Honour Winnipeg’s Water Source

I’ve never had to think about where my water comes from; whether it is safe, or if I even have it readily available to me. In Winnipeg, our water comes from the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, who have themselves been under a boil water advisory since 1997.

Honour the Source is a great resource for understanding and supporting Shoal Lake 40:

The community has an answer to this problem, one it considers essential to their survival and viability as a people: ‘Freedom Road’

It’s SL40’s name for a new, all-weather access road. Total construction costs: $30 million. Both the City and the Province of Manitoba support the road project, and have committed matching funds: the only hold-out is Ottawa, which refuses to invest the final $10 million.

The best time to stop Harper—and his government’s inconceivable refusal to lifting Shoal Lake 40’s 18 year long boil water advisory—is now. Since the Conservative Party assholes won’t do anything, you can

Digital Archives as Justice

Yesterday’s digital archives post may have been a bit heady and lacking in a lot of real-world grounding other than the possible notion of studying a famous author after he or she died. Basically, how do we let the records of our life live beyond us? Or, more modestly: how can we ensure that they survive while we’re still alive?

Here’s a more concrete story: I have a friend named Greg.1. He’s been on and off the street for the last few years after his long-term partner Geena2 died. Greg’s only photos of Geena were on his cell phone, which was probably whatever cheapest feature phone that MTS had at the time. Greg had been having some trouble with his phone, and in the process of MTS fixing it or transferring him to a new phone, Greg lost all of his photos of Geena in the world.

This is why archival needs to be unconscious, and by default. It’s because Greg is forgetting what Geena really looked like. It’s because just as computing has become even more accessible, it has become even more magical,3 particularly to the poor and the marginalized. Reliable digital archives aren’t just a matter of intellectual preservation or perpetuation; they’re a justice issue.

  1. Not his real name. 
  2. Also not her real name. 
  3. In the sense that any particularly advanced technology becomes indistinguishable from magic, particularly for folks coming at it from a socio-economic deficit. 

Justice Begins in the Negative

My initial thoughts towards the Occupy Wall Street movement were like lots of people: “Okay, I see that you’re mad about something, but do you have anything constructive to say?” It seemed as though they were against the rubbish financial system, but what else?

We always want critique to be constructive rather than filled with inarticulate rage. And yet, maybe it’s too much to expect that immediately. Kester Brewin helped me see the problem with this:

[I]t is part of the corruption of power to insist that any protest or critique against the dominant system comes fully formed. When you’re being beaten down, it is entirely valid to simply scream in frustration, without any idea what changes need to be made. – Don’t Blame Bankers | What Alternatives Are ‘Occupy’ Proposing?

Spot on.

The Violent Fantastic Imagination

I am a card-carrying fantasy nerd. Nerds such as I were highly anxious when we heard that Peter Jackson was adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s sacrosanct Lord of the Rings trilogy into movie form. The high praise given to Jackson’s adaptation from nerdy sources was largely due to relief that he hadn’t botched it like we’d feared.

I am also a fairly stereotypical fantasy nerd in that I harbour dreams (read: delusions, we’re good at those) of some day writing my own fantasy epic that will force me to modestly turn aside comparisons to Tolkien’s great work. Of course I couldn’t compare to him (but thanks for stroking my creative ego).

But, as I’ve collected notes and ideas towards a half-dozen or so possible stories, I’ve been increasingly stymied by the fact that most standard tropes within high fantasy (wizards, castles, etc.) are about redemptive violence. The truly good, just, and heroic in this regard are those who  wield violence against evil judiciously and courageously, as opposed to the indiscriminate and capricious methods of those who use it evilly.

Aragorn stands as an excellent example of a courageous wielder of the sword against evil. Unlike the corruptible Boromir, Aragorn takes no pleasure in violence and will only exercise his well-honed martial skills when righteousness and the greater good demands it. He seeks no glory for himself, as opposed to Boromir, who can think of little else.

This is all deeply problematic for someone such as myself who is committed to Christian nonviolence. I am highly critical that anything that justifies human violence in terms of righteousness, justice or holiness. I believe that the Cross is God’s final judgement on our sordid history of violence, as there we went so far as to attempt to destroy the very source of our being in the name of righteousness.

Now, the subversion of violence and the exaltation of self-sacrificial love in the mode of the Cross is not without precedent in the fantasy genre. Frodo defeats Sauron not through combat, but rather through a journey based on friendship, self-sacrifice, and a steadfast commitment to doing what’s right and true in the face of seemingly certain defeat. But this is after many battles and much bloodshed that is largely cast in an heroic light. Some subversion of violence is better than none, but why must nonviolence so often be portrayed as an option to be considered when all violent options have been exhausted and deemed ineffective?

To further compound matters, those who resist war and desire peace in the fantasy genre are largely portrayed as non-virtuous weasels who are weak and deluded at best, and—more often—collaborators with the enemy at worst. To stick with the Lord of the Rings examples, Wormwood is one who bewitches King Theoden to desire “peace,” but this is only because of his allegiance to the enemy wizard Saruman. In the fantasy genre, the virtuous are those who have the will to kill the enemy. The exception to this is the Hobbits, who are mostly romantically portrayed as those for whom violence is not an option that would be conceived.

I do not pretend to be an expert on all matters fantastical. I’m sure there are many examples of fantasy that call violence into question and present nonviolence as more than an option to be considered when all violent means have been exhausted. I commend them, wherever they may be labouring in obscurity. But they have not yet made a dent in the genre as a whole, and they likely will not, for it seems that the fantasy genre merely mirrors humanity’s pathological exaltation of violence as the right means for the right people. I will continue to do all that I feebly can to be a part of the people with enough imagination to dream—and write—otherwise, God help us.

A Biblical Economic Vision

Drawing heavily on the work of Walter Brueggemann, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh have the following to say about a biblical economic vision:

A covenantal/prophetic perspective “holds that the haves and the have-nots are bound in community to each other, that viable life depends upon the legitimate respect, care and maintenance of the have-nots and upon the restraint of the haves so that the needs and rights of the disadvantaged take priority over the yearnings of the advantaged.” There is nothing naïve or romantic about this economic vision. Classical economic theory is correct: humans are self-interested, indeed, deeply selfish creatures. But rather than take that as a normative given for economic life, a biblical vision responds to such selfishness by prioritizing the needs of the poor and restraining the acquisitive appetites of the rich. Otherwise, the poor will always be oppressed, and the rich will continue to rule with an agenda of privatization and legal structures that protect their rights of profit. Against such privatization, a covenental/prophetic vision of economic life “regards property as a resource for the common good, as a vehicle for the viability of a whole society, as the arena for the development of public responsibility and public compassion.” And when responsibility and compassion become public, they take the shape of justice.

Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 142.

Ecclesiastical Imagination

church and sky by Flickr user omarrun

As a critical person, I have to remember that the point of criticism is always to build something better, and that criticizing what’s wrong is only one step in the journey. The church is quite often a target of this criticism (and rightly so), yet I have been trying to exercise my imagination of what a faithful church might look like. Towards that end, I imagine that a faithful church might:

  • not have a bank account
  • have members going to jail regularly because of faithfulness
  • be active in developing their local economy
  • not have a parking lot
  • not have a building
  • be too unstructured for people used to hierarchy
  • be too rigid for those who treasure “freedom”

Anyone have any others to add to the list of imaginative possibilities?