Class. Grew up on the west side of Vancouver, where the rich folks live now. But when I lived there, it was middle-middle class, a very stable and beautiful and leafy part of Vancouver, which in fact it still is.
Graphic credit: Cliff Caprani
Now, of course, I am a traitor to my class of origin, since I live in East Vancouver. However, I do notice the creeping gentrification of East Van, meaning that my class of origin is coming to reclaim me.
Race: some theorists say that there is no such thing, that we are all just part of the human race, which works for me. Ancestrally, I have English, Scottish, Irish and Dutch forbears, all of which places me firmly in the Caucasian category, although like most Caucasians I have never been to the Caucasus.
Gender: male, and probably somewhere close to the middle of the Kinsey continuum. It’s been an interesting journey, being male in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Some moments come to mind: getting beaten up at camp when I was 13 because I was bookish, and didn’t conform to the young-athletic-brutal model of early teenage masculinity; getting married late for my generation (29), partly at least because of the ambivalence of the church (I was ordained at 24) around issues of sexuality; in midlife, having been (like most clergy) a “mother’s son” up to that point, becoming more sympathetic to my father and exploring what masculinity had meant for him; finding myself at 50 without “a house, a car and some decent clothes”–an actual quotation from my father, and thereby recognizing my distance from the lifestyle of the classic bourgeois male; and currently, happy enough with where I am on whatever scale of masculinity I might care to use to measure it, and simultaneously with no desire to do so.
Education: lots, not all of it useful. (I think here of Mark Twain’s comment that he had no intention of letting his schooling interfere with his education.) Did an English degree at UBC (should have done Classics or modern languages); an MDiv (Master of Divinity, pastoral), first two years at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, with a finishing year at General Seminary in NYC; a ThM (Master of Theology, academic) at Trinity College in Toronto; and then the PhD at the University of St Michael’s College at U of T–because the U of T PhD which I had been assured would start in 1973 didn’t get going until 1976.
Politics. In terms of Canada, committed to support any political party which manifests a real concern for the well-being of all sectors of society. I am happy to revise now what I said when I first wrote this posting about five years ago. Then, I said, only the NDP, and then only very partially, matches that description. Its virtual silence, however, on the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014 moved me to write to the NDP’s national office and suspend my membership. I then said that for the time being, I would support the Green Party, which I still do in principle. However, in the federal election of October 2015, Canada took a mighty leap forward with the election of a Liberal majority government under Justin Trudeau. In the first few weeks of his administration, he reversed or cancelled many of the most egregious acts of Lord Voldemort/Steven Harper. So I was ready to support the new government, *and* work with others to hold it accountable both to its election promises and to the emerging needs of the nation. Since then, of course, I have experienced disappointment as the government has struggled with the realpolitik of governing. Provincially, I rejoiced in May 2017 in the narrow victory won by the agreement of the NDP and the Green Party to work together. That government has already kept a number of its campaign promises; may it long so continue.
Globally, I am focussing my energy on supporting the movement to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. After working on this issue since 2008, I am increasingly convinced that the ending of the occupation is the best thing that could happen for Israel as well as for Palestine. I see the failure of the 2014 talks as a positive thing, because it turned public attention to alternatives. Paradoxically, even perversely, I see good coming out of the Gaza war (2008-09), in that Israel’s paranoia became more and more evident to the international community. Again paradoxically, I welcome the re-election of hypocrite and war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu, because as many commentators have made clear, his re-election makes clear that there is no hope from his government for the two-state solution, which the other leading party might have fudged. I hope that the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) will through international support have the same effect in Israel, manifestly now an apartheid state, that the similar movement did for South Africa. Donald Trump tells us that he can’t see why he couldn’t resolve this conflict in short order, one of the most ignorant comments of his administration to date.
Donald Trump having found his way into this conversation, let me send him quickly on his way by offering my hope that he will not fill out his four years as president. The angry exchanges he is carrying on with Kim Jong-un are terrifying. I can only hope that those around him will sooner rather than later find ways of constraining or containing him. One spiritual task for all of us at this time is not to let him take up too much space in our consciousness; another is to be sure that we tell those whom we love that we love them.
Religious/spiritual: I’m a post-denominational Anglican, and an interfaith-oriented Christian. My watchword here comes from philosopher Ken Wilber: include and transcend. I do affirm within this framework that Jesus is the man–the archetypal man of the west, as Jung says, and the prime resource of the church as it morphs from fortress church through emerging church to pilgrim church, from church stuck to church on the move. I also affirm that Thomas Merton is the contemporary spiritual guide best equipped to lead us into the ways of compassion, justice and peace. His being named by Pope Francis in his address to the US Congress in September 2015 brought his name to the attention of millions who had never previously heard of him; and this can only be to the good.
Prognosis. I have an incurable lung condition, fibrotic non-specific interstitial pneumonia. I am on oxygen 24/7, and there is someone with me 24/7 as well (two, counting God!). My friend Adrian maintains a calendar . . .
. . . through which friends sign up to sit with me. I am profoundly grateful to all of them for the support they are giving me. If you want to do a sit with me, access the calendar, choose an empty slot that works for you, and then email Adrian (firstname.lastname@example.org), who will slot you in.
When I came home in January after my fourth hospitalization, I started on a medication regimen which has kept me stable. It was thought then that I had three months or so to live–and that was seven months ago. It looks like I will live longer than I or anyone else thought I was going to. My son Jonathan, who lives with me, and is my prime caregiver, and I are therefore working at doing a reset. Stay tuned for what this will look like.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).