Category Archives: Culture

Hot takes and social media blurbs don’t lead to understanding.

I think my new approach to many of the issues of our day is going to be to reserve judgment until I know more, and I encourage you, reader, to do the same.

We can’t take our cues from hot takes and scare words on social media. We don’t gain understanding that way. That is the way of reactivity. And we should be cautious about taking one person’s word for it on any subject, especially if they are already in our “camp” and even more especially if they aren’t qualified to comment.

Instead, read widely and deeply about the things the world is talking about—not necessarily to get on board, but to try to understand different perspectives, to think more critically about them (which is not the same as criticizing or rejecting them), and to develop some empathy for those with a different point of view than yours. If, for example, you don’t know what “cultural Marxism” or “critical race theory” is or you wonder about “social justice”, then don’t use those words as if you do know what they mean. And if the only place you’ve learned something about those things is on social media, then you still don’t know what those things are well enough to have an informed opinion or to comment on them.

I include myself in the category of not knowing enough. So, for example, I have bought an introductory book about critical race theory. I bought it not because I’m on board with the idea, but because I want to have a deeper understanding of it so that I can make an accurate assessment of it—one based on knowledge rather than fear and/or sound bites and/or misinformation. I need to approach this subject and any other with an open mind (I might learn something), humility (I might be wrong), and with a critical eye (are there gaps or problems in this argument?). I may accept it or reject it or something in between, but I can’t do that until I’ve sought to understand it below the surface of what we see bandied about online.

And above all, I need to remember that while technically these things are abstract ideas, it is human beings who hold these views and human beings who are affected by acceptance or rejection of these views. So love and gentleness need to be the key ingredient in my thinking about and engaging these ideas.

I’d like that to be my approach for any number of words and ideas that are being thrown around social media and the news these days. But I only have so much time and energy, so I will do what I can, and for the rest I will say, “I reserve judgment until I know more about it.” That might mean I’ll never know enough about something to have an informed opinion about it. And that’s okay, too. We don’t need to have an opinion about everything and we certainly don’t need to share an opinion on social media about everything.

Information and understanding are not the same thing.

Another one I first posted to Facebook:

How to Read a Book was written in the 1940s and revised in the early 1970s. On the first page, it says this, which seems just as relevant today as it would have been then, and probably more so:

“…it may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communication media [television and radio…and today we would add social media and the internet] has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.

“Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and in so far as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.

“One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think”.

~ from How to Read a Book: by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren

Are we losing our ability to see?

(For my one remaining reader: I wrote a post in July on the WordPress iPhone app. It was written when we were staying in a cabin north of Estes Park, Colorado. The cabin is 8200ft+ [~2500m] above sea level. The post was a riveting reflection on making a proper cup of tea in relation to boiling point at various altitudes. Alas, there was a problem with the app and the post is lost forever.)

There is quite a bit being written these days (if you’re looking in the right places) about how conversation is becoming a lost art in our society, particularly for younger generations. Conversation’s demise usually linked to increased use of smart technology and social media. I think there’s good reason to believe that we are losing our ability to speak with others. But today I wondered if we are—I should probably say, if I am—losing our ability to see as well.

I don’t mean this simply in the sense of not noticing our surroundings because we’re always on a device, though that’s part of it. I mean it in the sense of wondering if we’re training ourselves to glance, to glimpse, and then move on, without ever fully appreciating what we see.

In order to visit my family in British Columbia, we have to drive through the Rocky Mountains. I’m often frustrated when in our hurry to arrive at our destination we don’t (or aren’t able to) take the time to stop in the mountains to breathe deeply and really take in the amazing beauty of the mountains. We try to do this when we have time (though we could make time even if we feel that we don’t) with a walk along a river or a hike into the mountains, but even then we’re always moving and our final destination is always in mind. I can’t remember the last time I simply stood and observed and took in the beauty around me for more than a few seconds. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that.

What does traveling through the mountains have to do with this? Only this: I’m talking about taking time to see and take in. I was on Instagram at lunch today, where I follow a couple of accounts that post pictures of small-town and rural England. They post beautiful pictures of rolling countryside and quaint villages. I love these images, especially the ones of the countryside. But here’s what I do: I scroll, I glance at the photo, I double-tap to like, and I move on. I rarely really look or perhaps gaze at the image. I realize it’s only a picture, but there’s something significant about just scrolling past with only a brief sense of “that’s nice” and a feeling of appreciation, but rarely, if ever, actively appreciating the image with a longer look.

I see it in myself and others in the endless photo-taking and selfies when we’re at some beautiful spot—the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Great Plains, wherever it may be. We seem to spend more time looking at the world through our cameras than at the world itself. Years ago I gave up filming and photographing my children’s choirs and bands at school, because I didn’t want to keep watching these personal events through my camera (I leave the film work to Dixie now, who doesn’t mind.) I love photography and would like to pursue it more, but often it turns the world into something to be consumed by my camera and a rapid succession of stills, without actually making an attempt to simply appreciate the living, breathing, moving wonders of the world. I imagine photography should start with the appreciative gaze and only after that should I frame up the picture.

What am I losing in training my mind to glance and move on? What will this do to my understanding of the world around me, or even my sense of what’s real in an increasingly digitized world? What will this do to my sense of what it means to truly appreciate or even love something or someone?

I’m not sure I’ll ever think I’ve taken it in enough, whether it’s nature or a photograph, so maybe I’ll always be frustrated. But it can’t hurt to pursue the gaze, the meditation, and appreciating creation a bit more.

Marc’s Jamie’s Food Revolution Food Revolution, Recipes 2, 3 & 4

I’m a couple of days behind on my Jamie’s Food Revolution Food Revolution. You’ll note I’ve changed the count to recipes rather than days, since I won’t be cooking every day of the month. There won’t be 30 of these, at least not in May alone. And some days I will cook something not in his cookbook.

1. On Monday night I cooked Jamie’s Pot-Roast Meatloaf. It went well: mixed up the beef with onions, cracker powder, olive oil and a number of other spices. The meat loaf was delicious–a success!

There is a sauce that goes with the meatloaf, made with onions, garbanzo beans (chick peas), and diced tomatoes, among other things. It was also delicious, except for one hiccup: the chili. The recipe called for 1/2-1 fresh chili pepper, according to taste. I was not able to acquire a chili pepper, so I went with what I’ve been told is the next best thing: chili in a tube (essentially chili paste). The tube contains the equivalent of five chilis, but it’s hard to measure 1/5-1/10 a chili’s worth of paste when it’s in a squeeze tube. I thought I did well, but I overshot (or I don’t know the power of a chili).

The kids made a lot of faces, complained, plugged their noses as they ate. Dixie thought it was too spicy as well. I thought it was quite good–no hotter than, say, Pace medium salsa. Our guest (Rick) also enjoyed it.

The sauce is prepared while the roast beef cooks in the oven. When the roast beef is done, you pour all the juices from it over a small bowl of fresh rosemary leaves and mix well.  The sauce is spooned around the roast beef. Then 12 (!) strips of bacon are laid over the roast beef and sauce and the rosemary is sprinkled over the bacon. A delicious combination! This is then put back in the oven for 15 minutes.

Problem: I had put the roast beef in too small a dish. I didn’t think to transfer it to something larger until after I started spooning in the sauce, so I didn’t (I don’t know why–I could have transferred it without much trouble). This meant I could not spoon in all the sauce, but that wasn’t such a big deal. The bigger deal: I could only put on 4 or 5 strips of bacon. But it tasted great nevertheless. 12 strips of bacon may have been too much (not possible!) and overpowered the roast beef.

Delicious, in spite of some of the “mistakes.” I’ll cook this one again.

2. For lunch on Tuesday I made the “evolution cucumber salad”. Cucumbers, fresh cilantro (replacement for the fresh mint the recipe called for), olive oil (Jamie loves his olive oil!), yoghurt, salt, pepper, chili, etc. The “evolved” version of the salad called for black olives, but I did not have any. The salad was good, but I thought it needed something extra. I suspect the black olives would have done the trick.

Next time I would have the black olives and I would reduce the olive oil significantly (simply because there was too much waste).

3. Yesterday I planned to make the sweet and sour pork stir fry, but I discovered too late that the basmati rice that goes with the recipe needs to be soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to cooking (according to the package instructions), so I decided to make his “cracking good burger” instead.

It was a delicious burger, but I fear the British–or at least Jamie Oliver–do not know what a burger is (with all due respect to Toni and the British!). I mean, the basic ingredients were there and they tasted good. What was missing was size. The recipe said it would serve six. Six kids, maybe, but certainly not six Canadian adults. The patties were tiny. I would certainly make these burgers again, but maybe add somewhere between 50% and 100% more beef to each patty.

4. Tonight I make the sweet and sour pork.

The Eagle & Child Presents: Marc’s Jamie’s Food Revolution Food Revolution Month, Day 1

Dixie is taking a course or two this month. I told her that I would start cooking in May and to that end, I acquired a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Food Revolution, which Joel tells me was actually revolutionary for his cooking. So May is Marc’s Jamie’s Food Revolution Food Revolution Month.

I’m not sure if I’m cooking supper every night, but today–May 1–was the first day. It was kind of a last minute decision as I hadn’t given it much thought beforehand. In fact, I had given it none. So I decided to make the Classic Tomato Spaghetti. Easy peasy.

First lesson learned: plan the thing beforehand. Usually when I cook, I don’t use a recipe. I did read the recipe and instructions through for this one, but promptly forgot (or ignored) them.

First problems: ingredients. The recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic, 1 fresh red chili, a small bunch of fresh basil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, spaghetti, olive oil, diced tomatoes, Parmesan cheese. Unfortunately, I did not have any of the fresh options. Instead, I had to go with freeze-dried garlic, chili powder, basil-in-a-tube (which was actually dill, so I went with dried basil), and kosher salt.

Further Problems: The garlic, which was to be browned, I promptly burned because I realized I didn’t have the tubed basil and I still needed to open the can of diced tomatoes. That garlic browns quickly! (I was told afterwards that freeze-dried garlic does not need to be browned.)

(I must have been frazzled by this. I just told Olivia  to get her soccer things on, but when I turned to look at her, I discovered I was addressing a pillow.)

Then I threw in random amounts of chili powder and basil and dumped in the diced tomatoes. Also, I cooked a random amount of spaghetti, which turned into an unfortunately high spaghetti-to-sauce ratio.

I guess it tasted okay, but probably more burnt, artificial, and weakly flavoured than Jamie would have it. I’d call it a failure, but everyone ate it without complaining.

The next meal will be planned in advance.

The Myth of Individualism

I came across this in the introduction to William Willimon’s Pastoral Theology. It’s written in the context of church life, but it has universal application:

We work within a culture of rugged individualists and fragmented communities. We are officially schooled in the notion that we are most fully ourselves when we are liberated, autonomous, on our own. We live under the modern myth that it is possible, even desirable, to live our lives without external, social determination. Ironically, that we think it desirable to live our lives without external, social determination is proof that our lives have been externally, socially determined by the culture of capitalist consumption. I did not on my own come up with the notion that I am a sovereign individual who has no greater purpose in life than to live exclusively for myself. Rather, this culture has formed me to believe that I have no other purpose in life other than the purpose I myself have chosen. The irony is that I did not choose the story that I have no purpose in life other than that which I have  chosen.

The issue is not, Shall I be externally determined by some community of interpretation or authorization? This issue is, Which community will have its way with my life?

It’s a bit wordy, but nevertheless well said.

Islam and Current Events

Today was the first day of a week-long class called “Islam and Current Events” (interesting timing with the death of Osama bin Laden). It was very stimulating. The professor (Dr. Nabeel Jabbour–from off-campus) noted that there are two sides of the coin in terms of what is presented regarding Islam and the Middle East. Muslims get one side; the West gets another. One of the aims of the course is for us to get the side we don’t normally hear.

Joel noted accurately that pretty much everything he said today is new material. It was all very interesting, but what was of particular interest to me was trying to understand Islam from a Muslim point-of-view.

Christians normally approach the topic with what they assume is a direct-correspondence approach: compare our guy and their guy, our scriptures and their scriptures. They have Muhammad, we have Jesus; they have the Qur’an, we have the Bible. We make the connections, assuming their figure and scripture are analogous to ours, and think we understand Islam.

Dr. Jabbour argued that this kind of comparison does not, in fact, work to understand Islam. Christians won’t understand Islam if they assume the same thing about Muhammad and the Qur’an as Christians do about Jesus and the Bible. It’s not simply a matter of saying, the Qur’an is their authoritative book, just like the Bible is our authoritative book.

In fact, the comparisons that work–that is, the views that we could say are analogous between the two religions–are quite unexpected. Here are the main ones we discussed:

1. We  cannot directly compare Jesus and Muhammad. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal, uncreated word of God. Muslims believe nothing of the sort about Muhammad. In Islam, the closest analogy to Jesus is actually the Qur’an, which they believe is the eternal, uncreated word of God.

2. The closest analogy for Muslim belief about Muhammad is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Mary and Muhammad are believed to be passive receivers of the eternal, uncreated word of God–Jesus Christ and the Qur’an, respectively. Mary was a virgin, meaning that Jesus wasn’t simply the result of normal reproductive means. Similarly, Muhammad was illiterate, meaning that he did not just record the words of the Qur’an on his own. Mary was miraculously pregnant; Muhammad received the word of God by dictation, which his photographic memory retained rather like a tape recorder. Both have historically been venerated.

(I’m not interested in discussing critiques of the virgin birth or the dictation theory of the Qur’an. I’m simply highlighting the proper belief-comparison as discussed in class.)

3. The Bible and the Qur’an are not directly comparable either. The 10 Commandments would perhaps be comparable, because they are believed to have been dictated (actually inscribed) by God. Historically, however, Christians have not officially believed in a dictation theory of the Bible (divine inspiration and dictation are not the same thing). The Qur’an, by contrast, is believed by Muslims to have been dictated by God (through the angel Gabriel), so that it is the direct word of God.

The best analogy for the Bible in Islam, then, is their books on the life and teaching of Muhammad. Muhammad made a distinction between the dictated revelations he received and his own teachings, much like Catholics make a distinction between the pope’s ex cathedra statements and his other teachings. The professor didn’t say whether Muslims consider Muhammad’s non-dictated teachings authoritative, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they do.

So, an interesting lesson. It won’t do to simply compare Jesus and Muhammad or the Bible and the Qur’an. The proper analogies are, in fact,

  • The Qur’an and Jesus
  • Muhammad and Mary
  • The Bible and books about Muhammad’s life and teachings

Fascinating stuff.

Notes from the Mobile Home 2: Olympics

I miss the Olympics already.  It was fun to have an “event” that warranted having the TV on during supper.  Not that it’s something to be desired, to have the TV on during supper, but it’s the kind of thing that children remember.  “When the Olympics were on we would watch them during supper.”  Plus, it was nice to have 2-weeks of explicit and unquestioned solidarity with the rest of the nation.

It was strange to not have the TV on today, but probably for the best.  I wouldn’t have completed any work if it had been on.

My assessment of the Olympics:

» The opening ceremonies started with a whimper.  In fact, I was quite afraid that it was going to turn into an embarrassment.  All I remember about the beginning was a video opening of someone heli-snowboarding and then a transition to the stadium where this snowboarder jumped through the Olympic rings as some snow poofed out of them.  I think that was the low point.  Forget the mechanical failure on the indoor “cauldron” (as it happened, that serendipitously turned into a great self-deprecating moment in the closing ceremonies)–the low point was the half-assed poof of snow as the snow-boarder jumped through the rings.  But things picked up from there and it turned into quite an impressive show, full of heart-warming Canadiana. (It reminded me that I must read Who Has Seen the Wind? again soon.)

» Gold medal for Most Awkward Moment of the Entire Olympics games goes to Wayne Gretzky’s bizzare 10 minute ride in the back of a pickup truck, all the while holding the Olympic torch aloft, to get to the Olympic cauldron in order to light it.  An utterly bizarre and poorly planned/executed moment.  At the very least they could have made sure that fans were lining the streets, but they were nearly empty, as I recall.

» Thrilled and frustrated throughout the Olympics with the performance of and results for Canada’s.  Many a tear came to my eye at the medal ceremonies. The men’s hockey team in particular nearly gave me a heart attack with an ulcer attached, wrapped in a bladder infection.  In fact, they nearly shut down my entire body.  But it was all worth it in the end.  I had hoped that Crosby would get the winning goal and he did.  I know next to nothing about him, not having followed hockey closely for some years, but somehow it seemed fitting.  And the assist to Iginla.  Perfect.

» Jay Onrait, incidentally, was a joy to watch and listen to.  I’ve always enjoyed his anchoring work.  Apparently he’s a “d-bag”. That may well be, but I’ll reserve judgment.  If he is, he’s a terribly funny “d-bag”.

» Closing ceremonies were a mixed bag–dull speeches about the triumph of the human spirit spoken in a French which even a newborn could tell was butchered and then a series of humourous, self-deprecating moments (I’m curious to know how non-Canadians interpreted all the voyageurs, inflated beavers, moose and mounties), including fun appearances by William Shatner, Catherine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox.

And then a totally fitting rendition of “Long May You Run” by Neil Young.  In my opinion, “Long May You Run” should have ended the show, but the show went on.

Now, I have nothing personal (other than my tastes) against all the other artists who performed, but what was intended to be a display of Canadian talent ended up mostly being a display of “People Who Were Born in Canada”, the initial message seemingly “Canada: where everyone in search of fame and fortune moves away” or “Canada: We repel our talent”.

The arc of the closing ceremonies went something like this: from world famous people who no longer live in Canada (and some not for decades) to artists who actually live and work in Canada but who are unknown even to Canadians.  Somehow the organizers missed the middle way.

I think for a rock concert in the context of the Olympics, they should have had artists who we might consider our Best Kept Secrets.  In my books that would include the likes of Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, Bruce Cockburn, Brent Butt, Red Green, etc.  (I don’t expect you, dear reader, to agree with my choices.)

At one point I suggested that a performance by The Arcade Fire would redeem the whole thing.  Of course, that means I wish for the very thing I’ve been criticizing.  Or do they still live in Montreal?  Let’s say they do.  At any rate, they did not perform.

In spite of all this, I give the closing ceremonies a (tentative) thumbs up and the Olympics as a whole an enthusiastic thumbs up.

More blustering

Dixie taped me walking home from the library this afternoon.  By that time the snow had stopped blowing around, but the wind was still high.  This video gives you an idea of the drifts that have grown on the road in front of our trailer.  The drift I pat near the end is sitting on the part of the road that had been cleared with a snowblower this morning.  I hope the snowblower comes through again tomorrow morning or Luke won’t be going to preschool.

I was born in the Netherlands and lived there for the first 7 years of my life. The weather there is mild and snow, as I recall, was an occasional treat. But my first winter in Caronport, a small town on the plains of southern Saskatchewan, had me acclimatized to inland Canadian winters. In fact, it was in drifts much like those outside our trailer (possibly bigger) in which my mother worried she’d find me when I disappeared during that first prairie storm we experienced in 1985.

A day like we had today would have shut down towns on Canadian coasts, but we land-locked prairie folk are a hearty people, so those of us who live on campus or in Otterburne across the river bundled up and went to the library to study or to offices to work. The school was effectively closed (all classes cancelled) because travel was simply not safe for commuters coming from Winnipeg, Steinbach, Niverville and other villages in the surrounding areas. With the blowing snow, visibility was extremely low and snow drifts on the highways can be treacherous.

But here’s the thing about Canadian prairie people: I’m fairly certain that many of the staff and students were a little ashamed and frustrated that they let a winter storm keep them housebound. As much as we often pine for our brief summers, we take pride in our harsh, cold winters and our willingness to put on toque, parka and leather mittens and face the blowing snow and wind-chills. These days will some day be recounted with pride and mutual understanding, like soldiers exchanging stories from the battlefield.