My Evening With Bruce

I went to see Bruce Cockburn last night, live at the McPherson Theatre in Victoria. It would not be an understatement to suggest that it was one of the better concerts I have been to… but then I probably say that after every good concert I attend. I also had a fantastic seat: front row directly infront of Bruce. This photo was shot on my phone from my lap.

Not only is Bruce a phenomenal musician and guitar player, there is something about his ability to craft lyrics that is always profound and thought-provoking. It was an incredible experience to be able to sit and hear him sing them live. He performed a mix of songs off of his new album (to which I have not yet listened) and old favourites. Some of the favourites (how does one pick a set list from a repertoire as long and as deep as his?) were ones I had hoped he would play (Pacing the Cage comes to mind) and others were songs I had forgotten I loved. One of the classics I was struck by all over again as I remembered its beauty was Strange Waters.

I’ve seen a high cairn kissed by holy wind
Seen a mirror pool cut by golden fins
Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities
The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity

I’ve stood in airports guarded glass and chrome
Walked rifled roads and landmined loam
Seen a forest in flames right down to the road
Burned in love till I’ve seen my heart explode

You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters

Across the concrete fields of man
Sun ray like a camera pans
Some will run and some will stand
Everything is bullshit but the open hand

You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?

Every time I read or listen to these lyrics, something different jumps out. I think that the first thing that grabbed me last evening was the phrase “You’ve been leading me beside strange waters.” The reference to Psalm 23 is unmistakable, however instead of the “still waters” of the psalmist, we have “strange” waters. Strange seems more accurate to life, certainly to life right now.

Two other lines that jumped out to me last night, and continue to do so today, are in the first verse: [I’ve] Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities / The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity. Part of their impact is a recollection of my time in China. As we walked down a backstreet near the river in Xining, my Chinese language partner turned to me and said, “If you were here with a party member on an official visit, you would not be allowed to come here.” It was a mud-track road with tumbling down brick building on either side. The cavernous doors opened into dark, dank mud floored “houses” where chickens ran around freely and large families squeezed into a single room. Yet this is where a large number of people lived. And the government was trying to take it from them: pushing them to goodness-knows-where so that their houses could be bulldozed and tall apartment blocks put in their place.

The next place my thoughts went was to some of the ideas I am pondering as I reflect on church’s stated mission of being the “Cathedral to the City” and what this entails. It is something I am trying to incorporate into my Holy Week meditations and has therefore been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to be the Cathedral to the City? Part of that is being aware of those around us and working to integrate our worlds: our guest preacher last week called it being an “indigenous church.” In our part of the city, we are faced with both the beautiful but expensive houses and the people who have no other choice but to pull a tattered blanket over themselves as they lie in the doorway of a closed shop. The latter are the truths that the city would rather hide. They are the truths that we must confront if we are to live an engaged life within our community. Some of these individuals are indeed the mad whose blessing must be accepted without pity.

How then do we practice this engagement? I have no answers. It is much easier to ask questions than to actively search oneself, find answers, and make changes… or even find a path to what might eventually become an answer. I hope, through the process of reflection as I prepare for Holy Week, to begin to step onto that path and invite others to walk with me.

God’s Concert

Still alive and I have plans in place to make it through the week and get in all the studying time I need. As long as I don’t get called into work (extra shifts) between now and then.

Until a time when I have more than thirty seconds, here are some thought-provoking words by Christopher Page, rector at St. Philips, on the concerts I went to this weekend. The hall he mentions is Alix Goolden Hall, which used to be a Methodist Church (back in the day). The Saturday night concert especially (which is the one to which he refers) was spectacular. Pacific Baroque always plays wonderfully and the Victoria Children’s Choir was fantastic. It was just the brain studying break I needed this weekend.

Tonight was Evensong at the Cathedral with Pacific Baroque and our St. Christopher’s Singers. The place was packed – probably in the neighbourhood of 800+ people were there.

Who are we to decide?

That was one of the the big questions Gen. Romeo Dallaire challenged us with last night at the Child Soldier Initiative Benefit Concert.  I originally found out about it because Bruce Cockburn was playing and when I saw the General was also speaking, I thought it would be something interesting to attend.

The evening was at once deeply disturbing and moving and thought-provoking.  General Dallaire began by speaking about the use of children as soldiers: explaining its origin (Mozambique in the 80s), how it is perpetrated, and the dangers it presents to all of us.  He was condemning of the apathy of the world and how self-serving out interests are.  We think, if there is nothing in it for me, why should I step in?  Why should I become involved in a conflict that will most likely result in loss of life of people in my country and be potentially damaging to my political career if I will get nothing out of it?  His question in response was Who are we to decide?  To decide who to help and who to abandon?  To decide who is human and who is not?  We cannot and should not presume to do so.

Bruce Cockburn’s set of songs included a number of favourites and many discussed social issues.  He shared stories of how they came to be and why he wrote them.  His lyrics, as always, are profoundly moving and his imagery stimulates thought.  He is an amazing guitar player.  You realize it on his recordings, but to see him live is something else.  Things I has assumed were two guitars he does all at once on one guitar.  And he only used a 12-string once.  Crazy.  There is something special, even magical,  about seeing an artist perform their work in benefit of a cause they feel passionately for.

One of the best parts of the evening was when the two of them were on stage together.  Bruce was playing some instrumental on his guitar while Gen. Dallaire shared stories and impressions of Rwanda.  The combination was stirring and you could feel the passion in his voice as he challenged inaction with action.

I was glad of my 20 min walk home from the university last night.  After a day of strong winds and rain, the night sky was clear and the stars were able to shine brightly through.  There is a park just down the road that I walked through, stopping for awhile in the middle to gaze up and admire the majesty of the heavens and think.  Hearing Gen. Dallaire talk about his experiences in Rwanda and challenge the world to do something is one thing; actually acting and attempting to affect a change is something else.  The task seems as daunting and makes one feel as small as one does when looking at the vast expanse of the night sky.  It brings to mind the psalm:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have sent in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

Yet, even in this vast expanse, He is mindful of us.  Is it not time that we are mindful of each other?

Chapeau Mr Cohen

I arrived in Montreal!

Last night was the first night of the Montreal Jazz Festival, so, of course, we went.  Even better, the opening concert was a tribute to Leonard Cohen, “Chapeau Mr Cohen.” The lineup included everyone from son, Alex Cohen to Buffy St. Marie to Stephen Page of the Barenaked Ladies to Madeleine Peyroux singing arrangements of Leonard Cohen’s songs!  There were like 10 000 people packing out Place des arts, but we had a decent spot when people weren’t trying to sneak in front of us or stepping on our toes to get by… yay for being tall!

Summer on the Island

Summer has come to the Island. With it also comes hoards of tourists and the re-emergence of the source of one of my pet peeves: people who walk slowly and weave so as to take up the entire sidewalk. How anyone gets anywhere faster than a snail’s pace is beyond me.
Summer also means that there are lots of great music acts playing practically every night around town. This week was no exception: I went to two shows and very nearly went to a third. Tuesday night was Feist. It was the opening night of the tour and, to be quite frank, it showed. All was redeemed last night when I saw Loreena McKennitt’s show at the Royal Theatre. I had a fantastic seat: centre of the front row of the 2nd section in the balcony. I was essentially looking straight at her the entire night. Unfortunately, I developed the urgent need to pee midway through the 3rd song and tried to focus on the songs while praying for the intermission to come soon. That did not detract from the experience though. Between the different sounds (There was quite the collection of instruments; I had no idea that she used so many different musicians and instruments. There were 9 other musicians and most of them played at least 2-3 different instruments!) and visual sights she used to create the atmosphere, I was pretty much captivated for the evening, as was everyone else I talked to. So now I’ve been listening to An Ancient Muse non-stop…
Hard to believe that two weeks from today I’ll be moving onto the boat in preparation for taking off for over a year. Today I went and picked up a bunch more things I’ll need in the medications and toiletry departments. That stuff is expensive! Now that I have all of it, I won’t get sick at all the entire Offshore, rendering everything I just bought unnecessary. But, Murphy’s Law, if I don’t buy it, I’ll get sick and wish I had. I am very glad, however, that I am not backpacking all of this and I have a “permanent” home and a place where I can store everything.
I’d also like to extend an open invitation to everyone in Victoria (or those who wish they were!) to come down to the Inner Harbour June 3rd (Sunday) around 2pm – that is when our send-off ceremony will be and it is the last glimpse you will get of me for a year. Mark it on your calendars and I’ll see you there.

Sunset over Swartz Bay

Welcome to Montreal

Didn’t think I’d make it back here quite so soon…
I had the wonderful fortune of getting up at 3:30am yesterday to catch a 4am shuttle bus out to the airport in time for my 5:40am flight. Gaa, that’s early. I spent the better part of the morning trying to help my stomach figure out what was going on – first breakfast was at 4am, second breakfast was in Vancouver airport at about 6:15, first lunch (I feel like a hobbit just writing this) was around 9am (noon eastern time!) on the plane, second lunch was around noon pacific time… then dinner when I got here.
The shuttle bus operator was far to chipper for that early in the morning and was a little freaky when he started going on about being “Victoria’s most famous bus driver” because his name is Freddy and his last name is Krueger “just like the guy from the horror movie.” Okay, okay, I’ll pay you double if you just let me get to the airport alive!

Oh, and in very exciting news…. I’m seeing John Mayer perform tonight!! (Thanks Jen!)

Jeremy Fisher and Tomi Swick are playing at Central Bar and Grill April 7. Tickets are $18. If anyone wants to go with me, let me know… I’d like to go, but don’t feel like going by myself.