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Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016]

As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s blended voices still send shivers up my spine and “Still” is still one of my favorite songs of all time but unfortunately I did not consider either of these new releases to be worthy of a review. Both of the albums sound like these bands sound—and don’t get me wrong, I like the sound—but in my opinion neither of the albums breaks any new ground lyrically or musically. What is there to say that has not been said?

So instead, I review a band that was new to me with their 2016 release: Hope. The Strumbellas are a six piece folk ensemble with all six members providing some sweet vocal harmonies and a rich folk/pop sound. Although not musically adventurous, the writing and production provide some catchy tunes and clever musical hooks. The ironic mix is that while the vocals and instrumentation are pleasant, upbeat, and refreshing, the lyrics are sometimes brooding, dark, and reflective—yet not without hope as the title suggests. The theme of hope is an appropriate one to reflect on during this season of Lent as we long for the new life of Easter. My favorite songs are: “Spirits” [the opening song to the album and the radio single], “Wars”, “Young and Wild”, and “We Don’t Know”. The one song that makes me shake my head is “Dog” where they sing: “When this road gets too rough I’ll be your dog”. Perhaps it is because I am not a dog lover that the analogy just does not work for me as the most effective to describe loyal friendship.

The lyrics on the entire album are loaded with what I would call young adult angst: “we’re a long way from home…I’ll be a dreamer till the day I die…I don’t want a never ending life; I just want to be alive while I’m here…we don’t know the roads we are heading down; we don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way…from this moment forever I can hope…I must go and chase this dream of mine…this shaky heart is young… I don’t know what I am but I’m doing the best I can…I’m young and wild…” The song writer’s head is full of a lot of stuff: dreams, guns, spirits, ghosts, pain, darkness, soldiers—and hope. Yet, upon deeper reflection perhaps young adults only mirror and artistically articulate what is human longing; and, if that is the case they speak the angst and hope that is in all of us.

If this band were in town I would definitely go hear them and take one of my young adult kids. The music is enjoyable and the lyrics are thoughtful and reflective. With six members I can imagine they would put on an energetic and lively show.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good day to think about the settlement of our country. The Irish were of the early settlers who came to this land. Mark Starowicz eloquently describes the unique formation of Canada in the afterword of the two volume work based on the CBC documentary, Canada: A People’s History. Here are some excerpts:

Modern Canada was founded by two unwanted peoples. The first: the French of two separate colonies—Acadia and Quebec—both occupied by the British and abandoned by the French, who didn’t even want Quebec back after the Seven Year’s War and traded it for the tiny sugar island of Guadeloupe. The second: their ancestral English enemies from the American colonies, driven from their homes in the years after 1776.

Thus, the experience of refuge is at the core of the Canadian identity. We are refugees, or descendants of refugees, who have come to our shores like the recurring tides: the Scots left landless by the Highland Clearances… the starving Irish families ousted by landlords and famine… Black people who were refugees from the American Revolution and the Civil War… the landless from eastern and northern Europe: Galicians, Mennonites, Poles, Jews, Russians, Scandinavians, Dutch—all fleeing war, persecution, economic devastation, or famine… Chinese [and Japanese] crossing the Pacific to escape poverty… British orphans were sent here in a systematic relocation of the abandoned… after WW2 came the people the war had displaced, and survivors of the Holocaust… Sikhs, Italians, Portuguese [came] in search of a better life… the boat people from Vietnam… [more recently] refugees from war still arrive—from the Sudan, Somalia, the Balkans… [the past few years from Syria, and today, walking across the American border in the dead of winter’s night].

They were all the debris of history: the expelled, the persecuted, the landless, the marginalized, the victims of imperial wars, of economic and ideological upheavals. In a sense we are all boat people. We just got here at different times.

The major diverging current is the story of the [indigenous] people, the only ones who became refugees on Canadian soil. Even the most cursory reading of our history leads one to conclude that the peoples of the First Nations were systematically robbed and degraded in their own homelands. An equally cursory reading of Canadian history will show that there would be no Canada today without Donnacona, who saved Jacques Cartier’s expedition, without the Huron allies of the French, without Kondiaronk of the Great Peace, without Tecumseh’s warriors, who defended Canada’s territorial integrity, without Brant, without the Six Nations Confederacy, without Mi’kmaq, without the Plains Indians who saved the Selkirk Settlers, [without Louis Riel], and the nations of the Northwest who formed great trading empires. The Canadian idea of redemption and equality will never be realized, and the nation made whole, until this great wrong is righted.

One of Martin Luther’s contributions to how we view church today was his rediscovery of the concept of the “priesthood of all believers”. International Women’s Day [March 8] is a good time to reflect on the application of this doctrine. How many female leaders of the Reformation do you know? Probably none. Of the Reformation groups, perhaps the Anabaptists practiced this doctrine better than any other, although 500 years later even among them there are still groups who do not yet allow women in all leadership roles.

There is disagreement among scholars as to the role of women among sixteenth century Anabaptists. It was the medieval era after all and women were not accepted as persons or leaders in the larger society or church at the time. Yet, the strong belief in believer’s baptism, freedom of conscience, the calling of the Spirit, and communal living birthed an inclusivity that was radical for its time.

“The concept of the priesthood of believers among the Anabaptists elevated women to a role of partnership in the congregation of believers. In the state churches, Catholic and Protestant, the attitude toward women was as yet quite medieval and remained so for many years. However, in Anabaptist circles women were referred to as sisters, and were held in the highest respect.” [Myron Augsburger]

“The calling of the Spirit which provided the foundation for the Anabaptist movement was radically egalitarian and personal, even though it led individuals into a commitment to a community.” [Linda H. Hecht]

Anabaptists believed that women received the same call to salvation, baptism and discipleship that men did. Therefore, some Anabaptist women also had leadership roles in the church and many were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith.

The nature of Anabaptist communities involved economic sharing and recognized the prophetic gifts of all people, not just ordained leaders. All people, including women, were involved in Bible study and spiritual discernment. In fact because the women lived and associated so freely with the men in the work of the church, the Anabaptists were often slanderously accused by their opponents for having their women in common!

With this background we should ask ourselves today: How are we practicing the priesthood of ALL believers in our churches today? Are we leaving anyone out of the privilege of priesthood?

 

 

It is reading week. What do professors do during reading week? Read, of course! Check out my blog from a few years ago for my favorite authors. Here is a book review of a book I read last year.

Book review of a new Canadian author: Silas Krabbe, A Beautiful Bricolage [Wipf & Stock, 2016]

I got a free book in exchange for a review so here it is wipf & stock eat your heart out and add your own punctuation because i write this way not because i am trying to be postmodern well maybe partly but simply because i am lazy and it’s late at night so a beautiful bricolage is a book by an alumnus of where i teach columbia bible college silas krabbe who was one of those handful of exceptionally brilliant minds i have had the privilege of having in my classes although he should have named my colleague in his acknowledgements because she too is brilliant and i suspect that this book is an expansion of some of his graduate work because it reads like it unfortunately because the subject matter—an introduction to theopoetics if you don’t know what that is turn to page 12 where it says that it is the belief that how we articulate our experiences of the divine can alter our experiences of the divine which he stole from the best introduction to theopoetics which is keefe-perry’s way to water—is one that more people need to know about like when he says that no one in his congregation will ever read the book why not write it for them and all the other people who could be transformed by this subject rather than just writing for all the insiders who already understand your language this is my critique of the book and my compliment is that it is a good summary of all the major speakers writers poets prophets etc of the theopoetics movement my favorite of those is ruben alves whom i had not read before whose poetry was at the beginning of every chapter and i was also glad that at the beginning and the end it mentioned that theopoetics and theopoisis are basically the same thing because i do not think this distinction is meaningful my favorite chapter is aims and not answers perhaps because the points are numbered so that a modernist like me can understand and follow because theopoetics is nicely explained in 8 points 1 it attempts to hold things together 2 it plays with and extends exuberance 3 it offers space or gellasenheit my favorite word from anabaptist class maybe he first heard it there although he doesn’t give me credit 4 it retains transcendence 5 it is about embodiment 6 it protects the individual 7 it takes responsibility for human agency 8 it resists idolatry which is the best thing about theopoetics and i also like his sense of humor and the river imagery although we could have done without the river suddenly becoming a baseball game in the second last chapter what’s with that i was convinced before reading the book but i agree with his conclusion when he says he would be thrilled if the reader is beginning to think that theopoetics with its beauty its play and its daring movement into the future is a relevant and viable way for engaging with and incorporating the divine into the questions of our time but i’d like to add that we need a poet who the regular person on the street can understand not another academic book for the elites to banter about so the author should be challenged to take this up as his next project

Tomorrow is Louis Riel Day in Manitoba. Last summer I continued my interest in Louis Riel by visiting Batoche, SK where his dream of a Metis homeland was vanquished for the second and final time. I also visited his family home in St.Vital, MB, and his final burial place beside the cathedral in St. Boniface, MB near the museum which displayed some Riel memorabilia and statues. These visits were educational and even emotional experiences.

I also read Riel: A Life of Revolution by Maggie Siggins, a sympathetic yet well-researched and detailed biography of his entire life. Riel continues to be a controversial figure more than a hundred years after he lived and died; after all, it was only 25 years ago that he was finally acknowledged as the founder of Manitoba. I believe that the inclusion of all three prairie provinces in confederation can be attributed in part to his vision and work. Riel’s work dealt with a number of issues we continue to struggle with in Canada: western alienation, the rights of indigenous peoples, differences between French and English culture and language, and the mixing of politics and religion. I see him as a young visionary ahead of his time whose final years were marked by controversy and tragedy. The opening paragraphs of a chapter in the middle of the book capture the turning point in his life.

Life might have been different for Louis Riel. With an unconditional amnesty he would have taken his place among the ruling elite of Red River. He likely would have increased the family’s land holdings and taken advantage, like everyone else, of the imminent boom in Winnipeg. He would have been a source of pride to his mother and looked after the education of his siblings, seeing that his sisters married well and his brothers got decent jobs. He might have married the “pious and holy” mate he was looking for, and produced children who continued his life’s work, much as he had done his father’s. His political career likely would have thrived; with his natural aptitude, a stint as a member of Parliament might have turned into a Cabinet position. Given his passionate concern for his own people, he could have served as Premier of Manitoba and then—who knows?—he might have tried for the highest office in the land.

But he was exiled. It wasn’t just that he would miss his family, or that he would remain poverty-stricken, reduced to living off hand-outs. More, he well understood that a unique accomplishment in North America—the establishment of a society in which the Native peoples could have some say and maybe even prosper—had been crushed. And the interlopers… who cared only about the fortunes to be made in Red River and nothing for its traditions, now had their revenge and were laughing out loud. If, over the next few years, Riel suffered great emotional exhaustion and turmoil, what else could have been expected?

Riel’s vision of a multi-cultural society is still alive, and the failures of the Canadian government to fully embrace it still haunt us today. We no longer execute “renegade” leaders like we did Riel and we do enjoy a multi-cultural society to some extent [A picture of our present Cabinet is a good visual example] but the pallor of living conditions in First Nations communities and the current attitude toward refugees of some Conservative leadership hopefuls reminds us that we still have a long way to go.

Review of Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory [HarperCollins, 2014]

I’m biased. Bruce Cockburn is my favorite Canadian singer songwriter, perhaps my favorite from anywhere. Thus, I began my read of his memoir with inherent interest. A few years earlier I had read Brian Walsh’s Kicking at the Darkness which explored Cockburn’s spirituality according to his lyrics. My thought was that this would just be a more personal version of the same. It was, although sometimes too much so in my opinion.

Too much, as in it could have been shorter than 526 pages. It reminded me of Neil Young’s autobiography which was also over 500 pages [See my earlier review]. Cockburn’s memoir is more articulately and thoughtfully written than Young’s, not unlike a comparison of their song lyrics. They both write much about their relationships but Young writes about cars and guitars while Cockburn writes about God and social issues. The latter being more interesting, for me at least. Even then, it was still too long.

At times there was also too much personal [private] information. Rumours of Glory is at its best when he gives us personal and spiritual insights into his songs [lyrics liberally included in the book] and at its worst when he gives us too many details about his numerous sexual relationships with women. I appreciate his vulnerability but there are some things I don’t need to know. Yet, sexuality and spirituality are often more closely related than we might care to admit and Cockburn’s memoir exemplifies this. It is indeed a deeply personal spiritual autobiography as he had insisted on when approached to write his story. Here are a few selected excerpts [with songs alluded to in brackets] that give you a feel for the book and the author:

Our journey is driven by longing. Longing is perhaps the overarching human emotion. Longing has to do with God, because what humans long for the most is a relationship with the Divine. We may not be conscious of it, but we long to know God, in whatever context or guise that might mean to the individual. [You Don’t Have to Play the Horses, 1972; Shining Mountain, 1970; He Came from the Mountain, 1971]

My songs tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me, filtered through feeling and imagination. [My songs] are not meant as calls to action—though if someone heard one of my songs and was inspired to help the poor or save an ecosystem, all the better—but as an attempt to share my personal response to experience with anyone who feels a resonance, or even with someone who doesn’t, because life is one long conversation. [People See Through You, 1985; Planet of the Clowns, 1981; Berlin Tonight, 1985; The Charity of Night, 1994; Where the Death Squad Lives, 1986]

It was as if God were overseeing my basic training. The military tears you down to nothing and then rebuilds you in the mold they want. The fires of crisis often afford an opportunity to rebuild ourselves, to move forward from the embers into the arms of God. [Embers of Eden, 1997; Get Up Jonah, 1995; When You Give it Away, 1997]

Cockburn appropriately closes the book by reflecting on lyrics from Life Short Call Now, his second to last album at the time of writing [2014] and also perhaps his most spiritual album.

People who maintain a relationship with the Divine—no matter the religion or sect or specified belief system—will bear a special burden. It’s the burden of healing that is so needed after our poor stewardship of this blessed earth and of each other. Between the dogmatism of fear-based fundamentalism and the Battlestar Galactica new-aginess of Hollywood, down there in the cracks, there is room, there is a necessity, for the sharing of real, personal, and experiential knowledge of God—of love. That is our mission…[Mystery, 2004; Beautiful Creatures, 2004; The Light Goes On Forever, 1980]

 

It’s the beginning of February and all across this great country of ours we are locked in the grips of the Great White Monster we know as Winter—even on the wet coast where we already had the worst and longest winter in 30 years! Now this weekend we get an additional foot of the white stuff and since I’m tired of playing in the snow all I have left to do is watch hockey on TV and rant. You’d think the fentanyl crisis was enough and now our homeless have to deal with this! Cabin fever is for the lucky. But what really gets under my skin is not the cold or the needles but the fact that the so-called president of the United States is the lead story on every news cast. Even when this insecure young white guy kills six men at a Muslim prayer meeting in Quebec we hear about how this is somehow tied to immigration which is tied to the recent executive order south of the border to keep all the bad people out and north of the border we hear about so-called Canadian values that all our potential immigrants should have to abide by. Really? This is going to keep us safe and happy?

Let’s get real folks, if you and your ancestors have been living on this continent for less than 500 years you are an immigrant—and this would be the majority of the population. The trees and mountains and lakes and bears and birds and beavers and turtles of this island continent welcomed wanderers across the Bering Strait some ten thousand or more years ago and those wanderers having a faith that was close to this earth began welcoming others to these welcoming shores 500 or so years ago. European settlers brought them numerous genocidal gifts and decided to take over the land and divide it into squares and cities. We sometimes think it was our soldiers who secured our freedom and values but our freedom and values were not achieved in the world wars; they were a gift given by the indigenous people. Sadly, some of those freedoms and values were also stolen through the genocide of those same peoples who welcomed us. Let’s get our history right: the original Canadian values were welcome and acceptance. All of us refugees and immigrants enjoy the life that we do here because of the Canadian values of welcome and acceptance that the First Nations of this land showered upon us. Yes, let’s make sure all our new immigrants know about the Canadian value that brought us all here: welcome of the different other.