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...

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Stewardship Story

While trying to go to sleep last night this story started writing (and continued rewriting over the next hour or so) itself in my head.  Which is really frustrating when one is overtired and has to preach in the morning.  But I thought I would share it...if I can still remember it that is....  It seemed very profound at 1:00 in the morning.

One Sunday morning the Sunday School teacher came to the minister and said: "Fred, you are needed downstairs.  Sally is upset about something and refuses to come up until she talks to you."

Fred sighed.  Sally was one of the more consistent children in the Sunday School.  She was known to be a bright, witty, caring child.  She was also known to be moody, strong-willed, and prone to temper tantrums when she did not get her way.  He excused himself from the coffee table and made his way down to the Sunday School room.

Walking in, he found Sally sitting on the floor, tears in her eyes.  Lowering himself to sit beside her he asked: "What's wrong this morning?"

Sally turned to him and whispered: "I think God is mad at me....I'm bad....I'm not doing what Jesus wants me to do"

Theologically and philosphically Fred knew that he wanted to say that no God was not mad at Sally.  But Fred had spent more than a little time around children, and Fred knew Sally.  Sometimes it was important to get a few more details.  Who knew what was coming next.  So he asked quietly: "What do you mean Sally?"

"Well this morning you told us that story about Jesus telling his followers to give God what belongs to God," Fred nodded, "and last week you told us that God made everything and so everything belongs to God." Fred nodded again, trying to understand where this was going.  "Well that would mean I have to give everything in my piggy bank to God and I don't want to do that!  I want to buy my mom a birthday present! And so I'm not doing what Jesus wants me to do and God is mad at me!"  Sally burst into tears and threw herself into Fred's arms.

They sat like that for a bit.  And nobody watching Fred comfort the sobbing child would know how hard he was trying not to laugh.  Finally he ended the hug and looked Sally square in the face.  "Sally, I want to tell you that you are not bad and God is not mad at you.  In fact I think God is very happy with you."  Sally looked confused.  "Can I tell you a story?"   She nodded.

"Okay the story in a moment but first I want to thank you for paying such close attention to the stories we talk about in church.  And it is also good that you want to buy your mom a present.  Do you remember the end of the story last week?"

"You mean when God created people?"

"That's right.  God created people in God's image.  What does that mean?"

"It means that is some way we are all like God"

Fred nodded.  "Good remembering.  I want you to remember that as I tell my story.  Okay?"  Sally nodded.  "Good.  Now one of the stories Jesus told was about the end of time.  He said that God would gather all the people who had done good things together and say 'Thank you.  Thank you for all the times I was hungry and you gave me food, or I was lonely and you visited me, or I had no clothes and you gave me some.'  Then all those people got confused and asked 'When did we do that?;' and God answered 'Whenever you did it for someone else you did it for me.'  Do you know why I am telling you this story?"

Sally was quiet for a moment.  Then said: "I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with my piggy bank"

Fred smiled, "yes it does.  But first let's talk about your piggy bank.  I bet each week your mom and dad either give you some money or ask you to bring some money from your piggy bank for the offering right?" Sally nodded.  "And you think that because everything you have comes from God you should share all of it with God right?" She nodded again.  "But you want to use some of your money to buy your mom a present?" Sally hesitated, then smiled and nodded. "And I bet that you want to use some of that money to buy something for Sally." Sally grinned.  "Well that is all okay."

Sally looked at him for a moment.  "Are you sure?"

"Sally, who made you?"


And who made your mom?""


"And both you and your mom are made in whose image?"


"Now think about my story.  If you do something nice for your mom, it is just like doing something nice for...."

Sally grinned: "GOD!  And so buying a present for my mom is another way I share what I have with God?"

Fred smiled back.  "I believe it is Sally.  I believe it is.  And Sally there is one more thing I want you to remember.  God loves you.  God always loves you. Got it?"

Sally's smile was all the answer Fred could ask for.

"Great, now let's go upstairs and see if there are any cookies left...."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

To be or not to be.....is that the question?

2 weeks ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the question of Assisted Suicide. One article on that ruling is here.

To boil it down to basics, the SCC unanimously ruled that a blanket prohibition on Physician Assisted Suicide (or Death as the term some are using) contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The Court gave federal and provincial governments 1 year to draft and pass legislation relating to the issue.  And this is a federal election year...

For the last 2 weeks I have been trying to fully wrap my head around what I think of this ruling.
To begin with, it is arguable that we already have the right to die.  Suicide is not a criminal offense.  This ruling is about the right to have a physician (but what about others?) assist when our body has reached the point that we can not do it for/by ourselves.  And so creating a structure for that assistance to be available may in fact extend some lives.

Interestingly the ruling did not limit the "right to die" (for lack of a better term) to those with a terminal illness.  It also included those in irremediable pain/suffering, which could include mental/emotional anguish.  That complicates matters a bit.

It is one thing to say that someone who is dying should have the right to end her/his suffering.  But someone who has a condition that is not terminal?  Then again ALS (which famous right to die activist Sue Rodrigues had) leaves one unable to function.  It might not kill you directly but is it life?  And the inclusion of mental/emotional suffering?  What do we say to the depressed person who refuses treatment?

I do not think this is a terrible decision.  I think it can be troubling.  I think hard discussions lie ahead for our governments, and our community at large.

One of the issues/fears that comes up is that of vulnerable populations.  One of the cornerstones of the legislation that is to come will be consent.  Freely given, non-encouraged, non-coerced consent.  How do we ensure the patient is not being pushed to make the request?  I think that disabled right advocates have an interesting task ahead of them on that count.

Another issue of course is how do we prove the person is making the request from a position of "sound mind".  Currently it is a default assumption that someone asking to die, particularly when they are non-terminal [though let us be honest none of us is truly non-terminal in the long run], is not showing signs of a sound decision making process.  That is why we can have suicidal persons placed in hospital (or other custody) against their will.  What will be the process in this new era?  In particular on the mental/emotional anguish account.

ANd what about the elderly person who is simply tired of life?  Who is alone?Who wonders why they can't die?   Will they be covered under the legislation that is to come?  (not likely unless a really wide definition of "irremediable pain" is used)

What process will there be in the legislation that is to come to ensure every available form of assistance has been offered?  It is pretty much a fact hat in the current reality some people, for a variety of reasons (including lack of resources, inability to advocate for themselves, lack of another to advocate for them, an inability to understand the system) do not now get exposed to the full range of options.  How do we solve that problem?

But from a faith perspective I have to say there are really basic questions that have to be asked.  What is life?  When is life no longer living?  When is death a gift?  When is life a burden?  We have started (and in many places only just started) those discussions when it comes to palliative care.  But are we really ready to explore them in detail?  I think as faith communities we have a responsibility to facilitate those discussions.  I think as faith communities we have a different perspective to bring to them.

It also occurs that maybe these discussions about what makes life life rather than mere survival will help in the larger issue.  Because I am sure there are far graver threats to our understanding of life in abundance for all than the right to die.  Things like the reality of poverty, the reality of an under-effective mental health system, the reality of classism/racism/chauvanism, the reality of inadequate palliative care.  IF we as people of faith are going to call for the right to life we need to push these questions as well.

It would be easy for faith communities to unequivocally condemn the right to die.  Some communities and some individuals will choose that path.  I think that is non-realistic and, more importantly, non-pastoral.  As faith communities we do need to raise the value of life.  As faith communities we do need to take seriously that life is valuable even when it is not easy in a world where many seem to think life is supposed to be easy.  But as faith communities we have to have the hard discussions.

It is easy to dismiss the right to die, the choice to end one's life as "playing God".  Such accusations have been made about refusing life saving treatments as well.  But then again are we playing God when we shock a heart to regain a normal rhythm? When we repair an aneurysm before it bursts? When we do place a premature child in an incubator? Playing God is not the issue.  The issue is trying to understand how God wants us to use the tools we have at our disposal.

Sometimes life IS a burden.  Sometimes death IS a gift.  I am not sure what criteria we use to determine that....

And where is God in all of it?

Interesting discussions lie ahead.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Book 1 of 2015 -- The Princess Bride

(post back dated to when the book was actually finished)

High on my list of favourite movies is The Princess Bride--even though it is a movie I never saw in the theater, the first time I saw it was after it was released on VHS (I had friends in 1987 who went to it several Tuesday nights in a row though).  As in there was a time when I could say whole sections of dialogue as I was watching it (haven't watched it frequently enough for many years to do that as well).  Strangely none of the other 5 people with whom I live consider that something to boast about....

And so when my daughter saw this book in the store just before Christmas she was insistent that this was the perfect Christmas present for dad.  And was so excited she could hardly resist telling me what it was over the next week.

IT is always interesting to compare a novel to the movie.  Often I find I prefer whichever medium I first met the story.  If there is an exception it will be to prefer the novel, and generally because it first existed as a novel -- novelizations of movie scripts don't come off so well in my opinion.

The parts of this novel that are the actual telling of the story are very good.  This literary device of the abridgement of the "historic" story originally written by S. Morgenstern just feels odd.  But as always the beauty of a novel is that your brain can fill in the picture.  The difference here is that the parts you get to picture are the parts that are not in the movie--otherwise (especially when it is one of your favourite movies) the only images in your head are the ones from the movie.

I would never have bought this book for myself.  But I have thought about it more than once when seeing it in a bookstore over the last 27 years.  I enjoyed the read.

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.