Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book 5 of 2013 -- the geek handbook

I got this book for my birthday.  Apparently my mother saw it in a bookstore and thought of me immediately.  And everyone else in my family seems to think it was an appropriate gift.  Can't for the life of me understand why...must be that they feel I need to be trained in how to be a geek.  Right?  No??

A delightfully mindless read.  An introduction to meeting your own inner geek (not that I would know what that is like of course). 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Over the past week a phrase has been running through my mind.  It is a classic phrase from US political history.  It comes from the first inaugural address of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself...

To a degree I think that is the phrase we need to say over and over again as the news media runs repeated stories about events like the bomb blasts in Boston.  We need to repeat it over and over as we hear about the fertilizer fire and explosion in Texas.  We need it to counter the strange choices the news and entertainment and social media make at such times.  (One Canadian channel was responding to the Texas story by asking folks in Canada who live close to a different fertilizer plant if they felt safe--trying to spread fear????)

But first here is a fuller quote:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
 FDR gave that speech in 1933, the throes of the Great Depression (like many others I always assumed it was from the war years, until I looked it up a while preparing a newspaper column a few years ago).  That was a threat to the American way of life.  That was a time when it was uncertain that recovery was possible.  Fear and panic were epidemic with bank runs and collapses not unknown.  And FDR told the nation that the only thing they had to fear was fear.  Really?

It is my belief that for the last several decades fear has been the prime motivator of public policy and most public discourse.  2 generations were raised on Cold War fears, with the threat of nuclear annihilation hovering over their heads.  Then the USSR dissolved/collapsed and a new threat needed to be found.  [Well sort of, there is still a strong "Communist menace" fear line visible in US political rhetoric]  And as it happened we ended up with a convenient threat.  Terrorism.

Do we know how to live without focusing on what we fear?  One internet conversation I was in this week (of Canadians primarily) had a person both insisting that for events like the Boston marathon in the future everybody attending the event or in the area of the event needs to be searched to prevent a similar thing happening.  NOw yes that response is un-Constitutional in either the US or Canada, and is impossible from a practical standpoint without fencing wide areas of public territory.  But I can easily see that such a response could build a following by building on the fear.  After all, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks both US and Canadian (and likely some European nations) legislators passed regulations and processes that would have been called undemocratic just years before--to respond to the fear. 

The only thing we have to fear....

Yes FDR could be accused of being overly simplistic in sharing that belief.  But we have not done that have we?  That phrase ranks near the top of well-known political quotes.  So why do we choose to live in the fear?

Asa a person of faith I remember that repeatedly in Scripture God says to God's people "Fear not".  As a person of faith I remember that we live in hope that, as Dame Julian said, "All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing be well".  We could let events like the Newtown shooting or the Boston bombing or Ricin letters or anything else that people use to make us afraid win and live out of the fear.  We could let the fear lead us to do things that appear to make life more difficult and arguably less safe.  Or we could ask if there is another way.

Which path will we choose?  Will we listen to those who tell us to be afraid or to those who tell us to fear not?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Safe. Legal. Rare.

Can you guess what that refers to?

I suppose it could be a number of things.  But in this case it is my position on abortion.

Last week we had our monthly meeting of the Ministerial Association (technically this was the March meeting but because of Holy Week [our regular meeting is the last Tuesday of the month] we postponed to April 2).  One of the guest speakers was the president of Voice for Life.

During this presentation there was a story equating German churches who were silent about the holocaust and chose to not hear the cries of its victims with people of faith who choose not to speak out against the right of women to make choices about their own health -- because the right to choose is just the same as genocide you know.  Then there was a handout trumpeting how wonderfully successful the USan anti-choice movement has been recently because of the high number of pieces of anti-choice legislation that have been passed in the last two years (not mentioning that some of those pieces of legislation involve violations of women's rights, intelligence, and bodies).  Then comes the kicker in their argument.

Canada has NOTHING in the Criminal Code dealing with legislation.  Hasn't had for 25 years, as this link explains [yes I know Wikipedia is not the most academically sound source, but everything else that popped up in a Google search came from a clearly pro or anti organization].  And yes that means that legally abortions can occur at any point in a pregnancy.  Even up to birth.  Now most sources I have seen over the years point out that the VAST majority take place early.  And a miniscule number occur in the last trimester.  But apparently that is not the point.  The point is that they CAN happen, not whether they actually do.  And so the Canadian anti-choice movement is advocating for a new law to be written.

Not gonna happen.  Yes I know there are elements within the Conservative Party of Canada that would love that to happen.  Some of them draft motions in Parliament that are obvious attempts to bring abortion restrictions in through the back door -- such as decrying sex-selection abortion.  But for all the low respect I have for the current Prime Minister I think he is too smart to try and bring in such a law.  And frankly I am fine with that.

Which brings us to safe, legal, and rare.  I was really tempted to ask (but didn't-why stir things up needlessly) what people around that table were willing to do to get to rare in the continued absence of legislation.  Comprehensive sexuality education?  Increased access to birth control?  Guaranteed annual income?  Well funded and subsidized child care?  Support for adoption?  That is how you get to rare.  Not by making it illegal.  Not by making decisions for other people.  By ensuring there are viable other options.

Monday, April 08, 2013

It must be an Election year....

ANd how could I tell?  Because today I found this page on Facebook.  There is something about an election year, particularly for municipal elections, that brings out such groups.

I find taxpayer advocacy groups both fascinating and annoying.  In Canada the grand-daddy of all such groups is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.  One of their early leaders was a young Stephen Harper (for the record now PM Harper is no longer in the CTF good books because he has not been the strict fiscal conservative they wanted).  The CTF is a right-wing, fiscally conservative, small government group that is loud but not nearly as effective as they think.  And I am also not at all sure they are as well-supported by the general public as they would like to think.  They like to make a big splash by calling for idiotic things like making party leaders sign "no new/raised taxes" pledges during an election campaign--sort of like Grover Nordquist in the US.  The difference is that Canadian politicians, at least the ones who end up in power, even if they are suckered into the idiotic photo op, are often able to ignore the pledge and act in a more responsible fashion.

At a local level (and in more than one municipality) I have found that the Taxpayer defence/advocacy groups end up looking more like whiners than anything else.  They tend to attract the people who want a forum to complain either that taxes are too high or services are not being appropriately provided or in fact both at once. [It always amuses me when people complain about a lack of a particular government service while simultaneously complaining about tax rates being to high/being raised too often.  It seems that those two complaints are counter-productive to each other.]

The most disturbing part of the group I found today is that they are insisting that they remain anonymous.  That is their right of course.  And it is entirely possible they have valid concerns about issues around town (although I have yet to see one I find valid posted to their page).  But the optics are not good.  To be taken seriously about opening a space for debate would mean being open about who you are.  And to really be taken seriously about these issues in a municipal election year would of course mean putting your name on the ballot in the fall.  But of course then you might win and learn that you can't actually do what you call for because it simply is not realistic.  I have seen that happen to at least one member of a ratepayers group before.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


When I was in my first year of seminary our Intro to New Testament course focused on questions of Christology.  And so one of the assignments was to look at Christology in a piece of popular culture.  I remember that one of my classmates did that paper on Jesus Chris Superstar and one of the points she raised was whether Herod had a swimming pool and did a soft shoe dance.  I did my paper on Christology within The Lord of the Rings (which was really just an excuse to buy a copy and read the book again that year as well as a bit of low-hanging fruit for me since I know the book so well).

Christ-figures are really quite popular in literature.  I have this vision of some day doing a study group of Christ figures in books and movies.  I would in fact argue than most great quest-epics have at least one Christ-figure in them.

Jut think of them.  Aslan in the Narnia series (arguably the least subtle Christ figure in anything I have read). Harry Potter in, well, Harry Potter.  In the paper I mentioned above I argued that Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo are all Christ figures in one way or another.  Obi-Wan Kenobi for sure in Star Wars and I believe you could argue that Luke is also a Christ-figure, and (possibly Yoda?).  Jean Valjean in the musical (haven't read the novel) Les Miserables.  Simba in The Lion King (does that mean that Hamlet is also a potential Christ-figure???)These are all fairly easy to pick up.  But recently I came up with a new one....

On Good Friday morning, while I was in the shower, I was thinking through my meditation for the service that morning.  The meditation was titled "The End" and was going to focus on how the followers of Jesus must have felt as they watched him die. [In an  admittedly self-promoting move I will now point out that you can hear that meditation here]  And a scene came into my mind.  From The Princess Bride.  Now that is not exactly a movie one would either think of in relation to Good Friday or in a discussion of Christ-figures.

But as I worked with the scene [the scene I was using was when Inigo and Fezzik find Westley in the Pit of Despair and Inigo says "He's dead" and then we switch to the grandson objecting that grandpa is reading the story wrong because someone has to "get" Humperdinck and Westley is not supposed to die] I realized that it did in fact tie in well to where I was going with the meditation.  And moreso I realized that an argument can be made that Westley is in fact a Christ figure, albeit on a relatively smaller scale than Frodo saving Middle Earth or Harry walking into the Forbidden Forest so Voldemort can kill him.

One of the ways we need to do theology is to make connections with the culture around us.  This is not new.   This is how successful popular (as in "of the people" not as in well-liked or critically acclaimed) theology has always worked.  And so we mine novels and movies and TV shows for images that will help us tell and explore the story of God at work in the world.  And sometimes that mining has surprising, out of the blue, results.