Eric Just Became a Canadian Citizen

          

Me waiting for the Zoom meeting to be sworn in.

  So…this just happened.

            I was sworn in as a Canadian Citizen, along with my wife.  We applied for citizenship on July 4th (4th of July) 2020; we were sworn in on May 5th (Cinco de Mayo), 2022.  In between this time was July 1st (Canada Day) and a citizenship test.  Our journey to citizenship was a North American experience. 

            It was a long, long road.  Citizenship is never, ever, ever easy on this side of the planet.  We came in 2005 under a “Religious Work Visa” and renewed it every year until we became a Permanent Resident in 2014.

            The Permanent Residency status process was like a Canadian Ninja Obstacle course.   It required an extremely complicated application that, if filled out incorrectly, would mean the government would keep your large sum of application fees (in the thousands) and you could try again.  Once the application was accepted, we had to do police checks on all of the countries we lived in; a costly and intensive medical exam; and an 8-hour English language test (despite the fact that I am a published fiction author and have, one time in my life, taught 8th Grade English).  After all of that, we paid for another series of fees and got our Permanent Resident Card (that had to be renewed every 5 years, go figure).  

            After being a Permanent Resident for a period, we could apply for citizenship.  The test was on-line, 20 questions, and specific to the life and responsibilities of a Canadian Citizen.  We passed the test and then waited for a few months for everything to be processed. 

            When asked why I wanted to be a citizen, my “go to” joke was: “I became a citizen because I no longer want to deal with the government.”   The reality bite of this is that we spent more energy and money dealing with CIC (Canadian Immigration Centre) than the responsibilities of taking care of the land. 

            But this joke answer is incomplete.  Citizenship, for me, is much deep, much more sacred, and contains a lot more meaning than just a joke.  There’s more of the Mission of God to my oath than just a paper or status earned.            

            I am a Canadian; this is my home, the land God has called me to.  I have been called to be a blessing to others and to the world. 

            Back in 2005, I was adopted by a small town in Northern Alberta: High Prairie.  Before that time, I was a youth pastor in Southern California.  The mega-church scene in Southern California, back in 2005, was wildly competitive and there was no way I could become anything other than a youth pastor.  From a website that matched candidates with churches, the small town in High Prairie found me and called, on a Thursday night, to see if I was willing to let my name stand to be their next pastor; I answered, “Why not?”

            This was huge for them because there were a lot of candidates, back in 2005, who wouldn’t consider a posting in a town of 3, 500 people four hours north of Edmonton.  For me, why not? 

            Looking back, this was a grace.  Our plan was to come and pastor for 3 years, get experience, and then return to California.   God had other plans. 

            High Prairie was described as a place where “you cry when you get there and you cry when you leave.”   Another friend of mine once put up the joke right before church on our power point, “High Prairie: Where it’s always Winter and Never Christmas”.   My friend, when he put up this joke, couldn’t continue getting ready for worship because the joke made him feel too sad until he took it down and never made the C.S. Lewis allusion again. 

            Small, farm town that was on the way to the oil sands.  And the 3 years became 9 years, a pure joy every year I was there.  The people adopted me and put up with the Californian learning how to be a Canadian. 

            On summer when Canada Day was on a Sunday, we decided to do a joint church service with the charismatic churches, our Baptist Church, and the Anglican church in the parking lot of our town’s supermarket.   Our podium was on the bed of a truck along with our band.  I started the service with about 80 people sitting in the lot and I was the only pastor there.

            “Welcome,” I said and an older woman from the Catholic church cleared her through. 

            “Pastor,” she grumbled.  “Aren’t you going to lead us in the National Anthem?”

            The band wasn’t present yet and I was by myself.  Always wanting to please the audience, I shrugged and said, “Let’s stand and sing.”

            I sang, through the loudspeaker, “O Canada”.  I am so glad, a week before, my wife randomly encouraged to learn this song.  But as an immigrant and with just a Visa, I led the small town in the National Anthem. 

            There’s nothing more Canadian than this. 

            A year later-in the same parking lot for a festival-I performed with a singing group “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers.  Like Stuart Maclean, I always felt this song should be the national anthem and not the one decided by the federal government. 

            That right to fuss over a federal detail…there’s nothing more Canadian than this. 

            I learned, as an American, that Canadians will bring you in if you work hard, listen lots, and never use the un-Canadian parts of you as leverage for entitlement, privilege, and power.  This is difficult for many Americans who come and want to talk about how their country “is the only place in the world that_________”.   The moment I would ever get close to that kind of American Exceptionalism, doors would shut and things would tighten; the more I listened, enjoyed, asked questions, and worked hard the more Canada snuck into me, adopting me into the land. 

            There were moments in High Prairie where I wondered how I got there or what I was doing.  Like the time I was on horseback, riding across the prairies on a farm because the farmer-a friend and congregant-was looking for a wild pig harassing his cattle.  Or the time I was running through the town’s park, and, on the other side of the river’s ravine, I saw a bear swatting at a telephone poll.  Or the time one of my daughter’s came home from kindergarten with a sore on her tongue because her friends all decided to lick a frozen fence post. 

            Canada, for those first 9 years, didn’t really care where I came from; it’s what I could give, surrender to, and improve upon.  And Canada, through the small town of High Prairie, was patient with me as I made lots of mistakes, got things wrong, failed, tried, succeeded, failed, and tried again. 

            Canada, it seems, is for newcomers who don’t mind trying new things.   This is when Canada is at its best and its brightest: when the Land says to the immigrant, “Giver!”

            At the tail end of the Religious Worker Visa program, we applied for the PR status and I moved from High Prairie to Edmonton, Alberta’s capitol city.  I went from a very happy Baptist pastor to entering into a very problematic Evangelical church.  It was at this church, I was forced to sound out a lot of my ideas and dreams for the church.  Pain, if anything, is a good teacher and does force the issue. 

            While I was with a good friend of mine, I was talking about how a church should bless a community and a community bless a church.  I kept banging my head, it seemed, with my current job with building bridges with the community and the church not wanting to ever cross those bridges. 

            My friend first quipped, “How Canadian!”  And then, without being funny, he pronounced, “How Anglican of you.”  This interchange led me to leave the Evangelical world and enter into the Anglican Priesthood. 

            I remember my first, awkward meeting with the Bishop of Edmonton.  I explained my struggles and dreams, ending with the question, “Is there room for me in Anglicanism?”  

            “Of course, there is,” she said and we worked on how I could be adopted into the Anglican family.   A few years later, I was a priest of a church plant and a chaplain with the Mustard Seed: both places willing for me to work hard, bless the land, and try new things. And now, I work with an Igorot congregation that has adopted me as their “Padi”. I am blessed to have them as they bless me in the name of the Lord. The blessing and the adoption keeps spinning here in Canada.

            During the pandemic, we decided to become citizens after living in Canada for 15 years. 

            My American friends would muse over social media: “You left the US because of Trump, right?” 

            No.  Leaving the US for Canada was much the same as my departure from Evangelicalism into Anglicanism.  I never felt like I was leaving an awful, stinking, sinking ship for a beautiful, new, and freshly painted one.  Rather, God wanted me to change boats and the boat I came to adopted me.  I love American and loved being an American; I loved being an Evangelical but can’t wait for the next day ahead that I can be an Anglican Priest.  And, by the way, there are holes in BOTH boats. 

            But I am asked by God and Country to love Canada, flaws and all.  And that’s okay.  I mean, how can you seek to bless someone/something if you don’t love them/that thing first?

            The Oath ceremony was quick and slow.  It was on Zoom, with most of our time proving our identity and then the ceremony.  

            When it was over, it felt like we crossed a marathon finish line.  Working with Immigration has always stressed me out, so this experience brought out all of my administrative ghosts.  But then…we were citizens.  Just like that.

            What do we expect from Canada?  What privileges, rights, freedoms are owed to us by the Land?  These are the questions we’ve heard many people seek during this time of lockdown, COVID, and post-pandemic.  Sure, these are good questions…but incomplete. We’ve seen truckers wave Canadian flags, but wasn’t for patriotism. Instead, it was these incomplete questions, “How do I get what I want? How do not do what I don’t want to do?”

            Rather, what does Canada expect from us?  How do we join with the Land in becoming a blessing?  What is our responsibility, sacrifice, and hard work we must sow into the Land? 

            This line of questions is borrowed from Dr. Viktor Frankl: what is expected from us?  And this, I feel, are more the kinds of questions God will answer for us as we work with Him to bless those around us.  For being a citizen-oath, land, duty, responsibility- this is the guiding idea

            How do we bless those in our Canada?  By starters, we adopt more folks to become Canadian.  There’s a theme in my time here is that there has always been a group of people who have expressed radical hospitality towards me.  This needs to continue…to be a blessing.  But then what? 

            I guess I’ll be spending a lifetime answering this question.  In the meantime, it’s good to be home! 

Genesis 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.[a]

Poem- Easter, 2022

Christ is risen; He is risen, indeed;

The train has come in; the coffee served;

The homeless got housed; the streets got cleaned;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

The banks shut down; the crooks driven out on a rail;

The habits kicked; the 100-day coined given;

The cynics hid in their basement; the system rebooted;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

The singer sang; songs of grace and freedom;

Everyone danced; everyone invited;

No one left out; the back of the line is now its front;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town! 

The stone rolls back; the tomb empties;

Rome lost the battle; soldiers lost the war;

Swords hammered into forks; shields into plates;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

Sin washs down the drain; the bath ring bleached;

Do-over; all has been forgiven;

The scandal reported; arrests are made;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

Bread out of the oven; the windows wiped;

The House now always loses; the victims now are the winners;

The bullied get their own room; the losers cross the finish line;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

Kids play pick-up in the streets at night; doors unlocked;

Everyone eats; everything is now so much;

Easter is here; Under new management;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

Worriers get new careers; the guilty learn to dance;

The blind see; the angry take up pottery;

Everyone plays; everyone gets picked first;

Hope has come down; hope has come to town!

Easter is here; get used to it;

Christ is risen; snakes now make great carpets;

The rebellion won; we won;

Hope has come; hope has come to town! 

Poem- Good Friday

It is Good Friday; Darkness is victorious;

Christ is slain; The cross is hung with care;

Sin ruled; Rome laid down it’s rule;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

What does evil look like untethered?; Good Friday;

Hope lost; dreams crushed;

Sin inevitable; addictions supreme;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

Athletes cheat; the government is really only after your money;

She’s just not that into you; the rollercoaster broke down;

Prices rise; crime rise;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

Families ruin Christmas; the band stole the riff;

Politicians overcharge; enemies are required;

Can’t quit the snakes in me head; shelters are at capacity;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

The Devil grins; everything is going to plan;

Churches are empty; Churches are filled with madmen;

The sun blotted out; zombies wander;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

Is this all there is?; Can’t there be more?;

Just a death, nothing else?; Christ slain?;

Just a sinner’s prayer; No saintly life;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

The Hills called Skull; the mourners leave;

The last breadth expelled; the dead draped;

The King is Dead; Long Live the Empire;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins.

The world remains insane; sin works;

The debt now paid; it is finished;

Hell’s clause removed; Is this all there is?;

It is Good Friday; The House Always Wins.

This is where we live; the house is still onfire;

Nothing ever changes; evolution’s cruelest joke;

The world goes back to normal; Darkness remains;

It is Good Friday; The House always wins. 

Poem- Palm Sunday

Background: I bought a palm plant at Walmart to harvest for our Palm Sunday service at church and I got attached to the plant.

The palm bush purchased for church, a steal at Walmart,

Our people knew palm branches- the Adonidia Merrilii,

A bit of home, a bit of liturgy,

Palm Sunday was to be celebrated,

Their Padi, their Priest hunched over the bush,

A bright and bold and proud bush,

Strident in palms stretched out, the best of the bunch,

Pure and without spot and pure green,

The fragrance fresh, a cleaner for the indoors,

A cleaner for a prolonged Albertan winter,

Something new, something good,

The palm goodness wafted around the boot bin,

Purchased to be stripped, harvested,

Murder in this Padi’s eye,

A cold-blooded murder of a warm weather bush,

All for religion,

The service asked for palm branches,

Hard to find in Canada, a purchase had been made,

But the plant became a fresh air friend,

Never name one’s sacrifice,

Clippers in hand, I snipped,

I cut, I ripped, I piled, I severed,

Earth defiled, the bush cut down,

All for Palm Sunday,

The sweet sap sticking to my fingers,

This Padi had tree blood on his hands,

It no longer smelled of the Philippines,

Nor of Edmonton,

Jerusalem was in the air,

The plant’s stripping will be the death of me,

To the first stripping of a nearby grove,

Where children fetched palms to make a path,

For an incoming king, a ruler they shall not want,

One who would lead them the still waters,

Waters that would not drown their enemies,

Delivering them only from evil,

They made a path to their capitol,

We remember when we harvest the palms,

My green friend laid bare,

Like my king,

A death like my own, a stripping from Good Friday,

A harvesting from Easter,

Palm leaves folded into crosses,

Branches burned into ashes,

Like any harvest, it happens every year,

The cycle spins, the land grows,

The liturgy revolves,

And death, burial, and resurrection is always shared. 

Companions of My Decades: Novels and Movies that Shaped my Eras

I am approaching 50. Not quite there, taking my time, and I’m in no hurry. But I will be 50.

As I approach this new adventure, I’ve been thinking about my friends when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and 40’s. Yes, there were my actual friends: flesh and blood people, full of ideas and surprises and would pop in/out like waiters at a diner. I speak not of people made from mud and God’s breadth, formed in a Divine image: I speak, instead, of books and movies.

Ever see a film and wonder why it got to you so much? Why it stuck with you?

Ever try really, really hard to get everyone you love to read a certain novel? They politely ask, “Why?”-you exclaim, “You’ll know why when you read this novel!”

When I look back at my teens and my 20’s and my 30’s and my 40’s, I had real friends: both living and in film and in print. These stories stuck with me and take me back to a younger version of myself when I spent an evening with them in a theatre or curled up in my thinking hole.

The Teens:

“On a Pale Horse” by Piers Anthony

This first one wasn’t a great work and wasn’t one that was referenced later in literary criticism-comparing it to Hemingway or Dostoyevsky.

However, it was the first that captured my imagination at 15. Before this book, I could barely finish a book and suffered usually around page 20. I was reading wrong-there, I confessed and I then repented with this book. You see, I was reading books my father liked and I wanted to be liked by him by reading them too. This book was the first that was neat and cool and fantastic and had elements in the story just to accomplish those benchmarks.

It’s the “Ain’t it Cool” factor I write about that is essential in good storytelling. I talk about it here regarding the late Umberto Eco:

2016 Killed Celebrities, Including Umberto Eco

My Old Man hated fantasy and science fiction and anything outside of detective novels; and yet, here it was: a novel about Death driving a Camaro while he fights Satan and works with incarnations of immortality. Wow!

“Brazil” directed by Terry Gillam

I saw this film when I was 12. This was the 1980’s, when kids could just see any film without any sort of societal or parental filter. In fact, I might have even watched it at an arthouse theatre (“Camera One” in San Jose, California) with my Old Man. He enjoyed it but didn’t get it; I loved it and also didn’t get it. But not getting it only made me love it more.

I watched it and re-watched it. I let the images soak in, the metaphors wash over me. It’s a disturbing piece of cinema, yet that was part of the challenge. Young teens, in particular, have already been told they won’t understand the adult world so there’s a relief they have that they don’t have to figure it all out 0-60mph.

This film, I’ve described on a Myers-Briggs level, is an “INFP’s Nightmare”. It’s a fun nightmare (and funny, too), but it captures all of the things INFP’s love and hate about our reality. We love escaping, dreaming, making connections, etc.. We also hate paperwork, details, a world without beauty, and an irrational structure.

This film was the first time I thought, “Wow, my brain in film!”

The 20’s

“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White

I read this in my mid-twenties, as I was just beginning to sound out ideas of church and community and neighbourhood and idealism. I had a bad run with a church and saw the damage a community can have on people, so my question was, “If a community can harm, what would happen if-with the right ideals-a community can help, possibly heal?”

Enter King Arthur, or Wart in the first book. T.H., in this series of books (it was released in volumes) does what J.K. Rowlings does with her Harry Potter franchise- the novels grows up with the characters. The genres changes, the moods shifts. The first book is “The Sword in the Stone”, adapted by Disney but without any of the morals, philosophy, or idealism-but they kept the talking animals.

Arthur, through the adventures of establishing Camelot, seeks to make a community that uses “might for right” instead of proclaiming “might is right”. His dream for a healing community is then deconstructed by romance, war, betrayal, human frailty, bad decisions, and interpersonal conflict.

At age 29, I read the long lost (to me) sequel to this novel “The Book of Merlin”. It’s kind of a DVD extra, a companion to the novel that re-sets the philosophy back into the story and frames the tragedy of this book. I’d give a spoiler alert that King Arthur is not successful in his quest, but then again: that is the stuff of common mythology.

But as an idealist, I am comforted by the redemption in the “trying” of Camelot instead of the unrealistic expectation that Camelot will be perfect and sustainably perfect forever and ever. Simply, that isn’t true. We try, we fail, we try again, we win, we fail: idealism will always be, well, ideal in our world. And ideally is not how we always live. In my 20’s, though, I was willing to give it a try.

Sometimes, everyone once in a while: good wins. Sometimes. Not often, but it can happen.

When I was 19, I read this series for the first time. I was studying in a small German town called Zwingenberg that bordered the Odenwald, an enchanted forest. I would go and read these novels in a vineyard overlooking the ruins of a castle. During the pretty bits of this book, the setting was perfect to bring me into Tolkien’s world; during the scary bits that seemed to coincide with the setting of the sun, I had to trip over shadows that looked like orcs or ring wraiths.

In my late 20’s, the films came out and my wife-who loved me dearly- allowed us to watch the first film on our honeymoon. During the film, my heart cried out, “Finally, the world gets to see what all of us readers of fantasy have been feeling for decades!”

During my 20’s, I was a youth minister and our entire staff was beguiled by Tolkien. Most of the men in our staff had swords from the movies, one of the older members could speak Elvish, and we would make fan movies set kind-of/sort-of in this world.

See:

The Black Gong

In this world, my wife pointed out, evil is really, really obvious. This is important, I think, because reality has a lot of nuance, the good and evil struggle is fought in the details, the adverbs. Sometimes, though, it isn’t. And sometimes, once in a blue moon, good wins. It shouldn’t, it’s unlikely: but there you go, a community (or Fellowship) can help and heal.

This is important because it allows the lament to take place when things don’t work, when not everything is obvious, and we’re all left guessing at the steps of the Kingdom of God. “The Lord of the Rings” helps to frame all of our “Once and Future King” moments.

My 30’s

“Little Dorrit” BBC

My eldest daughter was born and during paternity leave, I watched “Bleak House” on BBC with my recovering wife. Later, “Little Dorrit” came out and my mind exploded. This got me started to read everything and anything by Charles Dickens.

And yes, this is a cheat: “Little Dorrit” is neither a movie and it’s a mini-series banking on the notion that “the book is better.” But allow me this stretch: can’t a tv show be considered great simply because it causes a viewer to become a reader of great literature?

I’ve often times been asked what kind of Anglican am I? The question is based upon the joke that priestly ministry isn’t solely formed by the Book of Common Prayer, but by other popular authors and thinkers. Am I a Richard Rohr Anglican? A Rick Warren Anglican? A Dallas Willard Anglican? A Nadia Bolz-Weber Anglican? My answer today is the same back then: I am a Charles Dickens Anglican (even though, in my 30’s, I was still a Baptist).

This answer causes confusion and, in some, the need to correct my answer. I then explain myself: what if the Kingdom of God is measured in story, in community, and in relationships? It’s not that the Kingdom of God is found only in story, but that story is shaped by liturgy and liturgy shaped by story. Redemption, grace, forgiveness, greed, violence: all of these are experienced not in isolation, but community. Charles Dickens got this and spent a lifetime writing about truth…in neighbourhood.

Even Dickens villains are loved by the author, as if Dickens knew there was a secret part of them to love and thus be treated with some narrative dignity. The hero’s/heroine’s journey is in concert with the villainy of the book and it does work out to benefit everyone. The characters, unlike Tolkien, are not sacrificing in isolation for a greater good and asked to make some moral compromise that works “just this one time”. No, if one is good to the lesser and the one who has the least amount of power then one can also be good to the powerful, the beautiful, and the heroic.

Truth is in community; goodness is also felt in relationship, in concert with one another.

And speaking of harmony in community….

“Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry

In my late 30’s, I went back to school for my Doctorate. I was introduced missional theology, the idea that a church needs to match the heart of God (“Missio Dei”) rather than her own programatic and political interests. If God loves the poor, the church must love the poor; if God is reaching out and showing up in the neighbourhood around the church’s building, than the church must leave the building; and if God so loves the world-in all of it’s darkness and orcs and failures-than can the church love the world as well?

I write about this here:

I read folks like Michael Frost, David E. Fitch, Christopher J.H. Wright, Alan Hirsch, and so forth and it was about ready to make my brain explode. It was really, really abstract…until I came across Wendell Berry.

“Jayber Crow” is the simple story of a barber in Port Williams who decides to love his town like God might love it, warts and all. Not much happens in the book, but that’s the point: his story is found in the stories of others. He helps, he listens, he serves without him getting the girl, becoming rich, or striking against any villain. Consequences take place, certainly: but there isn’t at the level of revenge-fantasy we see in North America Cinemas where a hero/heroine’s redemption is entirely dependant upon the downfall of another.

I read this when I was a Baptist pastor in a small farm town found in Northern Alberta. The town was 3,500 souls and it was an experience where I was known but not a celebrity, given to simple services that blended with the services/exploitations of others, and existing within the smallness of scale that is a given to rural living.

Goodness can be found, but it’s found in hard work like one gets from good farming or harmonious living. Its idealism, but not just gained from wishing or asking: one has to work with others for it.

My 40’s

“How’s Moving Castle”

I saw this in my 30’s when it came to America, but it made more sense to me in my 40’s. I’ve since watched over and over, getting my kids into the film.

This film comes from Japan’s Studio Gibli, helmed by director Hayao Miyazaki. It’s the story of a young woman who is cursed by instant old age. She is adopted by Howl’s Moving Castle and then returns the spirit of adoption by reaching out to others, including the Witch of the Waste who originally cursed her. Through self-love and the love of others, the Castle ends a war, redeems it’s characters, and creates a surrogate family.

In this-along with most of Miyazaki’s works- magic is a persistent and dominant force in the world. Magic is often the cause, but never explained and the audience knows just enough to see it work. Miyazaki was interviewed when Disney acquired and distributed this movie for American audiences and the journalist asked if he was nervous that his movies didn’t explain everything. In essence, his response was that his job was to tell a story and not explain or defend anything.

I loved this.

During my forties, I left Evangelicalism. One of the causes was working with a church that wanted to grow but was fearful of changing. When I would preach “love one another”, it would often be met with an argument, “How will that make us numerically grow?” Soon, I learned not to answer these questions and, therefore, exit the argument.

Often times, our need to define is a need to argue, to take a part and, in this story, magic and the explained is what it is; we know it works, we have stories that love and service and goodness is from God…it doesn’t always work within the measurable, quantifiable, and the strategic.

Adopt the wandering old woman in the waste not because she will be a profit to you, but because it’s simply kind. And kindness can be its own magic.

“The Cemetery of Lost Books” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Ooohh, boy! This book series, I guess, is proof that I am not relaxing in my old age but becoming far more strange and full of riddles.

These four books tell one story that involves several characters and decades all within the setting of post-war Madrid. This story jumps genre to genre, much like Charles Dickens: murder mystery, gothic horror, coming-of-age, comedy, procedural crime, spy, war, and fantasy. One novel is incomplete, you’ve got to read all four to get what happens to everyone. However, there isn’t an order because they’re written kind of out of order. You can start any book you want to and then pick the next. Soon, the novels form a mosaic of stories that add up to redemption, justice, friendship, and wholeness from trauma.

In many of the stories, it’s books themselves that are the main characters of the stories. It’s that “book within a book” part of storytelling that is a gentle reminder that the stories we live are often reflective of the stories we see/hear/read.

Poem- Whyte Avenue

Zag-zig, Zag-zig trails the crosswalks,

A checkering of brick sidewalks,

Old, crooked buildings shade the pop-up commerce,

The pedestrians emerge from their 2-year slumber, slowly and slowly,

weeds slowly are trampled, ice is slowly stomped.

For too long the Avenue was haunted exclusively by shadows,

            Deer and rabbits ruled the streets,

Shops closed, the strong and the chains were the only survivors,

            Life halted, frozen and paused like a VHS tape from old,

Somewhere Charlton Heston jogged, yelling, “The phones aren’t ringing!!”

            The pandemic took its prisoners.

And then, and then…

The sun rose, the cobwebs swept, the noise returned, someone played a saxophone. 

Street preachers clamored to be ignored, the smell of expensive coffee and craft beer wafted. 

Things opened.  Slowly, opened. 

Whyte Avenue awoke with a kiss from her glass case, surrounded by beaming dwarves. 

And a smile came back to my face. 

Poem- A Digital Warrior Expires

My eyes, my eyes: they have seen so much.

            I have seen forests swallow men whole with machine minds,

            Grown men with childhood’s lasting only a weekend,

            Towers stretching to Heaven only to crumble at the foundation,

            A fourth primary colour,

            A sky of metal turn back to blue in defiance to the dollar,

            A family’s grave turn to flowers and then to a grove,

            Someone belted a joke that tumbled a kingdom,

            The Spirit like a dove descending upon bread and wine,

            The sun turn to pixels,

            Wind becoming text,

            Hills rolling over to rest.

So much, so much; not too much, just so much.

I will close them now, will they stay closed?  Will they pop open?  Or will it be something in the middle.

Memories, memories: like rays of the sun striking the Earth only to dissolve. 

            They are my memories, so much. 

            Time to sleep.  

Poem- When the Whole World Rioted

The hotel lobby exploded, sewage rushing and seeping from every hole in the floor,

            Exploding a gray and a foam, exploding with liquid evil, the riot raged around the sewage-a circling merry-go-round of sick men with big mouths and no guts, the cries could tasted, the eruption knocked over the bomb in the baby carriage.

Windows shattered, the shouts turned to barks and the signs were rabid.  I wish, I wish I could see straight-someone else’ blood in my eyes, more signs and slogans about what they were gonna do to people who disagree with their side, a snake coiled, an alligator cornered a blue poodle, purple tear gas swam above the sewage, police gave warnings they would only strike those of colour, more laughter, the lobby shook, a fire broke out, an old man clad in white handed out milk bottles made of glass, a statue of Dagon faceplanted in the corner, I shook and cried and asked to be shown out and was lost and didn’t plan on a riot and those screaming freedom wouldn’t let me go and another bomb went off and a baby cried and I stumbled to the exit- I got to go, I got to go.

The riot screamed and more windows turned to water.  Swallows sharpened their beaks, hungry for flesh.  More signs, someone sang “And I Believe in America” while we were all in Canada. 

I prayed, “I got to go, I got to go home.   And, if not home, get me to an Altar, some table made of wood with four candles, get me there, get to me to an Altar with a forever burning lantern.”

The wolves-who were once human-burgled down the street, vampires could be seen in the alleys looking for the weak or the strays, a flying saucer crashed into the Walterdale Bridge, zombies chased Democrats, a squid monster rolled up from the sewer drain, the moon split into two, the stars changed constellations.  Dragons spit, spit, spit.  A hand broke loose from the pavement of the street and reached to grab a cloud.   It only got worst after midnight.

A blond angel grabbed my hand, reading my lips.  “Come,” she sang.  “Come and see.”

            She led me out the door and down the street, more truck horns belching profanity, a toothless woman dressed as Moses screams, “Freedom!”, the angel did not heed this cussing, the sky red, smoke rolled out made from burning gas, tanks rolling in the horizon.

We came to a hallowed-out church, nothing but a steeple and steps and a stained glass picture of a shepherd boy without his sheep, the doors with the word spray painted, “Jesus, Save Yourself!”, the blond angel entered with me in tow, a small monkey was crushed, hyenas laughed, ants swarmed a scorpion, the news caught it all on film, the opinions rained down like acid rain.

We came inside and the angel pointed to the Altar. 

            “Make your prayers,” she said.

“I don’t know what to say, the riot stole my words.”

            “Then listen.  Blessed are you for you shall receive the world.”

“I don’t want it.  I want the next one.”

            “Then kneel before the Altar, be silent and listen.”

“I can do that.”

            “Then do.  And know, on this night, you are not alone and your pockets are full.”

“Thank you.”  I lived for an hour within a pregnant pause. 

Then I prayed, “I got to go, I got to go.”

(Art by Mike Roshuk) For more information, check out: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/apocalypse-art-edmonton-1.5838351

How to Lent?

   

         You’ve probably been in the place I’m just about to describe:

            It was a heavy day.  I had just listened to someone describe being attacked while they were working in a homeless shelter.  It’s rare, but it can happen.  That morning, I was on the phone with someone who was emotionally exhausted with her job.  That night, I was going to visit someone who was facing a dark, dark season of depression.

            I sat at the desk of my basement and sunk my face into my hands.  I prayed, “I can’t do this.  I feel like my name is attached to all of these stories and I can’t be a force of any good, change, or hope.  I can’t do it, God.  Too much.  You do it.  You do something new, different through me that comes from nowhere.  Not me, but you.  Eric is signing out.” 

            When Lent talks about our death, the death referred to Ash Wednesday- this is the stuff. 

            It’s not suicide, it’s not any sort of self-harm.  It is rather an end of our ego, our demand of: being right, being in control, feeling good, and/or looking good.  It is the surrender to the Higher Power (thank you AA), the new life.  To borrow from my youth ministry days: “Less of me, more of Jesus.”  It is the death one goes through to enter into the new life in Christ.

            Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the end, the start of living as an Easter Christian. 

            It is the entrance into the Lent Season. 

            How do we “Lent”?- as if we can turn a season into a verb.  

            A friend and fellow once remarked about the 2021 Lenten Season, “This is the Lentiest Lent season I’ve gone through.”

            The joke is that Lent is about giving something up, traditionally.   We give up something.  Historically, in Christian based communities, sweets or liquor or extra fat would be given up in every place you would go.  No one had chocolate or a beer for it was Lent and to do so would be going against the town’s ordinances. 

            During our time with the pandemic, can’t we just skip Lent for 2022?  We’ve given up so much already: visits, travel, potlucks, concerts, etc..  Didn’t we already do Lent while wearing a paper mask?

            Lent is classically about giving up stuff. 

            Today, we get to choose what we give up for Lent.  Most people give up some sort of vice or something that isn’t “really working” for them.  My youngest kid wanted to give up pasta for Lent because, well, she hates pasta.  A friend of mine gave up yelling at people for Lent and I joked, “Well, I don’t want to be near you at Easter when you let loose.”

American actors Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock on the set of directed by Marco Brambilla. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

            I’m not working up to the argument this is wrong.  Fine, give up something like chocolate or potato chips or watching movies with Sylvester Stallone.  However, I’m moving to a possible re-framing: why do we give things up?  What is the idea behind the fast?

            When I was interning to become a Priest, I remember doing a prayer service at a nursing home.  An older gentleman who played the organ for me was with me during our first Sunday of Lent.  I made a mistake and said the part of the liturgy wishing everyone “Alleluia”.    The old man slammed his paws on the organ and barked, “There is no ‘Alleluia’ during Lent!!!!!!!”

            I have his voice in my head every year during this time. 

            No joy, no smiling, no joy-is this what is behind all of the rules of Lent?  Do we make ourselves miserable for 40 days so we can enjoy our Easter chocolate? 

            Lent is about embracing our own death so that we can come alive in Christ. 

            During this time, I keep thinking about George MacDonald’s novel “Lilith”.  MacDonald, for those who haven’t read him is one of the first fantasy writers in the English language.  His ideas rough, he is before any of the conventions or rules of what we, in the 21st Century, have to govern “fantasy”.   A Christian minister/poet/Wildman, he spins the yarn of a man wondering through the night governed by fantastic forces and the supernatural.  Everything, in this novel, has a meaning and is borrowed from the Romantic world view. 

            In this novel, the hero is constantly encouraged to go to a house where everyone sleeps, where everyone goes to die.  The main character, naturally, is scared of this fate: why is that, in any way, a good idea?  However, the adventures of the book cause him to see the need for surrender, for giving up his will and freedom for something Divine, something so much better. 

            He sleeps to gloriously awaken.

            He gives up to gain. 

            He takes the ashes on Ash Wednesday for the rising of Easter.  He does Lent.

            In the book, reality is gloriously transformed.  In our world, things may not change…except our perception of things. 

            We see the world as what we need instead of our former lives (that everything is wrong and stupid and broken).  We learn to care for these gifts, enjoy them, and reflect on the Giver of these gifts.  When we travel through to Easter, we gain new eyes of the new life where we no longer seek to command and exploit, but to serve and give. 

            Or, as my friend Wendell Berry (I don’t really know, just quote him a lot), writes:

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

            This is living as an Easter Person.  To get there, we must first wear ashes. 

            How, then, do we Lent?  With the ruthlessness of Ash Wednesday, we make the hard decisions that cause us to be with Christ, to serve with Christ, and to watch our own agenda shrink back, dissolve.   Giving things up and fasting help, sure: but they are not the end of these means.  It is not a purge of what is nice or of pleasure; rather, it is a reduction of me and you and our agendas.

            This is how we Lent.