Sunday, January 04, 2015

Books 15 and 16 of 2014 Volumes 3 & 4 of the Canadian Civil War Series

OK I actually finished these a while ago (like a month and 2 weeks) but so be it.

I read the first two book in this series last Spring (and posted about them here).   Since then I have been checking periodically if the next one is ready--and both showed up as free e-books fairly close to each other.

In Volume 3 our narrator/protagonist decides that to continue his work he needs to "go west young man" and explore why the French never crossed the Rockies.  His fiance is going to do a government make friends tour of the South and so he heads out to the Dakota territory in the depths of winter.

In this world Wresch has created the Great Plains are still sparsely populated.  And the Sioux Nation still controls much of the Dakota province.  So we have descriptions of long stretches of flat empty space marked by bitter cold and deep snow.  I would hazard a guess and say that the winter weather described would fit very well in the Northwest Territories.

HOwever the plot point here is that while in De Smet Dr. Murphy gets involved in an invasion (for lack of a better word by (rather incompetent) malcontents who appear to be somehow linked, even if only through the American funder we met in Volume 2, to the Louisiana folk threatening to secede.  THis time there are gunfights and multiple deaths.  And in the end the former president comes West and formalizes a Peace Treaty with the Sioux--which includes some mutual sharing of mistakes made centuries previously that still cause friction between the peoples.

Then we move to Volume 4.  Things are heating up.

First there is a mutiny at a military base in Arkansas.  But we don't really hear much about that.  Then there is a killing at a lacrosse game between a Northern team and a Southern team.  Then there are attacks on the main characters.  So our narrator and his fiance decide to get outta town.  To a major port on the Mississippi.

While they are there there is a major flood.  And dealing with the flood is really the major part of this book.  There is relatively little about the growing tensions (though there is an appearance by the Louisiana separatist group) and more about how to keep the country functioning when the Mississippi cuts it in half.

From the teaser at the end it looks like Volume 5 (which is going to be the last) will take us back to that mutinous base in Arkansas.  And maybe finally to the Civil War of the title???  I mean the first sentence of Volume 1 was about the Canadian Civil Wat.  A couple years and 4 books later we still have only some hints of tensions and stressors in the country....

What I miss now is that we have less and less of the history.  I mean the narrator is a historian weaving the story of current events in with his work on Canadian history (I do note that he started the project to embarrass the leading family of the French/Canadians but we do not hear much about that anymore--he has become a fan of the family).  Mind you he is still a bit of a bigot when it comes to his opinions about French efficiency and industry.  But the story is intriguing still.  And I do look forward to Volume 5.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What REALLY Happened...

10 days ago, after worship on the 4th Sunday of Advent when this sermon was presented (here is a podcast of the actual presentation), a comment was made: "maybe one year you can preach about what really happened--though maybe Christmas isn't the right time for that".

The comment has stuck with me.  What might that sermon be?  (And in point of fact I think that the Sunday before Christmas or the Sunday after Christmas would be a fine time for it--but not Christmas Eve.)

I think I need to start these thoughts with the statement that I do not think there is any remembered historical event in either Matthew or Luke's stories of the Nativity.  I think it is all theology.

BUt the only reason I can make that statement is that the "born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit" line is not vital to my understanding of Jesus as the Christ.  If that was not true then I would have to find historical accuracy in order for my faith to make sense.


For me the "what really happened" sermon would be more about "why was the story told this way".  Mind you for me that is often the sermonic question.  PArt of that is because I find the "what really happened" line to be a fruitless trail.  Because we can never know for certain, there is simply no source of information to answer the questions, we are likely going to find the answers we expect to find.  And in the end the question of faith is more about meaning than event.

But the question was what really happened.  And I think there are only a few things we can say with great certainty.  WE can say there was in the tradition a sense that there was something different about Jesus' birth.  I think there are signs that there was a hint of impropriety about the birth, that the child was born "too soon" -- and there have always been children born "too soon" relative to marriage dates.  We can, I believe, say with a degree of certainty that there was a conflict between the understanding that Jesus was a descendant of David as well as a plausible tradition that he was (or that the Messiah would be) born in Bethlehem and the lived reality that he came from Nazareth (a conflict that Matthew and Luke resolve in two different ways).  Other than that I think it is all theology.  After all the primary point of the Gospels is not history/biography as we understand it in 2014.  The point is to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah has come, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And for Matthew and Luke that means starting with conception and birth (for Mark the story begins with Baptism, for John Jesus its the Primeval Word who was in the beginning).

SO why might Jesus have been born too soon?  Maybe Joseph and Mary had a shotgun wedding?  Maybe Mary had another beau on the side, one she may have preferred but a different arrangement was made?  Maybe Mary was a survivor of sexual violence?  All possibilities.


But for me the question is always WHY.  Why did Matthew and Luke tell this story this way?  How did they see God active in Jesus of Nazareth, who they knew as the Risen Christ?   I think that in the Nativity stories we see the development of a different Christology, one that eventually develops into the classic formulation of wholly human and wholly divine.  I think that in the absence of a fully remembered story humanity tends to fill in the details based on what they have learned/experienced about the person.  [In point of fact I think much of humanity does this even where there is a clear account of an event--they just re-tell the story in a different way.  Memory is a funny, and sometimes unreliable, thing.]

ANd one final thought about the sermon I have not ever preached (I have done Christmas trivia to point out how much of what we "know" about the Nativity Story comes more from Carols and Pageants than what Matthew and Luke actually tell us but that is a bit different).  It is my belief that the real basis, often, behind the question is in fact a much more philosophical discussion about Christ, about how God is active in the faith story, about miracles vs science than about the actual events.  Why do we make the faith claims we do?  This is why the answer we come to is so often pre-determined by our philosophical viewpoint on those issues.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Devil in the Details

For the last monthe we in Canada have been inundated with ads announcing the Federal Government's proposed changes to the Income Tax system that will, in their opinion, be of great benefit to young families.

Now this is nothing new.  Political parties do this all the time.  There is a slight ethical issue in that the ads are funded by the government, not the political party and the changes 1) have not yet passed through Parliament and 2) are expected to form a large piece of the CPC election platform in next year's campaign (especially since the changes have a large bunch of cash arriving in people's bnk accounts just a few weeks before the election). 

But as always the devil is in the details.

To be fair, there is good stuff in here.  The increase in the Tax Credit for child Care expenses is needed.  The increase in the Universal Child Care Benefit is not a bad idea either.  Of course neither those things will do a whole lot to actually make Child Care affordable for lower-to-middle income families but they are a start.

ANd unlike many commentators I am not totally against teh "Family Tax Cut" (aka income splitting). I mean there are a whole lot of families (like ours) who will not benefit one cent from the plan.  But once in power governmensts have the right to support programs that flow with the ideals of their supporters.  Many CPC supporters (and MPs and Cabinet members and PArty staffers) support the idea of one-income families and income splitting is a good way to support that.  And I am sure there are a number of families in Grande Prairie who WILL benefit from this plan.  The inclusion of an upper limit that a family can save made it much more palatable to me.

The problematic point was a little line at the end of the description of enhanced UCCB payments.  And interestingly it got no airplay in the hype around the announcement or even in commentators talking about it (because they were sucked into the debate around income splitting).  Ir reads:
These enhancements to the UCCB would replace the Child Tax Credit, starting in the 2015 tax year

Now here is the thing.  The UCCB is taxable income, the Child Tax Credit is not.  Also the Child Tax Credit is MORE than the enhancements to the UCCB--in our case the difference as far as I can tell would be a negative $240/month.  And that is the money we have been using to build the education savings plan for post-secondary purposes.  Other families are using that money to buy food.  [AS a side note the UCCB was this governments idea of a National Child Care program--of course it comes nowhere near paying enough to make child care affordable.]  So for us, and I assume for MANY other families, these enhancements will cost money--and the enhancements move money from non-taxable to taxable income.

IT does strike me that this is an odd way to support lower-to-middle income families.  But then to be honest I do not think this government has every really been about doing things that will support lower-to-middle income Canadians as a primary goal of their tax program choices.

The devil is indeed in the details.

Friday Five--Because I should really post something....

SOme people marked the month of November by posting every day.  I appear to have marked it by not posting ANYTHING on this blog....

SO I thought for that for the first time in I don't know how long I would do the RGBP Friday Five.

This week's prompt is about Christmas Trees.  Our tree won't go up for t more weeks but here we go.  Let's start with a picture of our tree from last year:

ANd the prompting questions are:
1) Real tree, or “fake?” My preference is real.  But after spending as much on real trees in 2 years as we spent the entire time we were in Atikokn we bought a fake one.  This will be its third year.  Our 10 year old hates it--keeps asking why we put "a piece of plastic" up instead of a tree.

2) White or colored lights? coloured, no question.

3) When do you put up and take down your tree? because we always used a real tree the tradition was to put it up around the 20th and take it down on New Year's Day (in my childhood my mother would often de-decorate the tree while watching the Rose Parade).  Even with the "piece of plastic" we tend to keep to that schedule because we have limited room in the living room for the tree as it is.

4) Tell us about your favorite ornament (share a picture, if you can). Not sure I have a favourite...but I will mention the set of 6 ceramic bulbs that have the Irish "May the Road Rise to Meet you" Blessing on them I was given years ago and then did not use for a while due to using "bush" trees with weak branches.  Now we can use them because the fake branches are plenty sturdy.

5) What goes on the top of your tree (again, share a photo, if possible)? We have an angel and a star, both in the same material and style, that we alternate.  Mind you we have to rely on the girls to tell us which year is which...though I see above that last year was the star

Bonus: Are there traditions about decorating your tree that you’d like to share? Every year we buy an ornament for the girls.  (Soon we will have more ornaments than we have tree but that is another issue)  Here in town there is an annual Ten Thousand Villages sale in mid-November so every year we go to that and this is where the girls buy their, fairly traded, ornament for the year.  For the last three years running our second child has gotten ornaments with nativity scenes on them--says she is starting a collection.

EXTRA BONUS:
There are stories that always get told in families.  Here is one of ours....
One year, I think I was in Grade 10, I had a play rehearsal (for Our Town which we were performing in January) on the Saturday before Christmas.  We had not yet decorated our tree.  At that point in time my father and sister did brunch on Christmas Day.  Often they had grand plans (which over the years faded into simple bacon and eggs but since at that time my grandfather only got bacon and eggs once a year [cholesterol diet] he did not mind) and this year they had a fancy bread they were making.  That afternoon while they were trying to make it and my grandmother was giving helpful advice my mother decided that the kitchen was not where she wanted to be.  SO when I got home from rehearsal the tree was totally decorated.  I was less than impressed that I did not get to help.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book 14 of 2014 -- You Are Here

As commander of the International Space Station a while back Canadian Chris Hadfield made quite a splash. Many people followed his Twitter account.  He recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies.  He was, in Canada at least, a raving success.

Since arriving back on terra firma Hadfield has turned out to be an author as well.  I someday intend to read An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth.  Recently I herd him being interviewed on the radio about a book of pictures he had taken while on the ISS. Today while grocery shopping I saw it and so we picked it up.

Then after lunch I sat down and looked through the whole book.  I will look through it again.  The book is broken down by continent and Hadfield gives some commentary on each picture.   I think it is a great book to find in many living rooms.  And also a great book to be in school classrooms and church libraries.  It helps us to see the world differently...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fear

Fortuitously, this popped up on my Facebook feed today



This post has been gestating for a week or so.  But given the events in Ottawa this past Wednesday it became more important that I actually put it into words....

80 years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt told the people of the United States "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Centuries ago Isaiah spoke the word of God that had been revealed to him saying:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1,2)
Indeed, one of the most common phrases we find in Scripture is some form of "do not be afraid".  Angels say it almost any time they appear.

So why are we so afraid all the time?

What really started this post was the pondering if we are becoming MORE afraid.  Which really doesn't make a lot of sense.  I mean my parents grew up in the era of "duck and cover", or as Billy Joel put it "under their desks in an air raid drill" leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the politics of brinkmanship.  In the 1980's I remember concern over the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Poland during the Solidarity "crisis", and the Iran-Iraq war, and at least one day when school lessons were pre-empted by discussions of nuclear war following the aring of the TV movie The Day After (especially since it was commonly assumed that the Edmonton area, with many oil refineries, was relatively high on the target list).  Then there was the Kuwait invasion and the first Gulf war.  And 9/11.  And the growing environmental awareness.....

But still I wonder if we are becoming more afraid.  Actually I think we are becoming more afraid.  So really the question is why...

I don't think it is because there is any more reason to be afraid.  I don't think ISIS or other "terrorist"/paramilitary/radical groups or Ebola are a greater threat than the idiocy of mutually assured destruction and brinksmanship was.  Different threats definitely but not greater.  And let us be honest, various populations have lived in the shadow of possible violence for many years.

I think part of the blame is in the power of the military industrial complex, which only makes money when there is a demand for militarization and warfare(open or covert, hot or cold).  But that is easy picking.  We have known since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower that this was a problem.

I think the big cause is the media, both traditional and social.  I have long believed that the 24 hour news cycle and the movement away from real journalism and into "sound bite news" in the haste to break a story first )sometimes without really worrying about confirming factual details) has been detrimental to how well we actually understand the world.  But add that to the premise that "if it bleeds it leads" and the news media serve to breed fear (Fearbola one TV comedian termed it recently).  Hearing the same story, or half story, over and over again also increases the spread of fear and changes our focus on the events around us.

Social media is no better.  It takes little to no time for sensationalized accounts of events to meme their way through social networks.  And fear is a contagious thing so everytime we click "share" or "retweet" we make a choice to increase fear or to limit its spread.

A prime example took place this week.  Even before the story was close to being over there were people making assumptions about what was happening and who was to blame.  Our Prime Minister, even before details were known about the shooter (at least publicly, it is plausible the PM had more information than had been released) was quick to use the terrorist word and link this event even if only through implication, to ISIS/ISIL and other radical groups.  AS it turns out an equally plausible explanation to the event was that a mentally-ill/troubled individual had a break and acted violently.  But of course that doesn't make us afraid and therefore willing to support actions like expanding military action in Syria/Iraq or advocating the further breakdown of civil liberties in the name of security and safety.

Yes the world is not what we wish it would be.  Yes there are terrible things that happen.  But we can choose to be ruled by fear or not.  We can choose to trust that things are not as bad as they are made out to be.  We can choose to think about things in a way beyond the sound bite and the headlines.

If Isaiah heard right, it seems God wants us to work through/past/avoid the fear.  Because maybe FDR was right--we only have to fear fear

ANd on a related note, what would your boggart turn into?  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What's Your Accent?

I posted this on a discussion forum recently, thought I might broaden the audience....

Years ago, when I first started in seminary, I remember talking to a classmate. She had gone to University as a mature student and so was older than most of her class mates. In one class the instructor asked if anyone had an accent. She put her hand up. The rest of the class was confused because she spoke like any Prairie Canadian, so she obviously did not speak with an accent. But her point was that we ALL speak with an accent.

I propose that we not only all speak with an accent. We also think and write with an accent. We are all a product of a culture (in some cases we are the product of a fusing of 2 or more cultures). That shapes how we think, how we understand the world, what we expect from the world, how we respond to the world. This accent is the result of many factors. Some would include geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status/class, age/era in which we grew up, level of education of both ourselves and the key people in our lives, our religious background.

So what is your accent? What formed it? How does your accent determine how you interact in the world? How do you (or can you) translate/restate/revisualize things from your accent to make it more understandable to someone with another accent? How willing are you to understand one who has a different accent?

It is important to ask these questions. Because otherwise we forget that we have an accent, and then it is easier to complain about other people's accents. And then communication becomes just that much more difficult.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Does God Change?

It is a vexing question over the ages.  Does God change with time or is God eternally immutable?

For some people the idea that God might change weakens God.  For some it raises questions about how we know what truth is, if the basis of truth can change.  For others it is not a big issue at all.  I count myself in camp #3.

This week I have been working with the story of Noah.  And this is one of the stories where God appears to change.  Or at least that has been a line of discussion in a FB group this week.

SO does God change?  Not just in the Noah story but in the scope of Scripture as a whole.  Taken from a literary-criticism approach God as a character in the story certainly changes.  Or at least wears a variety of masks.  God is Creator but also Destroyer.  God is Advocate and Judge.  God is a Tribal God, fighting on behalf of God's People or God is the One God, Universal.  God the character is different, plays different roles, has different priorities in different parts of the story.

But is that change?  Is that change to the essence or change in view?  Is it God changing or the developing understanding people have of God?

Then there are times God changes God's mind.  The Noah story would seem to fit in here.  In fact God seems to change God's mind twice in that story--first God regrets creating humanity then God regrets the flood.  Other examples would be God and Abraham bargaining over the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah or Moses convincing God not to destroy the people of Israel in the desert.

Are these just changes of mind or are they deeper changes of self-understanding?  I would argue that especially the Moses instance is a change of self-understanding, particularly since that is pretty much the line Moses uses to convince God.

And certainly we see change in Jesus.  Most notably when he is challenged by the Samaritan woman about the children's food going to the dogs.   And if in Jesus we see God most clearly and Jesus changes/grows in understanding what does that say about God?

But in the end, for me, God has to change.  Scripture is clear that God is God in relationship with Creation.  Real relationship means growth and challenge and change.  Certainly the Scripture witness is clear that most of the change and growth happens on the Creat-ed side rather than on the Creat-or side.  And it will always be impossible to know how much of the change we see in God is in fact God changing or the result of a new understanding of God growing in the witnesses and storytellers.  But if God is truly in relationship with us, if that relationship is actually based in mutuality, then yes God is changed by the relationship.

And that need not be a bad or a scary thing.  It will however be difficult to sort out at times...

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book 13 of 2014 -- Peter Pan

During the summer the oldest girls and I have established a pattern.  Each night before bed I read them a chapter of a book.  This summer we started with The Hobbit which conveniently we finished just before going away on holidays (and the girls enjoyed it far more than they thought they would).  At that point they started asking what I would read when we got home.

I knew it needed to be something I could get finished by the end of August because we have learned that once school starts there is too much happening to have these reading sessions.  So I started checking what I had available.  As it happens I had picked up a free e-book copy of Peter Pan a couple of years ago to have something the girls could read on the Kobo should they want to.  I counted chapters and days and realized this would fit into the available time.  Accordingly in the middle of August we began to read it and finished it on Sunday night.

Strange as it may seem I had never read the full book of Peter Pan before.  I had seen the Disney movie of course.  I had listened to a record telling of the story based on the Disney movie (complete with songs of course) when I was young.  I had read an abridged version for early readers.  And I have seen 2 different stage versions.  But I had never read the full novel.  Until last month.

The story of course is known.  The story is pretty much the same in all versions.  Even Disney stayed pretty close to this one.

But I was not ready for the implicit violence and the acceptance of same than Barrie includes in his text.  Bloodletting happens with little or no concern or anguish.

Nor was I ready for the explicit racial stereotyping.  Maybe that is a sign of how long it has been since I read/watched the story (because now that I think of it the Disney movie included some pretty racist stereotypes in it too -- like the song "What Makes the Red Man Red") but the treatment of the "redskins" in the novel is terrible.  I know it is a product of an era that is long past but still it did come to the point where I had to talk about stereotypes to the girls as we were reading.

Peter Pan is an interesting story.  Pure escapism on the surface.  And yet I wonder if there is something more there that could be explored.  What does it mean to grow up?  What does it meant to live in "Neverland"?   ANd why do we forget?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Old Friends




I went to a funeral today.  For a person I have known for 42 years today (well not to the date but our families met each other on Labour Day Monday 1972). Our families are so close that we have long referred to each other as family.  And so Ron was Dad #2.  I know that family better than I know some of my own cousins.

As I sat in the back of the church this afternoon and watched people I was struck by the nature of Old Friends.  There were people there I haven't seen in decades.  And yet, given time I suspect we could start playing catch-up.

In our case the connection point was the church.  For many of us it was the Senior Choir where our parents sang.  In that crowd today were some of my former babysitters and Sunday School teachers (as they made sure to tell my girls).  Or there was my former Junior Choir leader.  Old friends, old connections, deep meaning.  Lots of remembered stories.

Sadly, because I did not feel I could lose another day of my week and the funeral was a 5 hour drive away, I did not have/take the time to truly reconnect.  Some other day perhaps.

But it also reminded me of the importance.  I have gone through much of life without making strong connections.  I have no friends from my undergraduate days.  I have limited contact (only through FB) with high school classmates, before that I had pretty much none.

And yet I think we need old friends.  We need those people with whom we share stories--even if part of us fears those stories being told. 

Old friends.  A great gift.

Rest in peace Ron.