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Coloured Ribbon

The recent enormous and early dump of snow on my part of the world turned my thoughts to Christmas, our big midwinter celebration that often is set among snowdrifts where I live. Christmas includes the tradition of giving and receiving presents, often presented in boxes that are wrapped in colourful patterned paper and tied up with ribbons. Stores in malls will often have volunteers or even pay employees to professionally gift-wrap packages according to a high standard, for the many people who are pressed for time and want to save themselves the work of wrapping presents themselves.

Pretty packages, presented to a high standard, are eye-catching and pleasant. Difficulties arise when we attach standardized packaging ideas to the people we see around us, making assumptions about who people are or should be according to our own preconceived notions.

I wrote the song Coloured Ribbon a long time ago. Originally, the only meaning of the song was that – generally – we are all unique individuals who express ourselves according to our own particular characteristics and concerns, and that differences among us should be respected and appreciated rather than have people be compelled to assume a false conformity. In particular, my perception was that my community valued a very stoic approach to life, not wanting to express too much joy or too great a sense of sadness, in favour of being seen as rational and clever rather than ’emotional’. I felt this as a limitation, although it did influence my behaviour and self-expression.

The ‘if I am warped, then we can weave’ part of the song refers to the different directions of thread crossing in a woven cloth or tapestry, the ‘warp’ and the ‘woof’. The reference to ‘make our designs’ alludes obliquely to a fascination I had with kaleidoscopes as a kid – how bits of coloured glass/plastic could fall randomly within a container having many reflective surfaces, and you could come up with a beautiful pattern no matter how you shifted the viewfinder. Although form and structure in a society can give shape and security to our lives, I believe that we can allow form and structure to emerge from the interrelationships of diverse peoples as they meet and adjust to one another, to a far greater extent than we seem inclined to do.

The expression ‘fit to be tied’, in English, means that a person is so surprised that they can’t move, think, or speak. The song uses it in a different way – the word ‘fit’ also means ‘suitable for’, and within the song the phrase means that I don’t believe people should be restricted by the limitations of others to accept diversity or change.

At the time I wrote the song, the ribbon icon wasn’t applied to so many vehicles and other surfaces to indicate support for particular groups of people or causes. The fact that a rainbow ribbon icon now represents the wide spectrum of gender and sexual identities actually enhances the meaning of the central metaphor of the song, though. As important as gender and sexuality is to a person’s identity, we can’t assume a ‘package’ of traits that we apply as a blanket characterization to any particular gender or identity. If we do so, we lose opportunities to perceive and benefit from the rich tapestry of skills, knowledge, and character of each individual who we come across or meet in the course of our lives.

My song ‘Coloured Ribbon’ remains a plea to recognize and appreciate the authentic self of every person, and the inherent richness each individual brings to our tapestry of community, society, country, and all humanity.

Here follow the lyrics;

Coloured Ribbon

There’s a time to laugh,
A time to cry.
I want to live the full spectrum of life.
If you leave me free, I might fit some design –
Just please don’t tie me up with coloured ribbon.

If I am warped, then we can weave.
We make up the fabric of humanity.
If we be free, we can make our designs –
I don’t believe we are fit to be tied.

I don’t know why people need
To make shackles we call ‘normalcy’.
(We) choose others’ boxes, make them bleed,
Squeeze them into moulds so stubbornly.

We make their packages, we tie them tight,
Until so much of them is out of sight.

Oh how many precious gifts we would see
If we would only let them be free.

I want to laugh,
I want to cry.
I want to live the full spectrum of life.
If you leave me free, I might fit some design –
Just please don’t tie me up with coloured ribbon.

If we be free, we we can make our designs.
I don’t believe we are fit to be tied.

Truth is the beauty that we find when we’re real…
So please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.
Please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.
Please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.

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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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