Author: somethinggrand

writing and walking

Each Thursday at Eight

Liturgy for a Pandemic

second floor in sunlight

Each Thursday at eight, we stand at our lintels

to clap for care-workers we hope never to meet.

Behind the fence, unseen neighbours bang pots.

When the antiphon dies, I linger outside.

A blackbird trills. From the hushed street its partner answers.

In our city the pandemic spikes, aloof as the cats

who watch our prayers from behind the glass.



Matthew R Anderson April 25, 2020 Chilwell (Nottingham)

Pandemic Reading: The High Road

Terry Fallis books 2020

During this pandemic I’ve enjoyed re-reading Terry Fallis’s two comic novels, The Best Laid Plans, and The High Road. Both tell the story of the unlikely success of an unintentional candidate and crotchety member of parliament named Angus McClintock. While it seems a thousand years ago, my Bachelor’s Degree was in Political Science. I especially loved Canadian politics – remembering the drama of the elderly Trudeau struggling to keep himself and his tired, scandal-ridden party in office was riveting. Almost Shakespearean.

Flash forward to 2020. Angus’s patience with corruption is about as short as his unruly beard is long. Time after time either his honesty, or his assistant Daniel’s bumbling, land them both in trouble. It’s hard not to compare the determinedly forthright, responsible – and fictional – Angus with a very real president south of the border who seems incapable of anything but lying, blaming, and bullying. Angus is the opposite. He’s a politician who never planned to be one, who takes responsibility seriously, who never encourages hate or prejudice (the second book is called “The High Road” a phrase one certainly could not apply to American politics), and who doesn’t care if he loses his job for doing the right thing.

The Best Laid Plans, and The High Road are together a fun, quick read. My one major critique is that the character of Lindsay should have been fleshed out and given more of a role. But behind the laughs Fallis has a serious message: that a government and its opposition are only as good as the people we elect. I recommend both books.

They Know Not What They Do

reading Valtonen book

They Know Not What They Do – Jussi Valtonen (London: Oneworld, 2017)

Reading They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen, is a bit like looking in on a group of observant and smart people, who share thoughtful, even profound, observations on love, disappointment, and American and Finnish culture, but who just happen to be on a sinking ship. You – and they – can never forget that things are only going to get much worse. Set against Helsinki’s endlessly brooding winter skies, and the droning of cicadas in Baltimore’s summer heat, a feeling of inescapable doom hangs over this dystopic novel as its flawed characters meet, mate, and make mistakes. The book feels somewhat long at 470 pages, but perhaps that’s just because, while there are lots of surprising plot twists, tragedy never feels far away.

They Know Not What They Do is an apt title. Joe, the ambitious American protagonist, Samuel, his estranged Finnish son, Alina, Samuel’s mother, and others in the novel seem to lack self-awareness in a normal, bumbling, struggle-through-the-day kind of way. However, they’re not lucky in life. None is able to escape the extraordinarily tragic consequences of failings that seem, in the end, fairly ordinary. This is part of the novel’s power. We’ve all made these mistakes, and if we haven’t met such tragedies, perhaps we’ve just been fortunate. The inside back cover states that Valtonen is not just a fine author and an exceptional wordsmith, but also a psychologist. He clearly knows day-to-day human weakness. Although he’s sympathetic, he’s a realist. The often very funny black humour will keep the reader going, even while a sensitive reader sometimes wants to put the book down rather than go through yet another looming misunderstanding, disappointment, or mistake.

If anything marks the book as Finnish, perhaps it’s this close attention to failure. As a Canadian reader, I’m familiar with literature where simple survival is victory. Finnishness and Americanism are presented as opposites, and are played up in the novel. But the stereotypes are presented only to be subverted: the American protagonist ends up paralyzed by indecision and fate, while the Finn achieves a sort of resolution.

The language throughout is clear, crisp, and its observations razor-sharp: the reader would never know the book was originally published in Finnish (translator Kristian London). Valtonen won the Finlandia Prize for this book, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s exceptionally observant, and extremely well-written. Academics will recognize their foibles in its sharp-eyed observations of university politics, but so will fatigued young parents, adolescents just entering college, and the middle-aged trying to decide if they’ve accomplished anything with their lives. They Know Not What They Do was written by someone who very definitely knew what they were doing: if you can handle the coming tragedy, it’s well worth getting to know these people as well.

Do You Mind if I Sit?


In memory of OS

Tears in his eyes, an old man tells me he wishes I wouldn’t choose

“Now Thank We All our God”

quite so often.

It’s a nice hymn, he says. I’m sorry Pastor.

Don’t mean to be a bother.

The organist likes it too. I can tell,

because the way she plays it. She really plays it. Poom, poom! – he laughs.

I sang that when I was nineteen, Pastor.

A young man.

He looks closely then. Checking to see if I can picture him

at nineteen.

Not like now, he says.


In my navy uniform, or what was left of it after going over the Italian wire.

I was lucky to get to that bunker. Lots didn’t.

I know other people like it.

He’s wipes a rheumy eye. Liver spots on his hand. It’s a good tune, he says.

Where was I? Oh. Yes. The problem is,

when I hear that hymn

I hear everything else:

The shells, the pain.

The ones who drowned. And we who remained,

standing tall, trying to be brave.

Five hundred men in that bunker, pastor. Singing Nun Danket like our lives depended on it.

The dust in the air. The wounded. The maimed.

And after the Amen –


No one knew what came next.

Until into that silence the senior officer said three words.

“Now we surrender.”

Oh Pastor…

That’s what he said. He smiles.

I’m an old man.

It’s a good hymn. It just makes me cry.

My war ended thanking God.

You see? He takes my hand.

You do what you want. I can’t be thankful enough.

That’s my problem. But. He leans close:

Soldiers stand, he says.

Do you mind, terribly,

if I sit?


(I just heard the news that my former parishioner, about whom I wrote this piece, passed away a couple days ago. The years I was his pastor he quietly refused to sing another hymn from our hymnbook, that I found out later had been used, with different words, by the Nazi regime during WW II).


Watching The Good Place during the Month of the Dead

To mark the month that for Christians begins with All Saints and All Souls’ days, Dr Christine Jamieson and I wrote an article about the NBC/Netflix ethics comedy “The Good Place.” It was picked up by Salon! Here’s the article:

“The Good Place”: Ethics comedy asks if there’s a second chance at life

The Good Place

The Good Place & The Resurrection


Last week, I went to Saskatchewan to see my family. While there, I took some time to drive to the edge of my old home-town to pay my respects at my parents’ graves. That’s a strange expression: “to pay one’s respects.” These days we only use it about death. Once people said it for all kinds of visits. Now, paying one’s respects is pretty much about cemeteries, or visiting families at a funeral. There I was, in a empty graveyard beside the trees. I could see my breath in the air and hear the big trucks whistling by on the highway. In my case, “paying respects” meant rooting through little skiffs of snow and pushing aside dead leaves in a half-dozen places, until finally I found the brass plaques in the ground that have my parents’ names on them.

It felt good to make that visit. But really, who was it for? Someone could easily point out that now my parents are gone they don’t need my respect. Dead is dead, they could tell me. Your parents are gone. It’s nice you did that, but that visit had far more to do with you feeling good about being a dutiful son, than about them.

Some Sadducees, those who claim that there is no resurrection, came to Jesus one day and asked him a question. Teacher, they said, we have a problem for you. Then they went into a long story about a woman who married seven brothers in a row, all of whom died. So, they asked him. You can just imagine them smirking. Shrugging their shoulders at Jesus. You tell us, whose wife will this poor woman be in the resurrection?

The point isn’t the story, which is kind of weird. The point for the Saduccees was, “dead is dead.” Jesus was one of those Jews who taught that there was a resurrection. What, is this woman going to have seven husbands, they asked? They were trying to trap Jesus into admitting the whole idea is ridiculous.

We don’t realize what a “hot-button” issue resurrection was back then. As much as climate crisis is today, the resurrection was what a number of first-century Jews argued about. The group that came to see Jesus didn’t like resurrection. They thought it was silly. But Jesus and the Pharisees took the other side: at the end of time, God wouldn’t have any trouble scuffing through piles of snow or pushing aside leaves. God can find the faithful no matter how much snow is on the ground. That’s what Jesus taught, and the other Pharisees too. The faithful dead would be raised.

On this issue, we who claim to follow Jesus, who call ourselves Christians, are probably more like Jesus’ opponents. “What do Christians believe happens to you when you die?” I’ll ask that to my classes sometimes at Concordia. Sometimes the Jewish and Muslim students know the answer better than the ones who actually go to a Christian church.  The Christian kids will say things like: “Christians believe our spirit goes to heaven to be with God.” Or: “our soul spends eternal life in heaven.” Floating on clouds or something like that. When they say that, I show them what Jesus said, and what Paul writes in the New Testament. There’s nothing about souls.  When we say the Apostles’ Creed later on in the service, notice the words: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of …the soul? No. Some kind of disembodied spirit that floats around? No. Immediately going to heaven through some kind of shining tunnel? Not at all. We believe, we say every church service, in the resurrection of the body.” At the last day. When the reign of God changes everything, and everyone.

I’m not saying I personally have any idea what happens to us! But I do know what the Bible says. And it doesn’t say much about individual post-life spiritual existence. The scriptures tell us there will be a whole new, physical, world. There, truth and justice and love will reign, and all of the awful things that can happen to people here just don’t. There will come a time, it says, when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and wars will cease, and hatreds will stop. It will be a time where there will never be another Krystallnacht, the sad anniversary of which we marked yesterday. It will be a place where every child will grow up without fear, healthy and happy. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. And that place, the Bible insists, will be very real. And physical.

Again, who knows? The Bible was struggling to put hope to words. Paul says we’re baptized into Christ’s death, so that just as Jesus rose, someday we will too. That starts, he insisted, right now.

I really like the resurrection of the dead way of looking at life after life for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s organic. Jesus and the Pharisees taught that ALL creation would be renewed. Not just human beings. ALL creation: plants, animals, trees, air, water. I think that’s a message we need to hear. We don’t need a faith that tells us we can ignore what’s happening to our planet because, after all, humanity’s real nature is spiritual and all this physicial stuff is just distraction. Physical resurrection doesn’t privilege human beings. Jesus said that what he called “the children of the resurrection” will ALWAYS be physical, in some way at least. If we really believed that this place, this earth, is where we will always be, maybe we would take better care of it. Maybe we’d honour those trees and plants and animals and water right now, because they are co-heirs with us of what is coming.

Secondly, I think the resurrection of the dead gets another idea right, and that is relationality. By that I mean that the usual Christian idea of dying and going to heaven is pretty individualistic. It’s more than a little selfish. But the Biblical idea of post-life life is radically corporate, and mutual. Just like we are in constant relationship right now with other human beings, and with the natural world, so we will be forever. We were created into relationships. And that’s how we hope to be RE-created. There will be a city, says the book of Revelation, and a river will run through it. Its gates will be open. And it will have trees.

Lately I’ve been watching the Netflix series “The Good Place”. It’s fascinating that in a world that insists it’s not very religious, there’s a hit TV series about what happens to us when we die. But the take-away message of “The Good Place” is really about life NOW. Not life after death. The characters, whose names are Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani, struggle to change and to be better. When they do that, they’re doing what we all need to do. They’re learning what it means to be better people. Better human beings, less selfish, and more loving.

Whenever I go to that cemetery in Saskatchewan to visit my parents’ graves, it’s a bit disconcerting. Even though I’ve been there a dozen times its always hard to get oriented. It always takes me a while to find them. This time I took Christmas holly. I banged the ice out from the frozen flower containers and put in the holly. Then I stood around for a while, and thought about my parents. To the Sadducees who came to test him, Jesus said: the children of the resurrection cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God. I started getting cold, and my step-mother was waiting. So I said a sort of prayer, and climbed back in the car.

In “The Good Place,” the real message is that what will endure beyond the tomb is mostly who we’ve become because of how we treat each other. Jesus said the same thing. What happens after death might be a mystery. But whatever your beliefs, practicing the discipline of how to act with love, and faithfulness, and justice is a start. And caring for each other and the planet like our future depends on it, seems exactly the best place to begin.


The Persistent Widow and Greta Thunberg


Over the past six months or so I’ve been in correspondence with Lufthansa, the German airline company. Last year I was on a Lufthansa flight delayed so long I missed my connection, had to stay overnight at Frankfurt airport, and lost a hotel room I’d already paid for at my destination. At the time I was upset. But only later did I realize that perhaps I could get some refund.

It wasn’t easy. I sent an email. No response. Maybe three weeks later I sent a follow up email. This time, there was a two sentence reply: “you may be eligible for compensation. We will get back to you.” Then nothing. Nothing happened for a month. I sent another email. This time, they replied confirming that yes, by law they owed me a partial refund, asking for details and promising to get back to me. I sent the details. Then waited. And waited. Nothing. Finally I sent another email. They asked for all the same details again, as if I’d never sent the first email. By this time I was starting to suspect it was a game of attrition, an orchestrated tactic of seeing if I was willing to jump through all the hoops to get what was apparently, owed to me.

I was. I sent the details again. This time, I upped my game. I decided I wouldn’t wait on them. I’d send one email every week I never heard anything back. This went on for another six weeks, sometimes they would write saying that they had to re-initiate the file, sometimes saying there’d been a mix up. Then nothing for another couple weeks. Finally, without any warning and no other correspondence from them, a cheque showed up in the mail. There was no letter. Nothing. Just a cheque. I sent a thank you email. No response.

Jesus told a story of a widow in a bit of the same situation. This widow, said Jesus, kept going to a judge, over and over, complaining, whining and wheedling into his ear: “give me justice.” Unfortunately, the widow in Jesus’ story had picked a judge a bit like Lutfhansa. Where the heart should be, there was just a balance statement. This hard rock of a man didn’t want to give her justice.

But the point is, says Jesus, that widow got her justice, anyway. How did she do it? Sheer persistence. She bugged justice out of the unjust judge. She hassled what was right and good out of the system. She complained and complained and complained and pushed her way through every possible hoop until finally she just wore the system down and got what was owed.

This gospel from Luke is a bit of a strange one, if we think it’s about us and God. After all, do we really want to think of a good, kind, graceful and loving God as an unjust judge who only wants to listen to us if we hassle so much it becomes as unbearable as my weekly emails to Lufthansa? No, that’s not God. At least I hope not. The judge is just a foil, a character.

The hero of this story is NOT the unjust judge. It’s the woman. We’re supposed to act like the woman.

Even now, in the 21st century, women aren’t supposed to do what the widow did. Women aren’t supposed to stand up for themselves. They’re supposed to get what they want by looking pretty, or being a bit flirty, or being really, really nice and keeping their voices quiet. I’m not a woman, but even I know this. Standing up for yourself and saying: “this is what I’m owed. This is an injustice” is definitely NOT what women have ever been taught to do. Even now. And in the first century, in a Roman setting, where women were literally the legal property of some man, it was even MORE unheard of. Jesus made a woman the hero of his story. Way back then.

If you think this is only true of way back when, in Jesus’ day, we have a glaring example right here in Canada, right now. The sixteen year old activist, Greta Thunberg, is a young woman. Very much like the widow in the story, Greta is definitely NOT acting like she’s supposed to. Up until fairly recently, the prevailing wisdom about sixteen year old girls is that they should be downloading music and shopping. Greta is NOT out shopping. God forbid. She’s NOT worrying about what the boys in her high school are doing, painting her nails, or gossiping, or dreaming about some relationship.

Greta is changing the world by making a big stink. Like in Jesus’ story.

Greta is in Alberta right now, I think – doing what makes male world leaders, all those unjust judges with names like Kennedy, and Moe, and Scheer and Trudeau, quake in their boots. She’s calling for justice. And she’s NOT stopping. Even when Justin turns on the charm she says “you’re not doing enough.” Even when Maxime Bernier calls her a freak. Even when mostly male commentators say she looks weird because of her Aspberger’s Syndrome. Even when she glares down President Trump at the UN. Even and especially when she tells adults to “man up” and start behaving like they, like we, should. Greta is very much the widow in Jesus’ story.

According to the text, something was happening to the disciples at the point when Jesus told this story to them. It actually uses the expression that the disciples were “losing heart”. And in response Jesus didn’t tell them “oh, it will be all right eventually.” He told them this story with a woman as hero. The simplest way not to lose heart, Jesus says, is to be like her. DO something. Identify what you need. Climate justice. An end to this damned “take all the money” and to hell with the environment thinking. Jesus is telling us, his disciples, to go out, and fight for justice!

Faith and passivity don’t go together. In fact, life and passivity don’t go together, according to the parable. Unfortunately, setting out on that course probably means conflict, which we normally think of as a bad thing. We don’t like conflict. It’s uncomfortable. But Jesus’s story is clear: it was only because of her willingness to face conflict that the widow got justice. Like the widow, like Greta, we have to be willing to face some conflict.

Tomorrow is a big day here in Canada. By tomorrow evening we will have a new government. It’s going down to the wire on this one. It’s really hard to say what kind of government it might be: conservative, liberal, majority, minority, and if minority, who might hold the balance of power between the Bloc, the NDP, even the Greens.

But whoever it is, whether an Andrew or a Justin, the two most likely possibilities as prime minister, the truth is that whoever it is will probably NOT bring justice to the planet, to the immigrants, to the Indigenous peoples, or anywhere else. Like with the unjust judge, like with the little Lufthansa payment, the system is rigged against justice. For you and I to be faithful followers of Christ we will almost certainly have to remember the unjust widow again. Learn to be more like this woman, Jesus is telling us. Tuesday morning, when you get up, whoever the government is, make a stink. Practice obstinate do-gooding. Don’t be afraid of a little conflict. Never belittle anyone, but fight for justice, and speak truth to power. Give a voice for the defenseless, the ones whom the God of Israel, of Abraham and Sara, of Esther, of Ruth, has always said are the special ones.

It’s telling that we have an expression for losing heart, in English, but we have no expression for “gaining heart”. There is a word, but we don’t often think of it. The word is “encouragement”. En-courage (in French, maybe) – ment. Gaining heart. So we do not lose heart, says Paul in 2 Corinthians, even though our outer selves are wasting away. Our inner self is being renewed, day by day. The widow in Jesus’ story was renewed.

When I look at that sixteen year old Swedish teenager, I think: now, what am I doing as a sixty year old man? Looking at her you can’t think: I hope I will do the same when I’m their age. What we have to think is: I hope I’m as obnoxiously fighting for truth and love and justice right now.

Once there was a widow, who kept going to a judge. May you and I learn that an important part of giving thanks is knowing, not only what we have, but what we must do to gain justice for ourselves, for this world, and for all who need it, from the hard hearts of this world’s rulers. And then may we take action, knowing we are loved, and in love, for ourselves and for the world.

‘Twas Nillig

empty wine glass

I’ve been writing poems while looking at Sara’s sketch book. This one popped out.  With thanks to Lewis Carroll!

‘Twas ‘Nillig, and the savagnola

Spired and glarbled aft my slake;

All rumsy were my conturbations

Mid the sorms dafts o’ertake.


‘Beware the Sappertalk, my child!

Beware the Rampling Dot, and shun

the maws that flap, the tweets e’en mild,

o’erpious Pêtians, every one.


So frake your heartened hard now addened,

Papered prayers lay lacquered flumb.

Snicker-snack again the morrow.

Off to rumpled bed; be done.


Matthew R. Anderson  Aug 9, 2019 Nottingham UK

Between a Good Story & Hard Facts


from R.B. Nevitt’s A Winter at Fort Macleod

While I’m writing my book about our long western walks, sometimes I find myself caught between a good story and a set of hard facts. I’m writing about our treks through ranches on the edge of Cypress Hills in 2015. Remembering the cattle, the horses, and the land there, I’d like to tell the story I found in Peter Erasmus’s Buffalo Days and Nights. Erasmus was a Métis interpreter, guide (for the Palliser expedition, among others), hunter, trader, and diplomat (his account of the Treaty Six signing is invaluable, since he was actually hired by the Indigenous parties to the Treaty). He could speak four or five prairie languages, as well as English and French, and could read ancient Greek. Discussing the extinction of the bison/buffalo, and the problem of poaching, Erasmus notes: “True, I ate buffalo meat at Big Bear’s camp in the Cypress Hills…but it tasted a great deal like beef – so much so that I didn’t consider it polite to inquire too closely as to its source.”[i] The problem is, the story makes it sound as if the Cree were habitually enjoying food at the expense of white settlers – but the opposite was the case. 1881-82 was the time of the “hunger winter” (see Candace Savage’s A Geography of Blood). Cree, Saulteaux and Assiniboine, facing a brutal Saskatchewan cold in tents made only of thin cotton (the hides being sold or converted to food), dressed in rags, were dying, by the hundreds, of starvation and starvation-linked diseases. Meanwhile, the government in Ottawa kept cutting its relief budget. Dewdney, closer, used the famine as a tactic to try to empty the Hills of its Indigenous population. The first ranchers in the area offered their animals at cost to relieve the famine. Dewdney refused. No one knows why, but it remains a fact that he had financial links to the American company that provided meat to the Canadian government, and accepting the offer would have undercut their – and his – profits. [ii] Plus ça change…the more things change…  There’s no simple story in remembering Settlement.

[i] Peter Erasmus, Buffalo Days and Nights. Ed. Henry Thompson. Calgary: Fifth House Ltd, reprint 1999, 301.

[ii] James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013, 115.

Scarf and Medicine Bundle

Matthew squares off with Scarf Women

On my leaving, the Finns of Montreal gave me a gift. It wasn’t a gift card, or a gold watch (do people do that anymore?) or a bottle of fancy wine. They thought about who I was to them, and who they were to me. Then nine households – nine different women, to be more precise – knitted a scarf. Together. They each, in turn, added wool from Finland, and colours from their homes that would mean something.

I’ve rarely been so touched. I wear the scarf often. I keep it in a place where I can look at it, as I’m doing now. Its colours tell me about the people who knitted it and the services and events we enjoyed together. Its heft in my hands reminds me how warmly I was embraced by the Finnish community. Although it wasn’t intended as such, the scarf turned out to be the perfect length for a stole (that priests and pastors wear over their robe as a sign of their ordination). When I got it, I told the women it would be a ritual object for me – it couldn’t help but be, because of how it was made.

In 1884 Canada’s Federal Government passed the potlach law, part of the Indian Act. It “legally” abolished all “Indian cultural practices,” the Sun Dance, the potlach, and other religious ceremonies. It also forbade Indigenous people and groups from keeping their ritual items. That provision was only repealed in the 1950s. Bob Joseph, in 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, writes that “for 71 years…almost three generations grew up deprived of the cultural fabric of their ancestors….thousands of irreplaceable ceremonial masks, robes, blankets, and other….items were lost forever to their people” (49).

When I walked into the Castle Museum here in Nottingham UK, the first thing to catch my eye was the medicine pouch you see below. The little sign says it comes from Alberta, Canada. When ceremonies – the life of a culture – were outlawed, many of the stolen objects were given to museums. That bundle belonged – STILL belongs – to someone…Blackfoot? Cree? It’s hard to imagine someone coming into my house to take my Finnish scarf, or a Bible, or a communion chalice. But that’s exactly what my government did to the Indigenous peoples. Learning this, and remembering it, is part of being ready for reconciliation.