Fifty years ago today Sergeant Pepper told the band to play, and the Beatles did!

2017 is the year of Canada’s 150th birthday and the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s inauguration of the Reformation and, as I found out a few weeks ago, it is the 30th anniversary of the release of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’, one of the greatest rock ’n roll albums of all time. I did go to the anniversary concert in Vancouver where they played every track uninterrupted and in order after an introductory set and a very long “encore” complete with sermon and song. Speaking of great albums, June 1 [UK] and June 2 [USA] was the release of another ground-breaking rock ‘n roll album: ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles. And since I am a huge Beatles fan, I include some excerpts from Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s complete Beatles discography published in 1975.

“Sgt Pepper is surely the Beatles greatest technical achievement and, if hindsight reveals many of its contrivances, they weren’t apparent in June 1967, the high water mark of the psychedelic era. Where ‘Revolver’ left off, ‘Sgt Pepper’ begins: it is a stupefying collage of music, words, background noises, cryptic utterances, orchestral effects, hallucinogenic bells, farmyard sounds, dream sequences, social observations and apocalyptic vision, all masterfully blended together on a four track tape machine over nine agonizing and expensive months. Its concept formula expanded the entire horizon pop album structure, although it still boiled down to a selection of twelve songs plus a reprise of the title track. This concept, sold with the aid of its extraordinarily lavish gatefold sleeve, escalated the business of LP recording and marketing into a kind of album race with groups vying each other to see who could spend more money and take more time over their next presentation.

‘Pepper’ was the first of these spectaculars—and also the best, though its imperfections have aged badly, probably due to the overall self-consciousness with which ex-hippies now view their immediate past. But like The Bhagavad-Gita and The Lord of the Rings, it is inextricably associated with that past.”

Carr and Tyler continue with a picturesque analysis of each song. They really dig some songs, e.g. “Lennon’s ‘Mr. Kite’ again reveals John as a mischievous psychedelicatessen: cascading calliopes and celestes recapture the surreal atmosphere of the carnival.” They detest others, e.g. ‘Within You and Without You’ is described as “no more adventurous than the average soundtrack on a very average Bombay produced movie.” I agree with them that the finale, “A Day in the Life”, is a brilliant piece of musical fusion. “In origin, it was two separate songs—Lennon’s had no middle and McCartney’s had no beginning, so the two were skillfully fused together to create one of the great studio masterpieces of the era: a piece of music which has been interpreted as no less than a vision of the Day of Judgment.”

The album was the climax of the Beatles career and the turning point from a touring to a studio band. Fifty years later and mystery still surrounds Sergeant Pepper. It was so intended: the enigmatic cover, the psychedelic sounds, imaginative [drug induced?] and playful lyrics, along with new production techniques for the time. It is worthy of a 50th anniversary celebration!

 

I forgot to post this on Victoria Day: a day dedicated to the queen of an empire that dominated much of the world at the time of her reign. An empire that was brutal in subjugating people wherever they stuck their flag, including Turtle Island where I now live. There is another side to the story:

like many others of the teeming thousands who sought refuge on these shores we thought it was an empty land terra nullius free for the taking we were duped by the doctrine of discovery that in 1492 columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered america at least that was what we learned in history class until my grade 7 history teacher who was metis said it was not the massacre at seven oaks it was a battle and my young brain began to realize there was another side to the story and at the time i knew nothing about little boys and girls being taken away from their parents and sent to residential schools to try to make them christians as far as i knew the history of canada started with the vikings coming to new-found-land then the french and the english duked it out while the people who lived here began to die of no buffalo and new diseases we brought it was genocide and not just cultural this is the truth

it is interesting that in 1871 when Riel lost the war in the red river valley a few years later a ship containing my ancestors landed at the forks and the government gladly gave them the land vacated by those who lost the war it was a convenient buffer and we were grateful but Riel was pushed towards the hinterlands of the north saskatchewan to dream of a land where all kinds of different people would live together in harmony but the government would have none of his crazy dreams so we killed him and when he was again defeated by government forces in 1885 guess who got the free land after that more mennonites! the same ones who another generation later in columbia drained lake sumas because it was only a mosquito infested swamp without realizing that it was the source of salmon livelihood for the nations who were fishing it and living there we may not have done the policies but we were the beneficiaries this is the truth

finally there’s been a truth and reconciliation commission after thousands have died in residential schools too many suicides and dirty water on remote reserves and hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women on the highways and in the cities i hope my sister is never one of them after the 60’s scooped her into our family she’s bearing the load of generations what should we do feel guilty for coming here when we have been welcomed so hospitably and we brought booze guns and dandelions to return the favour should we all go back to europe no but the first thing we can do is acknowledge the truth we can’t even move on to the reconciliation part until we do the truth is I am a settler a squatter on somebody else’s land westerners always feel we gotta do something but maybe we can just sit with the truth for a while as uncomfortable as that is

On Mother’s Day let’s celebrate some Canadian women who were also mothers.

Kim Campbell was the first and only woman prime minister and the only one born in BC. She never gave birth to children but became the stepmother to three daughters.

Joni Mitchell, one of the greatest female singer songwriters, gave up her only daughter for adoption and they did not meet again until 32 years later.

Mary Two-Axe Earley was a Mohawk woman from the reserve of Kahnawake, Quebec. She worked as an indigenous women’s rights activist against the gender discrimination that lost indigenous women “status” under the Indian Act. She was the mother of two children.

Margaret Laurence, born in Neepawa, Manitoba became one of the most famous Canadian authors with 16 books to her credit. She was also the mother of two and even wrote a children’s book.

Nellie McClung was a women’s rights activist, reformer, and legislator who was instrumental in securing women’s right to vote. She was also a member of first CBC board of governors, author of 16 books, and was the mother of five children! And, I happened to grow up in the same community as she did, near Wawanesa, Manitoba.

My mom was not famous but she should be. She was the oldest of 14 children, born at the end of the Great Depression on the Canadian prairies. She had to quit school at grade 8 [age 13] to look after her younger siblings and then got married at 19, beginning her own family a few years later. I was her firstborn. My mother managed a market garden and a household of six children, getting an education and a job in psychiatric care in midlife. My mom knew how to live more with less. We never had a lot of money, and she never spent it on herself, and always set some aside for special occasions and family trips and outings. Happy Mother’s Day!

We just celebrated our college graduation on Saturday. I teach a course on spiritual formation and vocational discernment. I believe that vocational discernment [finding your calling] is at the heart of young adult spiritual formation, perhaps all spiritual formation. The Reformation was a time when there was not only reformation of church and doctrine but a reformation of the concept of vocation. Here’s a brief history of vocation:

It began with Eusebius [263-339 CE], Bishop of Caesarea, who said that Christ gave two ways of life: Via Contemplativa, or the contemplative life, primarily lived by priests, nuns, and monks. In Protestant terms this would be ministers and missionaries who have a “call” from God. This was a sacred calling, those who have a calling, a vocation. Those who did not have a call from God engaged in the Via Activa, the life of work: soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families. It was praised as noble and necessary, but secondary.

This created an obvious double standard. It is somewhat ironic in that the monastic movement had a reforming mission to call a secularized church back to radical discipleship, but instead it had a relaxing effect in that it called a few to radical discipleship and let everyone else off the hook.

Martin Luther corrected the Catholic distortion by saying, “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.” When he talked about vocation he liked to use the most mundane examples: “the father washing smelly diapers, the maid sweeping the floor, the brewer making good beer.” All work is God’s work.

Unfortunately, Protestantism brought its own distortion. Whereas the Catholic distortion is a spiritual dualism, the Protestant distortion is a kind of secular dualism. It reduces vocation to an alternative word for work. John Calvin sarcastically said in response to Libertines, “Let a brothel keeper ply his trade… let a thief steal boldly, for each is pursuing his vocation.” Protestant reformers agreed that judges had to sentence, soldiers had to kill, and slaves have to serve in order to fulfill their God-given, predestined calling in life. I think you can see the problems with this.

The Anabaptists questioned this because the uncritical acceptance of some occupations did not allow for any challenge of the existing social order. They believed that the existing social order was not according to God’s reign; and, that they were called to set up an alternative social order as a prophetic witness. This created tension for them in certain roles because those roles were part of an evil system, e.g. the magistrate [kill people], a merchant [horde goods from poor].

But this initially prophetic question helped to produce the “Anabaptist distortion” of withdrawal from society in later generations. They did good things, and did them ethically [some of the time], but only for their own benefit and not for the common good.

So with all these distortions in history, how can we develop a good theology of vocation today that is consistent with God’s purposes?

 

 

 

 

Resurrection is Hard Sometimes

 

Resurrection was easy for you:

encounters in the garden,

walking through walls,

breaking bread, breakfast on the beach,

a cruise on the clouds

to go back where you came from.

 

But what if going back where you came from

was back to an alley

full of dumpsters and rubble

where you overdosed on fentanyl

because your pain was unbearable?

Then resurrection would be hard.

 

What if going back where you came from

was back to a disease

that caused you to starve till you fainted,

puke till you cardiac arrested

and stole your very selfhood?

Then resurrection would be hard.

 

 

The introduction to my post turned into a spontaneous poem of my own and in the process I forgot to post the poem that appeared in the guidebook as an introduction to the dramatic tableaux written by my son Adriel Brandt.

I like pictures of empty crosses,

because then I can hoist myself up

into His place

to look down on everyone.

Remember though,

that we are the Romans:

the white, the wealthy,

the employed, the male,

the heterosexual, the cisgendered,

the Christian, the Western:

we are, all of us, the Romans,

and if we learn to look

up,

we might see Jesus.

Good Friday

This was not five hundred years ago or even one hundred and fifty; it is today.

It was a difficult resurrection again today

from the warmth of my overnight tomb

and I wondered with doubt whether going to church

was an appropriate response to the death of God;

but, with duty I did—

although without anticipation or expectation.

I was greeted with poetry and pottery,

the sung and spoken word with feeling,

provocative and dramatic tableaux,

the pounding and tickling of keys on strings,

silence haunting and beautiful (I could use more of this in church),

and an art walk to Emmaus;

I don’t know if I encountered divinity

but Niagara was waiting behind my eyes.

Then my granddaughter

gave me a glimpse of Easter early

as she pirouetted around the parking lot

with last season’s sticks and leaves in hand

and the unblemished purity

of just being

alive.