Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Living in the Past

Back in 2004-ish I wrote a series of articles for a start-up website called RelationshipWellBeing.com. The site was intended to bring together a number of relationship "experts" to discuss aspects of, well, relationships. Amidst the psychologists and therapists there was I, talking about being single, dating, and breaking up from a young woman's point of view. My work got a pretty positive reaction even if the website did not reach the heights its team aspired towards. The site, after years of inactivity, has since gone offline and as a result so have my articles. In an effort to keep them online I am going to be reposting them here. After all, this did start off as a blog about singles' issues. Just bear in mind that these articles are a few years old and as such may not reflect some current situations in society, the online world, and my life.

This article was written before the rise of social networking sites. Facebook is probably the ultimate example of the points I am trying to make here. Of course, the user fees no longer apply, making digging through one's past all the more attractive since there is no financial cost involved. The emotional costs, however, remain the same.

Living in the Past

“Someone is trying to connect with you.”

“Find an old friend right now.”

“Search for anyone, anytime.”

Barely a day goes by without me receiving some sort of e-mail advertisement enticing me to look up someone from my past. For a fee, of course.

The purveyors of companies that do personal searches are making some very big assumptions. They are assuming there is actually someone for whom you would be willing to shell out the shekels just to track down. And in the event that there is some former friend you would want to reach out and touch, your shekels would go down the drain to learn that he or she is not interested in communicating with you.

Obviously though, for some people it is worth the risk, otherwise these companies would not be in business. While I haven’t done any scientific studies on this topic, most of the people who utilize such services are probably either looking for an old flame, or trying to reconnect with someone they had a crush on way back when.

One of the better-known purveyors of the past is an online service that allows one to hook up with old schoolmates. I admit that while it is very interesting to see the names of my old classmates all lined up and teasing for me to take a look, I have yet to bite the bullet and actually pay the required fee.

I find myself having to question my motives before I whip out my credit card. It is normal to wonder what happened to people that you knew, especially those who you presumably cared about. This is called natural curiosity. It’s also normal to see if that tramp who stole your boyfriend in high school married him or ended up pregnant and dumped. Or, if the class jock who thought he was such hot stuff and used to give you wedgies is now in rehab. This is called morbid curiosity.

I am willing to bet that the majority of people who utilize services that purvey a blast from the past, have secret hopes of picking up where they left off. People who are still single and, in times of loneliness or just extreme sentimentality, harken back to the good times they had with that special someone. We tend to romanticize the past – we focus on the aspects of long-lost relationships that were positive, and miss them. But we also have to remember that an ex is an ex for a reason.

Then there are those who have had a long-standing secret crush on someone. Perhaps they were too shy back in high school to voice their feelings. Or the person was taken, or otherwise not interested. But if you are still single, or single again, and finding a desire to reach out and touch someone from days gone by, ask yourself this question: Will it really improve your fragile state of mind any, to find out that the cute guy who sat next to you in grade eight is now married with three children? Is a priest? Is undergoing a gender reassignment?

Then again, closure is an important aspect of moving on.

Digging into the past can extend beyond the romantic sphere, and into our day-to-day social lives. A former teacher of mine once told the class that when a certain group of his friends get together, all they can talk about is high school. Yes, it is an important time of life, but for some reason something was holding these people back from talking about anything that occurred after senior prom. And I have to admit that I do tend to discuss my university days quite often. It was a time in my life when my attitudes and worldview took a major turn, my career was chosen, and I began to embark upon what became a string of romantic disasters. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Thanks to the Internet, checking up on someone is easy as long as the other person has some sort of online presence. A friend of mine who recently completed graduate school in journalism, told me that a popular pastime amongst the students was “Googling” their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends. But very few actually dared to make contact. Satisfying the urge to answer the question, “Where are they now?” was enough.

And if living in the past is distracting you from moving on, enough certainly is enough. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting about failed relationships or long-lost friends. But if our hearts and minds are always in the past, then we will not have enough energy left to head towards the future.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her website is: www.MyNameIsPaula.com.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Update on a Weekend of Writing, Music, Photos

Yesterday was a rare day for me. I actually relaxed and took some time for myself. I headed to a nearby cafe (on foot - it was too windy to ride) with a book I have been meaning to finish, and actually got through it. No marches, rallies, meetings, or events. Just me, a cup of chai, and The Shack.

My latest article for the Phoenix Multi-Faith Society is "A House of Understanding and Cooperation: The EMCN's Trinity Manor". I also wrote one about the Genocide Memorial Garden dedication ceremony I attended last week, but it hasn't been posted yet.

The Spring issue of Prairie Books Now is online and available to download. On Friday, we put the July/August issue of Boyle McCauley News to bed. The July issue of the SPURR has been delayed by a couple of weeks due to circumstances beyond our control. I spent part of yesterday doing some editing to make sure everything is fresh and timely when we hit print.

On Friday evening I took part in Critical Mass. June is Bike Month, so it's the biggest Critical Mass of the year. The weather held out until we started to ride at 5:30 in front of City Hall. Then, the sun went away and the wind kicked up. Fortunately, we made it through without anyone getting blown away. Here are some pictures. Afterwards, a knight in shining armour picked me up in his van, and we went to Edmonton's only Chinese drive-through at Panda Hut Express.

On Saturday I went back to the congregation for the first time in around two months. I gave the Torah homily, which was also featured on the UMJC's Torah study list and on their website. I also ended up playing guitar with worship, as apparently things have been a cappella as of late. I managed to tune my guitar to the piano.

What was especially thrilling about the service was that I met Sarah, Phil and Trish's new baby who was just born on Tuesday. I'm definitely getting to be more of a "kid" person. In fact, on Friday afternoon before Critical Mass, I helped a friend babysit a few of his grandkids - two girls under the age of five and a six month old baby. And apparently, there is a name for women like me: PANK. Professional Auntie, No Kids.

For lunch, I went to a new pho restaurant called Pho Hoang Pasteur. Then, it was off to Louise McKinney Park for Jazz in the Park, a free afternoon concert as part of Jazz City. In addition to the bands (which included local favourites Bomba and Alfie Zappacosta), there was food, a beer tent, and an instrument petting zoo where kids could check out and try the instruments. Needless to say, there were some interesting sounds coming from the pagoda. Here is a look. The act I came to see, and was not disappointed by, was Ndidi Onukwulu who is a female vocalist from B.C. performing a mix of jazz, blues, rock, soul, and worldbeat. I really enjoyed the variety in her sound.

As I approached the festival area, I was taken by an installation of an office cubicle sitting right there in the park. It was part of The Works visual arts festival, and certainly made me think about workplaces and office space.

So that is pretty much a summary of the past few days, if you add in a few coffees with friends, guitar playing, housecleaning, and learning to throw a football.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Life in the Movies

Back in 2004-ish I wrote a series of articles for a start-up website called RelationshipWellBeing.com. The site was intended to bring together a number of relationship "experts" to discuss aspects of, well, relationships. Amidst the psychologists and therapists there was I, talking about being single, dating, and breaking up from a young woman's point of view. My work got a pretty positive reaction even if the website did not reach the heights its team aspired towards. The site, after years of inactivity, has since gone offline and as a result so have my articles. In an effort to keep them online I am going to be reposting them here. After all, this did start off as a blog about singles' issues. Just bear in mind that these articles are a few years old and as such may not reflect some current situations in society, the online world, and my life.

In this particular article, the movie examples I cite are somewhat dated (although still perfectly relevant to the points I am trying to make) and contrary to what I say about myself in the fist line, I have since become a movie buff.

My Life in the Movies

I’m not a movie person, so it was very much against my nature to watch two movies in one week: My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mambo Italiano.

I’ve been meaning to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for, oh, about two years now – but I just never got around to it. Commitment has always been a problem for me. Plus, after seeing trailer after trailer for it, and from the many comments of other people, I think I had the storyline pretty down pat. And I did. Not only because of the giveaway remarks, but when ethnicity and over-protective parents collide, I think I have the basic plot pretty well down pat.

It was this exact combination that was one of the reasons I delayed seeing the movie for so long. I was afraid that Toula’s overbearing father would remind me too much of my own parents. Coming from a traditional Jewish family, the pressure to marry someone of the same religion is pretty much the same as on her to marry someone Greek. I live that life everyday – I don’t have to see it on the screen, be it big or small. To me, that’s not entertainment – that’s masochism.

While seeing the movie was not as painful an experience as I had anticipated, I did not find My Big Fat Greek Wedding to be particularly funny. Don’t get me wrong – it was a wonderful hour and a half of pure escapist entertainment, which I could measure by the time that flew by with nary a bathroom break – but it also didn’t run particularly deep. It moved along too quickly, the characters were one-dimensional, and frankly, I found Toula’s parents’ turnaround at the end to be contrived. But then again, perhaps that’s just me putting my own baggage into the storyline.

And then, there was Mambo Italiano. Another hour and a half of a similar theme, except this time the family was Italian, and it was a gay couple at the center of the film. This movie was Greek Wedding on steroids – the parents were far more stereotypically smothering and guilt-inflicting than their Greek counterparts. The way the parents bickered with each other, the neurotic relatives, the emphasis on living up to the expectations of others – this resonated with me deeply. My mother always told me that Jews and Italians have a lot in common. We’re both very clean people, with strong family values. She would know – she grew up in a New York Jewish neighborhood, interspersed with Italians.

Both movies deal with breaking traditions, while Mambo Italiano digs far deeper into issues in approximately the same amount of time. I’m not gay, but I could easily relate to Angelo’s desire for his parents to accept him for who he is, while at the same time strive to be “normal” in spite of one’s upbringing (which, of course, was done with the best of intentions on the parents’ part). I laughed more deeply, and cried harder. It made me relive scenes from my childhood. And it was much cheaper than visiting a therapist!

The role of ethnicity in relationships has much to do with our families of origin. If your family did not care about whether or not you dated or married outside of your culture, then odds have it that you didn’t care either. But if preserving ethnic bloodlines, heritage, or simply carrying a deep-seated cultural pride into a romantic relationship was the expectation, the voices of our parents carry on with us, even if we choose partners of a different culture.

Traditions, customs, and even simple things such as how to spend mealtimes and holidays, are all things that need to be negotiated in relationships. Like in Greek Wedding, with marrying someone of a different culture comes the fear of not carrying on those traditions. And in Mambo Italiano, living a different lifestyle altogether is a threat to a cultural dynamic (as Angelo says to the anonymous therapist on the Gay Helpline, there is nothing worse for an Italian than being gay).

For me, being Jewish is an important part of who I am, mainly because it was important to my parents. Even when I at times am not being the model of a nice Jewish girl, I never forget where I come from. Which was not always functional (and still isn’t), and I am quick to poke fun at many of the stereotypical aspects of my parents and peers.

But when the cards are put on the table in a relationship, my Judaism is not negotiable. When a man cannot deal with my desire to join me as I maintain my sometimes tenuous connection to my heritage, I am gone. But to my parents, if a man is not Jewish, he is not acceptable, period -- even if he buys into my lifestyle hook, line, and kosher.

My parents and I are living examples of the changing attitude towards the role of ethnicity in relationships, from one generation to the next. To risk sounding too much like Reb Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, on the one hand we have the desire to hold on to a part of ourselves, while on the other hand, we seek to separate from our families and forge our own identity. Choosing the “right” partner takes precedence over choosing someone with the same background as ourselves.

Movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mambo Italiano are becoming the storylines for the lives of more and more people. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be starring in one of my own.

Paula E. Kirman is a writer, editor, and website designer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her website is: www.mynameispaula.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why Am I Still Single?

Back in 2004-ish I wrote a series of articles for a start-up website called RelationshipWellBeing.com. The site was intended to bring together a number of relationship "experts" to discuss aspects of, well, relationships. Amidst the psychologists and therapists there was I, talking about being single, dating, and breaking up from a young woman's point of view. My work got a pretty positive reaction even if the website did not reach the heights its team aspired towards. The site, after years of inactivity, has since gone offline and as a result so have my articles. In an effort to keep them online I am going to be reposting them here. After all, this did start off as a blog about singles' issues. Just bear in mind that these articles are a few years old and as such may not reflect some current situations in society, the online world, and my life.

Why Am I Still Single?

It is the number one question that singles get asked, especially if you are over the age of 30: why are you still single? It has many variations, sometimes phrased as a comment, rather than a question – “I can’t believe a nice girl/guy like you is still single,” followed by the more direct and probing: “When do you think you’ll get married?”

As mature singles, we ask the exact same question –but not to each other. Rather, we ask ourselves in times of loneliness or frustration: “Why am I still single?”

Most of us have a timeline in which we expect or want to be married with a family. Thirty tends to be that magic number. For some, it may be 25, but 30 is definitely a marker on the far end of the map.

To be single, over 30, and a woman is not as big of a stigma as it was in years past. But it can still weigh on one’s mind. When I am asked that inevitable question, a few things pop into my mind.

I’ve always been one of these people with an uncanny sense of telling when there is going to be a problem, before it becomes a problem. If I ever went for another career, my friends have told me that I should go into disaster planning. Perhaps always being able to second-guess situations might be good for survival in a war or tornado, but it’s not necessarily good for survival in relationships. After all, no one is perfect. All of my friends who are “happily” married have their share of problems too. It’s just that they have learned to deal with them. Negotiation, and, frankly, love covers a multitude of quirks.

Yet my foresight into the characters of other people has earned me the brand of being mature beyond my years (I was told that in my early 20’s), and full of wisdom and discernment (buzzwords from my religious friends). Upon reflection, I have been either extremely smart, or extremely stupid. I know for sure that I have averted at least a couple of marital disasters. But there have also been situations where I think I may have just given up too easily.

Had I gone down any of the paths formerly before me, wearing a white dress, by now I would possibly be divorced, like a single parent – both of which also carry with them little of the stigma of our parents’ generation. My biological clock would not be ticking as loudly, because I would already have children. But in most ways, I would simply have traded one set of problems for another.

I don’t have a bitter ex trying to make my life miserable. I am not myself a bitter ex trying to pull the pieces of my life back together. Rarely have I ever seen a divorce where everyone involved parted ways peacefully. I have become a sounding board for my friends, a witness to the carnage of lives tearing apart.

However, the desire to avoid the War of the Roses just doesn’t seem to be an acceptable response to the barrage of socially awkward questions. Here are some witty repartees I have collected, courtesy of other mature, single adults:

Question: Why are you still single?
Answer: I don’t know – maybe you should ask my ex’s.

Question: Would you like me to fix you up with someone?
Answer: Why do I need to be fixed up? Am I broken?

Question: Don’t you feel your biological clock ticking?
Answer: I am not sure about that, but I suddenly feel a sharp pain in my rear end.

One of my favorites came in the form of a postcard that I saw at a gift shop. An older woman is asking a younger women why she isn’t married. “I forgot,” was her flip answer.

It really isn’t a joke. We are all so busy these days with advanced education, careers, social causes, hobbies and activities, and a variety of other distractions to occupy our time, that the void left by not having a significant other, really isn’t all that significant after all.

Yet there is always a part of a single person that worries he or she will never find lasting love. Being continually faced with questions that are awkward at best, and insensitive at worst, does not help single people feel comfortable with who they are. The focus should be on not how to answer these questions, but to discourage them being asked in the first place.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer and website designer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her website is: www.mynameispaula.com

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Weekend and Beyond: Bicycles, Festivals, Dedications

Festival season is officially here. The Works is considered the first big festival of summer, and it began last weekend. I dropped by to check out some of the art in Churchill Square and surrounding areas, as well as pay a visit to the art gallery to check out that 17 foot long baby. It was surreal - and extremely creepy. I also was amazed by the impressionist paintings of local artist Mary Joyce. Mary is one of our peace activists and I was thrilled to see her work in such a mainstream context as the AGA.

However, before I hit The Works, I rode downtown and cruised past some friends who were dropping their daughter off at the AGA for art lessons. We did breakfast at Timmy's and then I headed to the Bikeology festival for my volunteer position as official photographer/videographer. Bikeology is an annual celebration of the bicycle and the people who ride them. Here are the photos and this is a short video of some of the afternoon's highlights, like bike-powered smoothies, stunt riders, and live music.

After Bikeology it was a quick stop over to City Market, just a few blocks away, for a Fat Frank. Then to the Art Gallery and The Works. My breakfast friends Nick and Kylee and their kids were with me off and on for most of the day, as they were going around to the same events.

On Sunday, I attended a dedication ceremony for a Genocide Memorial Garden at the home of Rev. Audrey Brooks. Rev. Brooks is a Unitarian minister, Raging Granny, and good friend. She built a dry riverbed garden in front of her home and made it into a memorial garden for all victims of genocide. The dedication ceremony involved prayers, sacred readings, music, and people coming forward to place stones in the garden. On the stones we wrote the names of people, places, or events relating to genocide. After placing the stones, we spoke briefly about the significance of what we wrote. I placed a stone for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, never to forget - which means not just remembering the victims, but to remember to espouse values of justice and compassion and peace towards all people, everywhere. Here are some photos and this is a 15 minute video.

I've been trying to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, despite the ups and downs of the temperatures and the very high winds that have been kicking up. On Monday I went for a walk through Hawrelak Park with my friend Tim. We saw all Canada Geese of all ages, from tiny chicks to bigger goslings to full-sized mommies and daddies. We also saw goldeneyes, mallards, and other waterfowl. Nature and wildlife in the middle of a busy city. Take a look at the sheer cuteness of some of these pictures.

I have also been taking regular hikes down in the Buena Vista offleash area with Randy and Skooter. Skooter loves putting her head in the water, and then shaking it off -- usually on us. She will try to tear apart any large logs or tree trunks she finds. Being down by the river is just so serene. Here is a photo set from yesterday's walk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parashat Korach - Question Authority

I originally wrote this Drash (Torah study) in 2006. As I needed to use it for an online study group as well as a congregational presentation, I edited it for clarity and to bring it up to current standards.

Parashat Korach (Korah/bald)

Torah: Num. 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: I Sam. 11:14-12:22
Brit Chadasha: Rom. 13:1-7 (Lederer)
Acts 5:1-11 (Feinberg)

Question Authority

This parasha is primarily about leadership and how people are to relate to their leaders. Moses and Aaron were chosen emissaries of G-d to lead His people Israel. Korach and some of those in his circle took exception to this. They confronted Moses and Aaron and questioned their leadership. Their argument was that Israel was G-d’s chosen people, and they were all holy – Moses and Aaron were the same as everyone; no holier than anyone else. Korach and his followers expected an explanation, but that is not what they got.

Num. 16:28 Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the L-RD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the L-RD has not sent me. 30 But if the L-RD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the L-RD with contempt."

16:31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. (NIV)

Korach and his men questioned the leadership G-d placed above them, and they got gulped. They never did get an explanation of why Moses and Aaron were their leaders, but simply proof that they were their leaders. The reason did not matter. G-d placed Moses and Aaron in a leadership position. That should have been explanation enough.

The Torah portion continues in chapter 17 with yet another physical sign of Aaron’s leadership. Various men in the camp put their staffs in a specified area, and Aaron’s started to bud – that was the sign that G-d said would show who the leader was. Again, there was no talk of why Aaron’s staff started blooming when those belonging to others didn’t – only that this was to be the sign.

Chapter 18 talks about the specific duties of Priests and Levites. 18:25-29 talks about tithing – this is the verse where we get the figure of 10 percent and are commanded to give this offering towards the maintenance of the temple, and in modern days to our congregation or fellowship.

The Haftarah portion ties in closely with the Torah portion. Samuel is reminding people of how G-d appointed Moses and Aaron to lead. He reminds them of the consequences of disobedience.

I Sam.12:14 If you fear the L-RD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the L-RD your God--good! 15 But if you do not obey the L-RD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. (NIV)

Samuel links obeying G-d with obeying the king. And the king, as the leader, of course also has to submit to G-d.

In the Lederer selection for the Brit Chadasha, the Apostle Paul also talks about leadership. According to Paul, the governing authorities are placed in their positions by G-d, and as a result, the people must do what is expected of them as responsible citizens. He compares rebellion against authority with rebellion against G-d.

Rom. 13:7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)

Back in biblical days, Moses and Aaron were leaders appointed by G-d. They knew it; the people knew it. When we think of authority in a modern context, it can be applied to government officials. Government leaders are not appointed by G-d. They are elected by people. People who are not perfect. As a result, sometimes the government officials make decisions that we have trouble accepting as believers. It is at this point that we start to question authority.

I’ve been involved in my local activist movement for a number of years, and I can tell you that people who question authority are often branded as radicals, as rebels, but rebelling against authority – depending on how you define “rebellion” does not necessarily have to mean rebelling against G-d.

To speak up for what one believes in a peaceful, productive manner is not rebellion. It is as much a part of being a responsible citizen as paying taxes. Trying to influence the direction of public policy is not rebellion. It is an expression. It is not going to crumble the order of things to question authority. If leadership has merit, it can stand the test of inquiry. Moses and Aaron sure did.

In fact, I would be willing to go so far as to say that we have an obligation to speak up if we find something going on in society that goes against our consciences as believers. If we define “rebellion” as failing to tow the party line without question, we have a serious problem when that authority is acting in a way contrary to G-d, with potentially dangerous consequences. Using Paul’s writings as the basis for what constitutes rebelling against G-d through rebelling against the authorities, the people of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were rebels. The righteous Gentiles who hid Jews during the Holocaust were rebels. And Praise the L-rd they were!

And now let’s look at how submitting to leadership related to the life of Yeshua. Yeshua submitted to G-d’s authority before worldly authority. He did many things that irked both the religious and political leaders of His day. He challenged the rabbis when they took him to task for His actions, and when the governing authority asked him to cool it, He wouldn’t. The result? We all know how this story ends (or, begins, because He will come again).

In our congregations of fellowship, we are to respect our leaders. Otherwise, the Body cannot function as a whole if the people are in rebellion against the leadership. This does not mean there will never be friction – in fact, some friction can be a positive thing. Leadership needs accountability as much as anyone else in a congregation. But it has to be dealt with in a positive and productive manner. The Matthew 18 principles of how to approach conflict resolution definitely apply. Also, because G-d’s word is Eternal, we still have an obligation to tithe, as outlined in Numbers 18:25-29, because this is how the work of the L-rd is supported.

As a side note, G-d has different roles for each of us. For some of us, it is leadership. It doesn’t necessarily mean those chosen to lead are better, or more holy, but that this is a given role for a purpose or season. Not everyone is gifted or intended to be a leader. Accepting our gifts and roles is important. Korach and his cohorts did not understand this.

It all comes down, as it usually does, to obedience towards G-d. G-d appointed Moses and Aaron as leaders, and when that was questioned, G-d got angry and there were consequences. G-d has many things He wishes us to follow – whether we do or not is our choice, and the results of our actions come about depending upon our choice to follow His word.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Israeli Apartheid on Trial & Yves Engler

I have posted two recent talks in the Edmonton activist community. The first is Israeli Apartheid on Trial: Pan-Canadian Tour. Emily Schaeffer is an Israeli lawyer representing the Palestinian village of Bil'in. Bil'in has filed a lawsuit in the Quebec Superior Court against two Quebec registered companies: Green Park International and Green Mount International. The companies are accused of illegally constructing residential and non-residential buildings for the Israeli settlement of Mattityahu East on the Bilin's lands. According to the lawsuit, the lands of Bil'in are subject to the rules and obligations of international law because the West Bank is currently under Israeli military occupation. This was filmed June 10, 2009 at Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton.

Montreal-based activist and author Yves Engler launches his book The Black Book of Canadian Foriegn Policy in Edmonton on June 18, 2009. The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy sheds light on many dark corners of Canadian foreign policy: From troops that joined the British in Sudan in 1885 to gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean and aspirations of Central American empire, to participation in the UN mission that killed Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, to important support for apartheid South Africa, Zionism and the US war in Vietnam, to helping overthrow Salvador Allende and supporting the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, to Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan today. Engler's work has been praised by Noam Chomsky.

Friday, June 19, 2009

About Last Weekend - And This Week

At this time of the year, when it comes to both the weather and events going on in Edmonton it doesn't rain, but it pours. Such was last Saturday when the weather was hot and sunny, but there were two important events going on the same afternoon. The Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk took place for the third time, to bring awareness to the Aboriginal women who have gone missing in the face of apathy from authorities. Here are the photos, and this is a short video.

From the Canadian Native Friendship Centre, I hopped a taxi and headed to Churchill Square for the Pride Parade. Normally, I shoot along Jasper Avenue, but since I was late I knew the street was going to be blocked off and the parade already heading halfway to the end. So, this year I shot along the last leg of the parade before it finished. As always, I took quite a few photos. I filmed the entire parade and divided it into four parts: one, two, three, and four. One of the highlights for me was the extremely long rainbow flag carries by members of Unitarians for Social Justice.

Saturday evening was spent at a picnic in Kinsmen Park, which was a birthday party for the husband of a friend. It is a family with whom I have been spending a lot of time and building friendships. I had a wonderful time, as I always do with these people, and juggled my devil sticks with some of the kids. On a personal note, I was also very bummed when I got home. I am at an age where I am unpacking some of my issues and facing the realities of the shortcomings of my family. Spending time with people who are fun, tolerant, non-judgmental, and culturally liberal seems like the polar opposite of the people around me in my everyday life. Perhaps until now I have had very little to compare my family to, and I am witnessing a stark contrast. My goal for the next while is to spend as much time as possible with people who are affirming and functional. I am going to try to absorb as much as I can and apply it to my surroundings. End of rant!

On Sunday, I decided to take a day for myself and spent it cycling around downtown and the inner city. I clocked around 32.5 km - a record for me (as far as I know - this is the first year I have been keeping track of how much I ride). I enjoyed an iced latte from the Italian Centre, and relaxed in Giovanni Caboto Park. In many ways, I consider McCauley to be more my home neighbourhood than where I actually live!

This past week I took a short bicycle jaunt through Rundle Park. While there, I noticed a large group of teenagers canoeing in the lake and figured it was a school on a field trip. When I got home I logged into Facebook and saw a status update from someone I recently friended, who happens to be the granddaughter of a close friend (members of the family whom I was with Saturday evening). She was saying how tired she was from canoeing. I left a comment asking where she had been, and it was her class that was in Rundle! Now that is what I call a coincidence. Anyways, a lot of baby Canada Geese are in Rundle, and I also saw a red-winged blackbird - two of them in fact! I added the photos to my Biking-Hiking photoset.

Work-wise, this week was spent mostly working on getting ready for production for the two community newspapers I edit. At Boyle McCauley News, our graphic designer has left for Halifax for a few months to take a few courses. We put the paper together long-distance when she was in Europe a couple of years ago, so this should (hopefully) be no problem. I also covered an event for The SPURR called Aboriginal Health on the Park. It lasted all week and was part education, part cultural. I even ran into one of my BMC News volunteers, who was volunteering there. Here are my pictures.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Leaving Us Behind? Some Thoughts On Messianic Judaism

I originally published the following essay in three parts when I was the Editor of the Judaism topic section of BellaOnline.com. The piece stayed online for a while after the site was taken over by a new Editor, but has since dropped off the Internet. It made readers think and I got a lot of positive feedback from it on both sides of the equation, so I have decided to post it again here, with a few very minor edits. A few years have passed since I wrote this, but my view stays the same. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew and we should be allowed to believe whatever we want.

What I am about to say is going to make me very, very unpopular.

Over the past several years I have been reading a lot about the work of Jews for Judaism, and other so-called “anti-missionary” groups. These groups exist to bring Jewish people back into the fold of Judaism, from cults and other religious affiliations, particularly Christianity. They have extensive Web sites and send out lots of literature warning against the spiritual dangers of “Messianic Judaism,” which they say are really churches that use Jewish trappings to lure unsuspecting Jewish people away from Judaism and into Christianity. They answer theological questions, aiming to shoot down Christian doctrines and beliefs. Sometimes, they even go so far as to say that Jews who are involved in Christianity are no longer Jewish, and should no longer call themselves thus. Messianic Judaism is described as being just another Christian denomination that is deceptive and heinous, because of its use of Jewish liturgy, symbols, and holidays.

But are Christian missionary groups really as much of a threat against the future of Judaism as Jews for Judaism and other such groups think? And is Messianic Judaism as insidious and sneaky as they portray it to be?

I say no.

Jews leaving Judaism and converting to other religions for perceived social status or marriage is nothing new. It has happened throughout history, but is occurring more frequently in recent decades because some young (and not so young) Jewish people are finding little spiritually edifying in Judaism, either due to lack of education or having negative associations with Judaism from anti-Semitism or unsatisfying experiences while growing up. A few Jewish holidays thrown together haphazardly, going to the synagogue once or twice a year on the High Holidays (if at all after one’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah), and no talk about G-d or spiritual matters does not a positive Jewish experience make.

The Rabbis talk about a spark that resides within the soul of every Jewish person. This pintele yid causes one to yearn for a deeper relationship with the Almighty. If they are not getting it from their immediate Jewish surroundings, they will search for it elsewhere.

Christianity is a logical turning point, since much of Jesus’ teachings come from out of the Torah, and because, at least for those of us in Western societies, it surrounds us in our culture. When a Jewish person gets involved in evangelical, Protestant Christianity (and even Catholicism, although some people have compared Catholicism and Judaism because of the emphasis on ritual), he or she often sheds their Jewish identity and heads into church life like it is newfound gold.

This, of course, is very sad. Whenever a Jewish person gives up their Jewish identity, it is pitiful. However, Christianity, which anti-missionary groups spend most of their energy and funds targeting, is not the only religious alternative for unsatisfied Jews – nor is it the most common one.

In fact, I read a statistic a while back that one in four Buddhists were originally Jewish. Jews are involved in cults, Eastern religions, Wicca, Ba’hai, atheism, or retreat from religion altogether, at an alarming rate. Another scary statistic that I came across is that every day, approximately 700 people in the United States who originally identified religiously with Judaism (for the sake of the point I am trying to make, we’ll consider someone Jewish if they considered themselves Jewish in the first place, and not on their biological parentage) convert to another religion.

Yet we do not hear about great efforts to bring Jews back from atheism, or from Buddhism. Nor we do we hear Rabbis crying geschrei gevalt and declaring such persons no longer Jewish.

Then, there are those Jewish people who have declared that they believe Jesus is the Messiah, but continue to call themselves Jews and practice Judaism. These are the Messianic Jews. They object to the term Christian, believing the word to hold specific Western cultural concepts that come out of paganism.

In many ways, Messianic Judaism is very much like the early church, which consisted mostly of Jewish people who chose to follow Jesus and his teachings. Here is a very concise and over-simplified history of Messianic Judaism. The great split between Judaism and Christianity occurred when the Emperor Constantine declared Rome a Christian society in the 3rd century. He ordered Jewish believers to either give up their Jewish traditions join what ultimately became the Roman Catholic Church, or to return to the traditional synagogues, where they were harassed for their beliefs. As a result, believers in Jesus who were openly Jewish basically disappeared until movements such as "Jews for Jesus" in the 1960’s and the Jesus People of the 1970’s came about.

There are now Messianic congregations all over the world. Most of them use a Siddur (and use a traditional Artscroll one at that), follow the Jewish calendar and observe all of its holidays, do not recognize Christmas or Easter, and encourage adherents to follow Torah commandments and be an active part of the Jewish community.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a Reform rabbi in England and widely-published author on a variety of Jewish issues, wrote a book a few years back, simply entitled Messianic Judaism. He investigated the movement and came to the conclusion that those involved with the Messianic Judaism who are indeed Jewish, should be considered part of the Jewish community and the movement itself as another branch of Judaism – in other words, as another expression of Judaism, just like Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform.

I agree with him. As someone who has studied both Christianity and Messianic Judaism for the past several years, I have found that the Messianic community strives to get Jews who believe in Jesus out of mainstream churches and into their congregations, where they are encouraged to maintain Jewish customs and identity. In fact, some Jewish people who are fleeing from who they are, rather than seeking an expression of their faith in a Jewish context, find Messianic congregations to be “too Jewish” for their comfort zone.
According to Jewish law, if someone is born a Jew, he or she dies a Jew. For anyone, even Orthodox rabbis, to declare someone who espouses beliefs that differ from their own, as being not Jewish, is in direct violation with Jewish law. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that a certain proportion of the Orthodox rabbinic community declared Jews who are Conservative or Reform to not be Jewish.

And why is it that the far greater number of Jews who leave Judaism altogether either for total assimilation in the secular world, or in Buddhism, or in the multitude of other places where Jewish people hide themselves, are still considered Jewish? This is a question that has never been answered to my satisfaction. While history shows a volatile and often tragic relationship between Jews and Christians, the fact remains that the first “Christians” were actually Jewish, and never stopped considering themselves thus or being recognized by the local rabbinic authorities as such.

As far as being deceptive and using Jewish trappings to “snare” unsuspecting Jewish people, I can only speak from my own experiences. Messianic congregations tend to be open about who they are and what they stand for. They use Jewish symbols to express their Jewish affiliation (for those adherents who are Jewish) or admiration and love of Judaism and Israel (for those adherents who are gentile). They celebrate Jewish holidays, follow Torah commandments, and worship on Saturday because they feel they are keeping in accord with Biblical accuracy and living a lifestyle the way Jesus did. The tragedy of how the church ended up straying for its Jewish roots is fodder for another essay.

The people who I know who are Messianic do not go storming the local synagogues trying to round up converts. The ones who are gentile do not pretend they are Jewish to fool people. They donate more money to Jewish and Israeli causes than many of the mainstream Jewish organizations and synagogues locally, and take part in community events. While many adherents are gentile-born, many others are halachically Jewish or have a traceable Jewish lineage. They are Jewish people who happen to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and consider the New Testament to be divinely inspired. These are not traditional Jewish beliefs, but then again, neither is the acceptance of intermarriage or the ability to pick and choose which commandments to observe, as is commonly taught in Reform. And frankly, thanks to the rise of intermarriage, many synagogues, particularly the more liberal ones, are filled with gentiles also.

These are people who, unlike those who accept Christianity not only in terms of faith but also of culture and assimilate into a church, are serious about remaining Jewish. Far more of a threat to Jewish continuity are those Jews who seek to disappear from Judaism, in their own lives and future generations. Whether they do this through intermarriage, conversion, or just deciding that they no longer want anything to do with Judaism, the result is the same. It is better to be a Jew who is for Jesus than a Jew who is for nothing.

As a result, anti-missionary organizations would do better to pursue Jewish people who are assimilated, disenfranchised, and disillusioned. The Christian groups who target Jewish people for conversion would not have much of a chance if the Jewish people they targeted had positive, enriching Jewish experiences to begin with. As a Messianic pastor once said to me, “if you want them to stay, give them a reason to stay.”

Jews convert to other religions and philosophies rather than Christianity or Messianic Judaism at a far greater rate, with worse consequences. Messianic Judaism is not the pariah that anti-missionary groups make it out to be. If the movement and its adherents are accepted by the mainstream Jewish community, those involved who are halachically Jewish will remain part of the community and ultimately part of Judaism.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Huge Weekend in the Heart of the City

One of the first festivals of the season took place this past Sunday. Heart of the City is a family-oriented music and art festival that has been going strong six years running. On Sunday, June 7, Giovanni Caboto Park was transformed into a place of non-stop local music, art displays, food, face painting, and wellness. In order to take part in the festival, musicians have to live, work, or volunteer in the inner city. I performed as part of the Song Circle for the third year running. The wonderful Mary Rankin hosted the circle again, and we were joined by a newcomer to the festival, Theresa Lightfoot.

We took turns playing original songs, and when one of us was performing the other two of us accompanied on percussion. I also did my stick juggling thing during the drum circle. Other wonderful acts included Painting With Ella (I cannot believe these girls are only in their mid-teens!), People's Poets, Steven Johnson and his slapping 12-string, Locution Revolution, Brothers Grim, and so many more. Here are some photos from the event. For videos, check out the YouTube channel for Boyle McCauley News. And, as for me, here we go:

The reason Heart of the City was on a Sunday this year was so as not to conflict with the McCauley Community Clean Up, also a major event in that area. Dozens of volunteers drove through the neighbourhood, collected garbage, unloaded, filled large bins, helped direct traffic, answer questions, and otherwise make sure the event went smoothly. Here are some photos.

Also taking place downtown over the weekend was the largest stret hockey tournament in the world. More than 300 teams competed as the area around Churchill Square was turned into a series of small rinks. All ages and skill levels were presented. Here are the photos.

I was so tired on Monday, I could barely stand for lengthy periods of time! However, on Tuesday I was ready to get energized by a quick trip back to Fort Edmonton. Since I have a pass, I may as well make use of it! As a result, my photo set for Fort Edmonton is expanding.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

BMC News - June 2009

The June issue of Boyle McCauley News is now online - here is a look at some of the contents:

VOLUME 30 NUMBER 5 - June, 2009

* Eagle Staff Transfer Ceremony at Bissell Centre
* Frank Rossi: A Man of Honour
* Local Artist Profiles
* Arts Organizations in Our Community
* Community League Updates
* Learning for Life
* McCauley Revitalization Update
* Cop’s Corner
* Art Makes Medicine Better at U of A Hospital

You can download the entire issue in PDF format here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Weekend Adventures 2

This past weekend was not quite as hectic as the previous one, but there was still a lot of things to see and do.

I visited the Monster Garage Sale held by the Unitarian Church of Edmonton. A lot of the good stuff got picked out on the Friday, but there was still a lot of things there, particularly books. I controlled myself though - my place is too cluttered as it is.

My companion who took me to the garage sale was commemorating the anniversary of a family member's passing, and since we were in the north part of the city I accompanied him to the cemetery so he could pay his respects. I find cemeteries strangely eerie and beautiful at the same time.

Off to the South Side. I hung out on Whyte for a while, enjoying a meal at Cafe Mosaic (tofu scramble with fake-bacon) and stopping by the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market and Royal Bison Craft and Art Fair. Then, I had supper at Brewster's, with a dish on their new menu - chicken with a mushroom/beer sauce. It reminded me of coq au vin.

Sunday was extremely windy, but I rode my bike downtown anyways (and almost had my helmet blown off) to attend a celebration surrounding the recent election in El Salvador. The music was fantastic, and ethnic Salvadoran food was available. I spent some time in my office checking out Boyle McCauley News' new distribution box that we are hoping to get on the street in the very near future.

Riding home was a bit tricky because of the wind, and also with the realization that the area on my bike seat that was worn through was ripping my pants. A sweetie came to the aid of this damsel in distress, loaded my bike in his van, and got me to Western Cycle where I got a new seat (installed this afternoon) and also some handlebar grips (mine are ripping off).

I'll be posting a few photos on my Flickr site soon.