Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sympathy for the Captain

So, mostly I am really glad to hear that one of my favourite writers, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Astonishing X-Men, etc), will be writing and directing Marvel Studios' forthcoming Avengers movie. For those of you who don't know, the Avengers is like Marvel's version of DC's Justice League, wherein all the greatest superheroes get together in one book (who then come and go intermittently in order to provide a spotlight for lesser known characters who would never get their own book, but I digress).

With movies coming in the next couple of years for both Thor (directed by Kenneth Branagh!) and Captain America (Joe Johnston), and since all these films (plus Jon Favreau's Iron Man and Louis Leterrier's Incredible Hulk) share both a studio home and a fictional universe together, it is a golden opportunity to incorporate these individual heroes into the first real super-team movie ever in 2012. DC could have done it, and had a Justice League script ready to go with George "Road Warrior/Babe: Pig in the City" Miller set to direct, but that got put into turnaround just before casting began because Warner Bros (which is not only a movie studio already but in addition full-on owns DC Comics and most characters and properties therein) is apparently terrified of success, and The Dark Knight breaking all those records has driven them completely mental..

Anyway, in addition to his Avengers duties, Joss Whedon will doing some kind of script overhaulage on Captain America. Now, this man understands superpowers, and can readily portray the humanity behind the mask and abilities, and he has a very deft hand with the dialogue, so this is mostly cause for celebration, but it does make me a little apprehsnsive, and here's why:

Captain America is not like other comic heroes. Having been created in WWII and then brought to the present day by way of suspended animation, he is a throwback to an earlier age, a representative of 'the greatest generation'. His charisma, intelligence and skill as a tactician make him a natural leader, a role he fulfills on almost any team he is a member of, despite the fact that he is almost never the most powerful member of that team.

When I was doing leadership training for managers at Games Workshop, I used to illustrate the fact that not every great employee is a great manager candidate by asking, 'who's more powerful, Captain America or Spider-Man?' Well, clearly, it's Spider-Man. Cap is a strong human, where Spider-Man can heft a bus full of people. Captain America has an unbreakable shield, where Spidey has the ability to climb walls, inhuman reflexes, his own web shooters and a sixth sense that warns him of danger he can't see. In most straight up fight scenarios, the odds favour Spider-Man pretty heavily.

And yet, Spider-Man has never led a super-team, while Captain America has led The Avengers. He is a testimony of the power of human potential, an inspirational figurehead, moral authority and pater familias all in one.

So let me ask you this, if you are a fan of Whedon: has he ever written a decent dad or even a father figure? Let's check:
Buffy - absentee dad, issues
Xander - dysfunctional family, drunk dad
Willow - has a dad?
Angel - dad is an overbearing pratt
Cordelia - materialist, jailed for securities fraud
Wesley - another overbearing pratt
Mr. Tam - (Firefly) "I'm sure River is fine..."
Dollhouse - don't get me started

That's just the television side of things; in the second arc of his run on Astonishing X-Men, Whedon completely undermined the moral authority of Professor Xavier, a position he has held unchallenged in the Marvel universe for over four decades, and which greatly hampered my enjoyment of the rest of the series.

Nope, dads do not fare too well in the Whedonverse. The closest we come to a great father figure would seem to be Buffy's mentor and 'Watcher', Rupert Giles, who is mostly excellent, but is still deeply conflicted, morally divided, and who ends up betraying Buffy and getting punched in the face by her prior to a chilly reconciliation which is a pale reflection of their previous relationship. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single fatherlike figure among Whedon's many creations who is even half as decent a parent or person as Buffy's mother, Joyce. (If I have overlooked someone, be sure to mention it in the comments.)

Most super-teams have a father figure, or at least an older brother, and on teams with Captain America, he is usually tapped for that role. I will be very curious to see how Joss Whedon approaches Captain America, both in next year's Captain America: The First Avenger and 2012's The Avengers. I don't consider myself a real fan, but he is an easy character to respect, mostly because of his values. Like Superman, he has never let his abilities (which are significant) jeopardize his humility, and despite his patriotic appearance, he has always made it clear that his loyalties are to the values of America and not its government. In the '80s he even gave up the title of Captain America as well as his government affiliations in protest of government actions, and more recently he even fought against government sanctioned heroes in opposition to the Superpower Registration Act which was the crux of Marvel's "Civil War" event.

For his troubles, he has been mocked mercilessly, endlessly lampooned both within and without the comic-book universe in which he lives, and in 2007, he was killed by a sniper in the aftermath of "Civil War". (It is important to remember, however, that mortality is usually only a temporary setback for comic characters, and this goes doubly for those who have their own titles. The current record for remaining dead in this case is still held by The Flash, who died back when I was in high school, only to reappear about a year ago. Steve Rogers has already made his return to the land of the living.)

Given the state of the world, the divisiveness in our southern neighbours and the damage done to the United States' international reputation under previous administrations, I hope Whedon isn't too hard on Cap. It might feel like kicking a guy when he is down, and this particular guy deserves better, I think.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


In 1997, while Audrey and I were living in Toronto, we decided to go camping at a park close to Gettysburg and go tour the various battlefields and historical sites. One of the great benefits of living in southern Ontario was having more history and such within driving distance. Roller coasters too, for that matter, but that's another story. We both love history, and while Alberta's is rich, it's also a little, uh, let's call it recent, and having lived here most of our lives, we tend to take it for granted. I've rationalized my jealousy of those who live elsewhere as, "I spent part of my childhood in a century-old farmhouse in New Brunswick, and now live in a province where most of the buildings over a hundred years old are made out of dirt or animal skins."

Hanover, Pennsylvania, the closest town to our chosen campground, is only about 40 minutes from Gettysburg and about 10 hours drive from Toronto, so in May we strapped on the roof rack, loaded up our Tempo and headed out.

I've always loved travelling through the United States, especially by car, and not just for the lower gas prices either. I take great amusement in things that others, like, for instance, my wife, might find uselessly trivial. Those who know me of course realize that I consider very little trivia to be completely useless, but I do appreciate the myriad little differences between our countries and cultures, like the fact that you can purchase alcohol in a gas station or at a 7-Eleven. The different candy bars you see on sale there and yet never in Canada, and fast food chains as well. The increased amount of NASCAR paraphernalia you see in any store the moment you cross the border from New York into Pennsylvania. There is even a discernible difference in accent, which I suppose makes sense when you consider that the famed "Mason-Dixon line" that separated the North from the South in The War of Northern Aggression the U.S. Civil War, is also the border between Pennsylvania and its southern neighbour, the Commonwealth of Maryland. (The olde timey moniker is no mistake either; the official sport of Maryland is jousting, and they have one of America's coolest flags.)

At any rate, given our intention to meander and the inevitable border delays even pre 9/11, we entered Hanover after dark. Actually, early sunsets were something that had caught us napping in Toronto a couple of times as well, since the summer solstice saw our new home getting a full 90 minutes less sunlight than Edmonton, so going further south meant even more disorientation in this regard.

The borough of Hanover, in York County, is not very large; at a little less than 15,000 people, it is close to the size of Leduc, where I grew up. Like Leduc, a couple of significant roadways pass through the municipal area, and since none of them are big interstate types of affairs, the signage can often be described as undersized, quaint, colloquial or simply non-existent. Entering town on Route 94, I knew it should take me to Route 216, which went directly to the gates of Codorus State Park, where our campsite awaited.

The PA map showed Codorus State Park as being just a little ways out of Hanover, but as we got further and further away from the townsite, I started to worry. I knew there was a fairly decent-sized lake in the park, and thought surely we would have seen some sign of it by now. Besides, it had looked on our map as though Route 216 started out in or at least close to town, but now we were heading out of the urban area and into the unknown. We had already resigned ourselves to setting up our tent in pitch darkness, but after a long day of driving, we were anxious to have done with it so we could turn in.

Despite technically being a highway, Route 94 was a base model two-lane blacktop, with no illumination to speak of, so we kept our eyes duly skinned for the now mythical Route 216, for fear we might miss a poorly lit sign indicating where we should turn. We were relieved to see a well lit sign ahead, but imagine our surprise upon reading it and seeing:
Welcome to MARYLAND
Please Drive Gently
Mason-Dixon Line

In one voice, both Audrey and I exclaimed, "MARYLAND?!?" and no word of a lie, I locked up the brakes on our little Ford Tempo as though that sign heralded the edge of the world and the dragons that dwelt there might devour us. Pulling the car over to the side of the road, we pored over our maps until we found a map showing the Hanover region in a bit more detail.

It turns out that while on the Pennsylvania state map routes 94 and 216 appeared to be connected, they are, in fact, not, and we were forced to backtrack some 15-20 minutes into Hanover and turn onto Route 116, which then dutifully led us to Route 216 and the campsite.

Setting up our tent in the stark beams of our headlights, we took care to be as quiet as possible, but if either one of us should happen to say "Maryland?!", it was enough to set the other one into a fit of giggles. I mean, it is one thing to take a wrong turn, but to almost accidentally drive out of the state? That's something else entirely.

To this day, the word 'Maryland', or more accurately, that word spoken in tones of shocked disbelief, like a Jack Kirby character looking out from a comic book cover at an antagonist we can't (and aren't meant to) see, accompanied by a speech bubble reading, "(Gasp!) You?!?", is still enough to prompt a return of the giggles, like it did this morning when James began his sermon with, "I don't know if you have ever been lost.." and then recounted a tale of he and his partner getting disoriented in the fog in San Francisco and ending up 10 blocks away from their destination.

Audrey, of course, beat me to it, and leaned over to whisper, "Maryland?!?", which made me snicker and put a grin on my face so big that James inquired about it after the service. "There has got to be a story there," he asserted. "Oh, we have definitely been lost," I confessed.

Afterwards Audrey asked, "Would you really consider that being lost?"

"Absolutely," I affirmed. "What else could you call it? We were away from home, looking for a lake we couldn't see, and we almost drove into another freaking state! If that's not being lost, I dunno what is. Why would you not think we were lost?"

She shrugged, "Because we never needed assistance. All we had to do was retrace our path a little ways to get back on course."

"Sure," I said, "but what if we had been heading east instead of south? When would we have figured out we were off course, when we got to Interstate 83, or the Atlantic?"

Still, she raises a good point; if being lost just means having no or incorrect points of reference, in a lot of cases the distance between lost and found can be pretty short. And besides, being lost is one way to be sure you are going somewhere you've never been before.

Like Maryland.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Correspondence Despondence

I should probably begin by saying that when I first wrote about the opposition of some faculty at the University of Regina to "Project Hero", I don't think my title "The Ivory Cower" was very fair to the players involved. It does indeed take courage to state an unpopular position based on what you feel is right, and this sort of discourse should never be discouraged.


When one of those professors wrote to the Edmonton Journal to defend that position, her letter served more to mousse up my hackles than to gel them in place. Here is the text of her letter (published April 6th).

On March 23, 16 University of Regina professors, including us, signed a letter to our president asking that she review her decision to join the University of Regina to Project Hero. We wrote: "In our view, support for Project Hero represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates 'heroism' with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices."

What followed was a media feeding frenzy that mostly misrepresented our position, and a week of the worst sort of national attention for us and for the university. Despite several of us doing numerous interviews, most media focused on the erroneous notion that our opposition is to soldiers being considered heroes; and to parentless children being given education assistance.

Those of us who signed the letter have been subjected to virulent hate mail and argument by decibels and epithet. The language of many of our critics would make a stevedore blush and a grammarian wince.

Always helpful, local Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski poured gas on the fire at every opportunity, repeating his claim that we oppose help for the bereaved and honour for the dead and demanding our public apology (boiling oil not being available) for something we didn't say and didn't intend. It seems that some of his fellow travellers have created Facebook groups to maintain that focus and invite people to put pressure on us and on our university. We could be pardoned for thinking that much of the furor has political fingerprints all over it.

What to do? Well, as one elder advised one of us, "Stand firm. Repeat your message. You've argued for peace your whole life."

Here goes, one more time. Our objection to the Project Hero program arises from its language, which we think glorifies war. We object to its adoption, without institutional discussion. It has financial and political implications for our university, as universities contribute tuition and scholarship monies, and in so doing, sign on to the notion of war as heroic. We think war is a problem to be solved, preferably by diplomacy and peace.

We also note that the federal government can and does provide for education assistance for families of soldiers; we have no problem with that. The benefits listed in the Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28 provide for additional educational expenses beyond tuition. Although the act should be consulted for the most accurate information, the Veterans Affairs Canada website provides a quick summary:

"We have a program to help children carry on with their education past high school if they have a CF parent who dies as a result of military service; or was pensioned at a medium or high level at the time of his or her death. Under the program, full-time students can qualify for grants of about $6,700 a year to help pay for their education and living expenses.

"This amount may change over time to allow for increases in the cost of living. To qualify for the program, students must be under the age of 30 and attend a post-secondary school in Canada. Former students who went to school after 1995 can also apply to have some of their education costs reimbursed."

There was no policy gap and no need for Project Hero. We continue to think our university should not adopt a program that effectively endorses the glorification of war -- one of which now is in Afghanistan. Some of us consider that imperialism. That word bothered a lot of people. We think it fits, but surely, the difference of opinion can be tolerated. After all, Malalai Joya, an Afghan woman politician in the current government, considers Canadian troops as unwelcome imperialists, and wants the troops to leave.

We also think that now, when the U of R is rationalizing its budget; when tuition fees are going up, following the recent provincial budget; when First Nations University is fighting for its financial life against an indifferent federal government -- surely, now, we can argue that all of our students are worthy of funding.

One of our concerns with the language of Project Hero is that such language normalizes militarism, and shuts down democratic and academic space for discussion. Our experience proves us right.

Joyce A. Green, professor, department of political science, Regina

And here is my response, printed in Saturday's Journal:

While I certainly applaud Prof. Green and her colleagues' commitment to peace, and do not feel they deserve hate mail and public ad hominems for stating their views, I still find their semantic opposition to Project Hero disappointing. Leaving aside for a moment whether or not toppling the Taliban after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and working to stabilize the country is fairly defined as 'imperialism', I certainly feel that those who have volunteered to serve their country and made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so are entitled to be called 'heroes' regardless of the political circumstances that put them in harm's way. I also can't help but feel that drawing attention as Prof. Green does to grammatical errors in what is probably very emotionally charged criticism will do very little to change people's minds about 'elitism' or 'ivory tower' perspectives in play.

Stephen Fitzpatrick
Edmonton, Alberta

A letter to the editor should be like a haiku: articulate and evocative, but most of all, succinct. Given more space, I might have further addressed the use of the word imperialism, or noted the irony of Malalai Joya's opposition to Canadian troops in her country, since she is now a member of Afghanistan's government and prior to western intervention, she would not even have been allowed to vote.

Still, Ms. Joya's frustration with corruption and civilian casualties is honest and well stated (she likens Karzai's recent re-election to a rabbit being selected to guard the carrots), and perhaps now that the old regime has been removed, it is time for the Afghan people to forge their own destiny. Unfortunately, the last time this approach was taken, it ended poorly, so I can certainly understand those who think that a premature exit strategy might do more harm than good. Would it have been better if NATO had stayed out and instead tried to negotiate with the Taliban, or attempt to apply pressure through economic sanctions against a country already so disadvantaged? It's hard to believe so.

Worst of all is the sniff of derision and air of condescension in the final paragraph of Prof. Green's letter: "such language normalizes militarism, and shuts down democratic and academic space for discussion. Our experience proves us right." I don't think that opposition to your position automatically grants it legitimacy any more than a lack of visible support makes it fallacious, because if that's the case, I'm afraid we may owe the Ku Klux Klan a big fat apology.

I don't know what kind of response Prof. Green was expecting when she signed her name to a perhaps well-intentioned but ill-crafted letter which seems to compare budgetary considerations, insensitive vocabulary choices and a lack of consultation to the sacrifices made by those who serve our country in our armed forces, especially without giving even the slightest recognition to this service, but honestly, wouldn't you expect a little more insight and judgement from an academician?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"His was the most...human"

I tend to blame my predisposition towards sentimentality on my ethnicity. Like the man says, the Gaels are the race that God made mad, since all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad. There is no point in trying to hide it, so I try to have fun with it, and am quite open in telling people that I am likely to well up watching a long distance commercial if given half a chance.

Actually, the old Bell commercial where the young fellow calls up his grandfather and tells him he is at Dieppe...that's...p-pretty good too...look away, already...

(The sound of a throat clearing.)

Anyways, io9 did a fantastic entry last week listing their picks for"The Biggest Tearjerkers in the Sci-fi Pantheon". It is a good and comprehensive list that covers a lot of years in both television and movies, from the film version of Flowers for Algernon, through the Star Trek deaths of Edith Keeler and Spock (good grief, just thinking of "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes as I write this is making my eyes sweat), and up to more recent offerings like Serenity and even Lost.

Besides being a very good list, the comments the writer makes are fantastic, like this one for Wall-E:
"Seriously, if you didn't well up when — after Wall*E put his life on the line to help Eve locate Earth — the frantic Eve races to his old trailer-home and repairs him with a lightning speed only the desperately in love have and Wall*E comes back online...wrong....

J-Just give me a minute."

Some of the comments made by other readers are really good too.

I've still never seen Starman, which makes absolutely no sense since I love both John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges. I have only seen one episode of Doctor Who in its entirety, which is daft, given the popularity and success of its most recent 'incarnations', and the examples that made the list seem solid as well.

When I started thinking about the list though, it struck me as odd that nothing from Star Trek: The Next Generation made the list, especially one of my favourite episodes, "The Offspring". (SPOILERS FOLLOW)

In "The Offspring", android Lt. Data creates an android modelled partially after himself, which he refers to as his child. In addition to your standard-issue fish-out-of-water hijinks with his daughter Lal attempting to understand human behaviour, there are some wonderful questions raised about what a child is, and what parenting really means.

The main conflict in the episode comes when a Starfleet admiral begins to insist that Data send his daughter to the Daystrom Institute (nice touch there, evoking the episode "The Ultimate Computer" from the original series), which has the unexpected side-effect of generating anxiety in Lal, with tragic consequences.

One of my favourite Picard moments ever is when he risks his career to defy the admiral, without grandstanding or theatrics, and calmly tells him, "Order a man to turn his child over to the state? Not while I'm his captain." But it's the tragedy that really resonates.

I remember talking about the episode with some colleagues at work, at Softwarehouse, and mentioning how I got a little vaklemt at the ending, which provoked a little mocking from one of my co-workers along the lines of "Man, if an episode of Star Trek can get you that worked up, I dunno..." At the time I shrugged it off without abandoning my position, casually pitying my workmate as an emotionally blunted and generally unfulfilled individual. As I read the io9 article, I found myself wondering if it was really as emotionally effective as I remembered, so I ended up watching it with the girls last night.

What the hell was I thinking?

Did I honestly figure that an episode which made me pull a hankie when I was still in university would have less of an effect on me now that I am a parent? Madness!

Now, it's still just entertainment, and it is not as though I completely fell apart in front of the girls, but there's that double tap at the end, where Lal tells Data, "I love you, father," and... oh, just see for yourself:
Sorry, something in my eye there...that's better.

Afterwards, I expressed some surprise (and maybe a little disappointment) that Fenya and Glory weren't a little more affected by the episode. Let's bear in mind here, that we almost had to stop watching The Neverending Story a couple of months ago because Glory was a tearful wreck after the horse was lost to the swamps, so it is not as though these are emotionally blunted individuals here. But I think it is natural for children to have more empathy for animals than they might for a robot who just happens to look like a young adult. (And to be fair, it's a pretty chilling scene; I kept thinking 'they keep dragging this out, but there is just no way they are going to kill this poor anim...oh shit, they've done it') As a matter of fact, the same thing happened when they watched E.T. recently. "You know," I told them earnestly,. "Spielberg made sure they filmed that goodbye scene at the end of shooting so he could get an awesome and honest emotional response from his child actors, and here's you guys without any facial humidity at all! How the hell does that work?"

A shrug from Fenya. An "I dunno" from Glory.

"Are you kidding me?" I said, "Just look at the face on Drew Barrymore there, it... she...(choke)"

"Are you okay, Daddy?"

"(Cough)Yeah, Daddy just had a peppercorn stuck in his teeth, that's all. I gotta go..."

Maybe getting older (and hopefully wiser) has broadened my experience enough that I respond to things more empathetically now than I once did. After all, I have a larger collection of memories to draw upon and can perceive connections, especially personal ones, more easily than I once did. Maybe that's all wisdom is: a larger and more dense network of memories and associations.

Becoming a father in 1998 also altered my perceptions in a fundamental fashion, and has changed the way I approach a lot of things, even mundane ones. It's affected my emotional responses even more substantially. Just as an example, when I think in dispassionate terms of what actions I might be capable of in defense of my children, it is enough to horrify myself. It's not enough to make me regret them, but still.

Ah, well, if we weren't contradictory, we wouldn't be very good humans, would we?

At any rate, good entertainment should provoke us emotionally as well as intellectually, so reading io9's list and the comments from other readers was a real treat. Take a look if you get the chance, and maybe add a comment if you find any other oversights.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Solve for Easter

Unlike Christmas, Easter is a much harder sell for those who aren't active participants in Christianity. Christmas, having borrowed liberally from the midwinter Yule traditions that preceded it, has the biggest tent of any holy day celebrated in the West, suspended from poles of brotherhood, generosity, fellowship, and gratitude. If you are a non-Christian adult who doesn't enjoy rabbit shaped confections, there isn't nearly as much appeal for this spring celebration that can't even be bothered to fix a regular date and which can vacillate between March 23rd and April 25th. I still think it has something to offer everyone, however.

Tomorrow, our minister will be asking the congregation "What does Easter mean to you?" during his reflection, and wanted a ringer or two in the audience to know beforehand so there isn't any 'dead air' while everyone waits for someone else to go first or what have you. And while I appreciate the heads up and I am happy to help, I think maybe Easter is one of those things I have taken for granted. There are fewer of these things than there used to be, but still more than I'd like, and one of them is that question. What the heck does Easter mean to me?

I've always thought of Easter as an observance of the political figure of Jesus, as opposed to the mythical one we commemorate at Christmas. (Never forget how many of the early Christians were Greeks, who knew a thing or two about how to observe the birth of a demi-god!) And while Baby Jesus, like all babies, is all about unlimited potential and the end of a long wait, Easter Jesus is even more admirable, at least to me.

Stepping away from the baggage that comes with being the Son of God (whatever that might mean), Jesus is without peer when it comes to being an agent of change. Consider:
* Jesus preached personal humility, going so far as to wash the feet of those who called him "Lord", unheard of in his day;
* He refused temporal power although he had more than enough of a following to galvanize a rebellion against Rome;
* He spoke truth to power;
* He took to task those who revelled in positions of spiritual authority but did not have the moral authority to back it up;
* He spoke up for the poor and the marginalized almost two millennia before it became cool to do so;
* He preached compassion and understanding instead of strict adherence to religious law (i.e. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone");
* He was canny enough to outwit those who sought to use religious law to portray him as a heretic.

A great example of the last one is the story in which the pharisees figure they have Jesus caught by asking him if it is God's will to pay tax to the Romans: if he says yes, that is clearly heresy, but if he says no, he is practically supporting insurrection! Pharisees FTW! But when they ask him this in the temple, Jesus' response is to ask them to produce a coin, which they do. When he asks them whose face is on it, the jig is up, because it is against Jewish law to have graven (i.e. engraved) images in the temple, which they have just done. At this point, the famous response of "Render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's, and unto God those things that are God's," is almost denouement, although it is still a really clever answer.

In the end though, Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in all honesty, I think it is the death which is most important. In Norman Jewison's film version of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, the political elements I mentioned earlier are given full rein in the telling of the Easter story, both Pilate and Judas are portrayed sympathetically, and the movie ends with the crucifixion of Christ, and not the resurrection. This caused a lot of controversy in 1973, but growing up with the film has really made me wonder about which part is really the more important, and I have to go with the death. In fact, dramatically, the resurrection almost undermines the story and diminishes the sacrifice.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to be in Toronto for Easter, and went back to Wesley Mimico United Church to participate in the Easter cantata as one of the disciples. (I surprised a couple of friends when I showed up backstage as they had no idea I was in town, and when one of them grinned and said, "Oh my Lord!", I said, "No, no, I'm just one of the twelve...") It was a good production given the limits they had to work with, but I was really unprepared for the emotional impact it had on me. Jesus was played by a fellow named Joel who had come to Wesley Mimico after we had moved back to Edmonton, a black man of around 30, with fine features and a brilliant smile. One of my pet peeves is how Jesus is so often portrayed as not only handsome but also Caucasian, so this was great casting as far as I was concerned. When we reached the part of the production where Jesus is crucified, Joel lay down on the cross, which was below my sight line, but which I had noted earlier had a foot rest for Joel to stand on as well as pegs to rest his arms upon.

But when I saw the hammer lift and then fall, and heard the harsh sound of metal on metal, I jumped. And when I heard it a second time, it shook me up a little more. When the third blow struck, I heard a ragged inhalation of air from the audience behind me that meant someone had started sobbing, and my eyes filled immediately. Even now, recalling it half a decade later, I feel myself welling up. And why? I knew then and know now that Joel wasn't hurt, and it's not as though I don't know how the Easter story ends, but the story has been told so many times and become so sanitized that the visceral impact of crucifixion has been lost upon us, which is a shame in a lot of ways.

In the end, the Easter story needs to be about two things, and the first is courage. The courage to do what is right, even in the face of terrible consequences. The courage to not deny who you are, what you stand for or who you befriend. The courage to stand alone when abandoned by not only the crowds which had supported you mere hours before, but your own students and confidants. The courage to go willingly to one of the most cruel forms of execution ever devised by man, despite having committed no crime, in order that your message might live on.

Easter also needs to be about love. Jesus preached love and compassion and understanding as a new way of looking at the world that frightened those in power, and he ended up being killed for it. Imperial Rome is now one with the dust, while Jesus' message lives on two millennia later, despite its periodic co-opting by those who don't seem to fully grasp it. For instance, I still have a hard time understanding how preventing two people of the same gender from getting married is consistent with the teachings of Jesus, but I hope these people will come around. After all, there used to be a lot of good church-goin' folk who thought white churches were no place for black Christians, as offensive as that idea might be to us today. As superior as such people might make me feel, it doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of things I could do better in my own life, which is the real point of the message. Let he who is without sin get out of his glass house before casting stones, right?

On Friday, Rev. James said he got an insight into the death of Jesus at, of all places, Monday's Muse concert. Like a lot of people, James says he has wrestled with the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus for most of his life, but a part of it became clearer to him upon hearing these lyrics:
"If you could flick a switch and open your third eye/ You'd see that we should never be afraid to die."

Love, backed up by courage, is the most powerful force in the universe.

Love is stronger than hate. It's stronger than oppression. Love is impossible to suppress. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this. So did Gandhi. When James asks me tomorrow what Easter means to me, I will say something along the lines of how grateful I am that Jesus was willing to die to teach us that lesson, and how much more there is for us to learn from it, believer and non-believer alike. In a world determined to turn us against each other, Christian versus Muslim, rich versus poor, capitalist versus socialist, liberal versus conservative, Marvel versus DC, Mac versus PC, or what have you, love stands the best chance of saving us as a species.

Love is our resistance.