I have chosen to be aware, or maybe all of Canada is becoming more aware. Reconciliation. That is a heavy word and it requires action, not just reports and acknowledgement. Even in Calgary, there is talk about renaming the Langevin Bridge (Langevin was one of the men who spearheaded the residential schools). Action and awareness.

Perry Bellegarde, Murray Sinclair
Source: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/for-the-record-political-leaders-on-residential-schools/

I have had the graphic novel The Outside Circle sitting on my ‘to-read’ pile for a while. Wow. What a powerful, emotional, important story!

circle
Source: http://houseofanansi.com/products/the-outside-circle

The Outside Circle tells the story of an Aboriginal man in Alberta who goes through stages of healing after a rough beginning. Issues of residential schools, the 60s Scoop (where children were put into foster care), disturbing stats on Aboriginal youth in Alberta and Canada, number of Aboriginal people in prisons, and also the power of walking the Red Road (a conscious decision to live the right path of life).

This is a novel I hope every Canadian reads. It truly gives some perspective into the pain, anger, and shame some Aboriginal people feel and the effects these emotions have on their lives, their families, and their communities. Throughout the novel, the images by Kelly Mellings are powerful and staggering.

For more information on the graphic novel, here is a great interview with Patti LaBoucane-Benson (author of the graphic novel) and a woman who has beat the odds and is a graduate of the Spirit of the Warrior Program, run by Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

In the interview, Patti LaBoucane-Benson states that today’s First Nations people are bleeding colonial history. There is a direct connection and is a historic trauma response. She also says that this generation needs to learn: we need education on who our first people are and the relationship we have.

tattoo.4
Source: http://thewalrus.ca/a-hard-road-to-walk/

Although fictional, this graphic novel, the story of Peter Carver, is a similar story for hundreds of First Nations people in Canada. This novel also shows the importance of programming within the prison system and especially before people end up in prison. There is a potential for change in Canada. I hope that there is a change in how Canadians see Aboriginal people and how Aboriginal people see themselves. Our entire country needs healing.

“My goal in this book was to tell the truth, whether it was an ex-gang member that picked it up or someone from the government who’s in charge of policy.” (Patti LaBoucane-Benson)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

healing
Source: http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/first-nations-take-their-last-march-canada-s-dystopian-tar-sands

“Belonging”: interdependence

Driving home from work a few weeks ago I caught part of Adrienne Clarkson’s CBC Massey Lecture on Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship. I remember thoroughly enjoying Northrop Fry’s Massey Lectures The Educated Imagination, so I decided to find Clarkson’s book at the library and dig into some issues that I think are very relevant to every Canadian: belonging and citizenship.

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Source: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/09/19/belonging-the-paradox-of-citzenship-by-adrienne-clarkson-review/

In her chapter “The Cosmopolitan Ethic” Clarkson wrote something that actually made me want to throw the book at the wall. Good thing I remembered it was a library book and I angrily slammed the book down. In this chapter Clarkson writes, “I do not believe that human nature can be transformed or that human beings can be made better at heart. Human nature is what it is. But I do believe that conditions protecting human life and dignity can encourage and sustain people in doing the right thing” (92). I could not disagree more. I have to believe in the possibility of change. Rehabilitation. Making the right choice isn’t about the environment and supports around a person. Making the right choices comes from within. I do believe that it is possible for a human to be transformed.

Last summer I was able to help make some suggestions and edits for a book that Don Stoesz is writing. Stoesz is a prison chaplain at a federal prison and is writing a book called Is It Possible to Change? The Theology of Prison Ministry. Within the very first paragraph of his “Introduction,” Stoesz gives an example of how a good and supportive environment does not necessarily mean that people will make good choices because of that environment. Further into his “Introduction,” Stoesz explains his drive to continue with prison ministry: “The irony of my ministry is that even as I have become more conscious of the deeply seated ills of our society along with the depth of perniciousness on the part of individuals, the only reason that I continue to serve as a chaplain in prison is because of my belief that God grants the possibility of profound change” (pg. 4). In fact, part of Stoesz’s book focuses on the world of Harry Potter and looks at the juxtaposition of Harry and Tom Riddle. Both Tom and Harry had unsupportive home situations, yet one was able to make the right choices and one decided to make the wrong choices. Throughout the entire series, both characters are faced with situations that require decisions, and it is painful to see how Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort resists and refuses change. I don’t think he is incapable of change, I think that he chooses not to change.

Despite my anger that Clarkson does not believe in the possibility of change and transformation, I picked the book back up and I continued to read. In her chapter “Ubuntu,” she able to apply an ethical value for the Bantu peoples (Ubuntu) and connect it to Canada and Canadians’ role in creating community, and therefore belonging. She writes, “Ubuntu implies seeing another human being as yourself and treating them as you would treat yourself, with love and respect. The Zulu proverb ‘Ummuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ means ‘A person is a person because of other persons.’ This means that any failure to act in a human way is a failure of Ubuntu, and therefore someone who lacks Ubuntu is not really a human being. Each of us is a human being because of other human beings: we depend on each other for our well-being. It then follows that if we depend on others to be human, we are bonded with them. It is only through others that we gain our ability to attain our full humanity” (123). As much as we value our independence and, for me, my own individual space and time away from others, we do live to be in community with others. We need friendships. We need companionship. We need intimacy. We need to be needed and we need to fulfill others’ needs. As humans, we are so dependent on each other. In her novel The Waves, Virginia Woolf wrote a line that still echoes within me to this day: “It is strange that we, who are capable of so much suffering, should inflict so much suffering” (pg. 197).

clarkson.1
Source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ideas-on-CBC-Radio/150107091761767

At times, I felt that Clarkson hit on some important points and she definitely got me thinking. Yet, I did not enjoy reading this Massey Lecture series. At times, the link between the cultures she describes and then her link to Canada seemed forced and more like she wanted a place to deposit years worth of gleanings about citizenship, cultures, and community, which I suppose is the purpose of having her present on Belonging because it has been her life’s work. I felt like the connections weren’t being made and it was disjointed. Although, I suppose it made reading less of a passive exercise.

In her final chapter, I do like this line: “Paradoxically, in Canada, with our huge land mass and relatively small population, we have come together in order to act together” (171). So what is the paradox of citizenship? “It is that we are most fully human, most truly ourselves, most authentically individual, when we commit to the community” (pg. 183-84).

canada
Source: http://www.cachc.ca/

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

clarkson.3
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/09/belonging-the-paradox-of-citizenship.html