Passing the Microphone

For about two years I have been part of a private group on Facebook for political discussions. It was created as an attempt to not flood our Facebook friends with political posts during the Canadian and American election cycles. I enjoyed this group a lot and still like a lot of the regular contributors. Many were people I knew from school which made the discussions feel more open and authentic than what you would get on r/canadapolitcs.

But I just left that group, at least in part because the vast majority of people contributing to discussions were cis white men. The group had some women and some people of colour in the membership, but few of them were actively engaged in the discussions. I can’t speak to why this is as I’m not inside their heads but, if I had to guess, the nature of impersonal political discussions probably had something to do with it.

“The personal is political,” is practically cliche at this point, yet it still denotes the more substantial difference between the two worlds I have engaged in. On one side you can have “evidence-based” political discussion that are divorced from the personal lived experiences of the humans affected by the debated policies. On the other side, the lived experiences form the basis for the political discussions. I used to prefer the first kind of discussion because it was filled with facts and figures that could lead me to the “right” answer; however, as my politics have become more radical, I’ve seen how completely unrealistic those discussions are.

So, I’ve made a decision: speak for justice when I’m in the position where I am the only one to do it, otherwise pass the microphone. It’s honestly easier than I thought it was before, and it doesn’t have to involve bringing in marginalized folk to re-explain basic concepts. In true academic form, it can begin with citing your sources.

Quoting resisters and survivors, sharing their work, promoting their art: these are first steps on a path to allyship that will then include engaging quietly and supportively in spaces where you are not in control of the discourse. I’m no expert on the ethics of allyship, but it first requires that you prioritize living ethically as an ally.

 

In a bus driver I heard the voice of God

On Monday and Tuesday of this week I attended Opening Frames: Cinema and Transcendence, a conference put on by the Institute For Christian Studies. While there is a lot I could say about the conference, I’m still thinking about something that happened to me on Monday night.

As I left the Lightbox to go back to East York, a homeless man got on the bus I was on. He looked pretty young, and he kept talking loudly to no one in particular. The bus was pretty full and everyone was obviously trying to avoid eye contact with this guy. He went up to one woman who was sitting reading a newspaper and started asking her… something. I was trying to avoid any non-verbal communication with him so I sat with my headphones on and eyes closed.

I could hear the woman getting more and more frustrated at his repeated questions and I was getting more and more nervous at the possibility of him coming to me next. As someone who feels called to church ministry, I’m painfully aware of how awful this feeling is. I could come up with a list of excuses as to why I didn’t want to have a conversation with this man, but fear was the overwhelming cause of my discomfort. It is a selfish fear that would rather stay in my shell than actually make time to communicate with someone who wants to talk. In my quest for good mental health, I have had to learn how to not be ashamed of things that I ought not; however, this has also made me realize what things I should feel shame over as the first step to ethical living. Engaging with “difficult” people scares me and that is the biggest internal hurdle on my path to ministry.

But, back to the story. Once the woman succeeded in shaking him off, he went up to the front of the bus yelling, “ARE WE IN EAST YORK?” I was expecting the bus driver to kick him off at the next stop, but then something weird happened. The guy was still talking, but more quietly. The bus driver just calmly engaged him and the situation was defused. I felt awful and yet inspired. I had just heard Paul Schrader talk about the transcendence in calm and silence in cinema and now, in front of me, was a real life example.

In a bus driver I heard the voice of God.

Amen

Iconography of the Fallen City – Rap and Witness

I spend a lot of time thinking about religion, spirituality, and art. These thoughts are often unorganized, but today listening to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book I had (what alcoholics refer to as) a moment of clarity. In Rock and Country I can only point to a handful of songs that seem to grasp for the transcendent: Relient K’s “Deathbed,” ELP’s cover of “Jerusalem,” and Garth Brook’s “Belleau Wood” stand out though I admit there must be more.

However, in the past few years, a proliferation of powerful religious music bled into the mainstream on the back Kanye West.

I didn’t understand the importance of this record when it was first released. I was 10 and Kanye was not exactly allowed in my Dad’s record collection. While it may be a little on the nose at times (e.g. “But if I talk about God, my record won’t get played?”) it broke ground on how pop music could reflect a Christ that is not comfortable. He followed this with songs like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” “Homecoming,” “Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Bound 2,” “Only One,” and most vulnerably in “Ultralight Beam.” These songs give you a glimpse at Kanye’s experience of God, though I would suggest that you need to hear his albums in whole to really grasp where he’s going. Kanye’s is a black American liberation theology and he now shares that stage with others that are creating a Catechism for this age.

I didn’t get Good Kid, M.A.A.D City on its release either. This time there was no excuse, I was just pig-headed and refused to lean in and hear what Kendrick was saying. Luckily, To Pimp a Butterfly connected with me immediately, in large part because of “Alright.” This is an anthem of hope, creating space for life on the margins to see a world that is better. If there is anything that Christianity inspires in the faithful, it is hope. Kendrick uses this album to take the listener through the experience of black life from the historical context that informs contemporary liminality through to how black culture envisions itself moving forward. He’s speaking both to the world at large and to his community; “we have hope” as a statement of fact and “have hope” as a statement of faith. If Kanye is trying to understand God, Kendrick seems to be trying to find God in the world around him.

Then we’re back to Chance. The fact that Chance The Rapper is as celebrated and popular as he strikes me as miraculous. How does an album like Coloring Book, a fully religious record, become this popular? I think academics would throw words like post-secularism around to describe the phenomenon, but I think it’s simpler than that. Chance published an authentic witness to God and religion; the spirit moved through this witness to move a world that hasn’t heard an authentic witness in decades. Above is just one song that moves you, but again I highly suggest you listen to the whole record.

(I should also say that R&B and other black genres have also been contributing to this catechism with Beyonce and D’Angelo coming to mind immediately.)

Yet what I find more interesting about this phenomenon is how the most ardently and publicly “Christians” ignore it. Racism obviously plays a key role in this chosen ignorance, but I think it’s actually a competing Christology creating this distance. If life is more complicated and sinful than you want to admit, then any Christology that points towards that becomes a threat to your worldview. And it is a shame because this could be so transformative if white evangelicals would give it a chance.

</rant>

2017 Projects

 

I’ve got a few projects going this year in terms of media consumption and exposure. I’m listening to every Rolling Stones record because of this…

Speaking of which I am also going to watch all of Ralph Fiennes’ films because he is FINE.

Meryl Streep is also on the list because it’s about time I watch the filmography of the most celebrated actress of the 20th century.

For directors, there is a much longer list sitting on my iMac that I don’t have immediate access to.

I’m sure more will be added to this as the year goes on.

Starting Fresh

I got rid of my expensive Squarespace Site because I’m bad at doing this and shouldn’t spend money on it looking super fancy until I get good at it. So I’m back here with my lovely familiar WordPress. It’s March 2017; the world is hurting; I’m doing weirdly fine. There is a weird cognitive dissonance that this instills, but at this point, I just have to roll with it. Continue reading if you’d like. I’m going to try and keep writing.