It continues to perplex me deeply that I consistently can’t seem to reconcile the Christ of the Gospels to what I see in mainstream evangelicalism. I have thought about this a lot during Lent as we at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg work together through the Book of Luke – my favourite of the Gospels. The mainstream evangelical movement tends to look more like the Pharisees than the humble woman in Luke 7. I respect her more than almost anyone in the entire Bible. I walk among a great variety of people in my life (and on social networks) and I am continually blessed by the diversity of voices – atheists, agnostics, anarchists, activists, feminists, environmentalists, people of other faiths and so on. I choose to live on the fringes of the faith community because that is where I find some of the most beautiful people. It seems that that is where Christ would dwell quite often when his feet were on earthly ground. I see Him so much there even now. There are people marching, speaking out and engaging in civil action against much oppression, inequality and justice. Sometimes, I think throwing A wad of cash in the collection plate and mailing off a cheque to Africa is just buying away our personal responsibility to what is going on right here and right now. Suffering is suffering – regardless of where in the world it happens. It may seem sometimes that I am constantly at war with fundamentalism. I think it is very dangerous – at both ends of the spectrum. The thing is, I am constantly at war with myself, too, because I am committed to change. Fear, low self-esteem, weariness, anger, depression and frustration are constant obstacles. I will never stop learning. I choose to stay within the tension and keep out of the fake safe zone. This is not a boxing ring. We don’t get to go to our corners for a time out. Not while there are people starving, being abused, corporations are stealing from society, women are harassed and threatened as they walk into clinics, people of all genders are physically in danger for simply being in love, xenophobes are labelling all immigrants and refugees as dangerous, politicians and think tanks are blaming teachers, students, doctors, nurses, artists, public servants, the sick and poor for every financial ill under the sun and a ridiculous amount of bible thumpers, shamefully, are childishly trying to teach the world that the Bible is a book about sex, sex, sex and little else.
Creator has called me to be an ally and take up the cause of those suffering around me with the tools that I have. I am an artist. That is my expertise. That is my tool. That is what I am “doing”. That is my skill and I am very good at it. Working out my anger, frustration, confusion and sadness through art does not interfere with my faith. It IS my faith. It is my language. It is how Creator works through me. I am dead without it. Fuck whether I get rich or pay the rent doing it. Van Gogh died a penniless peasant. Is his work and skill meaningless as a result? I am honouring Creator’s mission in me. If I happen to ruffle some feathers by swearing or being controversial, that doesn’t contradict the fact that I am a follower of Christ. I am a sinner, too. Who isn’t? I would rather tell the truth and represent who I am and where I am right now. Creator has not asked me to sell the world a version of myself where I am complete and have all the answers neatly tied up in a bow. There is nothing mature or blessed about that. It is simply deception. Furthermore, the Bible isn’t a neat little workbook with instructions for each day. It is dense, frustrating and constantly contradicts itself. To paraphrase the words from a recent lecture by one of my former professors and a great teacher, Cameron McKenzie, “For both the left and the right, the Bible doesn’t get to say what we want it to say”. Wise, but tough words for someone like me who is passionate about the social gospel.
I still hold fast to the example of Christ. He guides me in what is fair and just. I am thankful for Grace because I sure as heck screw up a lot. That’s kind of how you learn, though. You mess up, you own it, learn from it and try to do better. This is the process that modern North American Conservatism seems to think it is above doing. Somehow (in their minds) them claiming and acting like they are the only moral voice in society exempts them from the hard work and humility of learning from their own mistakes and growing from it. It’s what makes me cringe as so often in Southern Manitoba (where I grew up) it is implied that a Christian should always vote Conservative. In so many ways, this is such a fallacy. Which brings me to my current concern – the Manitoba Provincial Election. I have friends running in the election and more power to them – regardless of their party affiliation. Much respect for being willing to serve and represent their constituents. It is a great joy for me to see my friend David Shepherd represent his riding for the NDP in Edmonton. I am so proud of him. I cannot, however, sit back silently as Manitoba “Progressive” Conservative Party leader Brian Pallister possibly slips into power because Southern Manitoba predictably and nauseatingly falls for the politics of fear and division yet again. The fear of Socialism is pretty ironic considering how one party tends to win every election there over and over again. In a REAL democracy, one shouldn’t be able to easily bet on the outcome of an election.
Mr. Pallister is already singing his predictable song of cutting spending because, you know HE is a “fiscal Conservative”. The cowardice of fiscal Conservatives is the tendency to go after anything public while turning a blind eye to corruption in the private sector (which tends to lead to deregulation, tax fraud and is the ideal recipe for corruption, really). Pallister is trying to assure us that he is not going to “swing the axe”, but he is already talking about streamlining spending in the educational system. He won’t stop. Of course he won’t. The cornerstone of such an ideology is to to blame all deficits and debts on social spending, welfare, the arts, humanities, education and health care. They claim to be all for the growth of the middle class, but in the same breath they unnecessarily bolster the power and overflowing gluttony of the upper class/big business with more tax cuts, etc. They hide behind it by championing small business. It’s smoke and mirrors.
My heart does not bleed for the oil sector right now. Only those on the front line deserve our ear and they are getting screwed over by their bosses who sit on all the subsidies and money they made through tax fraud over decades. Get real. Inequality always grows exponentially under Conservatives. Brian Pallister will be no exception. This all-fired rush to “eliminate the deficit” is selfish and misguided. It’s a glorified “perfect attendance award” at a school assembly for his opponents and colleagues to watch. It is not about the future and middle class workers. It is about legacy and ideology. The rewards come later after serving with fancy positions in tax-evading companies and exclusive memberships to high society and fancy clubs (Hello, Stephen Harper).
Conservatives use allegories about running a “household” but, conveniently, ignore massive parts of the household. Their numbers on economics are cherry-picked to an embarrassing level to justify the attitude that the poor “just aren’t working hard enough”. A healthy economy consists of the poor having jobs and money to contribute to the economy. It isn’t kissing the ass of those who are already doing well. Boutique tax cuts for a few upper class and middle class people are paid for off the backs of the rest of the economy who can barely get by as it is. They do NOTHING for the rest of us. As a party, the Progressive Conservatives consistently display their ignorance or willful blindness toward privilege, inequality and the continuing Canadian nightmare known as colonization. The Conservative ideology on taxation is pretty crooked. The Harper Government gleefully helped KPMG commit tax fraud (yes, that crooked deal was made with the HARPER GOVERNMENT – NOT the Trudeau Liberals!) while they chased around as many protest groups, non-profits and people on welfare as they could. Meanwhile, inexplicably, Conservative lapdog propaganda machine The Fraser Institute (amusingly referred to as “research” by many) putters along comfortably while collecting Canadians’ tax dollars. Exactly what public good does The Fraser Institute do? Why do they get to continue this fraudulent operation? Canadians should get a humongous tax rebate for the many years of their theft and consistently wasteful spread of misinformation to Canadians. It is criminal.
If the power-eager Thatcherite Brian Pallister does, indeed, become Manitoba’s premier in the near future, I plan to ramp up my dissent significantly. I have to. I know too many educators, health care practitioners, artists, social workers, public employees, vulnerable persons and ordinary struggling citizens not to. Social services and public life are not an unnecessary extravagance to be thrown on the chopping block at any government’s convenience so a party leader leader can brag how good he is with the piggy bank.
As far as Manitoba’s economy is concerned, I am going to go with the assessment of one of our country’s greatest voices, economist Jim Stanford. Here’s the truth on the matter. “Manitoba’s economy is the strongest of the non-oil-producing provinces and with oil falling, it could be the strongest province in Canada soon. So I think he’s done a very good job,” he added. “Even though Greg Selinger has had big political problems, of course, he’s struck I think, the sweet spot in managing the budget and the economy out there. No austerity on one hand, but prudent.” That’s a balance I want to see. This economy includes EVERYONE. Austerity leaves people out and it is ALWAYS those getting crushed under the wheels of privilege. I am not okay with that.
Yes, the Manitoba has had many growing pains and there have been trips along the way – just like every Liberal and Conservative government has. You want to talk about disunity? Let’s talk about what the Federal Conservatives went through during the Reform era! Have some integrity, Conservatives! We are all not idiots. We don’t forget. You want to talk about deficits? Take a look at the Harper Government who ran some of the biggest deficits in our country’s history. Where was your whining and complaining THEN? Where were are all your shitty, meaningless graphs from The Fraser Institute THEN? Unnecessary cuts have deep, lasting and EXPENSIVE consequences. Federal cuts to food inspection lead to the tragic consequences of the tainted meat scandal under Conservative agricultural minister Gerry Ritz. The Harper Government’s choice to take way regulation on so many of our bodies of water have lead to massive pollution and invasive species that will be irreversible or very expensive to even try to BEGIN to fix. Exactly how did that save us money?! Handing off bigger responsibilities because of our greed, laziness, carelessness and ignorance isn’t fiscal – it’s stupid. Cutting back funding for First Nations education and other needs was expensive and a tragic step backward for our nation as we try to move AWAY from colonization. Harper’s famous “apology” just becomes ever more meaningless as the actual FACTS continue to trickle out. The truth will out, indeed. The Harper Government’s “Economic Action Plan” was one expensive commercial with VERY little action or jobs as a result. Exactly how is that “fiscal”?
This brings me to the passion and responsibility that I feel right now as a recently resettled Manitoban. If we actually do enter another era of Prairie Thatcherism, I am ready to resist it and defend those most vulnerable to the deceptive and unforgiving hand that I believe Brian Pallister intends to play. I am not just going to sit by and allow his poisoned ideology infect everything around me. Never mind the deep concerns I have about his pending policies, I am embarrassed that my home province’s possible next premier is someone so detached from culture and current issues. He is already world-renowned and mocked for his pathetic big baby pouting about the “deception of Halloween” and his stupid comment about “Infidel Atheists” in a Christmas greeting several years ago. The challenge for me is to try to be fair in my dissent. I am sure that Brian Pallister is a nice guy to his family, friends and supporters. It is also important to honour the fact that he has served his voters and constituents for many years. The thing is, when people suffer under the consequences of needless austerity and the targeting of essential programs and services, the fact that someone is a “nice guy” is quite irrelevant. Many people claim that Stephen Harper was a nice guy. This does nothing to change some of the awful consequences of his decisions and policies of the last ten years.
The continuing challenge and conundrum is to not simply hate those whose leadership and policies we oppose. To be a truly effective voice, one has to consistently avoid participating in the social and even physical violence that we intend to protest and fight against. It is a misconception, though, that putting a sunshiny face on, turning away from, ignoring or not taking a stand among the injustice and inequality is a form of being peaceful, enlightened, “Christian” or mature. Hiding, distracting ourselves or being unconcerned are not the same as turning the other cheek. The truth of life is not that convenient. Those being crushed under the wheels of our privilege, comfort, fragile egos and our being tired of hearing about it are thrust into the battlefield without a choice. They don’t get to opt out. This isn’t a night of heated discussion for them. This is life. This is real. This is existence. They didn’t build this reality. We, as a society, built it together. There is no sitting this one out. Therefore, I will do what I can in solidarity to dwell within the tension with them. Fuck the safe corners. Christ didn’t stand in them. He walked among and loved those very people. That is who I want to be as much as I can.
I was an avid critic and opponent of the Harper Government’s policies when they were in power. In fact, I was already deeply concerned about Harper during the Reform Party era and the leadership race that put him as leader of the opposition. Much like I feel now with the possibility of Brian Pallister taking the reigns, I felt a deep and disturbing chill about Harper’s values and the kind of programs and people he would target to accomplish his agenda. It ended up being a much bigger nightmare than I could ever imagine. I am feeling the same way now. I am strapping in for a long fight if Brian Pallister becomes Premier of Manitoba.
This brings me to the next era of my own life as a man, a Christ-follower, an ally to many causes, a politically, economically and socially aware person, a dissenter on behalf of those who will not be heard and an artist. If the Progressive Conservative Party becomes the governing party in Manitoba, I will be excercising my voice as a citizen, a broadcaster and an artist. Yes, I am on the radio and am very vocal on social media and blogs. However, this will not be enough in this next stage of our province’s history. I intend to (beyond the musical projects I am already developing called “Guattari” and “Salo”) start a band called “Infidel A”. The name is symbolic for me of just how out of touch Brian Pallister is with modern culture. I want the name to be a constant reminder and a thorn in his side. I hope to see it on t-shirts, articles and show posters. The music will be somewhere in the vein of punk/post-punk influenced by Unwound, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Gang Of Four, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Mission Of Burma, Wire, Manic Street Preachers and The Clash. This will my social and political artistic outlet for advocacy, activism, awareness, support and dissent. I stand on the shoulders of many voices who have come before me; Karl Polanyi, Chris Hedges, Cornell West, Simone Weil, Joe Strummer, Helene Cixous, Leon Trotsky, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, several indigenous elders in my life who have taught me about wisdom and resistance by example and Christ himself. I cannot stand by while a man gives a soothing back rub to his own ideology while turning his back on so much that we need as a society. We will not reduced to a bunch of numbers and dollar values. People and humanities will not become disposable for the sake of profit and bragging rights. The comfortable WILL be afflicted and the afflicted will be comfortable. A fire burns deep within me and it may come to rage very soon. If this is a challenging season of dissent, then so be it. I am ready.