ink

Mother is etched black into my skin
a maze that winds atop the veins she built
reminder of her blood that races still,
pressing me toward the good things

Every needle pierce, a small reminder of
Mother, whose beauty came through pain;
Mother, whose ink is all over me…
Mother through whose lost blue eyes I see

Image

Led to the Cross: A Sudden Sermon

x-tie-bar-cross-iron-support-for-structure

So I was driving to Winnipeg to pick my sister up at the airport yesterday and while I drive I do a lot of thinking.

Sometimes I get caught up wanting to write things down but I can’t because I’m driving. Well that happened this time. I was thinking a lot about the state of the world these days (which I seem to do a lot) and how divided people are, particularly along faith lines. This both saddens and frustrates me (as I am sure it does others).

I decided to record my thoughts as I was driving so I would not lose them and that is what I am posting below. I apologize for the sound quality and the fact that I am speaking at an odd cadence as well as speaking loudly over the sound of the vehicle. Since I had no notes I had to go slower than I usually would. I also apologize for use the word “verily” for some reason. How odd to use such an archaic word that I never use…literally ever. I have never said “verily” before and I hope never to again.

At any rate what follows is what I am calling a “Sudden Sermon”…simple thoughts on the cross and my concerns about how Christians have been responding to violence and threat lately.

 

Money & Leadership

Beware the person who thinks they just need enough money to complete any task or accomplish any goal…they will lead you down the garden path and, in the end, there will never be enough.

You know the people I’m talking about. Perhaps you are one of those; perhaps you have been one – I certainly have been.

The kind of person I’m talking about treats budgets and money like a magic bullet – if you can just get a large enough budget you can do anything, complete any project, satisfy any need.

This is not true.

Money, like time, paper, pens, printers, computers etc. is simply a resource, one of many drawn on toward the reaching of a goal.

Money, as such, is the byproduct of sound planning, critical thinking and good leadership, and should be required as sparingly as possible and not thrown about like so much water on a fire.

Let’s look at it another way. Some people, when given a task, set their minds first and foremost to coming up with a number; a budget large enough with which they feel they can accomplish whatever lay before them.

It is these same people, that when failure inevitably comes, will instantly point to the lack of sufficient funds and the people who control the purse strings as the reason for failure.

I was never given a large enough budget to accomplish the task,” they bemoan.

If they trusted that I knew what I’m doing they would have given me more money…this failure is their fault – not mine…” etc., etc., ad nauseum.

This is the proverbial cart before the horse.

Due diligence and prudence in developing a sound, well-researched plan ahead of time, laid out carefully and in detail need to be put in place well ahead of any budgetary determinations.

I do not mean the kind of rationalizing/planning that seeks to justify a large amount of money ahead of time which is so often the case. I mean the kind of planning that seeks out every possible means and strategy to accomplish the goal with as LITTLE resources as possible.

This requires a great deal of creativity. It requires more than one mind contributing. It requires the kind of person who has developed a network of resources because they are committed to the understanding that people, more than any amount of money, are the key to long term success.

With this kind of thinking and leadership in place the money you save can go toward things that really matter – recruiting, retaining and rewarding staff and volunteers. More resources with connections to more resources.

A wise person once told me that if you want to know the heart of an organization – be it a business, a not-for-profit, a house of worship, a family even – look at the budget. Where you find they spend their money you will also find their heart.

A strong and well-led organization does not spend most of it’s money on products and projects but rather on people. They key to success is not one person spending $1 million on a project but 10 people spending $500,000 on that same project and making it 10 times more successful (or $100,000 or $10,000 or $1,000 etc. you get the idea).

When the first thing a person does is to come at you with hands out to accomplish a task it’s probably time to find a different person.

drought

i feel the beginning well ahead of time
in the absolute silence of my mind i know
and i try to ignore it that it might not become

but still the parched thoughts become
scarce as clouds in a hot prairie sky
…and just as promising

with passion i lower the bucket again and again
pulling up less each time
til’ then comes mud
and then comes dust
and then
exhausted
defeated
i lay back in fear of death
wondering if my cracked skull
will ever bring forth life again
wondering
if death is necessary
for some new life to burst forth

this is when sleep overtakes
and in the waning moments as the veil draws over my eyes
i pray for dreams
or nothing at all

Monday

It was raining outside. Not a good rain. Not a hard, cleansing angry thunderstorm of a rain. It was a shitty, all day misty, cloud on the earth kind of rain. A depressing, sad, gross sweaty kind of rain. A Monday kind of rain.

Petula Clark was failing miserably at cheering up Sheryl from her radio:

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely. You can always go Downtown.
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know Downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city; Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty; How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there; You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares; So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re Downtown, no finer place for sure; Downtown everything’s waiting for you…”

Petula didn’t know shit today. Yesterday she would have been on the ball but today…not even close. Sheryl buried herself deep under her covers to escape from the reality of this kind of a day.

There was time yet. It didn’t get busy until lunch times and after work hours mostly. For now she could remain immobile and pretend the world didn’t exist beyond the warmth of her sheets and the Hudson’s Bay blanket she stole from her mother the day she was kicked out. It was probably the most expensive thing she owned which made her laugh out loud to herself.

9 am came and went and then 10 am and Sheryl remained motionless in bed smoking and listening to the traffic outside of her window. She liked the sounds of the city – there were cars going to and fro, ambulance and police sirens in the distance coming near and going away again, blasts of horns, angry shouts and a general buzz of life that she could draw on. Sometimes she would lay in bed on mornings like this and try to imagine the arguments between two drivers.

She imagined a great lout of a man, huge and cumbersome in grey track pants and a white t-shirt, Italian with jet black hair slicked back, maybe late 30s. She imagined him stuck in traffic behind some weasel-necked office type in his suit and tie; some kid like her, maybe 25…a bit older.

She imagined slick rumbling from his car to have a “chat” with weasel boy. Weasel boy would appear amused but sweat would bead on his forehead barely visible. Eventually he would start to roll up his window in an attempt to ignore slick but slick would not have it and would reach through the window and open the door from the inside whereupon he would drag weasel from his car get in and drive it across the street and onto the sidewalk out of the way of his own car.

Then he would get out and throw the keys through the open door of the shoe store across from him to the loud protest of weasel boy who would get smacked on the ear hard for good measure before slick would get into his own car and drive off laughing.

Sheryl prided herself on her imagination.

She could linger forever in bed or at her window making up tales far more interesting then what her eyes could see. Far more interesting than the boring routine of her own life.

By 10:30 she knew she had to prepare. She had to shower and then put her shitty hair in shitty curlers so that after she sat in the shitty hairdryer for a while she could tease it up into a grand bouffant.

Already tall the hair style made her that much taller – taller than most of her clients by several inches. She enjoyed this and imagined that in some way it heightened a sense of inadequacy in them like it did with Jimmy. She wondered if they knew how hard she laughed at them inside.

All of them were older…much older but not all of them were bad. Some of them were actually fairly nice – she hated these ones the most. These sad-eyed men who paid her to talk. Who droned on and on about their horrible lives trapped with domineering wife and kids who would never leave them alone.  They were so unoriginal, so boring and so infuriating that they thought they had it bad.

Why couldn’t they just fuck her in silence and leave. It would be so much better than having to sit and listen. To have to politely decline offers of dinner out – as if she wanted to be seen with such people. Pathetic.

As they talked she often drifted into one of her daydreams where she imagined doing something horrible to them. She imagined walking over to the kettle and putting it on for coffee (they like having coffee with her like they were somehow “together”). She would encourage them to keep talking as she busied herself with cups and sugar and then, when the kettle boiled she would take the pot off the stove and dump it over their idiot heads standing their while they screamed.

Of course she would never do such a thing in real life…how could she ever get away with it – that kind of screaming would bring a dozen people to her door in 10 seconds. She just listened and nodded sympathetically. She would smile and hug them goodbye while they fumbled with cash.

It was near 11:30 by the time her hair was done and Sheryl, behind schedule, was putting make up on at the kitchen table with the help of a small round mirror she had scavenged from the apartment across the hall on the day her neighbours moved out two months ago.

She snuck over on moving day between box loads and snagged the mirror and a stack of Chatelaine magazines. She didn’t feel bad. They owed her for all the complaining they did to the super.

She particularly enjoyed the fight that ensued between them when bitch noticed her mirror was gone and bastard told her it was probably just in a different box.

“Don’t fucking tell me where I put my own god damn mirror!” shouted bitch. “I know where the fucking mirror was – RIGHT HERE IN THIS FUCKING BOX.

“Shut up about your stupid mirror FUCK!” bastard shouted back after which there was some scuffling like they might have been pushing each other followed by a loud SMACK and the sounds of heavy boots stomping away.

Sheryl remembered this fondly as she continued to apply her makeup.

She knew she was done when she could no longer stand the look of herself in the mirror. Her black cat-eyed eyeliner with too much foundation, too much rouge and way too much lipstick. It made her sick. She felt like a clown but it was what they liked. They liked it when they could mess her up and smear lipstick all over her mouth. She thought they liked the possibility of clues being left as if they were bravely taking risks instead of simply being inhuman thieves.

As Sheryl was finishing up and stashing her shoebox of makeup under the sink in the bathroom the phone rang making her jump. She hated the intrusive and brazen sound of those bells. She ran to the phone, an avocado green affair, and lifted the receiver to her ear.

“Hullo?” She said.

“Lindy? Is this Lindy?” a quiet, nervous voice at the other end asked.

“Hullo _______, you know it is” said Sheryl annoyed at being asked.

It was Mr. A, an Italian tailor who ran a small shop several blocks south of her. She was lucky enough that he could get away early for lunch because his nephew was apprenticing with him and it would do him good to work for a bit alone and manage the place.

Mr. A was very old – maybe 50, and somehow skinnier even then Sheryl. He was all angles and points and she always came away from his visits bruised. Being with Mr. A felt like having been thrown into a small box of rocks and shaken around with them for five to 10 minutes.

About twenty minutes later there was a quiet knock at Sheryl’s door and she moved to answer it. By now Sheryl was dressed in a sheer pink cover with pink faux fur around the edges – it left nothing to the imagination.

Sheryl called it her doily because it seemed to be not much bigger than the doilies her grand-mere knitted for tables. Grand-mere had doilies all over her house – every surface had a doily on it and when she ran out of surfaces she forced doilies on her children and grandchildren – it was an obsession, an addiction really.

Sheryl put on her Lindy mask and opened the door. Sheryl was gone. Standing before Mr. A was a thin, raven haired, milk skinned young girl older than his daughter. Mr. A was shaking. This was his fifth visit despite the fact he protested after each of his previous four that they were the last Lindy would ever see of him.

Mr A entered quickly and slammed the door behind him, jumping at the sound and seeming embarrassed.

No time for the romance,” said Mr. A explaining that it took him longer to get over here than he expected. Lindy smiled in a mechanical way.

Lindy said nothing as she wandered over to him. She undid his pants and they fell to his knees as she went over to the wall next to the front door and lifted the back of her “doily”. She turned and watched as Mr. A half fell, half shuffled his way over in an embarrassing dance that she would have laughed at if she knew she could get away with it.

In moments he was done leaving Lindy with almost no bruises save for the back of her left thigh where his knee had jammed her when he briefly and apologetically contorted in a sudden spasm brought on by a cramp in his own leg.

Mr. A apologized profusely while Lindy casually walked to the washroom to clean up while he pulled his pants up.

This is the last time I come here,” said Mr. A as he handed Lindy cash. Lindy nodded, smiled and said nothing. “Really – I mean it this time, I love my wife and family. We can’t keep doing this.

It was getting difficult to keep Lindy at the surface when all Sheryl wanted to do was slam her fist straight in Mr. A’s stupid bushy mustached mouth. Instead she just stared quietly until he fumbled his way out of the apartment and shut the door as the phone began ringing again.


The day was busier than Sheryl had wanted. She stopped answering the phone after midnight and took her earnings to a tin cracker box she kept in a space in the wall behind the sink where there was a hole that had rotted out.

She spent almost an hour showering off Lindy and the rest of the day. By 1 am she had turbaned her hair and wrapped herself in a huge terry cloth robe that Jimmy had swiped from the Hilton where he had worked in the kitchen.

Sheryl lit a cigarette and wandered over to the window with a cup of tea. This box had a card with a beautiful Monarch butterfly on it. She saved all of the cards in a drawer and pulled them out to admire once and a while.

Opening the window Sheryl leaned out to look at the stars emerging from the receding clouds. The rain had finally stopped leaving a fresh and glistening city behind. She watched the taxis driving by, the tail lights blazing in red along the road.

There were no thoughts for the day ahead just a wish that it would never come.

 

Sunday

Sunday was a rare day of rest for Sheryl. A rare day to trade the darkness of the downtown squalid little apartment that barely fit a bed, bathroom and hotplate for the expanse of a sunny summer morning to walk and unfold with the rising sun.

Today was such a day. She woke up early with the early day’s light and opened the small window over her bed trading the stink of the room for the more welcome stink of the city. A stink that smelled of exhaust, warming asphalt and garbage that had been washed in the night’s previous rain.

She lit a cigarette, drew deep and leaned out the window, elbows on the brick sill as she exhaled into the fresh air, nothing but a thread-bare babydoll between her bony shame and the world. Her hair was a witch’s nest of crazy black striving as if to escape a sinking ship, every strand for itself. It would be a good day.

Butting the cigarette out on the sill bricks she pulled herself back in to her room and wandered over to the hotplate to put the kettle on. From there it was a short reach to the shitty little radio she found one day on one of her walks.

It was a discarded little plastic thing that she felt good about and so she retrieved it from the top of the open trashcan, brought it home and opened it up to find a single loose wire that had pulled away from a small prong on the little brown board inside. With the delicate touch of a surgeon she took her heated iron in hand and with the very tip manged to melt the prong over the wire. Once closed, plugged in and turned on the radio blared to life.

This morning’s random choice of the radio Gods was Hanky Panky by Tommy James & The Shondells –

“My baby does the hanky panky
I saw her walking on down the line (yeah)
You know I saw her for the very first time
A pretty little girl standing all alone
Hey baby, baby, can I take you home?”

Sheryl smiled at the irony as she made her coffee with a teaspoon of Maxwell House crystals and sugar covering it like a small Kilimanjaro in the base of her mug preparing for the boiling flood.

A quick shower followed by another cigarette with her coffee. She pulled on faded old blue jeans and a buttoned, loose fitting, white linen top with a kind of lace pattern stitched along the front from top to bottom. Ready to go.

The best part of Sunday mornings for Sheryl was the illusion of freedom she felt. As she stepped out the front door of the downtown apartment building there was a sense she could walk forever and get away from this place. There were no walls, just a vast expanse of concrete and pavement glistening with the sunshine gleaming from the recently passed street cleaners.

Like her “office” the Toronto streets were currently empty on this Sunday morning. Her clients we busy with their families in church and the normal throngs that packed Toronto’s core were either sleeping or doing the same thing. Many of them abandoned the city for the lakes and cottages of Muskoka which was just as well for Sheryl – she did not envy them in the least.

She didn’t mind that the stores were closed…she didn’t have money to spend on such things anyways…she just liked to look as she walked an imagine that the rest of humanity had been killed off in some apocalyptic disease that only she was immune to. She hoped it had been painful.

In this emptiness she would live out the end of days as the last representative of humanity – smoking, listening to music and exploring the remnants of a world she would not mourn…a world that did not deserve mourning.

Sheryl had a routine on such mornings – she would walk to Queen’s Park (it took a good half-hour to get there) and spend some time sitting on a bench to watch. Of course it wasn’t completely empty – there were taxis and bums and squirrels and pigeons filling the scenery. The taxis, squirrels and pigeons were never a problem but the odd crusty old bum who could have been anywhere from 30 to 70 years old would often wander over. Sheryl would never let them get within 10 feet before staring them down and declaring as authoritatively as she could –

FUCK. OFF.

This sent most of them wandering off in a cloud of their own angry profanity. Sometimes Sheryl felt bad about it but it was safer this way – people were not to be trusted. Especially the ones that feigned kindness.

After about an hour (four cigarettes) of enjoying the squirrels in their loud chattering games of tag from tree to tree and branch to branch the church-people would begin to wander by. Men with their women pushing baby strollers or sometimes just the women (she never saw the men pushing the babies). This was her sign to move on.

Somewhere in the pit of her stomach she would begin to feel a pain. A kind of tearing empty hole; a sort of yearning regret that made her feel sad. These women with their men. These women with their babies. They made her sad…and so they made her angry. She wanted to scream at them and their nice clothes and the nice homes they no doubt went back to. She wanted to push them. She wanted to hit them. In these things she knew she needed to leave.

Sheryl would wander to Queen and Young to sit on a windowsill of the Woolworth building drinking a coffee for lunch and cautiously stare at the few other city dwellers wandering the street.

Three cigarettes later she would start wandering down Young Street toward the railyard and the lake beyond where she would sit for the remainder of the afternoon staring out at the waves, watching the boats and keeping her mind as empty as the blue sky until the sun began to sink into the horizon on her right.

At this point, with perilously few cigarettes remaining, Sheryl would regretfully wander back to her room knowing that, by now her phone had begun to ring, because even a Sunday evening would not be enough to keep some of her clients away.

The long walk back was necessary. It gave her the time to begin to shut off the emotions that needed to be shut off. It was like there was a little engineer inside her head walking from side to side flipping off switches so that, by the time she got home, all of her feelings had vanished, and she was ready to begin the night shift…the light behind her…the night ahead.

The Witch: An Interpretation

the witch.jpgThe Witch is an interesting movie. I have avoided reading any reviews lest my own writing here be corrupted. I will say I saw the Rottentomatoes scores and they were fun – 87 percent of Top Critics liked the movie as opposed to just 56 percent of viewers.

This is because the viewer was tricked into going to see what they thought was a horror movie and what they got was a pretty cool inversion of a morality tale – like an evil version of Pilgrim’s Progress, complete with 17th century English.

The movie is the stuff of glory for a reviewer who typically has to sit through some pretty formulaic crap again and again and again. With The Witch they were given something to sink their teeth into and really ruminate about.

Do I need to warn about spoilers? If you saw the headline for this post you must know there are going to be spoilers ahead.

The story is definitely is rooted in the narrative of the Creation at the beginning of Genesis. Specifically it seems to take place with the fall – the expulsion of our protagonist and her family from Eden and into the wilderness. We do not know why but there has clearly been a transgression related to belief. In this instance expulsion may be self-inflicted.

Life outside of Eden is difficult (understatement). There is the death of the youngest (not unlike Abel though we are left to puzzle over whose responsibility this is).

The land is clearly cursed for the patriarch and it’s yield is minimal. Everything is toil and darkness.

The matriarch’s pain related to childbirth is definitely increased – in this instance through death and loss and distrust.

God is not present in this place. There is no sense of God despite their prayers. There is no sense that they bear God’s image at all. If God is present in this at all it is as the unyielding, unforgiving judge who is not moved in the least by this family’s plight.

We see lust in a form that one might consider normal for a boy moving into puberty but this lust somehow seems excessively judged by the world. A boy who dies after revealing a partially eaten apple from his mouth. No small or subtle symbolism here – the knowledge of good and evil he had just received was carnal and deemed corrupting.

There is the recitation part of the very interesting Milk for Babes, a 17th century Reformed Protestant catechism written by John Cotten for children (though I would bet most adults would struggle with it today).

The presence of evil is palpable as the family journeys closer and closer to it. Our young protagonist eventually and in desperation calls out to the goat Black Phillip aware that he may be the source of all their struggle, a vessel for the devil and the devil responds.

In the end another great reversal comes as our protagonist embraces the role she has been accused of – Witch – and journeys deep into the wild forest to be with her peers. As she goes she goes naked.

This is interesting. In the story of the fall humans go from naked to clothed; from shameless to ashamed and from innocent to guilty. Not so in The Witch. The entire brutal journey ends with a sudden shedding of guilt and shame and a new found joy and innocence.

Ultimately the movie presents the story of humanity suffering under the yoke of a brutal and controlling God (religion?). It show’s our protagonist throwing off the yoke and being literally lifted in ecstasy from the earth – she is light and free.

The film is a scathing critique of conservative Reformed Protestant Christianity, perhaps all Christianity and perhaps even all belief and the resultant religious morality.

Solidly and unapologetically humanist in its tone, the source of the real horror in the movie is the absence of God and the self-destruction of people refusing to accept this absence.

I should also say the film is also about women. It is about women in relation to belief – again I do not think it is an accident the conservative Reform Protestantism is the vehicle that is used to explore these themes especially given the rise of Neo-Reformers today.

Women in the film, as seen predominantly through the protagonist Thomasin but also her mother, do not thrive within the context of Christianity. If unything they live under constant suspicion, guilt and judgement just for being female.

If you can stand the imagery and themes the film is a worthy one to see as a group for discussion afterward by Christian and non-Christian alike; believer and atheist and everyone in between. I certainly want to see it again with other people (let me know if you do too).

While I may not completely agree with its conclusions I understand them. A great film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Interestingly this is director Robert Eggers’ first full length effort and fourth film (including three shorts) overall. I certainly look forward to what comes next.

The film cost $1 million to make and is really a marvel of focus and effort. The commitment to 17th century English, the costuming and cinematography are all on their own worth seeing the film for.

to empty

Having been raised in fear of the monsters, having been raised in fear of the darkness, he, one day, no longer capable of standing the cowering life – chose to cast of his weakness, walk into the woods and become the thing the monsters feared and become the thing the darkness fled…an empty thing…a consuming thing.

Census 2016

Like the cicada, once every six years the Canadian census population numbers rise from there resting place (Stats Canada) to the great pleasure of, well, if no one else than me.

I’m a bit of a numbers nerd, not a math geek so much as a stats addict. I love statistics for the sake of statistics but also for what they can tell us about where we have been and where we may be going.

The release of the census figures is similar to the day mum takes out the measuring tape and pencil and get’s ready to mark your new height on the door frame – once there you can stand back and admire your progress over the years (or be dismayed at the lack) and imagine the growth yet to come.

This is the census for me.

I know…I need a hobby.

The census tells us that Winkler was the fastest growing municipality in Manitoba and the 11th fastest in Canada between 2011-2016 with 12,591 residents or 18 percent growth. Morden grew by 11 percent and had the third fastest growth rate behind second place Steinbach at 17 percent.

At this rate Winkler will surpass the population of Thompson and Portage in a few years to become Manitoba’s 4th largest city while Morden has passed Dauphin to a population of 8,668.

Anyhow you can do your own digging for more info here:

http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/index-eng.cfm

I died for beauty

I DIED for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,—the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms, 10
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson