Archive for September, 2019

“I need angels,” (St. Michael and All Angels Sermon, September 29th 2019)

All week since learning we were celebrating St. Michael and All Angels, I’ve had the same refrain stuck in my head:

“I need angels, I need angels

I lost my wings, can’t fly

Save me with grace

I need angels, I need angels

I lost my wings, can’t fly

Give me some faith.”

This is from a song by the all-Indigenous roots-rock band, Midnight Shine. The singer, Adrian Sutherland of the Attawapiskat First Nation, wrote the song “I Need Angels” after returning home after his annual spring hunt and discovering there had been a rash of suicides and suicide attempts among the children and young people in the village – almost one per day in the month he had been gone. This is a familiar story in Indigenous communities that exists alongside other manifestations of intergenerational trauma. Suicide rates for Indigenous youth are 5 to 7 times higher than non-Indigenous youth. Among the Inuit, one of the northernmost Indigenous groups in Canada, they are some of the highest in the world at 11 times the national average.

Adrian is candid about his mixed feelings about the song, saying that talking about the issue in the wake of the song’s release is incredibly draining. But then, he says, he will receive a note from someone who talks about how much the song has touched them, or saved them, and it helps him keep going.

Adrian Sutherland of Midnight Shine, walking through the Attawapiskat cemetery

He sings, “There’s a sadness inside of me no one can see / I don’t know how to run away or break these chains / It’s a darkness I don’t want taking my light / it won’t leave me alone like a dark shadow / I need angels, I need angels.”

I mention all of this because newly consecrated Archbishop Mark Macdonald of the self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church and the Anglican Church of Canada put out a call on September 24th for the church to observe four days of prayer, from September 27th to September 30th, which is Orange Shirt Day. On Orange Shirt Day, we remember the children who never came home from residential schools because they died there, or, like 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, died trying to escape. Tomorrow, at 10am EST, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa will read the first known names of children lost to the schools at the Canadian Museum of History, for the first time. All Anglican churches across Canada have been asked to remember these children in prayer at their Sunday service today.

A message from the church to the children who didn’t return home runs as follows,

“Our dear brothers and sisters: We have missed you being with us, so very much and for so long. There have been times when we have cried in loneliness for you.  We have felt hurt and pain, thinking of your suffering. There have been times when we cried to God for you and for justice. Now, we join together to surround you with our very best thoughts and prayers, praying for you and for the very best for you.  We also pray for ourselves, who miss you so, and for the Land, that needs God’s healing. We pray that you would be at rest and peace. We remember you now. We will always remember you.”

There is, of course, a link between these lost children and those lost to suicide. While it is so important to remember the church and state’s sins of the past, we must not believe that the work is done. Indigenous children are also twice as likely to be apprehended by the Ministry of Children and Family Development as non-indigenous children. In one notable case from earlier this year, a newborn infant was seized by family services from the hospital in which it was born. The officers claimed neglect, because the mother was not present with the baby. This was because she was recovering from the anaesthetic from her C-section. There are so many Indigenous children in care that the government cannot even find housing for all of them, and so sometimes teenagers have been housed in hotel rooms alone for months at a time. The work of reconciliation will be the work of many generations, for the damage done was done over many generations.

So what does all of this have to do with angels and Jacob’s ladder?

Most of you may know that the word “angel” means “messenger.” We get our English word from the Greek word “angelos.” The word the Hebrew Bible uses is “malak,” the same word used for human messengers, but we know that angels are different because of the reactions people have to them in the text. The first thing most angels say upon seeing a person is, “Do not be afraid,” which suggests they must be rather frightful, but sometimes they are simply described as “men,” like the three guests who approached Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, or the visitors hosted by Lot at Sodom. Again, we only know they are more than men by the reactions of those who see them: in those cases, extreme hospitality, suggesting that both Lot and Abraham recognized they were more than mortal.

Midnight Shine singer Adrian calls on angels to save him from the dark shadow of depression. Their connection to the divine as messengers of God’s favour makes them a fair candidate for this role. Gabriel is a herald of God’s incarnation among us, and angels are also heralds of Jesus’ resurrection, surely the best news creation has ever received. They bring hope for the future. In this way, we can see how the Indigenous children we remember today have become angels, in that they call us from beyond death to create a Kingdom on earth where no child from any language, people, tribe, or nation, will ever be unloved.

But perhaps the greatest news about angels is that they can exist among us without being seen – until we do see them, and like Jacob and Nathanael are filled with awe. Surely all of us have experienced one of those moments when a person suddenly made us turn our head quickly to search for a halo, or when our heart caught within our ribcage because we thought we heard the ruffle of unseen feathers in a holy place.

It’s one thing to discover angels among us. It’s something else entirely to actively search for Bethel.

Adrian in his vulnerability called out his need for angels…but in doing so, surely for some people he became an angel, speaking his own truth to provide a holy space for others to seek peace.

What would it look like for each of us to go forth from this place today on the hunt for Bethel? And what would it look like to consider that sometimes, perhaps without our knowing, Bethel is within us? Maybe within us there is a stone waiting to be consecrated in an early dusk, a stone which is really more like the foot of a ladder, upon which angels ascend and descend, using us to run wild over the earth?

I’ll close with a prayer for the children who didn’t return home, angels calling out that the Creator is love, has always been love, and wants the world to be charged with love for all children, in all places.

“Almighty God, we remember before you all of the children – our dear relatives – who did not return home from the Residential Schools.  May you remember their suffering and pain. May you grant them rest in the Land of Peace. May you surround them with beautiful and sacred love and joy. We pray to you also for ourselves and our children.  At a time like this we remember we need your Spirit so very much.  We pray to you, your Spirit prays through us, in the Name of Jesus, who suffered with us but raised us and will raise us with our departed loved ones. Amen.”

Gifts from our mothers, gifts from our Mother (Letters from the Coast)

All I could find were a few paper cups, so I decided they would have to do. I zipped up my raincoat and went outside into the downpour, one cup in hand and the others in my pocket, toward the laurel bushes near the church where I work.

Laurel berries

It didn’t even occur to me to wear gloves, which was pretty silly, but I managed to pick three cups worth of the bushes’ small black berries without any ill effects. I didn’t know how I’d get them home until I found a round glass vase in my office, which I rinsed out and filled nearly to the brim. On the bus ride home, I often covered the top of the vase with my hand, irrationally worried that someone would reach out and take one and just pop it in their mouth. Of course that didn’t happen, but I didn’t want to risk it.

Later the next day, in similar weather, I did the same thing – again, very recklessly, without gloves – at a stand of yew bushes.

I feel very silly not researching more before doing these things. Both laurel and yew bushes are toxic, including branches and leaves. Nothing happened, but clearly what I still need to learn is greater respect.

I decided to pick the laurel berries first after another plant walk I did with the inimitable Lori Snyder, a Métis herbalist who has offered her knowledge of plant life, particularly indigenous West Coast plants, to various communities in my Diocese for the last few years. I like to joke that with Lori, you can walk fifty feet and it will take an hour – so knowledgeable is she about plants, and so gracious and generous our Creator in the wildly abundant giving of medicines under our feet.

Within the last five years, I’ve become more interested in gardening, probably because we now live in an apartment which has a balcony that gets a bit of sun. With my own research and my few hours with Lori, I’ve become more adept at identifying local plants and their properties.

The last time I was with her, she was standing in a bit of shade on the lawn of St. Anselm’s Anglican Church, pointing out first a blackberry bush (“Blackberries have more iron in them than any other fruit – and look how she wants us to know that she has good things for us! See how she sends out her branches saying, ‘Heeeyyy here I am! Can’t see me? I’ll go over here! Do you see me? Here I am!”) and then a stand of laurel bushes.

“These are not native,” she said, “and they’re quite invasive. The berries are toxic, so we can’t eat them. BUT,” she added, smiling, “don’t let that stop you from finding a use for something! Berries which we can’t eat can be used for dyes!”

I had never considered that before.

Later, heading to work, I noticed two laurel hedges bordering one of the stone walkways on the building’s front lawn. They were chock full of little black berries.

My mind whirred. What if I collected these for dye?

Why not? Even animals wouldn’t eat them. They were just sitting there.

Mashed yew berries with most of the seeds removed. The berries are said to have a subtle flavour and are very gelatinous when crushed!

And what a wonderful gift for the friends I have who love this church – a scarf knitted from wool dyed with laurel berries from these very bushes!

I wanted it to be a surprise, which is why I harvested on the day I did, while my boss is on study leave and I would be alone.

The yew berries were to be more of an experiment, and I quickly thought that maybe I would avoid doing this in future, as gathering and preparing them was quite a chore and could be dangerous unless a great deal of care was taken. The berries themselves – which are not really berries but a fleshy type of  pine cone – are edible, but the seeds are incredibly poisonous and must be worked gently out of the flesh through crushing the berry or manipulated out with the tongue if eating. You can technically pass a seed through your system unharmed, but if it’s cracked, you’re cooked.

Yarn soaking in the yew dye.

Why do all of this?

Some of it was just the delight of attempting a new skill.

But some of it is tied to another journey I’ve taken up, which is the journey of discovering my Gaelic roots.

My family is Scotch-Gaelic and English on both sides. Of course we’ve been Protestants for years, but go back far enough and obviously things were different. My English ancestors were zealous in their desire to unify their burgeoning empire, working to eradicate traditional languages such as Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish, and many ancient polytheistic traditions were swept up by Mother Church. But unlike the Indigenous peoples of the Coast Salish region, whose entire cultural identity was targeted for complete erasure, many of the traditional practices of my ancestors peoples were simply forgotten or suppressed out of embarrassment.

Laurel berry dye

The Gaelic tradition of keening is a case in point – once a deeply important part of the death ritual, over time it fell out of favour due to church persecution of keeners (the fact that they were almost always women surely contributed to that), but also due to it finally being seen as “primitive” and “old-fashioned” and even “too sad.” Honestly I think a lot was lost in that letting go.

I began to study Celtic Reconstructionism, often a subset of Gaelic polytheism and other reclamations of ancient Celtic religion and rites, not long after moving into the place I live in now. I was most of all interested in learning about my own people in order to fully live into a life of reconciliation. When we are only given the categories of “white” and “other” to give us a narrative, we are doomed to constantly sacrifice nuance for power. Those whose histories and stories are stolen from them have less agency to do this – but I can very easily access the memories of my ancestors and the pieces of my ethnicity that were left behind in our scramble to embrace whiteness and the power within it. By breaking down this monoculture, I can embrace something that is mine, and not only approach non-white people in a more respectful manner, but better avoid appropriation.

I also wanted to challenge the notion that Christianity is an all-or-nothing kind of faith which, like whiteness, is not coloured by culture. The history of my faith with regards to traditional polytheism and Neo-Paganism is a thorny one (pardon the pun), but in my own heart it is not so simple; there are roses within. (Ask me about the moon – this ex-Wiccan has a weird and wonderful relationship with it!)

And so I began learning about not only local plants – the things that grow in the place where I did and do my growing – but the sacred plants of my ancestors, which include yarrow, rosemary, sage, thyme…and yew.

Skein of wool dyed with laurel berries

In dyeing my own fabric, I can also reclaim an ancient practice that deserves a revisiting, particularly as I reflect on how much more accessible and cheap it is than I ever thought possible. I only need berries (all of which I got for free), vinegar (which is cheap), and water, which I am most blessed to also receive easily (I know that is not the case for so many).

What a gift our ancestors give us – if only we would all choose to receive it.

“A lynched God,” (Sermon, September 15th)

Some of you might know that yesterday was Holy Cross Day, a feast commemorating the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which was built on the spot where Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, apparently found a relic of the True Cross.

It’s a strange day, about as strange as wearing a cross, an instrument of torture and humiliating death. It’s easy to forget the truly radical and world-breaking truth at the heart of Christianity: that, as African-American theologian James H. Cone writes, the cross was the lynching tree of Jesus’ day.

What does it mean to worship a lynched God?

And what the heck does that have to do with the infinitely more accessible and mundane image of lost sheep and coins?

Well, part of this thread comes from a sort of personal drought, as I thought, “What can I possibly say about this passage, which Christianity loves so very much, to St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage, a parish I feel truly understands, and does its best to practice the lessons within – St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage, which maintains Hineni House, a place of banqueting and refuge for searching hearts from (now we can say) all over the world, within which I am so, so privileged to serve?”

Clearly, this required a fresh look at the parable.

Back to James H. Cone.

In 2011, Cone wrote The Cross and the Lynching Tree, which expanded on the notion that Jesus, a brown man living in occupied territory, was not necessarily killed via Satanic supernatural intervention in order to accomplish a catch-all forgiveness blast for personal sins. Instead, Cone says, a direct parallel between crucifixion and the lynching of black people in the 20th century United States (and beyond) can be drawn. Although lynching was usually extra-judicial – that, is outside the legal system – Jesus’ execution was legally sketchy enough that it’s still a fair comparison. And perhaps the most important parallel to be made is that both crucifixion and lynching are used by domination systems as “correctives” for oppressed peoples. They say, “This is what will happen if you disobey the order which the powerful have set in place.” Punishment is applied whether the victim misbehaved or not. The facts of the case don’t matter, because the purpose is social regulation.

Good Friday is and has always been the way of the world, and will continue to be as long as hierarchy exists.

The Way of Jesus survived Good Friday because there was an Easter Sunday afterward – but there was also something else that kept that lovely weed growing, and that was the way Jesus’ disciples responded to the whole painful, wonderful saga of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

What’s so remarkable about our faith is that the disciples not only managed to find a redeeming purpose to the lynching of their teacher and friend, but that indeed, they began to say that it was God who had been lynched.

We know this because contemporary Roman detractors like Emperor Julian, Roman orator Marcus Cornelius Fronto, and several others all mocked Christians for worshiping an executed criminal and his cross. What’s most interesting about Christianity’s early detractors is that the one common thread among them is elitism: all refer to Christians as a gang of misfits, losers, and poorly educated ruffians.

Right on.

So it could be said, then, that the disciples, in their grief and awe, did what Jesus had taught them, and went searching for God.

Where was God among the ruins of their former family of itinerants and prodigals? Where was God in their abandoning of their beloved? Where was God in the horror of Good Friday?

The answer, they discovered, was that God was here, on the lynching tree.

God was in the most unlikely place imaginable – and not just once, but for all time, present to us and suffering beside us.

Okay, so what about the sheep and coins?

Well, how we usually interpret this parable is to say that God or Jesus is the shepherd, and later the woman (awesome), searching diligently for lost things, and receiving them with joy. And that’s wonderful and so worth remembering, whether we ourselves are lost or whether we are annoyed at being passed over for the ones who were lost.

Earlier this week, Jesus even said that wewere to become lost, for him. We were to leave everything behind – including the ones we love most – for his mission.

And what is that mission?

No less than what he himself does for us: searching.

Perhaps, as Jesus teaches these religious scholars and elites who criticize his ragged family of sinners, he is not only teaching them that God seeks out the lost. He is trying to tell them that we too must seek out the lost.

We are the shepherd who must seek out the lost sheep of the world by hacking through treacherous brush and thick night to bring them home.

We are the woman who must sweep the house and light the lamp to make sure every speck of silver is discovered and polished.

And friends, see how discovery merits celebration in these parables. See how the bringing home of the lost ones, in a sense, brings a heavenly banquet to us – better than that, instils in us such joy that we instigate the banquet.

You might say that in finding the lost and bringing them home, we not only enter into but create the Kingdom of God.

You might even say that in finding the lost and bringing them home, we have actually found God Herself.

For the God of the lynching tree, the scourged, detested, desaparecido God strung up on the byways of the world for all to pass by with horror and derision is surely the most lost thing of all.

And so we are called to seek out the lost, knowing that when we do, we ourselves find God and, in our joy, create God’s Kingdom.

What does any of this look like here, today?

Who is lost in the world we live in? And who beyond God is looking for them?

Who is missing from among us? Who is alone and afraid? Who is perhaps a little unseemly or awkward? Who is the one who calls to us without knowing she calls?

Sometimes they look like us. Those who struggle with all of the everyday struggles of a human life: grief, poverty, illness, loneliness, social isolation, disability.

Sometimes they look less like us.

The Indigenous woman whose children are taken from her by the state.

The black transwoman who can’t find love without contemplating the possibility of violence.

The queer kid kicked out of his house and living on the street.

The hard-to-house, the elders with dementia, the nonverbal, the angry and abandoned, the disaffected and forsaken.

It’s about showing that there is an alternative to a world that seeks to divide us: a world where each one is held in the arms of a loving heart, a world where generosity is the order of the day, a world where reckless love is taken for granted, a world where kindness and compassion are spent freely rather than hoarded for those we love – knowing, of course, that we are human and we’ll fail sometimes and it’s okay.

Most of the time, when we read this parable, we see ourselves, or others, as lost sheep and coins awaiting discovery by a loving, rejoicing God.

So let’s contemplate what it would be like to step into God’s shoes, and be the ones who search. Let’s risk the frustration and struggle of walking up hill and down dale, calling out for that lost sheep. Let’s risk the necessary annoyance of getting down on our hands and knees in cramped places, shining a lamp for the glint of that lost coin.

In the hard moments of that journey, we may cheer ourselves by remembering that the one we seek is not merely a child of God, but our beloved, the God who is lost, or maybe just playing hide and seek, who will rejoice at being found, and whose discovery will fill us up with such delight that we ourselves will make manifest the Kingdom, right here, right now.

“And there’s another country” (Letters from the Coast)

St. Jude’s Anglican Home. The lunch table, with senior staff.

We all sit around, discussing our lives and the day. All of us are women/femmes.

The conversation suddenly shifts: “Hey…can you believe it’s been eighteen years since September 11th?”

“No,” we all said, in a daze.

The stories came out – where we were, what we were doing, what we remember.

Only memories. No political commentary.

Sometimes I find it difficult to sit with these women because I’m so much younger than they are. My priorities and views are so, so different.

I would like to talk about how much I have changed since that day, politically.

But I don’t.

Today, images from childhood run through my head as I read through the replies to a tweet posted by Karen González, a Latina Mujerista theologian and author of The God Who Sees:

There were many responses, and a lot of diversity, but definitely a few themes emerged, and a few categories of folks.

First, there were folks who were unabashedly and uncritically patriotic, and saw their faith as an extension of their patriotism, an especially common attitude among a certain subset of American Christians.

Second, there were folks who were more critically patriotic, but did not see patriotism as antithetical to their own faith, or anyone’s. These folks would often use the language of, “I sing these songs in the hope that one day they will be true.”

Third, there were folks who had once sung these songs, but no longer did, and most of them said this had been a fairly recent change, due to the current political climate. They often mentioned the uneasy mixing of patriotism and faith, or “civil religion.” Some of them said there were certain songs they would sing and others they would not. “This Land is Your Land,” complete with the more ‘prophetic’ verses, was cited many times as acceptable.

Finally, there were a few folks that said they never had, or made a change quite a while ago. One of them was a Mennonite, who said they would only profess allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Another one was me.

I stopped singing the national anthem for the first time around 2011.

I wouldn’t say I had been a dedicated flag waver my whole life, but I spent quite a bit of it proud to be Canadian. I have scattered memories of singing the national anthem in both French and English – in fact, for the longest time, I didn’t even know the entire thing in one language or the other, but only a mishmash of both, with the first three lines in English and the next four in French. (It took me quite a while to realize how very VERY different the two sets of lyrics are). I seem to also remember singing both the anthem and “God Save the Queen” every morning in school when I lived in Ottawa, with accompanying music played over a loudspeaker as a precursor to morning announcements.

Ottawa was definitely a place where I felt encouraged to embrace my national identity: Canada Day on Parliament Hill, Laura Secord ice cream, learning French every day, Girl Guide trips into the woods to feast on pure maple syrup. When I came back to Vancouver, it didn’t feel quite the same, but I was still proud. I began to reclaim my identity as a West Coaster, somewhat disconnected and stone in love with nature.

In high school, we had a semester or two on “Canadian History” in Social Studies. I remember thinking it was the most boring subject I’d ever studied. I didn’t envy Americans their history (my ever-so-Canadian anti-American sentiments were really starting to bubble once I hit puberty and became more politically aware), but I did feel that surely more interesting things than fur trading and building forts had happened in the formation of Canada.

Probably the most interesting story we learned was about Louis Riel, so there was that.

So far as I know we didn’t really learn anything about pre-contact Turtle Island. And we did not learn anything whatsoever about residential schools.

I often tell people I learned about residential schools in church, because I did. When the referendum on the Nisga’a Treaty occurred in ’98 or ’99, I specifically remembering hearing in church that we should vote in favour of the Nisga’a, because we had done them wrong as a church and as a nation. I learned that the Nisga’a people had ties to the Anglican Church because our missionaries reached them first, and that we therefore today had a responsibility to advocate for them.

This was only five years after the Anglican Church of Canada offered its official apology to Indigenous peoples for its role in residential schools in 1993.

I also remember Bishop Jim Cruickshank, who had been present at my baptism, becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Cariboo, in which St. George’s Lytton residential school was located, and his work among the survivors there. Lawsuits and settlements eventually led the diocese to declare bankruptcy before it became first The Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior and then The Territory of the People. When I interviewed him for an ethics paper in seminary, he told me he had been glad that the diocese had declared insolvency. This was the work of the Kingdom, he said, dying so that others might live.

I do not remember ever thinking Indigenous Peoples were entitled or lazy or stupid or drunk, even though I’m sure I heard people say it off and on. I don’t say that to aggrandize myself; it’s just true. I had arguments with friends who would say racist stuff against them from an early age. My great sin was assuming that they were outliers, that truly reasonable people knew that white people had done wrong to Indigenous Peoples and that we had a responsibility to build a better relationship today.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered this was a minority view, and often still is. Again, I don’t say this to aggrandize myself. It was my privilege that led me to believe most people shared my views. It took me time to realize how bad things still were.

In 2010 or 2011, I took a mandatory class at seminary on Canadian History. It mostly focused on the church’s presence and activities during the formation of Canada, but of course we had a hefty chunk of time dedicated to learning about the residential schools.

About forced separation from families by the RCMP, on pain of incarceration.

About hunger experiments and malnutrition driven by simple apathy.

About dental surgery occurring on cafeteria tables without anesthetic.

About rampant tuberculosis and other diseases.

About abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual.

About children beaten for speaking the only languages they knew.

About the Bryce report, and how the government knew exactly how bad it was, and didn’t care.

About how the last one closed in 1996, when I was twelve years old.

I stopped singing the national anthem for about a year.

My husband asked why.

I said, “I can’t. I can’t support this country when I know what we’ve done. We’re not even a legitimate nation. We came uninvited and built ourselves on greed and violence, and we continue to perpetuate it.”

He couldn’t understand it. We argued about it for a long time.

Finally, one day at a soccer game, I relented, and told him I supposed I could sing in hope for the things in the song.

He gave me a side hug and said, “That’s it.”

I sang it again a few times after that.

But around the time of the Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine acquittals, I stopped singing again.

And today, I flat refuse.

I’ll stand, because if I don’t, in the current political climate, I’ll likely experience harassment and violence.

But I won’t sing.

God is the owner of my voice and my heart. Not the state, which murders and rapes and oppresses and crucifies.

I refuse to glorify a nation founded in blood that continues to violate and destroy and lie and steal.

I refuse to make professions of unity and “standing on guard” when I know they are empty.

I refuse to pledge citizenship to any country other than the Kingdom of God, which is beyond nationality or borders. Sure, it has its own baggage, but that’s only because of the incapacity of the colonial mind to imagine such a glorious, wonderful thing as a nation born through love rather than hate and greed.

I don’t judge other people for doing what their conscience thinks is right. But I can no longer reconcile my own faith with any act of earthly patriotism. To me, patriotism is antithetical to Christianity. The Anabaptists got it right.

Around the same time I stopped singing a couple of years ago, my husband and I revisited the conversation.

I remember he looked so weary.

I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think he sings anymore either.

A Blank Cassette, Part 3 (Letters from the Coast)

This is the last in a three-part series on the death of my father.

I’d love to end the story there, but it doesn’t end there.

I brought the tape home. It felt so momentous that I didn’t just want to listen to it offhand. I told several people the story, but put off listening to it.

Finally, I brought down the dusty old boombox from on top of the living room shelving unit.

I put the tape in.

The reels turned so, so slowly. I found that odd.


Just silence.

I fast-forwarded.




I was crestfallen for a moment, but thought the slow turning of the reels might mean the boombox was too old to play properly. I would buy another tape player, one of the small ones.

I kept meaning to, and didn’t, for a long time. There was lots of other stuff going on, and the symbolism of the tape meant more to me than its contents.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Finally, I bought a cassette player which could convert tapes to mp3.

I got home, and again, put it off briefly. I wanted it to be momentous.

But again, nothing.

Fast-forward. Rewind. Flip to Side B.


I took it out of the player and put it back in the case.

And hugged it.

And cried.


And it will never end.

Not in the way I want it to.

As I tried to digest what was happening in my heart, I felt so weary, because I knew that this was a part of growing up.

I would never receive the simple answers that I wanted. I would never be able to make this mean, conclusively, that my dad had loved me and was now haunting me, literally or figuratively.

I’ve often told people that I believe human beings are meaning-makers. We are allowed to make meaning of our lives, even if it’s illogical or ridiculous to other people. It’s how we stay grounded in a world that never makes sense.

And yet here, meaning feels constantly refused.

So I started listening to “This too shall pass” by Danny Schmidt, and once again his somber, mournful voice reminds me of truths that I would rather not contemplate too often, and stopped my tears for the moment.

We are given such fragile, changeable lives. “And this is meant to be a gift?” we shriek at a universe that feels apathetic but is perhaps distracted with the multitude of life blazing forth microsecond by microsecond.

And the one who made it says softly, “Yes. Because only those who change can truly love in the way I have called you to love. Because love that transcends death, in all its pain and spiritual bloodiness, is the closest humanity can come to me without being burned away by glory.”

So I’ll put the tape back on the shelf, and hold onto the meaning of those neat liner notes on days where I don’t care that the tape itself is blank, and on days where the silence is in my lungs and heart and head.

I hurt because I loved him.

I hurt because I love him.