Monday, August 03, 2015

Book 5 of 2015 (Volume 1) -- Les Miserables

Just a light summer read.

On my KOBO I have a free book called History Classics (which I now can't actually find on the website).  It includes things such as The Three Musketeers  and War and Peace and Les Miserables.  This summer I thought I would take on one of these classics.

And they are LONG.  Volume 1 was between 1200 and 1500 screens on my device.  And it took me to Fantine's death and Valjean escaping from custody.  Lots of words. Lots of descriptions. By modern standards lots of extraneous content--pictures that could take far fewer words to paint (with much loss of detail of course).

Well written to be sure.  Hugo paints wonderful pictures.  WE start with a wonderful sketching out of the character of the Bishop.  One may well wonder why so much time is taken to explain the character of a person who is out of the story relatively soon.  But I think it is part of how Hugo is making a social comment on the need to care for each other.  Because at least in Volume 1 that is a big theme.  That is how we know that the Bishop is such a good man.  That is how we are told that Valjean has truly been transformed. THe reverse is how we know that the Thenardier's are horrible.

The other thing that one notices is that Hugo is taking pains to link the events to a particular place and time-- that also is given a great deal of text.

Thus far we have met Cosette as an infant, as a part of Fantine's story.  We have met Javert. We have met Valjean.  Now Fantine is buried, Valjean is on the run--presumably with Javert on the hunt and Volume 2 is named for Cosette so one assumes we will get back to her.  But thus far we are exploring the battlefield of Waterloo.....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book 4 of 2015 -- There's a Woman in the Pulpit

On July 5 this blog will have been in existence for 10 years.  A few months after I started it I was invited to join what was at that point a new group -- RevGalBlogPals.  Early in their existence RGBP put together a couple of books of devotionals (one for Advent and one for Ordinary Time).  This year they have created a new book called There's a Woman in the Pulpit, a title that in part raises the fact that for some people that would still be a scandalous situation.

The book (which I actually finished a couple weeks ago but time for writing this post has continued to escape me) is a collection of essays, stories, poems about being in ministry.  Some of them speak directly to the interesting challenges that being female in ministry brings, some of them speak to the challenges and idiosyncrasies of ministry in general.

To use a phrase often used in movie reviews: I laughed, I cried.  Therre is great poignancy in many of these pieces.  There are some that you giggle your way through.  There are some that are hard to read because the page keeps getting blurry.  There are some that build a degree of rage--because what does gender or orientation have to do with one's fitness for ministry anyway?

I loved this book.  The short pieces made it easy to fit in a brief spurt of reading in short down times.  OTOH, the appeal of the pieces made it hard to put down at the end of those short down times.  I do think it would be interesting to see how someone not in ministry, or not attuned to the reality of ministry life would find it.  Some things are universal, but are there also things which you need to share an experience to appreciate?

Whether women in ministry is old hat to you or a brand new idea I suggest you read this book.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Memories of Ministry

18.5 years ago I started working at Kids Kottage, a crisis nursery program in Edmonton.  Next Tuesday they are having a celebration of 20 years of service to the families of Edmonton and area.  I was asked to share a written message.  Here is what I came up with:

In the summer of 1996 I was thinking about what I might do once my summer camp job was over. And so I was sending resumes all over the place. Having been exposed to the idea of a Crisis Nursery as part of one of my seminary classes in Saskatoon, when I heard that there was a similar ministry in Edmonton they got on my list.

Fast forward a couple months and I got called for an interview, which led to being offered a part-time position and I started in mid-November.

I then worked at the Kottage until August of 1999, and then over the next winter volunteered at least one afternoon a month when I was in town during my time in Lacombe. Most of the time I was there I was working pretty much full-time. And for a good part of it I had the dubious honour of being the only male on staff.

One of the things that gives people satisfaction in a job is the sense that what they are doing makes a difference. And working at Kids Kottage certainly did that. Maybe it was the relief I could see in parents as we met and talked either at intake or discharge, the very real sense that even if we could not make it all better they knew there was someone who cared. Or there was the Client Christmas Party where we had gift bags for the parents and our shock at how touched those parents were at these simple small gifts. Or the joy on the face of a child when you showed up for work (part of me is still astounded that I got paid to spend much of my day in a playroom or out on the playground). Or the difficult time of sitting with a mother as she had to call Child Welfare to say she needed help, that she was at the end of her rope coping with her special-needs child. A difference was being made every day.

An anniversary is a time for memories. And so I do want to share one of mine. I mentioned above that I was often the only male staff-person. That had some strangeness to it. There appeared to be a favourite game amongst my co-workers called “let's see how red we can make Gord get”. Everybody seemed to take great enjoyment at that one (some more than others—and they expressed that joy quite openly). The other strangeness was knowing that it pushed some of our clients to have to deal with a male intake worker. Never really bothered me. But then there were some parents who were openly uncomfortable with me who I later got to have really good discussions with.

One of the things the church asked of me as a part of my formation was to have an experience of social ministry. They had one idea of how I could do that – volunteering at the Bissel Centre. At the time I thought “but I have been living out social ministry for two years”. It may have been a job, but Kids Kottage was also part of my education. And so I thank you.

Earlier I called Kids Kottage a ministry. Many people might have referred to it as an institution or as and agency or as a service. But to me it is one of the ministries in which I have worked. We are all called to serve each other, some of us phrase it in religious terms, some of us don't. For me Kids Kottage was a place where that calling to serve each other was, and is, a place gets lived out every day. When people ask me what we did I would tell them to think of a reason a parent might need emergency child care. We had seen that, and probably a few most people would not think of. Many of us were blessed to grow up with parents who had lots of support. Many people don't get that chance. Kids Kottage is there. You are doing holy and important work. Blessings on 20 years of serving Edmonton families. Blessings on many more years of service to come.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Election Reflection....

WE in Alberta had a provincial election this week.  Normally provincial elections in Alberta are less than exciting.  The same party has won every election since 1971.  Always with a (often overwhelming) majority.

This week was different.

For the last half of the campaign the polls had been suggesting something was happening.  But then 3 years ago the polls suggested something was happening and they were completely and totally WRONG.  But this year......

In the Alberta legislature there are 87 seats.  When the election was called the governing Progressive Conservative party held 70 of them.  When the dust settled Tuesday night the PCs were down to 10 seats, the right-wing Wild Rose Party had 21 and the slightly left-of-center New Democrats had 53.  At dissolution the NDP had 4 seats.

Alberta has a reputation of being "the Texas of Canada", partly because we are a perto-economy, and partly because we are often considered the most conservative, farthest right, province in the country.

Enter your joke about flying pigs and skating rinks in hell here.

Now of course the pundits and analysts are asking "what happened?" along with "what now?".  More on that in a bit.

First I want to share some reflections on the campaign period. 

This was not a nice campaign.  [Then again, is there such a thing as a nice campaign anymore in |North American politics?]  It showed clearly who the power-brokers, or at least those who believe themselves to be power-brokers, truly are.

At first it was expected that this election would be a cakewalk for the PCs. That in fact is why the election was called a year early.  But they soon found themselves under attack from the far right and from the center-left.  Soon it became obvious that the real threat was from the NDP.  And then the fear campaign began.

WE were warned that an NDP government would destroy the province's economy, that to elect a "socialist"(though the Alberta NDP, while coming from a social democratic background is only slightly more socialist than the US Democratic party) would lead to a mass exodus of capital and jobs.  We were told that to raise corporate taxes (something the vast majority of Albertans who responded to a pre-budget consultation said they wanted and the PC government promptly ignored them) would devastate the economy and that to review oil royalties would destroy the petroleum industry.  Then a group of corporate executives warned that they would stop funding charitable foundations, ostensibly because there would no longer be any profits from which to give charitable gifts.  And who is in charge of the province?  The government or corporations?  [One of my pet peeves is that our governments -at all levels- have largely allowed themselves to be taken hostage by the corporate/business lobby.  It is also my belief that the corporate/business community has, in the end, far more control over the economy than any government does.]  THen the 4 major papers in the province were given orders from their corporate head office to endorse the PC government because of the "danger" of the NDP.....

That didn't help anybody but the NDP.

HOw did it happen?
I think a number of factors.  One is that the former premier (who upon losing so badly resigned both as party leader and as an MLA on Tuesday night, thereby creating the need for a by-election before the election was even finished) showed a horrible lack of awareness.  His budget was liked by pretty much nobody.  He (somewhat justifiably) blamed Albertans for the sad state of the province's finances -- said "look in the mirror". And he did not run a good campaign.

Another is that after 44 years the PC party was showing signs of entitlement and poor management and questionable ethics.  There was a growing sense that it was time (past time in the minds of many of us) for a change.

And finally, as this column points out, ALberta has changed. Through a variety of demographic factors the province is no longer the right-wing bastion it once was.  3 years ago the center/left of center voters fell in behind the PCs to stop a win by the far right Wild Rose (Alberta's Tea Party) equivalent).  Jim Prentice mis-calculated how much that voice had grown.

What now?
As of Tuesday night there were doomsday forecasts.  But they were largely non-justified.  Despite the fear-mongering, statistical data shows that NDP governments have not been the total disasters that some might like to believe--and no more so than any other party.  And as I said above, this NDP government is quite centrist.  Implementing their entire tax plan would take Alberta to where they were 16 years ago under a strong fiscal conservative government.  And a review of royalties is probably a good thing (if done in consultation with the industry).  Personally I think a) royalty rates are too low (40 years ago they were much higher in this province) and b) oil industry folks know that royalty rates are too low -- which is why they are so worried about a review.

The big question is if people will agree to be mature and work together.  It troubles me that the legislature is lacking a voice from the middle of the political spectrum. Even under a majority government more gets done and better work gets done when the legislature can work together and the Wild Rose leader shows no signs of being willing to do that.  The big question is what will the corporate community do.  Will they play politics and grandstand to ensure that things get worse (for which they will then put all the blame on the government)?  Or will they try to make things work for the benefit if all involved?  The first option is ideologically driven.  I suggest the latter is the more pragmatic approach.  This editorial seems to agree.

ANd of course a good portion of the "what next" question depends on factors beyond the control of Alberta.  If oil rebounds to $70 a barrel then things will be much more different than if it falls back to $40 a barrel.  And who knows if that will happen?

It will be an interesting couple of years....

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An Open Letter to the Leaders of Alberta's Political Parties

A week from tonight we will be listening to hear the results of the day's voting being announced.  Which means that we have had now 3 weeks of official electioneering (and at least a couple months of unofficial before that).  Things are heating up.

Over the last 3 weeks I have heard a lot of rhetoric.  Some I have liked, some I have strongly disliked, a lot I have pretty much ignored.  I have heard promises to balance the budget, to take care of Albertans, to improve the education and health systems.  I have heard people willing to actually discuss and a lot of people who were unwilling or unable to move off of designated talking points and enter into real discussion.  But I have not heard something I think very improtant.

If you are graced with the support of the most MLAs and so given the task of heading a government how will your government move to lift all Albertans out of poverty.  How will you ensure that every man, woman, and child in this province has safe and secure housing, a secure food supply, appropriate access to medical care (meaning both those things covered under Alberta Health Care and those things that are not--prescriptions, dental care, eye care...).  You all say you want to make Alberta a better place to live.  Often in my life I have heard about the "Alberta advantage" (which in reality was possibly more mythical than real in my experience).  A province that eliminates poverty, a province where all people have enough to live safely and comfortably.  Now that is something that is a true advantage.

And in the end lifting all Albertans out of poverty will help you accomplish your other goals.  It will grow the economy by leaps and bounds simply because people will be able to purchase things.  It will improve the efficacy of our education system because well-nourished children make for better students.  It will ease pressure on the health care system because living in poverty often has dire consequences for one's physical, emotional, and mental health.

You all want to make Alberta the best province to live in.  I take you at your word (even if I often disagree with your idea of what that means and how to get there).  A province with nobody living in poverty would be the envy of the rest of the country.  So how will you do it.

You have a week to tell me...

Book 3 of 2015 'The Canadian Civil War: Carbines and Calumets

Well here we are, the fifth and final book of the series.  We finally get to the actual civil war....such as it is.

After four volumes of build up the actual civil war is, well, almost anti-climactic.  And really hardly worth calling a war.  Slight disturbance comes to mind.

Mind you that really did flow from how the secessionist movement has been described over the last few books.  To put it bluntly they are barely competent.  And they make really stupid partnerships.

I am glad I happened on this series.  It is not a set of classic books to be sure but they have been good, mindless entertainment.

And we all need that from time to time.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book 2 of 2015 -- Saving Paradise

Having heard good things about it, I first bought this book in paperback several years ago.  And I started it more than once. But as an actual book it is just so big....

A couple of years ago I bought it again in KOBO form, thinking that I might get it read faster if it was more portable.  And again I would start it, then get drawn onto something else, and re start it and so on... 

Finally this winter I decided I would get it read this year. And so a chapter or so a week I got it done!

It is a great book.  My favourite part was actually the first section, where Brock and Parker look at the use of paradise imagery first in the pre-Christian world and then in the first few centuries of the Christian church.  It does make you think about what it would be like to proclaim louder the NOW part of the "now and not  yet" when talking about the Kingdom of God.  After all Jesus himself is reported to have said that the Kingdom of God is in our midst.

Sadly now talk of paradise is relegated to utopian fantasies, or something other-worldly, or something that only lies in a distant future.

Is that because of the theological thread of redemptive violence, as the authors suggest?  Is it because  the lure of the reward that is to come is such a powerful political tool to control the masses? Is it because of a pessimist view of humanity?  Or may be all those things.

It is well known that where we focus our energies and thoughts has a deep impact on how we see the world.  For much of the last 1000 years the Western Church (Roman, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed) has chosen to focus on the death on the cross.  Sometimes it almost seems that Friday is more important than Sunday in some people's theology.

What happens if instead of torturous death we focused on life in paradise?  Brock and Parker suggest this is what the early church did. I suggest it would change our attitude towards ourselves and each other.  It would be a cause for hope.  It might help us get past the idea of redemptive violence.  As the authors show, the idea of redemptive violence moves beyond the meaning of the crucifixion to change how we deal with those who are "other".

But in the end I quibble with the title.  We do not have to "save" paradise.  We do not even have to reclaim it. I suggest we have to embrace it, to open our eyes to see it.  Yes we have to be realistic about the "not yet" of the kingdom but if we see ourselves as being invited to live in paradise TODAY I think wonderful things could happen.  How do we prepare each other to live in paradise?

So where do you see paradise around you today?  Maybe that would be a good spiritual discipline.  Some folks follow the advice of Oprah and keep a gratitude journal.  Maybe we should start keeping a "Sightings of Paradise" journal.

Friday, April 17, 2015

WHy oh Why oh Why?

SO I was watching "Disaster Decks" this afternoon.  The premise of the show is that the wife hates the deck (which is usually falling apart and unsafe) and the hosts help teach the husband to build a new one.  The episode today they made a (repeated) point of mentioning that in this couple the wife did most of the household repairs.  Then said in one of the throw to commercial teasers that they were helping the husband get his "man card".


Excuse me while I check what year it is......

Nope, still 2015.  FOr a moment I thought maybe I had hit a time warp and gone back a few decades.

Why not have the wife help build the deck if she is the one with that interest and surprise her chef husband with a new deck and outdoor kitchen????

Or do we have to work hard to maintain gender role definitions?


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Christ is Risen!!!
He Is Risen Indeed!!!!!
Blessed Easter