Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book 8 of 2015 Charles Dickens: Some Short Christmas Stories

I found this when looking for A Christmas Carol and since it was free I decided why not take a look.

IT is a set of 6 short stories (though some of them are decidedly short on narrative) and only some of them are Christmas-y.  I liked the last three stories best personally.  For a free book it was ok. But while A Christmas Carol iz certainly a classic, these stories are pretty much forgettable.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Christmas Snail

Each year the girls buy Christmas Tree ornaments at the Ten Thousand Villages sale here in town.  This year Eldest bought a snail, and dad was given the challenge of writing the story of the Christmas Snail.  Here is what developed:
They didn't even see me. But then I am used to that. Nobody ever sees us snails. Or when they do the make rude noises and squish us or run away as if we were some disgusting monster. I think only spiders get treated worse than us.

At any rate I saw it all. From beginning to end I was there. Unlike those uppity other animals you might hear about I don't think I had anything to do with what happened. I just watched it. And I will never forget it. I don't really understand, because I am only a snail. But I will never forget it.

It almost made me run and jump. But, well, you know, snails aren't really great at that.

Do you want to hear my version of the story?

It was a strange day. There I was in Nazareth, creeping along, trying to stay moist, when this foot just missed me. It was a man leading a donkey. Then the donkey hoof just missed me on the other side. Around then I decided maybe I would stay still. You know, to recover from the fright. But fate, it seems, had other plans.

As the donkey's back hoof came by it kicked me forward. At the same time a bundle of cloth fell off the donkey's back. The bundle and I landed together in a heap. Grumbling about how far they had to go and the delay and the time, the man stopped and bent over to get the bundle of cloth, and of course I got scooped up along with it. Before I knew it I was stuck on the back of the donkey, heading who knew where.

That was a horrible journey. Day after day in the hot sun! I was sure I would get fried. Luckily there were lots of nooks and crannies in the baggage so I could find a place to hide. And between the morning dew and the donkey sweat and the occasional splash of water while the man and woman were drinking I got just enough moisture to keep from totally drying out.

I had no idea where we were going. It appeared they did not want to go but they said that they had no choice. The woman was very pregnant. The man was very worried. The donkey was smelly and tired. The woman was tired. The man was getting anxious. The donkey just wanted to stop, the man had to keep urging it forward.

Finally we came to another city. Bethlehem I think the man said its name was. It was late in the day. Thankfully the sun was almost down and it was getting cooler. I was starting to shrivel up. The man sounded much more relaxed when he said:
“Tonight we will have a real bed in a real building. No more sleeping on the hard cold ground. And maybe a real meal for a change. I still have family here, I am sure one of them can take us in.”

In her gentle voice the woman said:
“That will be nice.” Then suddenly she groaned with pain. “Joseph, I think the baby is coming, my water just broke.”
By that point I had started to slide down the donkey. And suddenly I was almost washed off by this rush of fluid that came at me. I was able to hold on, and to be honest I was very happy for all that refreshing moisture.

The man made the donkey go even faster then. He led us from one house to another, asking if he and the woman could stay there. They all said no. Finally he turned to the woman and said:
“Its no use Mary, none of my cousins remember me or my father. I guess we will have to try that inn over there”
And so he led the donkey across a square to an old inn. It sounded very busy. There was lots of light pouring out the windows and doors. The man left us on the walk and went up to the door. I could just barely hear him pleading with the innkeeper, saying that his wife was having a baby and they needed a place. He was gone a long time. All the while the woman kept groaning. It seemed she was about to fall off the donkey.

Finally he came back. He didn't sound happy.
“Well they say they are full, and I don't have enough money to change their minds. But they told me we can go out back and stay with the animals.”

The woman said:
“That will be better than the middle of the street. Hurry Joseph, I need to get off the donkey. It is almost time.”
So the man Joseph led us around behind the building. There was a little shelter back there with a few animals tied up inside. Joseph helped the woman off the donkey and settled her on a pile of straw.
“Is that ok Mary? Are you going to be alright?”
All the woman could do was grunt.

Then there were voices approaching. Women were coming. When they got to where we were one of them said:
“Thee innkeeper sent for me. I am the local midwife. I am here to help. Let me see how things are going.”

I sort of lost track for a while then. Joseph started to unload and brush off the donkey and in that process I got flung off into a corner. But at least there I was safe. Nobody would step on me over there. While I couldn't see anything, I could hear everything.

It appears the woman was having her baby. It seems much easier to just lay eggs like us snails do. But apparently that is not how it happens with humans. There was a lot of screaming. The woman who called herself midwife kept trying to calm Mary down. Meanwhile I found a nice little puddle in my corner and settled in.

Still I listened. I heard Mary say that this was a special baby. She talked about a visit from an angel who told her that the baby was God's baby. It didn't sound like the midwife believed her. Joseph talked about a visit he had from an angel who told him the same thing. They talked about how this baby was going to change the world. I have to admit I didn't really know quite what they mean. After all, I am only a snail and really don't know much about the world.

Then it was done. The baby was born. Did I mention that laying eggs seems much easier? Anyway everybody was very happy. The baby let out a loud scream and then quietened down. But there was something odd.

From my corner I saw this bright light shining. And I was sure I could hear music. And for some reason I felt just so happy. Everybody's voices had gone quiet, and all the animals too. At that point I knew I had to see the baby. So I started to move over toward the light.

As I crept over toward the manger two things happened. The light got brighter and the music got louder. At first I thought it was just music but as it got louder and clearer I could hear voices. Sweet soft voices singing the baby to sleep. The pigeons in the rafters joined in the song. I can see why. You just couldn't help but sing when you heard that song. It drew you in somehow.

And the light. How can I describe it. Normally when you spend your life so close to the ground you see a lot of shadows. All the lights are up high and blocked by people or objects. But this was different. The light seemed to just be there, no shadows. I think it was coming from the baby but even then there was no shadow from the manger. The light just shone through everything and everybody.

Just as I started to get closer to the manger, almost close enough to start thinking about climbing up one of the legs, there was a new noise. A bunch of shepherds came rushing up yelling and shouting. They were very excited. And they had big clumsy feet. I had to slide under a piece of wood to avoid getting squashed.

The shepherds rushed in, but as soon as they saw the baby they stopped dead. They just stood there in silence for a while. Then they told a story. They talked about angels appearing to them. They said they had been told that this baby was the Messiah. They said that they had been told to find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped up in bits of cloth – just like this baby here.

The shepherds started to sing “Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on earth, good will to men”. They said this is what the angels had sung to them. They stayed and watched the baby sleep for a while. Eventually the sheep came wandering in and laid down beside the manger. Then the shepherds gathered the sheep and headed back out of town. I could hear them singing and shouting as they went, telling everyone what had happened that night.

Still there was the music and the light. Making things seem so calm, so special.

Just as dawn was breaking I finally got to the top of the manger. And I could see the baby. Even with all that light shining, light that should have blinded me, I could see him. And looking at him I was sure that somehow things would be alright. Even for us snails.

I slid down into the hay he was lying on. And just sat there looking at him, listening to the song, and feeling very content. But it was exciting too. I knew why the shepherds had been singing and shouting. I wanted to dance and sing! Sadly I can't do such things. So instead I sat there and watched and listened.

After a few days the family left. I stayed behind. I had had enough traveling for the lifetimes of many many snails. But every time a new animal comes in, as we rest in the night, I tell the story of the Baby. And sometimes, as I tell it, I hear the song again and the manger seems to glow a little bit...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book 7 of 2015 -- A Christmas Carol

Many years ago (like 36) I was in a play for the first time.  The play was A Christmas Carol and I was playing Scrooge.

Over the years I have seen various productions of the story -- everything from Alastair Sim's classic to Henry Winkler in An American Christmas Carol to Mickey Mouse to the Muppets.  And a few years ago I took art in a staged reading of it.

ANd then I found a free copy of it for my KOBO. (I also found a free book of short stories for Christmas by Dickens which is next in my reading plan)

So I thought that maybe I should start a new tradition of reading it each year.

It is a nice little read.  ANd there are bits that you always miss when it is put to the stage/screen.

A story of redemption, a story of what we might do if we knew for sure how people would remember us after our death, a story of social conscience.

Maybe I should broaden my new tradition to not only read it but read it to the girls....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Favourite Advent Hymn(s)

Today's RGBP prompt is:
NaBloPoMo Day 29: Best Advent carol and why
ANd what does best mean????  Who decides?

So I am going with some favourites.

My long-time favourite is one called Tomorrow Christ is Coming.  Some people would say it is depressing.  But it is real.  It talks about the darkness in the world.  Best sung in a minor key to mark the tone of the lyrics.  But I don't push for it to be sung in worship every year -- I can sing it for myself.

A more recent favourite is People Look East, which apparently is a challenge to play -- particularly at the speed at which it is intended to be sung.

And this coming Sunday we are singing one that I have always wanted to sing.  She Walked in the Summer by Miriam Therese Winter

And finally, as the Magnificat is a common Advent reading I have to mention my favoured musical setting of it -- the Canticle of the Turning

NaBloPoMo -- Book 6 of 2015 Accidental Saints

This is actually the third book by Nadia Bolz-Weber that I have read. The first was Salvation on the Small Screen and the other was Pastrix.  As it happens this is not what I was looking for when I went to the KOBO site that day, nor was it the only volume I bought, I also got an Anne Lamott and the Rachel Held Evans that I went looking for.

I loved this book.  I mean it is one of those books where the title alone is a good reminder.  Because we do find God in all the wrong people.  And thankfully we are also the wrong people ourselves.  But the content is wonderful.

I have come to believe that we are definitely people of story.  And Bolz-Weber is a great storyteller. This is a book that I may suggest as a study group project in the new year.

Friday, November 27, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Names

Here is the RGBP prompt for today:
NaBloPoMo Day 27: Explain the name of your blog or regular writing venue.
10 years ago I started this blog. At that time there were lots of blogs with clever names out there, partly because many bloggers were sort of kind of pseudo-anonymous,  And so I needed to choose a name.

As readers of other posts this month may have noticed, my favourite book by a country mile is The Lord of the Rings. At the same time I have long thought that the image of a quest works well (not perfectly but well) as a metaphor for life.  And thus arose Following Frodo.

In fact at one time I tried to change the html for the comment line to say how many "Fellow Questers" there were rather than how many comments there were.  Almost got it to work too.

As it happens, when I did a paper on Christology in LOTR I noted that Frodo is one of the Christological characters (along with Aragorn and Gandalf) in the maybe Following Frodo has a subconscious meaning as well?

Other blogs I have started have had much more mundane names.  I started one for the church in Atikokan (Riverview United) and called it "Riverview Rolls On".  After all, as the web-presence for the congregation it needed to be linked to the congregation.  Then about 7 years ago I started a blog to post worship resources I had written and called it simply "Worship Offerings". And then 5 years ago when I moved here I created a new blog, because I had gotten into the habit of blogging stuff specifically for ministry, like early sermon thoughts, and called it "Ministerial Mutterings" because that is what it is (and Mutterings sounded better than Mumblings).

NaBloPoMo -- Christmas

Every year there is a challenge for the worship leader (or at least this worship leader).

What do you do with a story that had been told so often? How do you keep it fresh when everyone knows it? WHat is the thing that people need to hear about Christmas this year?

ANd here we are, 4 weeks away and I have yet to find my hook for the year.

Which troubles me. Because I would like to feel more planned than that.

BUt I think I might have it.

What would happen if we heard the angel today?  What would Christmas look like if it happened in 2015?

This Sunday, to talk about hope, I am going to ask what the causes of our despair are.  What do we need the angel song of hope to conquer?  What does the birth of Jesus bring to this struggling, warring, broken world today?

YEars ago the an angel visited the congregation of Riverview United to share his account of witnessing the Christmas story.  He may have to come back, only this time not only to witness to a birth 2000 years ago, but also to bring a word of hope and promise to the present.

For unto you is born this day in the City of David.....glory to God in the highest, and on earth -- peace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NABloPoMo --- Advent

The world grows dark
Despair fills the news
What leads us forward
What keeps us trying
We light a candle and pray for --

Or at least the Prince thereof
We look for it in vain.
Racism, injustice, whose lives matter?
A second flame flickers into life
We look for the Kingdom
We await the Kingdom, and pray for --

A world filled with tears.
Laughter that sounds hollow
We look for something beyond.
Great tidings, for all the people
We sink into trust.
We live by faith, by prayer,
and our eyes reflect the candle light of --

One flame waits to burst forth
One great driver lies penned up in our hearts.
Dare we let it out?
Can we live its richness?
In the face of fear and hatred
One thing stands alone
And so we commit ourselves to --

A young couple
A full inn
An Imperial edict
And a baby
Shepherds and angels
Great news of great Joy.
THe Prince of PEace
The Child of Love
The Source of Home
Born in the midst of fear and suffering

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Victims of our Own Success

Is that a way to describe humanity?

For much of our history as a species we did not have great lives (by modern standards lives were downright substandard).  Mothers were far more likely to die in childbirth.  Children were lucky to live to 5 years old. Subsistence and survival was the name of the game.

But continually we improved.  We got better at food production, and developed technology, and life got better, easier. We developed medical care.  Sure sometimes the development cycle was hit and miss.  Sometimes there were great leaps and sometimes things just didn't change.  But overall we kept getting "better" at controlling and making use of the world around us.

And today? Today much of the global population enjoys a fantastic average life expectancy. WE can make things grow where nature says they shouldn't.  We can drive the cold of winter away and ease the heat of summer (inside at least). We can turn a key and drive across the country. We can manipulate not only the chemistry of our world but the very DNA in our organisms. And it appears to be killing the planet.

Silent Spring. Love Canal. CFCs. Greenhouse Effect. Acid Rain. Chernobyl. Fukushima.  And that is just a partial list...

Maybe our success will be the cause of our demise?

Now let us be honest, the ideal of living so that we don't impact our environment is a myth.  All organisms change their environment.  Sometimes destructively, sometimes symbiotically.  And most don't have the ability to choose or control what that impact will be.

So we need to make a choice.  And more and more I am convinced that there is no sustainable choice that will allow us the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.

WE are (justly) proud of the things we have accomplished as a species.  ANd those accomplishments may set the stage for us to be even better.  OR we could become the victims of our own success...leaving a chnged planet behind for what ever species comes next.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NaBloBoMo -- Climate and Politics

Yesterday the Provincial Government announced its plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past governments in this province have been less than active on this point.  In a world where people have, for years, been calling for reduced TOTAL emissions I have heard more than one Alberta government talk about reducing emissions on a per barrel rate.  Which means that total emissions would in fact RISE due to the ongoing and (at the time) rapid growth in the oil industry.

Yesterday's plan is much more aimed at total emissions.

Among the pillars:
  • eliminating coal-fired power generation by 2030.  very ambitious given that a high percentage of power in this province is coal-fired
  • replacing 2/3 of that coal-fired generation with renewable sources
  • a carbon-tax of $20 per tonne in 2017, rising quickly to $30 per tonne.
  • revenue from the carbon tax to be reinvested in anti-pollution measures and to be used to offset the load the carbon tax will place on lower income Albertans
I am still trying to decide the merits of this plan.

Certainly it is better than past "plans".  But there are concerns.

IT is one thing to talk about replacing coal-fired generation.  It is another thing (and often a very expensive thing) to actually do it.  And that may (likely will) lead to higher power costs.

Same with the carbon-tax.  THis plan has it applied to everything--home heating, gasoline/diesel.  Which means it will raise the costs of everything.  NOt just the stuff you buy directly but everything.  Because all those businesses whose costs go up will pass the costs on.

And the reality is that lower income folk not only have less "unassigned" money to spend but they are also more vulnerable to these increases for other reasons.  If you have lower income you can less afford to redo your house to improve the insulation or add solar panels or..... You are more likely to drive an older vehicle. You are less likely to be able to replace your furnace/hot water heater/major appliances with more efficient ones.  And so you pay the cost of using more carbon....

But then again.  I have long believed that if we are honest we have to admit we have not actually been paying the full cost of energy.  Because how do you assign a financial cost to the ecological costs of burning emissions, or of a changed water flow, or of nuclear waste.  There is no such thing as "clean" energy -- just a different form of "dirty".  Maybe a carbon-tax is one way of doing it?

And maybe the best way to encourage people to change is to give them a financial incentive?

There is another piece to this.

One of the handicaps the Alberta oil industry has is that we are landlocked.  Our producers need the goodwill of neighbouring jurisdictions to get their product to market, preferably through pipelines (which are most definitely safer and more efficient than rail or truck).  But because Alberta has a history of preferring economic growth over acting on climate change there is a sense that this gets in the way of that goodwill.  One of the  hopes is that making strong action on the file will not only make a difference in the health of the climate and the health of Albertans but will also help create that goodwill for future discussions on pipeline projects -- because Alberta will still have an economy largely dependent on the oil industry for some time to come, even if this round of diversification talk bears more fruit than ever other round over the last 30+ years.  This is why it was deemed necessary this be announced before the upcoming international climate change summit.

THere have been some of the expected naysayers.  There is a (common) complaint that to make these sorts of changes and announcements when the economy is in decline is "kicking a man when he's down".  On the other hand, experience has shown that there is a distinct lack of drive to do it when things are booming and growth is exploding either.  And again, sometimes we need a driver to push us to change.  Those are more present when times are tougher.

The interesting thing is that the industry appears to be on-side (yes that link IS from an oil company presser, but I can't find a link to the article I read this afternoon).  Not sure what that means....

Saturday, November 21, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Chores

Today's prompt says:
NaBloPoMo Day 21: Which chore (work or home) gives you the most satisfaction to complete? (Which one do you put off for as long as possible?)

I think the answer to both is the same.....
Cleaning the living room.

It tends to build up and build up and build up till it is hard to find a flat space that is its actual surface.  And so when it is done and the floor/table tops/ furniture is once again visible there is a great feeling of accomplishment.

At the same time, it takes forever to find time to get started on it because it looks like an overwhelming task.

The basement on the other hand....

IT has been waiting for a good cleaning since just after we moved in.

Friday, November 20, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Friday Five Edition

This week's Friday Five at the RGBP site asks:
For Friday Five this week, let’s keep the light, love and laughter going with a random selection of things to make your heart sing:
  1. Music: a song or orchestral piece that stirs your soul
  2. Indoor Place: have you got an oasis at home that you can hide away in?
  3. Outdoor Space: is it water, hills, woodland? Is it the fresh country air or the bustling city?
  4. Picture: this may be a piece of art, something you created, something someone gave you…
  5. Person: do you have a go to person, for when the world is crowding in?
1. THere are a number of them that but one that often comes first to my mind is Do You Hear the People Sing? from Les Miserables.
2.  1200 square foot house, 6 people and a dog.  You do the math.  Luckily (or not so much perhaps) I can zone out into the computer screen if I really need.
3.   Given a choice, the lakeshore at Camp Maskepetoon.  But that choice really is not often available.  Green zones in the city will take its place, particularly river valleys.  But what I have learned (repeatedly since I often forget) is that sometime it is just being outside that is needed, even if it is mainly to shovel snow.
4.  Depends on my mood.  But honestly I am really not much of a picture person.
5.  TO be honest, when the world is crowding in my introversion kicks in and I go interior.  Which may not always be the healthiest thing to do but it is the truth.  I am lucky to have some colleagues that I can go to if need really kicks in.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Holy Holidays

As I said in the last post, there were two prompts that inspired me today.  This is the one from the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group:
NaBloPoMo Day 19: Best liturgical holiday.
Now the first question is what does "best" mean?

Does it mean the most important? Well theologically that is not really a question is it. In Christian faith the most important is Easter, hands down.  Now to be honest Easter needs to mean the whole Holy Weekend, Good Friday through Easter Sunday (plus Easter Monday, when heavily involved church folk get to recover from the previous week).  Because if we only include Sunday then we miss so much of the power of the story we tell at Easter.

Or does it mean the most popular?  Again no contest.  Christmas, largely because Christmas mixes religious festivaling with secular festivaling.  But even without the secular trappings Christmas Eve services are still much fuller (in many churches) than Easter Sunday services. Why is that? Is it because the Christmas story (or at least the Pageant version of the story with shepherds and angels and kings--even though the "kings" are really a different liturgical festival [Epiphany] and we tend to slide over the whole jealous Herod part of that story) is easier for folks? is it because Christmas is just a bigger deal in the world around us? As I type this a month and a bit before Christmas I am sitting in a coffee shop with Christmas music (much of it faith-based) playing over the speakers.  I have never sat in a coffee shop and heard Easter music playing....

Or maybe it means favourite?  That is a bit less clear for me. I think a strong contender for me would be Pentecost.  I love the story.  I don't know as I fully understand the story. But for me Pentecost stands clear as the 2nd most important day of the Liturgical year. And the idea of being filled with that level of intensity and hope and mission!  I long for that some days.

NaBloPoMo -- Remembering

Me o my.  I have been following NaBloPoMo prompts from two different sources and while some days neither inspires me, today they both do.  So here is number 1, from BlogHer:
Thursday, November 19
Where would you want to retire if money wasn't an issue?
 And honestly this one is a nice follow up from  Tuesday's post about Travel wishes.  Because my answer is that I would love to travel freely. Set up a home base of some sort but travel.  At least for the first year or two spend half the year (maybe as a total, not necessarily continuous) travelling and visiting, both domestically and internationally.

But where would that home base be?

I think it would still be the Canadian Prairies.  I am really a Prairie boy at heart.  And there is something to be said about the comfort of the familiar.

ALthough really in the end it would depend on family connections....

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

NaBLoPoMo -- Travel Wishes

A prompt form BlogHer again today:
What is one place you need to see to feel like your life is complete?
 Oh so many choices....

The list we have of places we want to take the girls would require a lottery win to fulfill.

We want to take them on a train across Canada/  Or to Disney. But for this prompt I would have to look farther afield.

Does Europe count as one place?  Or is it a whole category in and of itself? 

I dearly want to go to the Continent (I also want to go back to Britain and Ireland).  And to do what I want to do there I am thinking that a visit of several months wold be needed.  A Mediterranean cruise would be a nice part.

NExt in line would be CHina and Japan and Thailand.

Or maybe Australia and New Zealand.

Then maybe Peru.

Preferably all with the whole family

SO who wants to fund me?

Monday, November 16, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Wedding Stories

Today I think I'll use a prompt from last week..
NaBloPoMo Day 12: I just did an extremely moving wedding for two women who have been together for 42 years. Weddings are usually pastors' least favorite services, but they can have beautiful moments. What's your best wedding story?

Actually I really like weddings.  I have never had one that really drove me crazy.  A few where the rehearsal was...interesting. But I enjoy all of them.

But of course there are stories....

Like the wedding held at a camp out by the lake.  The original plan was to hold the service down on the dock and then move up to the large tent for the reception.  And all was well the day of the rehearsal.  But the next day was cold and windy.  And so the service was in the tent.  Only one problem...
The wind was wreaking havoc with the tent as well.  And so the service was accompanied to the sounds of the poles along the edge of the tent crashing down and occasionally the crash of the lanterns hung inside falling down.

Or there was the wedding where the service was held in the same spot where the reception would be--the curling rink.  The bar was open before the service. (which I was NOT aware would be the case beforehand) and when it was time for the service to start we had to wait as a bunch of guests walked ACROSS the entry aisle to go get a drink (at which point the mother-of-the-bride went to tell them to sit down).

And then there was the first wedding I ever officiated.  It was on an island, at the family cabin. The service was outdoors (small gathering of family and close friends). As we started the skies got darker and darker.  First raindrops started to fall as we finished, and we quickly ran inside to do the signing of the documents and keep them dry.

There are other stories of the wedding with far too many clergy involved, the groom, the officiant, the best man.  And the groom and the best man both being much more directive than the officiant.  When my grandmother watched the video she commented how bossy the groom was.  That is right, it was me.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

NaBloBoMo -- Short and Sweet

Today's prompt:
NaBloPoMo Day 15: Something quick... a YouTube share, a picture, a haiku.. Short and Sweet Sunday.

And since I had to shovel twice already today (with an argument that I should probably go out and do it again before bed) and this song ends with a snowstorm [well that and I quite like Roger Whittaker] here is a Christmas song...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Prayer for a Broken and Breaking World

Creator of the Universe, Holy Dreamer, God of Love and Life,
You have given us life, you have given us a rule of life, you have shared with us your hope an plan for life.
But we have so often chosen another path.
You call us to be people of peace.
We choose violence.
You call us to be people of justice, where all have what is needed forlife.
We choose a way whre some have abundance, others lack basics.
You call us to treat each other with love.
We choose to blow each other up and shoot and kill and maim.

This weekend, as happens far far too often, the world  weeps.
Acts of terror and horror rocked our newsfeeds.
Followed by blame and finger-pointing and rhetoric born of fear and assumptions.
And once again we are forced to admit that this world you have created is not only broken, but that it continues to break into smaller pieces.
What do we do?
What do we say when there are no words?

If we are honest it is at times like this when we wonder
"when will you unleash your anger?"
or more honestly
"why don't you unleash your anger and strike down those  who do such things?"
(assuming of course that we could direct you as to who should be struck down).
Surely you would be guiltless if you allowed these faithless, errant children to face the consequences of their choices.

But you don't.  Which is probably a good thing.
You choose mercy, you choose grace, you choose hope.
You say that out of love you can not destroy your children who wander astray.
Instead of destruction you offer an invitation.
Asking us to return to the rule of life you lay before us.
And wondering when we will come home and share in the depth of life.

As we weep and gnash our teeth.
As we try to understand.
As we point fingers and ask how to prevent this happening again.
Help us.
Help us look at the whole picture, seeing all the horror, not just the horror that strikes closest to home.
Help us see how the choices made by "us" and "them" might interact.
Help us follow the trails of our past actions, and help us think seriously where our present and future actions might lead.
Help us see beyond the fear and horror.
Help us avoid the demonization of our neighbours.
And help us find the path that leads to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb and they will not hurt or destroy on the holy mountain.

This we pray in the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Prince of Peace, who taught us to love our neighbours and our enemies.

Friday, November 13, 2015

NABloPoMo -- Crime and Life

This should be.....interesting....

Possible the most common complaint in FB groups for this community is that there is too much crime.  WEll turns out those complaints (at least in the last year) are valid.

In today's paper we read:

Everyone knew it was bad.
Numbers presented by the RCMP Thursday confirm that Grande Prairie led all of Canada in both Crime and Violent Crime Severity Indexes in 2014.
The news in his report went from the worst numbers in Canada to even worse: Indications are that 2015 will see elevated levels of criminal occurrences in nearly every category.

2014 stats
McKenna started with the 2014 Crime Severity Index — a Stats Canada report on the numbers and types of criminal offences handled by police. All police agencies across Canada submit numbers to the index annually.
While both Alberta and Canada-wide averages have decreased, Grande Prairie’s jumped by 33% in the past five years — to a rate of over 170. Cities such as Prince George, Regina and Saskatoon, which once were at the top of the list, are now seeing less crime per capita than the Swan City.
It’s the same story for the Violent Crime Index, which specifically accounts for violent violations such as uttering threats, robberies, criminal harassment and forcible confinement. In 2014, Grande Prairie displaced Thunder Bay as worst in Canada and tops cities such as Winnipeg and Prince George. In 2014, it was over double the national average.
Already in 2015 we have multiple homicides and gun crimes. ANd then there are property crimes.  Maybe it is less surprising that a culture of fear appears to be descending over the city. People see someone they don't know knocking on doors and there is an assumption that they are up to no good (admittedly they people who are seen testing car doors probably warrant some suspicion).

SO how do we respond? AS individuals, as members of neighbouhoods, as faith communities how do we respond?

Do we give in to the fear? Do we accept the circumstances?  The RCMP and City Council aren't going to do that, even while they know that change comes slowly.  You don't just create more officers by the passing of a budget motion. 

But moving to greater enforcement levels is only part of the solution. An important part to be sure but only part.  Because even at average numbers of officers per capita (and the stats show GP is well below that average -- another result of being a community where the population goes from 29000 to 68000 in 20 years, infrastructure and service have trouble catching up while municipal governments are under pressure to keep costs down) there will never be "enough", there are always limits as to waht can be accomplished though enforcement.

But we are people of faith.  We are people who believe that GOd is at work in the world, that the Kingdom of GOd -- a place where ridiculous things like wolves lying down with labs, where the law of love and peace and justice reign supreme -- is breaking into the world in our midst. In just a few weeks people will gather in sanctuaries across this city and sing carols and tell of angels and shepherds and the birth of the Prince of Peace.

What is our Christmas prayer/wish/hope for our community this year?

Can we pray for a change? Can we believe it can happen? Can we resist the impulse to live in fear and the bunker mentality?

Jesus calls us to LIVE in hope and love. Christ calls us to proclaim the coming and the possibility of the Kingdom.

"For lo the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years shall come the age of gold. When peace shall over all the earth it ancient splendours fling. And the whole world give back the song, which now the angels sing."

NaBloPoMo -- Self-Care Edition

Historically there is one (well many but let's focus on one for now shall we) thing which I do not do well.  Take care of my sef.

Not so much in the work/non work balance.  But certainly in those more basic terms of nutrition and exercise.

Which is why I clearly recall a discussion  with my childhood doctor about 17 years ago, when I first started to deal with acid reflux issues.  As I remember his exact words were "hmm well nothing wrong with your weight...." but the level of actual fitness was far from healthy.  Around the same time I remember a co-worker commenting on my diet "what are you trying to do, give yourself diabetes" (this was in relation to my tendency to forget to have breakfast and lunch then when my blood sugar crashed respond by eating chocolate).  Then there is my tendency to stress eat chocolate and sugar. And what are these things one calls fruit and vegetables?  I hear a rumour they are good for you.

Sometimes I do better on the exercise piece.  For the first few years we had the dog I was fairly good at taking her for regular walks, which was good for both of us.  And this year when we were gifted with a family membership to the local multiplex I honestly intended to get over there on a regular basis.  Honestly I did.  HOw well that worked may be another matter.

To be honest I have been able to largely coast along.  But now, well now.

I really note the lack of energy. ANd last week I learned that my blood work from a year ago showed  both sugar and triglyceride levels at slightly above high average along with a blood pressure reading higher than I have ever had (which matches my felt stress level recently--though I don't know why I have felt so stressed).  Since neither my diet or activity patterns have changed much in the last several years I suspect age-related metabolic changes (to be honest developing insulin resistance would not be out of the question given my diet  habits).

So the time has come to try again to do better.  The question is..will I stick with it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Remembering

Words written a century ago. by a Canadian Army Dr, words that have been a part of our remembering ever since.

Then there are some other words that come to my mind this day:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
(from Rudyard Kipling's Recessional)
It is the 11th day of the 11th month. A day of remembrance. A day of prayer. A day of sorrow. A day of hope.

What do we remember? What do we pray for? What do we hope for?

AS we stand in the cold watching folks place wreaths of poppies against a stone cenotaph and think of 1000's, nay 1 000 000's, who died before their time on battlefields or in bombings or in displacement camps, or ... where do we go from here?

When I was growing up I remember clearly the words of hope that were shared every November. Never Again.  That is our hope, that is our prayer, that is our challenge.

We remember those whose lives were forever changed by warfare on this day not to romanticize war, but to bring its harsh reality back into focus.  We remember that we, the children of God, including those who follow the Prince of Peace, fall SO SO short of what could be. We remember that sometimes the world falls apart, and lives are blown apart in the hopes that we will eventually learn a new way.

Despite the evidence we hope that the people of the world will learn a new way of being.

We remember many form various places and various eras and various roles. Because not all veterans are elderly.  Some are young.  Not all affected wore uniforms. Some were civilians living in the middle of battle, some were left behind to wait and worry. (see this article) And let us always remember that those affected by war on ALL sides, not just "ours".

Today is a more than a day off (and it isn't even a day off for everyone). It is a day of faith. It is a day when we need to name the fact that the kingdom sometimes seems far far away.  But as a person of faith, as a person who believe that God is bringing the kingdom closer, I believe that today is a day to remind us of the possibility.  Never Again. And the wolf will lie down with the lamb....

But in the mean time:
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget -- lest we forget

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Projects

This prompt is actually the BlogHer one for tomorrow, but I am quite sure I will do something around Remembrance day tomorrow:
Wednesday, November 11
What was the last thing you fixed or built?

I would have to go with the fence that I have been working on for 3 summers now and not yet finished....

When we moved into this house we knew the fence needed work.  The first week we were here my dad and I replaced the worst of the rails but I knew that all the rails and boards needed to be done.  Luckily the posts are still in good shape, which makes rebuilding a fence a MUCH easier endeavour.

So I have been working away at it over the last few years.  Pull the old stuff off, replace the rails and boards.  Generally it runs about 1.5-2 hours per 8 foot section.  The one difference was where we wanted to move a gate last year, so that involved a bit more work (some of which was re done this year because the one gate post needed to be replaced- and make the opening a bit wider).  But I now am 75% done.  Just a 12 foot section along the back then only the side which is shared with a neighbour to do.  Sadly along there we WILL need to replace some posts.  And will need to negotiate with the neighbour to determine when we are both available to do it.  Who knows, maybe it will become part of the "get exercise" portion of next summer's sabbatical.

And since it sort of links, here is today's prompt:
What is the hardest part of a big project: getting the energy to begin, finding the time to work on it, or feeling down that it's over?
 On the whole, getting started.  I have a tendency to get ready and planned but never get started (the joys of being a procrastinator , but we can talk more about that later).  Then as long as the project goes smoothly and has a definite structure I am generally pretty good.  The first hiccup however, or the first time it becomes more work than expected....and then continuing can be a challenge.  THe best way I have found to ensure it gets carried through is if it is a project where being half-finished leaves one in a terribly inconvenient place (such as a fence with a section missing) that tends to force one to complete it.

Monday, November 09, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Which Day?

Today's prompt reads:
NaBloPoMo Day 9: Monday day off or Friday day off.

Or some weeks -- Day off?

21 years ago, on my first internship, I took Mondays off.  Not for any particular reason except that I thought that was the day minister's were "supposed" to take off.  And it worked out that then I could leave town after worship on Sunday and go home for a day and a half.

FLash forward a few years.

It is my second internship. As I recall the supervisor and I had a discussion about it making sense that we did not both take the same day off.  And either as a result of that discussion, or the discussion came about because I was suggesting it, I took Fridays off.  Which I  actually liked better.  Once a month I had to go to the city for counseling and Fridays allowed me to also take most of Saturday as well.

And since it worked well on internship I decided that this would be my pattern in ministry.  And so ever since I was ordained I have (for the most part) taken Fridays off.

This continues to allow me to almost have two days in a row off (much of the time).  Which is a nice thing.  Also working Monday allows an early start on the sermon gestation process and allows the bulletin to usually be done by Monday afternoon (which was important in Atikokan since the secretary only worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings and the choir there met on Tuesday nights). And the other real benefit is that many times a year something happens on Sunday that needs to be followed up on or addressed.  Taking Monday off and not being in the office until Tuesday would greatly increase the chances that these things would be forgotten...which happens often enough as it is.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

NaBLoPoMo -- hymn favourtism

The prompt for today is:
Write briefly - oh , so briefly- about your favorite hymn line or stanza.

Which is not at all fair.  Which one?!?!?

However since it is almost Advent (despite my attempts to pretend otherwise) I will go with one of my favourite Advent pieces. Tomorrow Christ is Coming.

While I really like the whole hymn, especially when it is sung to the tune Little Baddow which is in a minor key, my favourite stanza is the fourth:
Our God becomes incarnate
in every human birth.
Created in God's image,
we must make peace on earth.
God will fulfil Love's purpose
and this shall be the sign:
We shall find Christ among us
as woman, child, or man.
This is my favourite because it reminds us of the hope embodied in Christmas.  Now to be fair, the sense of hope is best felt when one has sung the preceding three stanzas which lay plain the reality of the world into which Christmas comes each year.

Christmas is coming, the world is a mess, people are hungry and forced out of home and dying.  But God will become incarnate again,  Thanks be to God

Saturday, November 07, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Favourite Book

The prompt for today is:
NaBloPoMo day 7: Post the opening sentence of your favorite book. How long has this book been in your life?

When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton

This of course is the opening sentecne of Chapter 1, "A Long-Expeccted Party", of The Lord of the Rings. LOTR has been my favourite book for about 35 years.  But given my druthers I would say that this is a much better first line:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit
Which of course is the opening sentence of Chapter 1 , "An Unexpected Party", of The Hobbit.  It is an oddly slow opening, but it does make you wonder what a hobbit is. It piques the curiosity.

I was first introduced to the world of Middle Earth in Grade 4.  Our teacher that year took the first 30-45 minutes after lunch every Friday to read to us.  The first book he read was The Hobbit.  At that point in my life I was a rather voracious reader and, since I was quite enjoying the book and there was a copy at home I read it (passing where we were in class and finishing well before).  Then I continued on to start reading LOTR, in fact being well into it before Mr. Davies finished reading The Hobbit.  [This same reading program is what first introduced me to the land of Narnia as one of the other books which was read was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.]

If memory serves I finished the full three volumes by the end of Grade 5.  And then have read it at least 20 times in the intervening years.  So I was quite excited when the movies were being made.  And then quite disappointed in them when they were done.  Mind you nothing really replaces the mind's eye for putting a great novel into pictures (plus all the ways they changed the story and the characters).

I did use LOTR as the basis for my English 30 major paper in Grade 12 (looking at symbolism in the book) and for a paper in my first year New Testament class in seminary (looking at Christology in the book)

As a way to drive all the people in my house crazy I can also cite from memory two pieces of poetry from the book (one of which is quoted in a Big Bang Theory episode, thus leading to accusations that I resemble Sheldon)  Some day I hoe to work the second one into an Advent sermon:
Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky
Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone
Nine for mortal men doomed to die
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king.

Oh and for the record the last line of the book (working from memory this time -- I pulled out the books for the first lines) is given to Sam Gamgee:
Well I'm home

Friday, November 06, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- An Important Teacher

Today I am running with a prompt from BlogHer.  Though because 1) I already used the Friday prompt and b) I am contrary-minded at times and c) I really liked the prompt offered by RGBP yesterday I am actually using the one set for yesterday:
Thursday, November 5
What is the most important lesson you learned as a child, and who taught it to you?
This is really an easy question and the person in  mind is an obvious choice but first one needs some history.

I was (still am at heart) a chronically lazy person.  I would do just enough to get by and that was it.  Nowhere did this show up more than at school.  Every report card from grades 4 on included at least one comment (this was in the era before computer generated comments, ones that were actually handwritten and personalized) in the tone of "Gord would have much better marks if he did any work".  I think I drove my teachers crazy.  They knew I knew the stuff.  I could always do well on the test. But I never did any homework.  At All.  Effort marks in that school could be a 1 (best) 2 or 3.  I don't remember ever getting a 2.  ALways 3s.

I remember in Grade 8, the second of 3 reporting periods.  The homeroom teacher, who also taught us Language Arts, was sharing with us what mark would appear on the report card coming out in a couple of days.  When talking to me she showed a 59% and then said "if I subtracted the 10% for lack of completed homework it would be 49% but I don't think that would look good on your report card".  I think she was hoping this would spur me to make more of an effort.  Which makes no sense when talking to a chronic underachieving 14 year old.  I heard that I did not have to do any work.

Then came Grade 9.  That year for Language Arts I had a new teacher, fresh out of university.  I quite enjoyed her class (though not enough to do any work mind you).  We used a Police song for our midterm exam.  She had us reviewing poetry through Harry Chapin and Cat Stevens, she created a graffittti wall on one of her classroom bulletin boards.  But where she shows up in this post came around the second reporting period.  My mark (which to be honest I had earned) was 39%, F+.  Around then it started to click in that maybe I really did have to do some work [nobody has ever accused me of being a fast learner on such things].  I then went through high school actually working (not any more than I had to but at least working) and sailed through as an honour student.

It was a turning point. To this day I maintain that if Miss Sobat had not given me that kick in the backside (as much as it--and the fallout when that report card came home--was less than comfortable at the time) I would have simply faded away.  She has insisted more than once that I would have gotten there eventually.  But I am not sure.  Another teacher helping me skate by (as many teachers had done to that point) was not what I needed.  I need the one who was willing to be a b***h (a term many of my classmates gave her that year to be honest.

Miss Sobat stands out for another reason.  My Junior High years were somewhat hellish.  I was a low (almost the lowest) slot on the school social totem pole. And while all school officials talked a good line about how some bevaviour was not acceptable there were some who made the line seem more real than others. Mis Sobat was one of those.  More than once I saw her make a point of defending members of her class who were being mistreated.  It did not, in the end, change much actual behaviour from the worst of my classmates but it made an impact.

To this day she stands as a favourite teacher of my entire academic career.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Other Duties as Required

It is a simple little line, buried at the bottom of many a job description (and sometimes it may not be written in but let's face it--it is always there).  But if it is true (as it often is) that the devil is in the details than this one little line tends to cover a wide range of devilish details.

Other duties as required.

It means that there is always the chance tat you find yourself doing something you never expected.

Like working in the kitchen at summer camp and getting drafted into helping put the dock in.

Or being called to ministry and having to wet vac the hall floor every spring so the water doesn't start popping off the tiles. Or dealing with the plugged toilet. Or calling and chairing a meeting of the committee that is currently without a chair. Or setting up chairs for the funeral while running upstairs now and then to check on the bulletins coming out of the photocopier (followed by folding said bulletins), not to mention sweeping and spot-mopping the floor first. Or renning down to find out why the furnace is not working. Or vacuuming the sanctuary (and other "light housekeeping" -- another term that is deceptive if you ever find it in a position description) on the Friday after Christmas in preparation for the wedding on Saturday. Or helping clean out the clothing and drug paraphernalia from the bushes in front of the church.

Why do we do them, the other duties as required?  Sometimes because we know that they are time sensitive.  Sometimes because it is a volunteers role and the volunteer is away. Sometimes because it is just easier and faster than finding someone else to do it. And sometimes (though we may not like to admit it) because that way we know it is done [and/or done "properly"].

Many of us also just do them because they need to be done and we want to help out.  In the end (though I may grumble from time to time about other duties as required) I am not, in my heart of hearts, a work to rule type of person.  Which is good since I am not really in a work to rule type of profession.  The challenge though is not to do too many of them. The job description is there for a purpose, to focus one's energies and time.  And sometimes, though it can be REALLY hard, we need to leave the other duties for someone else.  In a voluntary organization that is sometimes the best way to find out how really required they may be.

And just for fun, a story.
One place I worked the Board had an honourary chair.  Apparently one day this person was looking at position descriptions and found this line in all of them.  As it happened all employees there signed their position description.  The honourary chair looked at "Other Duties as Required" and said something to the effect of "who in their right mind would agree to that?"  Which was both wise and naive.  Wise as she clearly saw the openendness of the line and how it could be misused. But naive to think that it is not a reality in so so many positions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Fears

TOday I think I will start with the prompt from this source.  Actually I am going to work with the prompt that is scheduled for Friday (though I really like the one that is there for tomorrow as well).  Here it is:

Friday, November 6
What was your biggest fear as a child? Do you still have it today? If it went away, when did your feelings changes?

 In the end I think my greatest fears are still what they have always been.  They may not be as strong as they were 30 years ago when I was a teen, or even twenty years ago when I was finally having to confront them but they are still there.  I know the prompt says fear and I pluralized it, but that is because they are pretty well linked.  At least they are for me.

1.  Being judged.  Because I always felt I WAS being judged.  And more accurately that I was being judged and found lacking.  This one still lurks around the edges of my psyche.  It used to be pretty close to the center.  And it turned me into my own worst judge.  One of the things that helped me move it off the the edge was a comment by a member of the Lay Supervision Team on my first internship.  he talked about always worrying what others thought of him and then realizing that people more often were not thinking about him at all.  After all it is a bit self-centered to think that people are always busy judging you -- they have their own lives to live.

2.  Being left on the outside.  Again because I was largely sure I was intentionally being left out.  And then I would add in #1 and become sure I was being left out so they could talk about me. It is sort of a fear of being alone, sort of a fear of being the outcast, and sort of a fear of having to admit that you are unlikeable.  When it shows up now it manifests in the fear that I am missing out on something, that I might not hear something I need to know.  But by and large I have outgrown it.  And as one who leans to introversion it is sometimes OK to be left out (though really it feels better when I can at least tell myself I have chosen to be on the outside).

3. Connecting.  Well really it was a fear of being hurt.  I clearly remember when I was in Grade 9 listening to the song I am a Rock and thinking that was a great way to live.  Because if I was an island then people couldn't get in to hurt me anymore. "and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries".  It was a few years later (well actually a decade or more later) that I realized this was actually a sad song.  And that I had to be willing to connect if I was going to be happy and find some form of success.  Didn't get there alone.  ANd I still sort of fear the danger of connecting.  But I am much better.

4. Looking foolish.  Well sort of.  Because from Grade 5 on my best outlet was theatre.  I could go on stage and feel relaxed-ish.  I could play the fool there.  But in social situations --- not so much, except with some very trusted friends.  Of course now I intentionally play the fool on a regular basis to embarrass my children....

Interestingly, as I reflected and wrote this post, I have no real strong memories of fear of the dark or of heights or of the "boogey man".  I mean I remember being scared by ghost stories (like the time I read Amityville Horror at too young an age) and I was never the most adventurous child but the things I most remember being afraid of fall into the realm of social anxiety.  Which explains a lot in hindsight..

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Ministry in a Resource Town

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to take part in the annual newcomers event for clergy in Alberta Northwest Conference.  This is part of the request:
Thank you for agreeing to be one of our “Hinterland Who’s Who participants for our upcoming Newcomer’s Orientation to Alberta and Northwest Conference.

We are connecting with you to talk about ministry in a  resource-based community setting.

The questions we would ask you to ponder are as follows:

2.       How is the mission and ministry of your Pastoral Charge unique
a.       What particular social, political, physical dynamics influence the life and work of your Pastoral Charge?
Which was an interesting challenge.  Because while this is at heart a resource-based community it has also developed a wider economic base due to the fact that it is a regional center.  This means a larger amount of government and retail activity in addition to agriculture, forestry and petroleum.  It also provides a degree of insulation from the vagaries of being a community that almost solely relies on resource-based industry (especially those that rely on one particular resource and/or company).

The interesting thing for me was to compare the 2 resource-based communities where I have served.  One has been dwindling since the mine closed over 30 years ago, sort of propped up by a coal-fired power plant and some forestry -- until the forestry industry went off a cliff a few years back.  The other, where I am now, is actively growing -- the last municipal census showed an increase of almost 40 000 since 1994, which is a more than doubling of the population -- buoyed by the petroleum industry (mainly natural gas rather than crude oil). One has a greying population and under-subscribed schools, the other is one of the youngest cities in the country (majority of the population under age 39) with schools that are full or overfull. One where property values are, at best, stagnating (or outright falling), another where vacancy rates last year were maybe 1% and rents were soaring (our house has gained almost $20 0000 in civic-assessed value in 5 years--which may or may not show up in actual market value)  Resource-based can mean different things, depending on where in the lifespan of the resource one is.

But there are definite similarities.  Ministry with families with absent parents.  Maybe because the local industry is defunct and one parent (often father) is working "away" for weeks at a time and then home for a week (which can have interesting effects on family life).  Or maybe because the industry is hopping and one or both parents are working long hours and lots of overtime.  For the church this may mean having to re-think what we expect (or more accurately hope to expect) from working people in terms of time available for church work.

ANd then there is the balancing act between eco-theology and economics.  I mean I know that in the end everybody had to walk that line (though some show more awareness of this fact than others) but when you are living and working with people whose jobs are on the line it hits a bit closer.  As mentioned above, my previous ministry setting relied heavily on a coal-fired power station.  Then the provincial government announced they were closing all the coal-fired power stations. Which I agreed with in theory (I had issues with some of the logic used) but was going to be potentially crippling to the town. (I wrote a bit about this when I first started this blog 10 years ago). Or living in a petro-province when your denomination comes out against pipelines, or when the national body decides (in the middle of a strong downturn) to divest of stocks in oil and gas companies.  Again decisions I largely supported in theory and philosophy but had poor optics in some parts of the community.  Fine line to walk indeed.

And of course it is the church.  When times are good and when times are bad we worry about numbers (people and dollars).  We wonder why there are so many people who are on our mailing list but not in the pews.  We worry about how we can fund what we feel called to do, whether that is maintaining the status quo because we are shrinking or plateauing or reaching out to a growing community and trying to find new ways to be the church in their midst.  Maybe the question is "can we still afford full-time ministry?" or maybe it is "can we increase to 1.5 or 2 positions?" but the problem is the same.  How can we be the church God is calling us to be?

NaBloPoMo--Church clothes...

IN their Facebook group the RevGalBlogPals are posting prompts each day for November.  Some days I will use them, some days I will likely have something else to say.

The prompt for November 2 (remember I am playing catch up). said:
Prompt: write about what you wear at church (your best clothes, your comfy clothes, robe, stole, etc.). What does the phrase "church clothes" look like in your world? 
For me, when leading worship, well that depends.

From Labour Day (or the week after Labour Day depending on how I feel and how hot it may be) until Pentecost, or maybe the end of June, or maybe the end of May I wear alb and stole.  At least I do most of the time.  On Pageant Sunday in Advent I usually don't. But otherwise I do 90%+ of the time.  The main benefit is that then I don't feel the need to wear a tie!  I hate the constriction of a closed collar.

In the summer the weather is warm enough that an extra layer is not welcome (most of the time) and also there is a less formal feeling to summer worship.  SO then I wear a shirt and tie. Which makes me (99% of the time) the only person in the building wearing a tie. But I still feel the need to be a little bit professional looking -- even if one of my go to ties has Mickey Mouse on it (mind you I wore that one to my interview and they still called me!). The exception is for weddings and funerals that take place in the church building.  For those I go with alb and stole all year round.

If I am merely attending worship, either here or (more likely) in some other congregation I am much more relaxed. Casual pants and a shirt or sweater depending on the season.

NaNoWriMo--not this year (again)

But maybe someday?

Every November a few things happen.
  • people argue about when Christmas decorations should come out
  • men grow facial hair to support Prostate Cancer
  • clergy panic about what they will do for Advent
And some enterprising individuals participate in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).  The concept is to write a 50 000 word novel in a month.  And more than once I have (usually after November starts, sometimes in late October) thought "I should try that"

Not because I think I have a great novel in my head. (Or even a passable novel, or even one that would make any sense)

Not because I have nothing else to do.

But because I think I need to do something to recover my creativity, something that I have found lacking over the last couple of years.  And I miss it.

Or even just to push myself to write something.

But I keep telling myself that I have nothing worth writing, that I don't have time, that I would not be able to keep a coherent piece together.

Which may in fact mean I really should give it a try.  But not this year...

But there is another option. NaBloPoMo The idea for this is to be intentional and commit to write a blogpost a day for the whole month. Surely I could do that.   I used to, or at least I used to come close 10 years ago when this blog was first started.  And maybe that would help spur the creativity, spur the need to put thoughts in order, help create some discipline and move me away from Candy Crush for a while.

Of course it is now November 3rd already.  So not off to a great thought.  But I can play catch up...

SO off we go!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday Five....Books

Each week the RevGalBlogPals post a Friday Five.  Haven't done one for eons.  Thought I would this week:

Share with us some of your favorites:
A cookbook One of my favourites is a volume put together by the congregation where I attended during seminary. They called it "Grosvenor Does Gourmet"
A novel Lord of the Rings, one I first read in Grade4/5 and have read MANY times since.  (and the movies are no where near as good as the books)
A nonfiction book Hmmmm, hard to name a favourite here.
A well-thumbed book to which you turn often, or with affection, used in our profession well there is the Bible....most of the reading I return to frequently now is online.
An author you recommend frequently to others Not an author but a book...Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf
Bonus: what are you reading now? Working my way through Les Miserables

Monday, September 14, 2015

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

I find myself wondering what a modern editor would do if this book landed on her desk.  Because there are whole sections that appear (at best) tangentially related to the plot line.

THis volume (8 books) began with an extended description of the battle of Waterloo. And only at the end does this link to the story thus far.  At the very end of the battle, after the battle in fact, we are introduced to one of those scavenging vultures that appear on a battlefield, stealing anything of value from the dead.  His name? Thenardier.

Then we read about the life the child Cossette is forced to live. Then we read about Valjean's second escape from the galleys and his appearance in Cossette's life.  He ransoms her and they go to Paris.

The remainder of the book is about another escape.  Javert has found Valjean, but waits too long to make his move and Valjean leads Cossette to safety.  Then we have another excursus.  Valjean inadvertently finds refuge in the grounds of a convent.  But instead of just telling us that Hugo goes into great detail about the convent and the life of those within.  Then a whole book wherein the narrator rants about the value (or the lack thereof) of the monastic life.

When the Volume closes we learn that Valjean, having met an old friend who is the gardener for the convent, finds a refuge where he can stay hidden and Cossette can become a student at the boarding school run by the sisters.  The volume ends with a comment that Cossette grows up....

Volume III is next--it is titled Marius.

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....