A week or so back, I had to go to 7-Eleven for a jug of milk close to midnight, as we had guests and had run out. As I approached the counter, the two staff were conversing quietly, and apparently it was about me, as the gal ended their conversation by saying to the guy, "Well, why don't you ask him?"
The young fellow pointed at my chest and asked, "What is that symbol for?"
I looked down, and remembered I had worn my Tyr pendant to work over a black turtleneck that day, and hadn't taken it off yet. (I'm not much a of a jewelry wearer, but it's not like I can wear a concert shirt to work now, can I?) "Oh, it's just the logo of a metal band I like, called Tyr," I explained.
He shook his head. "I don't know them," he confessed, "but I thought it looked familiar."
"Well, they did make it look like a hammer of Thor, right? That same shape is a religious symbol for pagans, and they are full-on Odin worshippers."
They nodded and the gal began ringing up my milk. I felt obliged to add, "I'm not actually a pagan, I just like the music."
She told me the egregious price of 4 litres of convenience store milk, and while I got my debit card out, playfully asked, "Why not be a pagan?" And you know, I really had to think about it for a moment.
In the end, I had to say, "There's a lot of appeal, frankly, but honestly? I really like being a Christian, because when you do it right, it's tough to beat treating everyone with love, justice and kindness."
She seemed to think that was a reasonable answer, I exchanged money for milk, and we parted ways.
I had cause to revisit the conversation this weekend, as I emceed our church's Affirming Ministry Celebration. We have recently concluded a long process of education and discernment in order to be able to proclaim that we are a safe place to come and worship, even for those groups which might have been excluded or oppressed by folks calling themselves Christians. The most notable would be sexual minorities, like the LGBTQ community, but should also include indigenous peoples, especially those so terribly wronged by the Indian Residential Schools program.
Our keynote speaker was Rev. Nancy Steeves, a gifted orator who spoke of her experiences as a former Presbyterian minister, who was forced out of ministry in her chosen denomination, as she put it, 'because of whom she chose to love.' She talked about the United Church sticking its neck out 26 years ago by not only refusing to condemn gays and lesbians, but giving them the possibility to be ordained as ministers. Of our own church voting to solemnize same sex marriages 8 years ago, and this most recent step of becoming a recognized Affirming Ministry, and affixing a rainbow decal to our church sign.
We had Metis jiggers come and dance a set, which was very appropriate, given St. Albert's history as a significant trading post for the Metis and First Nations people. They were extremely energetic, and their choreography spoke volumes to the amount of practice they must do. The finale though, was spectacular: a 17 year old Hoop Dancer named Dallas Arcand Jr.
He came onstage in his full regalia, and opened his act with a haunting honour song played on a recorder-style flute. Then picked an acoustic guitar out of his case, and with a grin, asked, "Anyone here like blues music?" He explained how much of an influence Stevie Ray Vaughn was to his music and singing, and proceeded to play a tight cover of "Pride and Joy" to the surprise of some and the delight of many, including myself.
The hoop dance, however, was amazing. Before he started, Dallas explained the legend of the hoop dance, and how a young warrior who could not escape his enemies, prayed to Creator for help. The Creator sent down hoops which he said the young warrior could use to change his shape in order to elude his predators. "As I dance," he explained, "you may see many animals: the eagle, the snake, the butterfly...maybe even Mickey Mouse; just use your imagination as I take you through 13 hoops."
I freely admit that aboriginal music is an acquired taste, and it has taken me a while to get to as point where I can appreciate it, even if I can't tell the good stuff from the bad, and as the speakers began to ring with the drums and chants of Northern Cree, punctuated by screams, it was a bit jarring. But there is no denying the emotion and power behind the vocals, and, accompanied by the skillful dancing, the unfamiliar sounds soon became less strange and more natural.
Dallas' skill with the hoops is formidable; in a set that ran over ten minutes, there were two tiny imperfections, but his feet never stopped moving to the rhythm of the drums, and the hoops seemingly flowed from floor to leg to hand, interlocking in spheres and being tossed forward in a backspin, only to reverse course and return to his hand like they were called. And true to his word, you could see the shapes of the animals being represented.
I managed to record the first six minutes of his performance on the iPad; I don't think the medium does it justice, so if the opportunity to view a hoop dance in close proximity ever presents itself to you, I highly recommend taking advantage of it.
Afterwards, I thanked Dallas for an amazing and well-received performance as he caught his breath. "One question though, I need to get straight: a red man from Edmonton..."
"Yes?" he replied quizzically.
"...playing the music of a white man from Texas..."
"Ye-ess..." with a hint of a grin.
"In the style of black men from Mississippi?"
"Yes!" he declared.
"I love it!"
Our Diversity Fair and Affirming Celebration were great opportunities to meet people from other walks of life: different faiths, ages, sexual orientations, cultures and so on. Everyone was grateful for the chance to come out, talk about their organizations, and be appreciated for who they were. And for our part, it was good to host, and to have an opportunity to treat our guests with love and kindness, the way we're supposed to.