Tulips and the meaning of life…

26 02 2013


It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog…partly because I’ve been very busy since moving to Victoria permanently, and partly because I’ve been struggling with why I blog at all. After all, there are plenty of venues for “sharing my life” with others — most of it kid of banal and self-centred. I was thinking about this when I took a picture of some beautiful tulips I bought at a local store — fresh from the fields as Victoria enjoys spring and its gardens come to life. This city is an easy one to enjoy for its beauty and ease of life — no shovelling snow all winter, sidewalks are not ice covered and the beauty of the ocean in its many winter moods is always a delight. It would be easy to be lulled into a stupor of sated hedonism in this beautiful place.

I was brought up short last night, however, after watching a You Tube video shared on Facebook by one of my students after attending a public lecture by Chris Hedges. It was an interview by Bill Moyers with Chris Hedges. Here were two men, excellent journalists and committed social activists (albeit in very different ways) talking about the meaning of faith in the midst of unbearable and ever escalating corporate greed, corruption, suffering, human and resource exploitation, and political arrogance and ineptitude. The question was asked of Hedges, how can your faith exist in such a world and what I took from his response has set me on a path of reflection that I suspect is only beginning.

The context — I grew up in an evangelical Christian home and became a pastor’s wife, but could never come to terms with the questions raised by what seemed to me to be significant inconsistencies within this religious culture to which I had been born. To ask questions of it was tolerated but to come to conclusions outside its ideological positions was definitely not. After a divorce and some time doing graduate work, I met the pastor of my former church in a local deli. His first words to me were, “Where are you going to church now, Janice?” Of all the questions he could have asked — how are your kids? What are you doing with yourself these days? or even the simple greeting, “Good to see you”, would have been welcome — but his inquiry revealed the positioning of those suspected to be outside his system of belief. The only way in which I could become significant again would be to reassert my acceptability by revealing my attendance at a church that signified a “return to the fold” within a sanctioned belief system. I think that was the moment in which I gave up on religion but faith — redefined over time — has remained.

Perhaps that is why I found the interview with Chris Hedges so revealing. His response was that faith is a necessary and singular call to action in the face of a monolithic evil — out of control capitalism — that has created incalculable suffering in this world. Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” when he is arrested along with others who protested the evil actions of Goldman Sachs, it is all that remains when covering the monstrous evil of the Bosnian War, it carries him through the residue of the evil of colonialism and sexism and racism in urban ghettoes, native reservations, the detritus of homes and humans in Louisiana after the floods. Otherwise, he would give up, join the enemy, or commit suicide in the face of it all.

Many of my students (they’re not “mine” but they remain with me in so many ways) who become newly aware of the evils of sexism and racism and homophobia and colonialism and classism and ableism and…in their classes and schools and communities, feel overwhelmed. I watch some of them turn away, others become angry and accuse me of “making this up”, others are temporarily interested and then become enfolded again in the overwhelming ideologies all around them, others find something within themselves and/or in colleagues and friends to enable them to be aware, actively engage with and resist the forces that would marginalize, neglect, and destroy. And many students who have much more knowledge — both personal and academic — than I do or will, teach me so much about their own struggles against oppression and their strategies for resistance.

Now that I’m retired, I could just “enjoy the tulips” from now on. Walks by the ocean and through the park could fill my days with delight. I could ignore what I understand to be the evil in the world — defined so differently now than in my former life — and it would be so easy to do. I could justify it to myself and to others; I’m older, less sure of myself physically, slower and more forgetful. But I am deeply aware, I have more time, and I am in a community that is remarkably active around social issues. I am certainly old enough to realize that the changes that are so necessary for a more just and loving world are not likely to be enacted in my lifetime. But the spring does come, the tulips do blossom, and I hear faint echoes of the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen in children’s laughter, the gentle love between two old women, the activism of young people, the cherry blossoms that are about to burst open, and the fight for justice among Idle No More activists — despite the persistent drumbeats of war, the haunting faces of hunger, the empty rhetoric of politicians, the devastation of the oilsands and coal seams, the effects of a changing climate, and the endless greed of corporate capitalism. I am a part of that devastation — far more than I would like to admit — but I am awake to the possibilities of my choices for others and I am working on becoming wiser. That has become my expression of faith.