How I feel about attending the TRC

I write this as I sit in the Vancouver airport awaiting my flight to Ottawa to attend the final Truth and Reconciliation event in Canada. I'm not sure how I should feel or what I should expect. From my experience attending parts of the TRC event in Vancouver, I know I'll be moved. But moved to what? Lest I attend as some sort of social justice tourist, keeping any personal ownership of this dark side of Canada's history at arms length, I need to be more than just socially informed. But even as I write this I realize how my struggle is mostly with my own discomfort being there than with the actual findings of the TRC and the countless people it represents. So begins what I suspect will be a series of challenging reminders. Reminder #1: attending the TRC isn't about me attending the TRC. I can have a role to play, no doubt. But how I feel about my experience isn't the point. In the words of TRC Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson, "how we feel about the TRC is only as important as how it shapes our actions." If anything, as I head into participating in the final TRC event, I anticipate the powerful impact truthful storytelling can have, personally and socially. Will I be uncomfortable and sorrowful, unsure for the future of reconciliation in our country? Likely yes, as I'm sure many others will be. Yet in the discomfort there comes the hope as I realize how sharing our stories and listening to one another can create a unity that acknowledges the past, rests in the present, and hopes for better stories in the future. 

"Vulnerable Faith"

In an age where Christian faith is often equated to modern-day personal fulfillment – “the good life” – Jamie Arpin-Ricci offers an inspiring and challenging picture of faith rooted in vulnerability before God and others. Through the story of St. Patrick and the example of AA’s 12 steps, Arpin-Ricci’s personal exploration of a risky and authentic faith pushes the reader to place the life of faith in a proper – and honest! – perspective.

Check Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living In The Radical Way of St. Patrick.

Here’s some of my highlights:

Goal: “Rooted in the fabric of Scripture and enlivened by the Spirit, [transformation] is a matter of following a journey with Christ that leads us from an isolated pretense of sin into Spirit-empowered communities of Christ.” (19)

Quoting M. Scott Peck on “pseudocommunity”: “In pseudocommunity a group attempts to purchase community cheaply by pretense. It is not an evil, conscious presence of deliberate black lies. Rather is an unconscious, gentle process whereby people who want to be loving attempt to be so by telling little white lies, by withholding some of the truth about themselves and their feelings in order to avoid conflict. But it is still a pretense. It is an inviting but illegitimate short-cut to nowhere.” (43)

On the loss of hospitality: “Christian hospitality, a central tenant of our faith that has waned in practice over the centuries, owes much of its demines to these fears and impulses toward self-perseveration.” (64)

On the illusion of perfect church unity: “I can say with confidence that anyone who has spent their life as part of a Christian church community knows that any apparent appearance of a perfectly unified body in all (or even most) things belies the levels of difference and disagreement that hide just below the surface.” (72)

From the example of the devastation felt at Jesus’ death and burial in the tomb, Arpin-Ricci challenges the reader to examine our own experience of emptiness and vain attempts to hide this emptiness with money: “Willingly embracing the emptiness of the tomb is more difficult for those of us in places of privilege. We have so much ‘stuff,’ so many activities and endless sources of distraction and busyness to fill any potential emptiness, that our pretense is better fortified against any attempts to expose it, whether through circumstance or intentionality.” (87)

On faith and community: “Community is the inevitable and essential result of faithfulness, inseparably linked to the work of God in our hearts and in the world. Having humbly exposed and repented of the pretense that kept us in bondage to fear, we are able to divest ourselves of the sinful impulses of selfishness and self-preservation. Choosing to empty our hearts of anything that would compete for our faithfulness to Jesus, we make room for the new life born within us through the work of the Holy Spirit among us. It is not enough that we die with Christ, but we must also share in His resurrection as members of His Body, the Church.” (104)

The witness of failure: “Do we honestly believe that the best witness we can have as Christians before a watching world is to show moral perfection? While that might convince some, our odds of pulling it off seem less than slim. In truth, the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost.” (109)

On proximity: “As we share life of mutual belonging in proximity with each other, we intentionally do so while participating in the fabric of our neighborhood, as we try to live out Christ’s love in ways that are most meaningful in our particular context. We find ourselves shopping together, playing together, working together, and living together. It is through active relationship and service to (and with) our neighbors that our witness becomes embodied and more meaningful. I think this lends our community a humble authority and a certain measure of credibility in our neighborhood.” (115)

On Jesus and shalom: “Shalom is what love looks like in the flesh. The embodiment of love in the context of a broken creation, shalom is a hint at what was, what should be, and what will one day be again. Where sin disintegrates and isolates, shalom brings together and restores. Where fear and shame throw up walls and put on masks, shalom breaks down barriers and frees us from the pretense of our false selves. Jesus, the truth incarnate, is the very embodiment of this shalom.” (149)

Book provided by Paraclete Press (www.paracletepress.com)

Economy of Enough

NDP Leader, Rachel Notley, celebrates
 her party's victory in Alberta's provincial election.
I observed with interest this week as there was a drastic shift in Canadian politics - the New Democrat Party won a majority government in Alberta. This result signals a strong shift in direction, probably more away from something, (i.e. the previous government, The Progressive Conservatives) rather than to something. And the reaction is mixed. As one friend who lives in Alberta summarized, “there’s lots of fear and lots of hope.”

In my observation of the mixed reaction, I’ve noticed an underlying assumption. Behind the complaints and uncertainty (some of it justified based on past government’s track records) is a societal assumption rarely questioned: nonstop economic growth is the required (or best) trajectory individually and for society.

Personally, I’ve encountered this throughout my life, particularly as an adult. Language of "getting ahead" is applied in all sorts of circumstances as the measure of success. A good margin of profit selling a house allows for “upward mobility.” Another degree earned allows for career advancement and more earning power. This is “progress.” As Christians, we can even spiritualize such success with phrases like “God has blessed me.” Again, economic growth is an assumed good all around.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for economic well being, personally and socially. And in Alberta, as with all political contexts, no one ruling party has the perfect plan to achieve such well being. So questioning political parties is fair game. But in the process, let’s also question the very assumptions by which we evaluate our leaders. And when our grid for well being is economic growth, both personally and socially, we can end up unknowingly accepting an unsustainable and, at times, even an unjust view of society.

It can be unjust in supporting an economy that is only “free” for people who have the means to participate equally to begin with. One look around at urban neighborhoods reveals that the assumed good of economic growth is anything but freeing for the scores of homeless individuals and families. And it’s unsustainable in presenting a false vision for happiness. Studies show that increased wealth doesn’t equal increased happiness. As Ron Sider summarizes, “People tend to measure their happiness by how much they consume relative to their neighbors. As all try to get ahead, most tend to rise together so everyone is frustrated by their unsuccessful efforts to achieve happiness by getting ahead of others” (Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 238-239)

Imagine a response to economics - and likewise a political view - if our default wasn't grasping for more, but was rooted in a healthy concept of enough. Enough money. Enough possessions. Enough growth. Or as Sider would suggest for Christians, let’s imagine and adopt a “theology of enough” - the belief that humans exist for more than unending consumption.

Call it whining about “first world problems.” Or blind assumptions for defining success. Or corporate greed. Or whatever other label or symptom we can name. But an unquestioning reliance of an economy of growth only perpetuates injustice and this unsustainable vision for life, personally and socially. Instead, let’s engage politics thoughtfully, constructively, and sustainably, not from a perspective of growth at all costs, but from the belief that enough is enough. Maybe Alberta will lead the way. Maybe not. But as Canadians and as global citizens, I hope we can aim for an economy of enough.