I would not want to be a refugee. Pictures of them suggest they’re in shock, traumatized by the life they have chosen to leave behind. Civil wars. Poverty. Famine. Religious repression. Militias with licence to kill.
Refugees have hope, of course – they hope for freedom from poverty, from oppression, from persecution.
But they have left so much behind. So much that was dear to them. Businesses that they sank their heart and soul into, with a clientele built over years, maybe even generations. Extended families -- aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, nieces and nephews, sometimes their own children. Languages and customs familiar since infancy.
All given up for a new life they don’t know yet, they can’t know yet.
God told Abram, “Go.”
Abram asked, “Where?”
And God said, “I’ll let you know when you get there.”
Over the last 30 years or so, churches in the Okanagan Valley sponsored dozens of refugees. I know of only a few. They’ve come from Central America. From Syria. From Lebanon. From Burundi.
So that they can start over.
We are all refugees
I would not want to be a refugee. But I am one. So are you.
Ever since my wife’s death, I have been thrust into a new and unfamiliar world. I have become un-coupled in a couple’s world.
Just as you got thrust into a new and unfamiliar world by the Covid-19 restrictions on social interaction. How do you maintain friendships when you can’t get together? How can you do volunteer service in isolation?
I have occasionally described my church as a refugee church. On Sunday mornings I would see worshippers who were once Anglican, Catholic, Mennonite, Lutheran, Moravian, evangelical Protestant, even Unitarian.
They came because they needed to escape from religious contexts that they found too confining, too rigid, or even too loosey-goosey. Perhaps their former church moved beyond them. Or they moved, and their church didn’t.
They have had to learn new liturgies. New music. New governance practices. New theological understandings.
That may seem easy. As a Syrian Muslim assured one of his sponsors, “We all believe in peace and love.”
In principle, yes. In practice, being a refugee also requires leaving some specifics behind.
Are conservative Muslims willing to abandon female genital mutilation? Hindus, the practice of suttee, burning the living wife on her husband’s funeral pyre? Parsis, placing a dead body on the Tower of Silence, to be devoured by vultures?
Are males from patriarchal cultures willing to give up their conviction that they’re entitled to rule the lives of their women and children?
For all of us, what are we NOT willing to give up? Ever?
Conservative candidate Kellie Lietch’s notion of a Canadian set of values, a few years back, was unworkable. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Each refugee’s details are different. Refugees may not even recognize what they hold dear, until those values come into conflict with the society around them.
My wife’s death makes me a refugee, moving into uncharted territory, I don’t know yet what I am willing to discard, and what I will cling to as if my life depended on it.
Maybe, like Abram, I’ll know it when I get there.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Some short comments of appreciation for last week’s column, about poetry, for National Poetry Month.
Wayne Irwin wrote, “What a poetic piece, Jim!”
Peter Scott: “I loved the column about poetry. I'll save that one and read it over many times.”
“Thanks for an excellent exposition,” Isabel Gibson wrote, and then issued a challenge: “Now can you put the poetry-making experience in a poem?”
And June Blau, “Thank you for the brightest spot in the week, right next to the prairie spring sun.”
Jayne Whyte commented, “I have no idea when or where I first heard my working definition of poetry: ‘Poetry is using words to say what words cannot express.’”
Steve Roney: “You write that poetry is about emotion. But that might be said of all art; and poetry is about much more than emotions. The Iliad and the Odyssey, for example, two of the greatest poems of all time, are not superficially about emotion.
“You write that poetry seeks to say things ‘with an absolute minimum of words.’ … How is this different from prose? Isn’t this exactly what you teach in your Eight Step Editing program?
“Rhythm and rhyme are mnemonic devices. They help you memorize the poem. This is also the reason for much of poetic imagery; whether or not it is metaphor, it creates visual associations, and memory works by association. John Donne is the master here, but Yeats also made a point at times of writing poems connected by images instead of rhyme.”
Ed Olfert offered high praise: “I thought I had good teachers, but no one has explained poetry the way you have. A friend, retired teacher, quoted poetry into virtually every situation he found himself in. You help me understand his passion.”
Cliff Boldt also endorsed memorization: “My uncle John taught English for years and encouraged me with frequent quotations. This by W.H. Davies was one of his favourites:
‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’”
Tom Watson likes memorable lines: “You referred to Carl Sandburg’s line: ‘The fog creeps in on little cat feet.’ Novels that I appreciate have lines, or descriptive expressions, in them that enliven my imagination. One of the best novels I read in the past year is ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens. Owens has a number of phrases that, while prose, are poetic. Here are some:
· A heaviness, thick as black-cotton mud, pushed her chest as she returned to the steps to wait.
· Trees so bent they wore the shape of the wind.
· Watching the last of that day slide down the wall.
· The ocean sang bass, the gulls sang soprano.
· Heavy swamp air stood behind them, waiting patiently for its turn.
· The sun, still shy and submissive to winter."
Beth Richardson, owner and publisher of The Chautauqua in Alberta, singled out two bits of advice: “Love both of these statements and the images they invoke... ‘Thought stripped naked, in a sense.’ and ‘Eliminate everything but the nouns and verbs. If a piece still sings, you’ve got a poem; if it has to rely on layers of ornamentation, you’ve got cold porridge.’”
The lectionary prescribed Psalm 116 just two weeks ago. I’m not going to print it again; you can look it up if you want to.
Instead I’ll point out that the Psalms are also poetry. But they don’t use rhyme or regular meter, which means that many people don’t recognize them as poetry. I suggest that their poetry will come out best if you think of them as “responsive rap” – that is, they have to be spoken aloud, with one person or group echoing the speaker’s lead – sometimes repeating it in different words, sometimes amplifying. and sometimes taking a different viewpoint.
It’s like ping pong – you don’t have a game with only one player. You need two players, firing the ball back and forth. The poetry is in the way those two psalm-bodies lob the ball to each other.
There’s a fuller discussion of the principle of the psalms in the introduction to my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted some new poetic works there a few weeks ago. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at email@example.com, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to firstname.lastname@example.org (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)