Sunday, November 29, 2020

Empty Spaces and Fireplaces

Since before we moved in, the corner of our basement's family room, the largest room in our bungalow, has been dominated by an enormous wood-burning stove that doubled as a fireplace.

I'm not going to lie, when I first laid eyes on it, it was the element of the empty house that most made we want to live there, and factored heavily into our purchase of the home back in 2006. 

The company that made it, Selkirk Metalbestos (wow, what a name) through a lot of design at this and made something very cool out of nothing but cast iron and brick. We didn't use it a lot, but there is nothing like a wood-burning fire in your basement when the Alberta winter hits -30 degrees Celsius outside without the wind chill to really redefine "cozy."

So I was gutted when two years later we had a chimney cleaner in who also inspected it and told us we could no longer use it safely. It was too close to the walls and there were some other issues as well, so the fireplace has sat dormant ever since. We expected it would be an expensive fix, so never really explored how feasible it might be to get it safely working again.

There is a tiny bit more slack in the budget nowadays, with money being saved on fuel and outings, so we thought it might be a good time to take another look. Besides, the last fellow just gave us a small piece of paper with his hand-written notes on it, maybe he got it wrong? Or perhaps technology or materials have changed in our favour in the ensuing 12 years?

Not so much, it turns out.

A technician came out and did a thorough inspection back in October. Long story short, in order to keep the fireplace, we would need to extend the non-combustible area in the corner by another 18 inches. At that point it would occupy almost a quarter of the room, nevermind the expense (which would not be insignificant). I was bitterly disappointed, and told the very sympathetic technician how the first time I saw the stove, it seemed to tell me "you're home." He understood completely.

And so, sadly, we began looking at getting the beloved wood stove out of our basement.

I took some photos of the stove and its accessories and put together a Kijiji ad, netting 13 responses within five days of posting it. Some of these were undoubtedly tire-kickers, one of whom offered me half of the $500 I was asking for it, but most of whom seemed sincerely interested.

The first people who came over were two nuns who were hoping to use it for heating and cooking in an older building with no electricity. Unfortunately, the cooking area is very limited and the Voyageur is also pretty low for that sort of use, so they had to say no. They were very sweet, Polish-speaking ladies and did offer us their blessings on the way out. 

The second visitor, a lady named Arlene, was very interested but was finding it difficult to arrange a time to visit. When she did so later in the week, she loved the stove immediately and produced $500 in cash on the spot. 

Her intent was to have it moved to an off-the-grid solar-powered house being built in Saskatchewan where she hopes to hold workshops and healing lodges for indigenous youth. She appreciated both the practicality and styling of the Voyageur, and said buying something comparable now would cost easily over $2000. It was gratifying to know the stove would be going someplace where it would get utilized and appreciated so much!

The next step: how to get an ungainly 450-pound chunk of cast iron out of the basement and up a narrow set of stairs.

Being a lazy person with little upper-body strength and a bad back, I had made removal part of the conditions of sale for the stove, but assured Arlene I would do what I could to facilitate things. Even removing the stovepipe once it had been sold changed the look of the corner in a significant and frankly offputting way.

Arlene's primary concern was safety for both people and property, and she was hoping to figure out some way to get a winch or come-along bar into play, and perhaps pull the stove out up an improvised ramp. The idea of having the stove being attached to something solid should someone slip or lose their grip had a lot of appeal to me - I didn't see any way such an accident could not end up involving a horrific injury or fatality. 450 lbs of cast iron tumbling down a stairway that you are lying at the bottom of is undiluted 100% high-octane nightmare fuel as far as I am concerned.

After a number of false starts, Arlene was able to get the combination of experience, strong backs and equipment in place, including her son with his trailer as well as a quad with a winch. Unfortunately, it would be the day when Audrey and I were coming back from Hudson Bay, SK with Glory, but I let them know Fenya would be on hand to let them in. Her boyfriend Bobby agreed to be on hand that day as well, which was a comfort to me with that many strangers in the house with my firstborn.

Fenya let us know they arrived a little before noon as we were approaching the Alberta border. It turns out the winch was unnecessary, as once her burly lads looked at it, said it made more sense to simply carry it out.

Now, I wasn't here and Fenya was studying most of the time, so I don't know if they removed the doors or removed the brick refractory from inside, which would have decreased the weight significantly (I bet the doors alone are 25 pounds apiece), but still - the Voyageur remains an ungainly and unforgiving mass of cast iron.

Arlene's one son, however, was undaunted, saying "Man, I have been working out for like, six months - I have been preparing for this!"

His wife shrugged and said, "Who needs a quad and a winch when you have this much testosterone on hand, I guess?"

Sure enough, they had it up and out the stairs with no incidents or accidents whatsoever - Arlene and her moving crew were in the house for less than 90 minutes. By the time Audrey and I got home, it was like the stove had never been there at all - except for the decade-and-a-half worth of dust bunnies now exposed in the corner.

We took the vacuum to it the next day, discovering a rust monster miniature for D&D, two petrified marshmallows and a Yaqua blowgun dart as well as a sheet of the colour comics from an April 1981 issue of the Montreal gazette featuring Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Asterix et Obelix. Fenya and Bobby, bless their hearts, dealt with the desiccated bird that was left behind immediately following the stove's removal.

I won't lie - I don't like that corner being empty, and we aren't sure what will eventually go there, although we have some ideas. One of the girls suggested setting up the mic stand and a couple of the guitars from our Rock Band set, and it could be a good place for someone to YouTube a simulated appearance on Evening at the Improv provided you keep the focus tight enough.

Luckily enough, it is Christmas, and the corner is an opportune place to set up the downstairs tree. The upstairs is almost fully deployed, Xmas-wise, and Glory and Audrey decorated the tree Wednesday night.

Tonight Audrey finished setting it up and added the Nativity set and magnetic Advent calendar, as well as some appropriate tchotchkes from her comprehensive collection of Christmas gear. 

It's not the same kind of cozy that a crackling wood fire provided, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Another Hard Drive

You might wonder, hey, how exactly do you retrieve your youngest daughter from her summer job on the shore of Hudson's Bay in a community with no outbound roads during a global pandemic?

It turns out the answer is not complex, but it is long, and it involves a fair amount of driving.

With air travel out of Churchill being almost exclusively charter and thus prohibitively expensive, using rail is the best way to get "down south." Thanks to a tip from my Uncle Wendell, we knew that the Churchill to Winnipeg train (Via 692) strays across the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to a town called Hudson Bay, which is about five hours closer to Edmonton by car than Winnipeg is. Heck, at that point we might as well just drive to Thompson, but heading that far north in the wintertime makes me more than a little apprehensive.

Hudson Bay is still about nine hours' drive once you factor in meals (taken on the road) and rest stops (not taken on the road) so it still requires a day off and a 10:30 departure time.

With lunch in Lloydminster (Popeye's) and supper in Melfort (A&W), we got to the Treeline Motel in Hudson Bay around 8:30 local time. An older, rusticated place that seems to cater almost exclusively to hunters and snowmobilers, the room was small and spartan (tiny bathroom, no phone and not even a token painting on the wall) but clean. 

We needed to open the window in order to cool the room enough for sleeping, but managed to doze off before 11:00, only to be awakened by my phone's alarm at 4:45. Glory's train was scheduled to arrive at 0527, but their live update webpage showed her arriving closer to 0540.

Hudson Bay is a pretty small community, but the Treeline Motel is ideally situated for accessing the rail pick-up area and is only three minutes away. Unlike The Pas, which has an actual factual train station with doors and a platform and all the accoutrements one normally associates with rail travel, passengers here disembark at an unlit level crossing where the only local structure is a nearby shelter just large enough to hold a picnic table.

The train arrived late, but it did arrive, coming to a stop with the open passenger precisely between the two RR Crossing signs. Glory clambered down a little stiff after being on the train for 30 hours, and helpful staff passed her luggage down to her since the outer door to the baggage car had actually frozen shut on the ride down.

We got our first hugs with our youngest since July and then quickly jumped into the Flex to escape the chill. I blew on my hands and mentioned that it was -18 Celsius, prompting a snort from Glory. "Ooh, minus eighteen - big whoop." (Later on she told us how a co-worker told her on a morning in November it was -37 with the wind chill...and it doesn't really get cold there until January.)

The roads were clear, and traffic minimal right up until approaching Lloydminster. We grabbed breakfast at McDonald's in Melfort (Glory's first pancakes in almost half a year!) and lunch at KFC in Lloydminster (another G choice).

We all chatted and caught up and speculated and talked music, Glory alternating between the front seat and back while drove, and Audrey taking the wheel after Lloyd. We took turns for quick naps, but spent most of the time just being grateful to be back in one another's presence again.

18 hours in the car for us was nothing compared to the 9 + 30 train hours for Glory, but we still managed to make a good time of it. 

But I have been to Hudson Bay SK twice now, and still have no idea whatsoever of what it looks like in the daylight...

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Tanks for Date Night - T-34, Reviewed

 Audrey laughed when I suggested the Russian tank movie T-34 (2018) for a stay-at-home date night film, but it made a perverse kind of sense. I love tanks, she loves Russian history and we both love history and adventure movies. It turns out that this film, called by some "'The Fast and the Furious,' only with tanks," was just the thing for mid-week viewing together.

("Together" in this case meaning in the same room, socially distanced, with separate popcorn bowls, as Audrey is on self-isolation due to an outbreak at her school - she has subsequently tested negative for COVID.)

The film, produced in Russia, by Russians, and with sponsorship by the Russian government (which loves callbacks to the Great Patriotic War) has been accused by some of jingoism, but if T-34 is guilty of anything, it is just melodrama.

In T-34's opening, a lone Russian tank (with some infantry support) commanded by freshly-minted junior lieutenant Nikolay Ivushkin helps blunt an armoured assault just outside Moscow. By the end of the battle, a standoff between the heroic crew and SS Commander Klaus Jager leaves everyone presumed dead, but lo and behold: Ivushkin, bearded and refusing to give his name or rank, appears in a P.O.W. labour camp. Jager discovers him there and offers the Russian the 'opportunity' to repair and crew a salvaged T-34 tank as a moving target against his class of cadets. Can he and his demoralized crew escape from under the very noses of their Nazi captors?

Well, at the very least, it should be fun finding out, and we certainly thought it was.

Here's the thing - if the bad guys in your movie are literal Nazis, then as far as I am concerned, your heroes don't need a ton of motivation, and they don't even need to be that heroic. Ivushkin and his crew are, though, and also very good at their jobs, pushing some of the fight scenes into the territory of 'competence porn,' but again - Nazis. So I don't care. 

What is important to me in a film like this is that if your heroes are going to be paragons, then your villains can't be stupid, and they aren't. With exception of the camp commander, even the cruelty and sadism are kept on a low boil for the majority of the film. Sure, torture and execution are applied willy-nilly in case the viewer forgets that, you know, Nazis are evil, but the bad guys aren't portrayed as baby-eating zealots devoted to National Socialism either.

Likewise, Ivushkin and his crew aren't waving the flag all the time either - they just want to live and return to their homeland. It is about as simple a story as you can have, really. 

In a film like this, it would also be easy for the vehicles to start to supercede the characters riding in them, and while the Nazi crews are largely ciphers, Ivushkin and his crew are given at least a few chances to appeal to us as humans as well.

But make no mistake, it is the tanks that are the stars of the action sequences.

Despite being largely digital, the T-34 and its panzer opponents are astonishingly realistic, bringing a real sense of weight, noise and threat to the scenes they are in. The extensive use of CG allows the battles to be depicted clearly and dramatically, interspersed with interior shots of crews loading heavy shells into the breech of their main guns, or furiously spinning cranks in order to manually traverse the turret. 

Slow-motion sequences depict red-hot anti-armour rounds glancing off the sloped sides of the titular tank, or opposing shells crossing within inches of each other (or even closer). Instead of simply slugging it out with each other, or remaining in place so some Sgt. Rock equivalent can run up and drop grenades down conveniently open hatches, the viewer learns very quickly how mobility can be superior to firepower in most instances. Does some impossible stuff happen? You bet it does, but again, this is a story, not a reenactment.

(And as a quick sidenote for the two other readers who care about this sort of thing: it is good to be reminded that the T-34 itself is considered by many to have been one of the best and probably the most influential tank design of the Second World War. Blitzkrieg originator Heinz Guderian even pronounced it as being superior to the German panzers of the early war. And did some of the early scenes remind me of my old Warhammer 40K Valhallan army? You know it did!)

There are not a lot of surprises to be had in the story, but there are moments of poignancy, insight and even a handful of laughs. We were never sure just how bittersweet this escape story might end up being, or how many Russians might survive until the end credits. 

In the end, Audrey and I both had a great time, and although T-34 is far more of an adventure movie set within a war than a war movie itself, fans of both genres could do worse than to check it out on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Fear and Voting: U.S. Election 2020

Honestly, the last thing I want to do right now is blog about politics, but the situation in the U.S. weighs on my mind.

As I write this, it has been five days since the U.S. election, three days since Joe Biden edged out a lead over Donald Trump, and one day since Associated Press and most of the networks called the election in Biden's favour. Pressure has been mounting on Trump to concede, which he is not obligated to do, and that's good, since he shows absolutely no signs of doing so.

Instead, Trump continues to proclaim himself victorious despite losing both the electoral colleges and popular vote. Worse than this, he continually beats the drum about mailed ballots being illegal or ineligible to be counted if they arrive after election day, even though 20 states have specific legislation permitting this. 

I understand why Trump is doing this - he is desperate to avoid being a loser.

And not just a loser, but one of only four sitting presidents to lose an incumbency in the last hundred years or so. And not only that, but he faces a very real risk of prosecution in both criminal and civil court once he loses the immunity of his office.

No, given what we know of Trump's mindset, and his binary worldview of winners and losers, his actions are tragically consistent.  

There are two things I don't understand, though. The first is why so many people are enabling Trump, and willing to baldly lie in vain hopes of somehow hanging on to the presidency. Surely their attachment to this rancid gravy train cannot be so compelling as to make them think that courts will listen to their baseless conspiracy theories or tales of a stolen election without a single shred of meaning full evidence?

The second thing I don't understand is this: what happens next?

There is already talk of Republican legislatures not being bound to the results of a "suspect" election, so that their faithless electors (that is the actual term) should be allowed to nominate whichever candidate they like.

Thanks to Trump's lies, many Americans are losing faith in their own brand of democracy, and his most loyal supporters are saying they will never accept Biden as their president.

To say nothing of the tragedy that nearly half the population is all right with their leader being a proven liar as well as a corrupt, racist, sex offender, or that his popularity with his base remains high enough that he will probably pepper the remainder of his lame-duck presidency with so-called "Recount Rallies."

To be honest, the whole situation reminds me a little of the story of The Judgement of Solomon. This is the one where he stops two women arguing which of them is a baby's mother, and suggests cutting it in two so they can each have half. One woman quickly relents, unwilling to see the baby slain, allowing Solomon to declare that she is clearly the baby's mother, in a magnificent display of the type of wisdom associated with him.

Being a fan of such parables, I have always appreciated the tale, but did not know there was another, more political, layer to it until reading Larry Gonick's brilliant "Cartoon History of the Universe." He explains it thusly:

It's not just me, right? The parallels here are not solely my imagination? Trump, like Solomon, cares not a whit for restoring any sense of unity to his country. He and his enablers are happy to see truck convoys of rabid MAGA cultists interfering with the campaign busses of his opponent, and actively encourage his followers to "carefully watch" the polls and to surround ballot counting centres with protestors.

I'm not necessarily saying he could spark off a new civil war - oh, hell, I suppose I am at that, and there are a lot of people itching to make it happen too (like the Boogaloo Bois). But even if it doesn't get to that extreme, with so many people encouraged to reject the results of the election, President-elect Joe Biden faces an even more divided (and threatened) country than Roosevelt did when he took office in '33. 

It has been a long wait for this election, now a long wait for final results, then probably a long wait to for the outcomes of umpteen court challenges. Even if the election itself isn't somehow completely undermined, this will undoubtedly be followed by a long wait to see what Trump actually does to either aid or inhibit an orderly and peaceful transfer of power.

And if he leaves, will it finally be over?

Not on your life, chum.

Trump's 88 million Twitter followers will still follow his guidance, and their monolithic presence will continue to influence the Republican party for years to come. No doubt they will continue to attend his rallies and stoke his ego even though he is not in office.

And there is no reason to believe he won't run again in 2024.

Normally my curiosity compels me to stay connected and see what happens next. With this election, I am fast reaching the point where I just want to hit the snooze alarm until inauguration day.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

"Virgin" No More

Sorry for the potentially click-baity title, but this post is just about watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time ever this weekend.

I know, I know - I should have seen it much, much earlier, and in a theatre. Audrey and I had plans to see it at The Princess shortly before moving to Toronto in the mid-1990s but that never came to be for some reason, and neither of us can recall why.

Even after the advent of home video, there was a long while (ar at least it felt long at the time) where you could only see Rocky Horror on a big-screen, and there were many advocates who believed this was the only way to see it - at a midnight showing full of over-engaged fans in full costume, interacting with the film's outrageously hokey dialogue and throwing toast and rice at the screen. Watching it in the comfort of my own home, bereft of participatory guidance and with no one pointing at us and shouting "Virgin! Virgin!" as first-timers felt a little bit like cheating, honestly.

But I feel like the ship has sailed for a plump, middle-aged suburbanite joining in on what the film's star Tim Curry calls "a rite of passage for teenagers," and besides, there is a global pandemic on. Thus a Friday night immediately before Hallowe'en seemed like a good opportunity for Audrey, Fenya, Bobby and I to watch one of cult cinema's most infamous movies.

Overall, we quite liked it. Audrey's sole descriptor of the piece was "Weird!" but even she had to admit how catchy the show's tunes are. Tim Curry is absolutely astonishing, bold and captivating as the corsetted and androgynous Dr., Frank N. Furter, while Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are compelling and earnest as two midwestern "straights" drawn into a crazed world of mad-science and free love.

The film is largely the brainchild of Richard O'Brien who, in addition to playing skulleted handyman Riff Raff, also wrote the script and the music for the original stage play to keep himself one busy while looking for work as an actor. His love for 1950s sci-fi and B-movies is homaged throughout the lyrics, dialogue and even props of the film. 

But beyond the tribute and nostalgia and farce, there is a deeper message about being open-minded to new experiences and true to one's self, to give"yourself over to absolute pleasure." Beyond mere hedonism, it is no surprise that the mantra "don't dream it, be it" (lifted by O'Brien from a magazine's bodybuilding ad) resonated so powerfully with so many people in what would become an early community for LBGTQ+ people.

Despite a general slackening of uptightedness in many quarters over the 45 years since the film was released, there are still some surprisingly louche moments, such as when Frank separately seduces both the heroine and hero in turn. Beyond the opportunity for great dialogue i.e. Janet: "What have you done to Brad?" Frank: "Nothing. Why, do you think I should?", the mind positively reels at the idea of mainstream audiences watching this in the mid-1970s. June Thomas, in her article "How The Rocky Horror Picture Show Smashed Open America's Closets," asserts that this movie "may have helped more people come out of the closet than any other work of art." A bold statement for a bold movie!

But as interesting as RHPS may be in terms of its role in loosening sexual mores, it can stand on its own merits as well as any cult classic can. From the decidedly lo-fi sets and effects, through the director's willingness to reject a larger budget in favour of hiring more performers from the stage show (as opposed to Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and other rock stars of the day), this film leans into its campiness with an earnestness that is strangely charming and charmingly strange.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pulpitations: "A Taste of Oppression"

 My church became what's called an Affirming Ministry back in 2014, meaning we had completed a course of education and dialogue together and then voted on our commitment to joining a national body (Affirm United) in working for the inclusion of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations in the United Church of Canada and in society. We had a party that fall to commemorate the occasion, and every year at that time, on our Affirmiversary, our Affirm Team volunteers to lead the service.

It is a privilege to be able to do the sermon for such an occasion, even if it is a bit daunting to do so with both of our ministers in the audience (gulp!). As a team we talked about themes and ideas we wanted to address, and we ended up settling on oppression, as well as ways to overcome it.

I had only the barest outlines for this when we learned Nitti would need to be put down, and it was very hard to get back to it after that. It didn't come together quite as cohesively as I had hoped, but I think the message came through strongly regardless. I put the readings at the end of this post for those who are curious.

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Happy Affirmiversary! A lot has happened since last year, hasn’t it? I mean, obviously I am concerned about the possibility of our neighbour to the south becoming a failed state in the next few weeks, but really, the big news has been COVID. Man, what a shake-up!

I mean, my household got off kind of easy in most ways. I’m still working, only from home, Audrey is still needed to help in her school, for however long that lasts, Fenya is taking her university classes online, and Glory is working in Churchill, where they are just starting to put measures in place that we’ve had "down south here" for a while now, like public masking.

But it has been bad, right? Here in Alberta, there have been nearly 20,000 cases and over 250 deaths. People have their household incomes diminish or even vanish, and nearly everyone is feeling the strain of restrictions on our lives that we hadn’t even imagined a year ago. We can’t do what we like, see who we want, eat in most restaurants or enter many spaces outside our homes without a mask. I mean, I do it, and I do so without hesitancy so others can be safe, but I still hate it.

You could almost describe it as oppressive, couldn’t you?

Is it possible that this horrible, destructive and pervasive virus has given many of us our first, small taste of oppression? To have our livelihoods impacted or removed entirely, as if by a whim? To have our movements, gatherings and other actions restricted? Do we perhaps have a marginally better understanding of the coercive loneliness of the abandoned senior? Or of the dominance that many minorities, both racial and sexual, live under everyday?

If nothing else, has COVID-19 been an effective reminder of the privilege many of us enjoy in our everyday lives? And perhaps a bit of empathy for those who don’t?

Oppression is still a real thing in our world, sadly, and it certainly applies to our siblings in the LGBTQ+ community. In the six years since we have become an Affirming Ministry, we have done a lot of education and I think a lot of us have come a long way in understanding how it feels to walk in those shoes, but bet there are still some who will hear this, or read it, and think “well, come on now - that is hardly a community that is oppressed.”

Just because no one is making queer people wear armbands with pink triangles on them or because there are finally legislative protections in place for many of them doesn’t mean they are not oppressed. Consider:
  • Bi-sexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians
  • There are higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm and substance abuse among LGBTQ+ people
  • They are at double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder than heterosexual people
  • LGBTQ+ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicde and substance abuse than heterosexual peers.
  • 7% of trans respondents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide
Closer to home, my nephew, who identifies as queer, showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep at 9 am on a Sunday morning earlier this month. I had slept through his text from 3 hrs before telling me he was driving up from Rocky Mountain House.

He was really upset. Up early and unable to get back to sleep, he was checking Facebook on his phone and had come across a post about his former church appointing a lesbian woman to a position of some authority. But there was a reply from a former pastor he knew personally, and who he thought was someone trustworthy and understanding, listing his opposition to it and saying the scriptures are clear on this [they aren’t], and that he “fears for the future.”

With no place he felt he could go to in town and unable to stay put, Mark came to my house, hoping I could put him in touch with someone from an affirming ministry. Rev. Deborah was able to call him for a chat that afternoon, and I am so, so grateful she could address some of his concerns. The root problem remains, though: there are forces in the world that want to make the different among us feel like they are somehow lesser folk.

So let’s agree on a couple of foundational points: oppression is bad, sexual minorities (among others) are subject to it, and maybe some of us have a marginally clearer idea of what oppression feels like now than we did perhaps last year at this time. Where do we go from here?

Kamand Kojouri’s poem paints a powerful picture of silence overcoming noise, not a quiet and acquiescing silence - this is important - but a loud one, appealing for acknowledgement, demanding to be heard. It is a silence louder than the jeering shouts or fearful chants of the oppressors and their ilk. But it’s tough! Intuitively, when we hear hate, when we hear lies, we want to shout back, drown out the deception, the distortion, the deceit with the truth, and I think there is still a place for that, but there is also value in establishing silence first, to create a space in which the truth can be heard.

And what do we do with that silence?

The reading from Ephesians about the “Armour of God” is often co-opted by readers wanting to focus on spiritual warfare against otherworldly creatures and their influence, even going so far as to call them out as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But here in the temporal realm that we live in day-to-day, it lists the tools needed to triumph over the rulers and authorities, those who would maintain the status quo and those who fight to preserve a state of injustice.

“The belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

I am not even close to being a biblical scholar or theologian, but as a person trying to follow the example that Jesus set and someone hoping to make God’s world a better place, truth, righteousness, readiness and faith sure look to me like a recipe for the end of oppression.

And then, in our reading from Matthew, Jesus again underscores the behaviours that we need to display in order to be numbered among the righteous: to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, visits to the imprisoned and welcome to the stranger.

I changed the order a bit, because I think that last one is really crucial to remember today, on our Affirmiversary. To be actively, affirmingly welcoming, to a community that has not always been treated well by Christianity in general, and at times, by our own denomination.

But the words of Jesus also remind us of the allure of the status quo,the inherent human resistance to disruption and the fact that if no one changes their mind, nothing really changes. As is perhaps typical for the New Testament, the way forward is not necessarily to defeat or destroy the oppressors, but to change their minds - to shift them from being oppressors to being supporters.

Frankly, a straight-up fight might be easier, and it would almost certainly be more cathartic… but we understand in our hearts, it would never end.

Kamand’s poem ends this way: “My silence speaks.” It is not an encouragement to remain silent in the face of oppression, but to use silence to call it out, quietly affirming what is right. Letting people know that transphobic language is hurtful, that homophobic slurs are not to be tolerated, that laws impinging upon the rights of LGBTQ+ people are not fair and must be changed.

And it won’t be easy, because some people benefit from injustice, some people draw a false sense of safety from oppression, and others simply have little to no empathy and just don’t care.

But we won’t stop. We will keep pushing an agenda of fairness and inclusion for everybody until we get to a point where we can’t imagine it another way, where injustices immediately prompt a wider silence - followed by action.

The South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko once said “The revolutionary sees his task as liberation not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor. Happiness can never truly exist in a state of tension.”

And happiness should be the goal of all ministries, not just affirming ones, and I don’t mean to be a bummer on this, our sixth Affirmiversary.

Let’s be grateful for the headway we have made!

Let’s be grateful for the leaders and educators we have who are helping us to get there, like Rev. Mervin and Rev. Deborah, and our friend Shylo from Robertson-Wesley!

Let’s be grateful for our Affirming Team, who puts this service together every year and gets us amped up for Pride!

And most of all, let us be grateful to each other, the people of St,. Albert United Church, proud to be a welcoming, loving and Affirming community of faith for six years now!

The fight against oppression may never truly be won, but God has given us the tools - truth, righteousness, readiness and faith - and Jesus has shown us the way. The best is yet to come!


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Our Affirmiversary should always have a certain degree of focus on the LGBTQ+ community, but I do wish I had taken some time to call out the Black Lives Matter movement and other similar initiatives around the world focusing on freedom from oppression. On the whole, though, I felt pretty good about it, and it seemed to be well received. One fellow, an RCAF vet I chum around with a fair bit at church, told me he appreciates my messages because he can tell they come from the heart, so I guess if I stick with that, I will continue to make out all right.

(A video for the entire service can be found here, and you can jump to my reflection at 29:32 here.)


Ephesians 6:10-17 (NRSV)

The Armor of God

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Matthew 25:41-46 (NRSV)

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

A Poem by Kamand Kojouri

“Let my silence grow with noise
as pregnant mothers grow with life.
Let my silence permeate these walls
as sunlight permeates a home.

Let the silence rise from unwatered graves
and craters left by bombs.
Let the silence rise from empty bellies
and surge from broken hearts.

The silence of the hidden and forgotten.
The silence of the abused and tortured.
The silence of the persecuted and imprisoned.
The silence of the hanged and massacred.

Loud as all the sounds can be,
let my silence be loud
so the hungry may eat my words
and the poor may wear my words.

Loud as all the sounds can be,
let my silence be loud
so I may resurrect the dead
and give voice to the oppressed.

My silence speaks.”

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Tattoo Tale of Two Tails

As mentioned previously, Glory has been working in Churchill, Manitoba, at the restaurant run by my cousin's wife, Belinda, since early July. She is having a grand old time and has only been homesick on a handful of occasions. The rest of the time she has been paddleboarding with beluga whales on multiple occasions, spotting a polar bear mother and cub while on a Zodiac on the Churchill River, and having mad, occasionally concerning adventures with Belinda. (Her boss, in case that wasn't clear.)

On our video chat 2-3 weeks ago, we noticed something on Glory's arm and inquired about it. Sure enough, it was a tattoo, her first, that she had gotten done just a few days earlier.

She told us how the whole thing had come about, and it was a cute yarn so I asked if I could blog about it. When she agreed, I asked her to send me her pictures and a timeline, but her write-up was so good and so evocative of her voice (which I miss even though we have protracted video chats about once a week), that I thought I would just apply a few gentle edits and let her tell it in her own words.

Saturday September 20
Belinda invited me to a small bonfire at the beach with her friends. While at the fire, the topic of me wanting to get a Churchill tattoo came up. I told her I was thinking a whale tail would be nice because I’ve been whale watching on both coasts and have always loved all whales and loved all of my experiences with them - crazy zodiac drivers, singing with a famous Newfie, paddleboarding with Belugas, and so on. 

Belinda was immediately like "YES." Then somehow we decided that we should get matching ones (I’m not entirely sure how this came to be but it did). She told me about this guy Dan who is an aspiring tattoo artist in town and said she would contact him to get them done! 

That night after the fire I looked on Google for simple whale tail line drawings and screenshotted three different ones and sent them to her. She said she didn’t like the second one and I needed to choose between the first and the third. I chose the third but still wasn't sure when or even if this would be happening.

Sunday September 21
I went berry picking with Belinda and her friend Erin, and while we were together Belinda just casually says “oh yeah, we’re getting tattooed on Tuesday.” 

I was like, "This Tuesday? I’m not ready!" (Spoiler alert: I was fine.) I had drawn the tail on my wrist with a pen to see if I would like it there and I became a little obsessed with it.

Wednesday September 23
Belinda had some meetings so we had to change our tattoo date to Wednesday night. I arrived at her house and there was music playing and Dan was setting up all his gear on her coffee table in the living room. Belinda gave me a shot and a cocktail and then we sat down and decided for me to go first. I was pretty nervous mostly because I had no idea what to expect for pain/sensation but as soon as he started I was like, okay this isn’t bad at all. I didn't even really need the wooden spoon she had given me to bite down on!

Certain spots definitely made me cringe at times but I can see how people get sort of addicted to the feeling. Before I knew it I had my first tattoo! 

Then Belinda got hers and we hung out for a bit and then I went home. It felt kind of anti-climactic really because it was all so casual. But I love it so, so, so much! And I am so happy I went through with it and got it done, and that I got it done with her here in Churchill.