Fall Issue 7
What I’ve Learnt from Bread Making:
Finding Perspective among Syrian Friends and Bakers
Safe from the incessant explosions of bombs hitting the ground nearby, both Aminah and Mustafa are on the floor of their Canadian kitchen. The dough has been kneaded. It had time to rise. Aminah, completely absorbed by her task, forms, with her little fingers, some regular rolls out of the lump. Mustafa rolls out the dough on a floured surface, with insistence. One hears his tenacity and steadfastness in the cadenced bangs the roller makes by hitting the untamed dough. It needs to be as flat as he wants it to be. Otherwise, the meticulous baking process fails. Once the dough is rolled, Mustafa places it in the blasting hot oven. After a few minutes, he flips it around. When baked to the exact golden shade intended, their eldest daughter, Rameen adds it to the already existing pile on the dinner table. By witnessing such clockwork organisation, I realise that it is a well-established routine, a cherished one. The crispy smell of freshly baked bread fills the room with warmth and a deep sense of contentment in the present moment. The lingering homesickness that had tinted some of the stories shared previously appears to be wiped away by the familiar and comforting scene of making bread.
Half an hour later, I find myself at the dinner table sharing a chair with one of the eldest daughters. There aren’t enough seats to accommodate everyone. Dishes filled with delicious food have suddenly appeared out of surprising places as they are gathered on the table. Everyone, little and bigger fingers alike, helps themselves with freshly made bread as utensils. The three glasses of water are passed around. Towards the end of the meal, the mouths having been fed to everyone heart’s content, Mustafa, back on the sofa, sipping slowly on his maté, looks up to me and says: “Now that you ate at our table, you are family to us.”
I may be a 26 years old with unanswered existential questions filling my head. I may have been more convincing when asked about my job aspirations at age seven. I may show a face torn by internal debates when asked about my enthusiasm for a theological flower that budded in Geneva. I may disappoint my mother, at times. But despite all of this, I have learnt the importance to listen, to wrestle, to sit still and rejoice with thankfulness, as the answers I was seeking remain clouded. I have learnt the importance of feeling and sharing the pain and joys of others, being present in the moment, enjoying the little things, the turning of a lump into a perfect roll, the melodious hammering of the dough. I have learnt of a place called home, where one is deeply rooted. I have learnt that whether I side with Gunkel or Kraus on the historical conception of ruling in Ps. 2, discomfort might be fine, at times. I am learning to thrive; whichever context I find myself in. Trusting that by seeking wholeheartedly in all humility and obedience, Him, both Lion and Lamb, who created us, pilgrims on the journey: all will be well.
The grey sky and the relentless rains are back and with it the seasonal existential questioning. What am I really doing at Regent? Will my deconstruction and snail-pace reconstruction really build up the church, when I find myself even questioning my theological acuity when chatting with 12 years olds? Am I really turning 27 this year? How is it that with the years, my prior clear sense of calling seems to really turn into a blur? Over Skype last week, my younger brother made a gentle allusion to my mother’s concerns about my studies, shouldn’t I make sure that I preoccupy myself with other things, as well?! As those questions pop into my head, I am plunged back into some memories of the past summer, up in Prince George (who would have thought so?!).
I hadn’t laughed that hard for years. You know, the laugh that grips your stomach. The one that makes your abs ache for hours. Mustafa, a strong and tall man in his late 40s, is seated on a sofa, in his living room. His children are running around. Hamudi, the youngest one, a toddler born in Lebanon while the family was waiting for a UN invitation to immigrate, is affectionately settled on his father’s lap. They tell me funny stories. And it gets more and more hilarious as people’s last fences crumble down. Stories overflow. Laughter fills the room. Aminah, not in her thirties yet, at the top of her petite stature glances lovingly around the living room. Her bright eyes are filled with laughter as she mimics her husband, who’s sharing the story of how they met. A well-known local musician back in their village in northern Syriah, near Aleppo, he had seen, on his way to a gig, the young Aminah walking down the street. It was love at first sight. They laugh. It wasn’t. Their age difference had never been considered as an obstacle to Aminah’s dad, who arranged the marriage. A few months after they were first introduced, they were married. Thirteen years and seven children later, Mustafa, Aminah and their family find themselves in Canada, in a small ground floor apartment, in one of the underprivileged neighbourhoods of Prince George. The room is filled with laughter, joy, warmth and love. For the time of an evening, struggles, pain and sorrows are set aside.
They ask me to stay longer, to share dinner with them. I happily accept, knowing that this would mean more laughter, but also hoping that I would get to taste some of the bread people have been telling me about. Among the Syrian families of Prince George, Mustafa and Aminah are known as the bakers. Back then, when they lived in their small Syrian village, after the war stroke, small businesses started shutting down one after the other. When the baker could no longer carry on, it felt like an outrage to each single home of the village. People’s dignity was taken away from them. Bread. Bread the most simple and essential part of the Syrian diet was no longer available in the shops. Mustafa had to resolve himself to buying plain flour. With the help of his wife, at the end of full days of work, after having cycled or walked long distances to find employment for the day, they would make their own bread, together, week after week.
Review: Pacific Theatre’s “Suitcase Stories” | Meredith Cochran
Pacific Theatre’s Suitcase Stories, written and performed by Maki Yi, succeeds in being both particular and universal. The play is based on Yi’s own story of immigration from Korea to Canada, and is both simple in the script it delivers, and evocative in themes it exposes.
Originally a series of pre-show monologues which Yi “audaciously” pitched to PT’s Founding Director Ron Reed, the one-woman show in its full-length form, directed by Colleen Lanki, captures the immigrant experience of“survival and self-discovery” with both hilarity and heart-rending honesty.
From a starkly bare stage at show’s beginning, the set is transformed throughout the duration with props and design that bring to life the [many] places where Yi’s immigration journey took her. With the simplicity of items like chalk, maps, and a miniature Greyhound bus, the blank stage takes on a scrapbook style record of Yi’s experiences, including a tactile 5-day drive from Toronto to Regina, a hand drawn theater where Yi beams from the “stage,” and more than one set of identification numbers which, at times, felt like the only identity she has.
While I thought the script occasionally relied on cliché— “Assumptions are dangerous!” as an example— on the whole, these did not come across as platitudes. Because of the amount of energy and authenticity which Yi has on the stage, and the knowledge that this was not fiction but her real life tale, what could have been banality was simply an endearing look into the excitements and apprehensions of “re-re-making” one’s life in entirely new places—and in a number of different languages, at that.
The only official character in the script, Yi herself, is complemented by a surprising supporting role: her tiny green suitcase. Throwing and changing her voice when speaking as the suitcase, Yi drew many a laugh by the straightforward and outspoken personality of the high-pitched, nasal-voiced, green fabric companion. In one scene where the bureaucracy and paperwork of multiple, simultaneous immigration processes leave the actress in a tailspin of responsibilities and requirements, her suitcase quips, “Which comes first? Chicken come first? Egg come first? Bull***t come first!” Reminiscent of the role of a jester or fool, the suitcase is sometimes able to say wise but difficult things that might otherwise go unsaid. It is the suitcase that points out Yi’s predicament of being “very, very less fortunate” when her first Canadian Christmas is spent alone in a cold basement room, and some of this heart-wrenching honesty is what carries the “character” through times when an anthropomorphic wheely bag is a little bit of a stretch.
Another thing Yi does with her voice, however, is sing. Where the script sometimes over explains details of the character’s thought and action, the unaccompanied voice of the beleaguered traveler pierces any triteness and evokes a hushed respect for the depth of the identity fragmenting experience. Sung in Korean, with no translation offered, the songs suggest that there is a certain amount of this lived experience that cannot be rendered into words. Certainly brimming with universally relevant themes for today’s world, Suitcase Stories is a creative and winsome invitation into the particular resilience of one woman’s journey.
The Brimstone Rock of David Eugene Edwards | Alex Strohschein
A few years ago, controversy broke out when the PCUSA attempted to alter the lyrics of “In Christ Alone” from “The wrath of God was satisfied” to “The love of God was magnified.” Both are true, of course, but the incident points to contemporary uneasiness about drawing attention to God’s judgment, of wanting to de-fang “Aslan” and make him “safe.” Much of contemporary Christian music is relentlessly upbeat (“Praise 106.5 – always uplifting, always encouraging!”), filled with saccharine tunes such as “You’re Beautiful” and “Good, Good Father,” that would fit in well on a soundtrack to “The Shack.” In an age skeptical of the Christian God and apprehensive about what many purport to be a prejudiced and hypocritical Church, I deeply believe it is the witness of Christ’s love and tender mercies that is salutary, not fundamentalist fear-mongering about the Last Days. Yet, because of this, it is all the more fascinating that David Eugene Edwards has a following.
Edwards has fronted two bands, the twangy gothic-country 16 Horsepower and his current band, Woven Hand. Woven Hand is an ever-evolving outfit, with neofolk, alternative country, Native American, Eastern, rock and most recently (unfortunately), death-metal influences. Edwards has a distinct, mesmerizing stage presence, almost as if he’s possessed or in a trance. He gestures wildly with his hands, rolls his eyes into the back of his head and jerks his head to and fro. In between songs he will cup his hands to the microphone and chant lyrics. Surprisingly, when he’s off-stage he’s soft-spoken, unassuming, with a demeanor similar to his friend Sufjan Stevens and with a vocal concern and sympathy for Native Americans akin to the fictional Sheriff Longmire.
The grandson of a fundamentalist Nazarene preacher, Edwards’ lyrics are saturated with Scripture and biblical allusions and instead of “The Shack,” invoke Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” On “Hiss,” he alludes to Isaiah 5 (KJV) as he declares, “Look! / He lifts up a signal / To the hostiles from afar / He will hiss for them / From the ends of the earth / Behold they come / They come swiftly / Swiftly!” Many of his songs are also tinged with an apocalyptic edge that is sure to make a Calvinist smile, as in “Blue Pail Fever” where Edwards sings, “It’s a dry leaf that shivers on the branch / What matter if the wind cast it down / With a ruthless hand? / ‘Cause we remember always / That it took place forever / Thy kingdom come in / Whosoever.” In his most chilling lines, Edwards softly sings “The world will bow / The knees will be broken / For those who don’t know how.”
Not exactly Hillsong, but just as Hillsong resonates with a particular audience, so does Edwards, who arguably has a larger following among non-Christians than believers. He’s been more successful in secularized Europe among Goth and metal fans than in North America. His band has opened for Tool and been praised by decidedly anti-Christian bands such as Marduk. Curious about his non-Christian following, I asked members of a message board why they liked Edwards’ music and one replied, “Most Christian Rock I have heard besides him, is this happy praise. Superficial lyrics about how God is great or how much the writer loves Jesus, how life is a cake-walk if you have him in it. I don’t believe a word of it and it’s obvious they don’t either. [Edwards’] is real. There is seeking in it…longing. Not this corny claim of having already arrived.” Indeed, though Edwards warns his listeners of the consequences of unbelief, he also identifies with them, singing, “And I ain’t looking to gain any honour / No, not among you thieves / I’ll be there, right beside you though / In judgment on my knees.”
In a disenchanted world, Edwards’ eschatological eccentricity may be what electrifies his audience as he hearkens back to another time of backwoods revivalists praying for “Holy Ghost power” or it may point to a genuine affinity between Edwards’ music and his listeners, the same affinity that draws listeners to the dark tunes of Nick Cave (who Edwards is often likened to). After all, G.K. Chesterton asserted that “original sin…is the only part of Christian theology which can be really proved.” Edwards himself declares “I want to communicate with other people, I want to help people set themselves free from the burden of the law. I want people to know the gospel; I want people to know that God does not hold their sins against them anymore, while everyone tells you that he does. Your own mind tells you that he does. Your own mind works against you.”
Poem of the Week | T.B. Douce
Fervent young, we assert your light
Burning high, burning bright!
Stately candles, we shine by your might
Burning high, burning bright!
Coals of your church abide and glow
Glowing hot, but gleaming low.
Deposit of truth, these embers know
Glowing hot, but gleaming low.
Carbon lives the Lord has blessed
Diamonds forming of graphite pressed
Perfect by your brilliance and bring us rest!
Dawning soon, lighting best.
TALKING WITH OUR MOUTHS FULL:
WITH PHIL LONG
BY TROY TERPSTRA AND ED SMITH
Our guest today is Dr. Phil Long. Dr. Long generously made room for us in his busy schedule which, in addition to teaching, includes writing a commentary on Samuel for the Tyndale Old Testament series and also writing an article for Crux on Irenaeus.We decided to get hamburgers from Vera’s Burger Shack, across from the college. The proximity to college is beneficial in many respects although Dr. Phil warned against taking a date here. “It’s too close to Regent. You might get caught snogging.”
In addition to dating advice, Dr. Long also offered some comments that might be of some encouragement to longsuffering exegetes--that it is still possible to make new discoveries when reading the Bible even though it has been read and studied for centuries. “It makes sense, the Bible is a big book!” Furthermore, students can spend more time on a particular section than commentary writers. Dr. Long has 3,000 words/chapter for the Samuel commentary but a student can write a longer paper focusing on just a few verses.
On conversation was partly obstructed by a blaring TV program of Michael Moore talking about the upcoming election which prompted a discussion about who he was going to vote for. I won’t write everything that was said, except that he isn’t inspired by any of the candidates and he fears that some people are going to vote in favour of exciting reality TV.
The discussion of the election led us to ask Dr. Long if he had ever considered, given his penchant for caricature (see his office window), a career in political cartooning. Early in his marriage, he was able, at one point, to quit his job in construction because of the amount of work he was getting as a portrait artist. However, the young artist was discouraged at being treated like an early version of photoshop, with parents asking him to straighten their children’s teeth and improve their coiffures. “I felt like I was making products, rather than art,” Dr. Long said.
Yet despite his eventual turn to Cambridge and his continuing life-giving work as a biblical scholar, the world of art is never far from the professor. He is currently advising a few painting IPIATs, and looks forward to a time in his life when he will return with vigor to the easel. He tells us with joy about the “economy of brushstrokes” in the masterful work of John Singer Sargent, and quotes Churchill’s admonition that “everyone needs one or two lifelong hobbies.”
If that’s one, what is two? “Fly fishing.” Dr. Long includes the great local fishing as one of the many perks of his work here at Regent. He did tell us, however, not to assert that Vancouver’s proximity to world class fishing was his primary reason for coming to teach at Regent and so we won’t. Since coming he has found Regent to be a special place. He speaks very highly of his fellow faculty, and echoes the oft made sentiment that within school there is a wide variety of ecclesial backgrounds and a breadth of theological views which makes for the kind of rich disagreements that fuel a vibrant education.
Not only is Dr. Long a proficient fly fisherman, he has also turned some of the other faculty on to this craft. He tells us of the pride he feels in the part he played turning Dr. Provan into an accomplished angler. “Iain is my disciple,” he laughs, “But don’t write that down!” We agreed not to. We record it here from memory. (Actually, Dr. Long revealed an excellent sense of humour throughout the interview, although he has an interesting habit of concluding all his best material with the phrase, “Don’t print that!”)
Food: Phil awarded his burger A-. We agreed that it was a tasty burger, though not outstanding, and gave it an A-.
Ambiance: The restaurant is currently undergoing some renovations and so there is reason for optimism about an improvement in ambiance, which is to be hoped for. Phil gave it a B, though on the subject of improvement he wondered, “What can top background noise of Michael Moore talking about Trump?” We also gave it a B.
Service: Prompt and friendly, and they didn’t hesitate to turn down the TV volume on our request. Everyone agreed that an A was in order.
Price: The burgers were good but not exceptional or overly cheap. Phil gave a B+. Being students, we have to be stingy and only gave a B. Although the fountain pop was bottomless, Troy cautions against drinking too much in order to get your money’s worth. Dr. Long helpfully instructed Troy to say something funny about the ambiance, but he had had too many Cokes and observed, “You can’t really be funny when you feel bloated.” Indeed.
Class no longer offered because student knew all the answers
There was silence at 3 pm on Thursday afternoon, when a student cut off Dr. Rhea in the middle of Advanced Byzantine Ethnography. The student finished Dr. Reah’s sentence and went on to clarify the point over which the professor had stumbled for the last 20 years of his career. All the other students in the classroom took off their hats as one person, got down on their knees, and acknowledged the ultimate supremacy of the student. Many wept. Dr. Rhea led the mass genuflection, crying tears of joy at the moment of unprecedented revelation. Each of the five banners in the chapel tore in two.
After hearing the student’s comment, the remaining students in the class realized there was no point in continuing, as they were never going to achieve the heights of learning so effortlessly attained by the student.
The student graciously offered to host a “Lunchtime Concert” of themselves waxing lyrical on Dr. Rhea area of expertise. Dr. Rhea initially suggested that the student simply take over the class but came to realize that there was no point in continuing at all considering that the student had summed up his life’s work in a single comment.
No one present that day will ever again be satisfied with the mere shadows expressed in day-to-day learning at Regent, having caught a glimpse of the Form of true scholarship. One student simply said: “it all fades away in the light of that comment's glory.”