Saturday 16 April 2011

about penandpapermama!

At, my hub site, you will find an exciting variety of pages that give you an overview of my websites and blogs, and also provide information about ways I can help you out, as individuals, families, groups, or companies.

These pages include:

  • About Pen and Paper Mama: an introduction to me, norma j hill 
  • Need help? Tutoring and Other Activities: Do you live or operate your business in the Penticton area (or perhaps elsewhere)? As an independent business person, I offer assistance in the following areas: Tutoring; Office/Business Assistant; Speaking Engagements, Classroom Presentations, and Workshops; and Child Care. Check out the "Need Help?" page for details. 
  • Introductions to my various websites and blogs. Check out these introductory pages, then be sure to check out the sites that interest you, and of course sign up to follow them: 
  • Conversations, Reflections, and Meditations (my original website, and accompanying blog) 
  • My Church Journey blog 
  • Penticton Pedestrian blog - photos and stories about beautiful Penticton BC 
  • Another Chance Okanagan - website and blog about the Another Chance Street Ministry 
  • The Hill Gang: website of stories and photos for family and close friends

Also at, you will find a blog about Pen and Paper Mama's on-going activities and interests, information About Pen And Paper Mama, and Comments and Disclosures policies for my sites.

See you there!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

thoughts on cultural identity (part 4)

But times change.  I grew up, moved away to university, moved again even farther away to my first teaching job, and married a young man in that community.  We moved again, and again, and again, as the economy dictated, and as my husband's cultural roots keep drawing him back to his islands.  In these various communities there were not any of my childhood denomination's churches, and we moved through an amazing variety of denominations with a sometimes dizzying variety of "doctrinal distinctives" and a variety of worship styles and rituals.  Some of those differences would have severely rattled a lot of folks, I'm sure, but I managed fine since the "culture" of "big tent evangelicalism" covered them all to some degree (some less than others, of course).

Sometimes I look back and wonder if the church culture was more important than the belief system.  Of course, belief system was part of the culture, come to think of it.  System, denomination, institution...  They all fit in there, didn't they?

Now as anyone who has read some of my ramblings on this blog will attest, in the past few years I've been increasingly drawn out of the comfort and identity of church culture.  Even the street ministry I gather with these days has been less churchy lately, it seems.  Though, I'm pretty sure, not less Jesus-focused.  Hmmm...  Maybe more Jesus-focused, with the demise of the programming that for a time tried to seep in?  Interesting...

Consequently, I've been feeling culture-less again.   More.  It is hard enough not having an "ethic" culture to identify with - a struggle that increased when I married a First Nations man, and watched the regrowth of his people's pride of culture, and their increasing relationship with God in ways that involve some of those cultural ways.  At the same time, I've experienced the loss of other personal identifiers - other "cultures" that took the place, in my life, of an ethnic cultural identity and pride that seemed not to exist.  Like the church culture I have already described.  And the "family disease" in which parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, nephews and nieces, have almost all been public school teachers.   Somewhere along the line, though, I became increasingly disillusioned with the educational system.  I tried alternatives like teaching at a Christian School, and home-schooling (very eclectically).  Then a planned move ended my last teaching job.  And I haven't gone back.  And at the same time, my parents died, and my five close-in-age children grew up and moved out and started families of their own.  So much for my teacher identity, and my mommy identity.

Now what?


thoughts on cultural identity (part 3)

Our church cultural identity included enthusiastic congregational singing, accompanied on piano.  All well-raised girls took piano lessons, of course.  As my parents explained when I wanted to take art lessons instead, "Christians don't need to be artists.  But they do need to be musical."  So I spent many tone-deaf years learning to play piano and clarinet, and being part of the church youth group "musicals."  Sadly, in the latter I was given "speaking" parts, as my natural musical-ness didn't measure up for singing.  It was a great personal tragedy, and in reality, made me an outsider to some degree.  Oh dear. 

Over the years we of course memorized many hymns.  We had a Sunday morning service hymn book of majestic, worshipful songs (red, hard-covered), a Sunday-evening service and prayer meeting hymn book with more "evangelistic" songs (green, hard-cover), and a camp-meeting hymn book of lively, evangelistic songs, and even some "youth" songs (burgundy, paper-cover).  I still have copies of the latter two!  And then of course there were Sunday-School songs, Children's Club songs, Youth group songs, and around-the-campfire-accompanied-by-guitar songs.  We weren't big on choirs, but we liked youth group musicals, men's quartets, men's and ladies' quartets, and Bible-school traveling choirs.

Summer camps were much beloved events, gathering in the extended family from far and wide.  Many folks took their annual work holidays at camp time, year after year.  Some even built their own private cabins in the denominational campground.    I remember one dear lady, Sister Smith, who attended family camp faithfully until she was 103.  She never missed a camp in well over 60 years.

Yes, I do believe that church was for many of us "our culture," our identity.  We knew who we were.  We knew what we believed (in a general way, but that's another story).  We lived in a time and place where denominationalism was important, and we wore our denominational distinctives proudly, like a badge of honor.  We giggled at jokes about how heaven would have a special area reserved for us true Christians, but deep down inside, I suspect we kind of believed it.


thoughts on cultural identity (part 2)

All of my life, I have felt "culture-less."  Growing up, many of my friends were first- or second-generation immigrants.  I watched them simultaneously take pride in their new Canadian-ness, and also in the language, social rituals (like those amazing Italian weddings!), foods, national costumes, and religious practices of their former homelands.  They were proud hypenated-Canadians!

Me?  I came from long lines of British descent, mostly several generations Canadian.  The only uniqueness I could see was in my paternal grandfather, who had immigrated from England, and spoke with an accent very much like the Queen - and which I tried to emulate without much success.  But.  Generally, we spoke boring Canadian English.  We wore clothes from the Simpsons Sears and Eatons catalogs, those bastions of Canadian fashion back in the day.  We ate boring meat and potatoes and vegetables.

And we faithfully attended a rather plain Protestant church (though Grandpa attended the Anglican Church, which made me rather jealous).  Plain as it might have been, compared to the exotic glimpses I sometimes got of my friends' Catholic or Anglican or even Pentecostal religious roots, looking back it now seems to me that if our family had a distinctive culture at all, it was found in the culture of our church.

There, we were "distinctive" to some degree.  And proud of it, to some extent, I dare say.  We had plain, undecorated walls in our church building; no icons or statues for us.  We sang to the accompaniment of piano, rather than to organ music like in "those mainline churches."  We went to church numerous times a week.  On Sunday alone, there was Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday dinner (at home, with company of course), Sunday afternoon siesta (for the old folks; us young 'uns were told to read the Sunday School paper or play quietly in the yard), and Sunday evening service.  Worldly entertainments, like swimming or ball games, were verboten:  one must not threaten the sanctity of the Lord's Day.  During the week, we went to Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday night childrens' club, Friday night youth group.

Summer brought Family Bible Camp, followed the next week by Childrens' Bible Camp.  Winter featured periodic week-or-two-long marathons of nightly services led by visiting evangelists.  And sometimes \Young People's weekend camps, and/or Men's and Ladies' Retreats when those became fashionable.

We had our dress codes (and oh my goodness, did I ever get a dressing-down by one of the elder sisters in the congregation when I dared, at about age 14, to wear the slightest bit of pale blue eyeshadow to church one Sunday morning).  At summer camp, us girls could wear pants or modest (long, loose) shorts for activities, but we all dressed to the nines for daily services.  No excuses allowed.  Us young folks were allowed, reluctantly by the elderly ladies, to be semi-fashionable so long as we weren't faddish, and so long as we maintained solid codes of modesty.  In my younger years, ladies and girls wore hats and gloves, though that practice gradually fell away.

continued....  (Anyone out there relating?)

thoughts on cultural identity (part 1)

Yesterday I listened to an interview of one of Canada's First Nations chiefs.  He spoke of how for 500 years missionaries have brought Christianity to First Nations people, yet only 3 per cent have truly accepted.  He noted that most missionaries insisted that the aboriginal peoples must, to become Christians, give up all that related to their culture, and take on the missionaries' format of church.  They demanded the new believers give up their regalia, their drums and music, their language.  They informed them that those things were evil.

The chief described how this approach stripped the new believers of what made them the unique people the Creator designed them to be.  It removed them from the places God had planted them.  This missionizing approach worked hand-in-hand with the aim of the government to "assimilate" the native peoples.  Generations of children were removed from the influence of their families and their peoples, to residential schools (often operated by churches), where they were meant to be transformed into nice little white-man-Christians. 

Of course none of this information is new.  The results of these missionary efforts are well known.  My own husband spent some of his childhood years in residential school, and I see every day the outcomes of that experience on him and on his people.  But watching the interview (you can watch it here, here, and here - 3 parts) made me think about the value of our cultural roots, and how that fits in with our identity in Christ.  More and more, First Nations peoples are embracing Jesus, and re-embracing their culture at the same time.  What does that mean for me?  What does my culture, my identity, have to do with my relationship with Jesus?

The next few posts will explore some of those thoughts.