A Place Between Cynicism and Idealism by Greg Veltman
Greg Veltman recently moved to Edmonton to be part of the Ascend Leadership Project out of Christ Church (Anglican). He writes, “My passion is working to connect and link the fragments of the fractured social fabric, leading to a more coherent multi-dimensional future.” KAIROS supported Greg as a young adult representative to the 2014 Anglican Justice Camp: Land.
Try not to become too consumed
With what’s a criminal volume of oil that it takes to paint a portrait
The acrylic, the varnish, aluminum tubes filled with latex
The solvents and dye.
Let’s just call this what it is
The gentler side of mankind’s death wish.
When it’s my time to go
Gonna leave behind things that won’t decompose.
I’ll just call this what it is
My vanity gone wild with my crisis.
One day this all will repeat
I sure hope they make something useful out of me.
From “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” by Father John Misty
Here, I stand on the edge of the ledges I’ve made,
Looking for a steady hand,
Here, I stand in the land of the rocks in the valley,
Trying to be a better man.
And I take a little too much, without giving back,
If blessed are the meek then I’m cursed,
I want to learn how to love
Not just the feeling,
Bear all the consequences.
And I want to learn how to love,
And give it all back,
And be forgiven for all I’ve done.
From “Ledges” by Noah Gundersen
Three years ago, I went with a group of college students to Kermit, West Virginia. We went to bear witness to what the coal mining industry was doing to the land. We stayed on a land trust stewarded by three Catholic nuns in their 50’s. We looked over the edge of one mountain to see the destruction of the next mountain over. We went a mile into the ground, and touched the wall of coal that would power our lights at home. Sure, you could label us naive idealists who merely wanted to see our reliance on coal disappear and the ancient forests grown back overnight. Maybe we would singlehandedly topple an earth destroying industry.
In August, as a part of an immersion experience of Justice Camp, a small group of us travelled north of Edmonton to Fort McMurray and Fort Mackay. We went to bear witness, to listen to the narratives that shape the Alberta, and Canadian, economy: The Oilsands. Or rather, the chemical, bitumen, which is so bound up into the land, it takes many complex processes to extract and convert into useful products. It could have easily turned into another group of idealists, simply dismissing this industry as a grab at power and wealth, with no respect for land and peoples.
But that sort of simple analysis misses what really happens when we stop thinking of the world as an abstraction, and look, listen, and touch the world around us. These experiences often work like a mirror, you don’t always see others better, but you often get a more striking picture of yourself.
For me, this is the power of learning through immersion. By listening to those who work in the industry, First Nations peoples, church members, and seeing the place, the land, that is attached to “the Global economy,” I learned again how complicated the story of a good but fallen creation, being restored by the resurrection is.
“The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” From Shakespeare’s Hamlet
While a trip to the oilsands is always going to be filled with data and facts, I found that using the lens of narrative – listening to the stories that are told, and that we tell ourselves – became key to understanding the moral dimensions of the oilsands. Our short trip to Fort McMurray was like the play that catches our conscience. It amplifies our own responsibility and implicates us into the morality of life in a global economic system. And it wasn’t merely my own conscience that was caught in listening to these narratives, I heard it in the voices of all those that I met along the way.
And that’s where hope is found. The land, as stable and solid and passive as it seems, has the ability to stir up in us a narrative greater than our individual selves. It helps us recognize our small, but significant place in the universe – where we can find a narrative somewhere in between unrealistic idealism and an ungrateful cynicism.
This is a narrative filled with imagination. Like a good parable, it is never obvious – always calling us to see things from a different perspective, challenging our assumptions, keeping us wondering if we are the seed thrown on good soil or among the rocks, overtaken by weeds or eaten by birds.
It is good to have been given the time to be on the land, to pay attention to what is often taken for granted. It once again reminded me that the creation story is more than words on a page. I can feel it beneath my feet.