Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book 13 of 2019 -- Two Gentlemen of Verona

Because sometimes you need a change of pace. And when you have a complete Shakespeare collection on your Kobo why not use that as the change of pace.

Once again I was reminded that the best way to read Shakespeare is out loud (so really not a "read in the coffee shop" endeavor, more of a "read in the bath tub" piece.

I had never read Two Gentlemen... before, well at least not the Shakespeare version.  30+ years ago I was in a musical adaptation of it that was...odd. Then again the story itself is kind of odd.

Nevertheless I think that reading a classic is always a good option.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Book 12 of 2019 -- Dare to Lead

Over the years I had heard many good things about Brene Brown. I had also been wanting to do some leadership development reading.  So I thought Dare to Lead would be a good choice -- particularly because I rarely think of myself as one who dares much.

I am tempted to order the workbook that accompanies the book and use it on a re-read. At the very least it is a book I think I will re-read in the future. It was challenging, in a good way. To put some of what Brown suggests into practice would stretch my comfort zones-- again this is not necessarily a bad thing. However I think that to provide leadership in a church that is in need of finding new ways to be church I need to push myself -- so that I can encourage others to push themselves.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Jealousy and Anger and Fear... OH MY

I keep remembering the old saying about the "ancient Chinese curse" May you live in interesting times.  We are certainly living in interesting times....

In Alberta for the last couple of years there has been an immense amount of anger. It has been focussed in a few different places (more on that shortly). But I have been wondering what is driving the anger and what is causing the specific focal points for it.

I have long believed that anger is more of a secondary emotion. It grows out of something else. And I see the current anger in Alberta growing out of at least three other things. The big one is FEAR. Next up is PAIN. The next one is JEALOUSY. 

People are angry in Alberta because the economy is not booming. It has not been booming for several years now. And the nature of our system tends to mean that if an economy is not booming and growing it is struggling and shrinking. For some reason "holding its own" is never an option. [One of the talking points is that our economy is held up by lack of access (no new pipelines). But no access has been removed either, we can still ship as much oil as we could 6 years ago, albeit at a much lower price than 6 years ago. Why does lack of growth have to mean shrinking?] And so people lose income, either by reduced hours or losing their job completely. And so people are hurting. It is well-established that when we hurt we seek to lash out at the person(s)/system(s) we think is to blame.

So people are angry because they have been hurt. And in their wounded state they have had a number of people tell them who is at fault for their pain: the federal government, environmental activists (especially foreign funders of same), other provinces, those living off the public dime (either recipients of support or public sector workers). Which has had the effect of making people angry at those things rather than others who are possibly more to blame -- the large corporations who continue to make profits, the changing global energy industry, the provincial governments of the last several decades. So that is one facet of the anger. But there is more.

Alberta has ridden the tides of an uncertain resource sector before (and seems to have learned very little from it). The anger seems stronger, louder now. This, I think is where the fear comes in.  Many of us have been suggesting that this will not be like other cycles because the big boom will not come back like it has before. Others have been refusing to admit that this is a possibility. I think there is a very real fear that the big boom will not come back and we have no plan for something to replace it. There is fear that new pipelines either will not get completed and opened or that if the pipelines [which for years we have been told will bring back the golden goose] do come on stream the boom still will not come back [personally I more than half-believe this is why Kinder-Morgan cancelled the Trans-Mountain pipeline which the federal government (who we are told does not support the industry) the bought to try and keep it on track -- they no longer believed they would make the money they wanted off the project.] And when people are afraid they get angry at the very thing they are afraid of.

A lot of what I have heard over the last few years, from a variety of sources, has had fear in it. Some have tried to quell the fear. Some have tried to ramp it up and focus it into anger at "them". Some have tried to say there is nothing to fear, that the boom will still come back like it always has. Still the fear is out there. I think it is justified. I think people are afraid of losing their livelihoods, that people are afraid of us not being what we were. I also think they may have reason to be afraid. I do hope that we find a better way of meeting those fears than we have thus far.

I have a sense that most commentators and analysts will agree thus far. Theses are obvious sources of anger. But recently (as i the last few weeks and months I have seen something uglier growing. Jealousy.

Alberta is jealous of other provinces, most especially Quebec. This has been true for a long time. Alberta is jealous of Quebec's special status -- not because they believe Quebec should not have it but because they don't. Alberta is jealous that other provinces (and especially Quebec) get more in transfer payments under the federal equalization program. Alberta is jealous that Alberta is not seen as the best province in the country. Alberta is mad that Alberta does not get special treatment because of its economic contributions to the country. This, I think, is a large part of what has fed a long-term feeling of Western alienation (long term as in most of the province's history) and the occasional popping up of separatist movements (WCC when I was younger, Wexit now). It is also a jealousy that was once harnessed by Preston Manning' Reform Party and is now being harnessed by Premier Kenney's "Fair Deal" campaign (though I have yet to see what exactly he thinks "fair deal" means -- I hunch it means Alberta gets what Alberta wants). Federalism is a challenge in a country as big and diverse as Canada. And as a person whose preferred model of federalism is a much stronger central government I often find myself out of step with much of the country. But jealousy of what others have, or what we think they have, or what we think they should not have, does not help.

There is another piece of jealousy I am seeing, one that is more concerning to my heart. It is not a new think but in times where we are told we need economic restraint it is very divisive.  Jealousy of other Albertans. Jealousy because some have union contracts to protect them when others did not. Jealousy that some have jobs and others have lost theirs. I sense a lot of this in the ongoing debate around who has it better -- public sector or private sector workers. Right now, as we live into a provincial budget that some of us see as a disaster in the making (others see it as a much needed corrective) this jealousy is getting played out full force. And it makes people angry -- on both sides. It creates a "with us or against us" sensation. It gets in the way of having real discussions about what the best way forward is.

[For the record I believe firmly that the best way forward for Alberta's budget is to take a hard look at our revenue problem which is to blame for where we are. I have these dreams of what could have happened if 40 years ago we had not fallen victime to the myth of high services on low taxes]

But right now the fear and the jealousy and the anger are driving what passes for debate in this province. And it is getting us nowhere fast. Many of us have strong opinions on where to go next. Many of us have trouble allowing the opposite point of view speak to our hearts and minds. All of us go around trying to find data to back up our point of view -- which always reminds me of the quote usually ascribed to Mark Twain There are 3 types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. We have to find a better way. Jealousy and fear and anger, being used the way they are currently, will only poison the well.

Luckily I am, in theory at least, a person of hope rather than despair, of love rather than fear, of common good over individualism -- some days better than others.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Miriam's Christmas

This was first written in 2005 but somehow had never been posted here -- as I discovered this morning

The wind gusted, sending the fresh snow swirling around the lamp post. Miriam shivered, pulling the thin coat tighter around her chest. “Gonna be a cold one tonight,” she muttered, squinting through the darkness.

A little further down the block was the big old church. Miriam remembered going there as a child, remembered the beautiful stained glass windows. Suddenly a friendly voice boomed in her ear. “Merry Christmas! Please come and join us for worship!”

Miriam looked around, wondering who the cheerful man was talking to. Surely it couldn’t be her. Christmas Eve was a special service, someone wearing an old coat and wrapped in a hand-me-down blanket didn’t fit in with the fancy dresses and bright lights. But there was nobody else around. “Ar-are you talking to m-m-me?” she asked.

“Of course my dear,” the greeter replied. “Come in and warm up at least.” Miriam could hardly believe her ears; certainly a chance to get out of the wind was welcome. Gratefully she made her way up the old stone stairs and snuck into a pew way at the back of the sanctuary, just as the opening notes of the first hymn were being played.

As she listened to the familiar old carols Miriam couldn’t help remembering the Christmases of her childhood. Things were so much happier, so much simpler then. “What had gone wrong?” she muttered to herself. Then the pageant started. Watching Mary and Joseph get turned away from the inn Miriam felt her heart reach out to them. She knew what it meant to have nowhere to go.

After the service, Miriam started to wrap herself in the blanket again and sneak out without being seen. No luck. The greeter was right there beside her again. “Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked. Miriam said nothing, just looked away.

Finally she looked up, “I don’t know, there was no room at the shelter.”

“Well that will never do” the young man said. He paused for a moment then a smile came back to his face. “You will come to my parent’s house with me,” he said. The story we just heard reminds us that there should always be room at the inn somewhere.

It might have been a trick of the light and wind. But at that moment Miriam was sure that the greeter’s face was shining, just like the angel in the window behind her. And somewhere she heard voices singing “Hallelujah!”…

Monday, October 28, 2019

Book 11 of 2019 -- Speaking Church

The title of this intrigued me.  So did the subtitle A New Vision for the Sub/Urban Congregation.  Serving in a congregation that is mainly urbanized with some still strong rural roots and links I wondered what Ross had to say.

It was a good read.  The major part of one chapter is a series of case studies/reflections using the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. And that has me seriously pondering a sermon series on those letters, because I suspect all 7 have something to say to most churches.

I also liked where Ross challenged/counselled sub/urban churches both to look at what the needs of the community actually are and what other groups in the community are doing. Both of these are, I think the way to do good contextual ministry and avoid the "well when we did this it worked (30 or 40 years ago) trap. It also helps us remember that the church can work with other agencies and groups rather than only go it alone.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Book 10 of 2019 -- This I Know

At first glance a book about marketing seems an odd thing for a minister to read for continuing education but really...

Terry O'Reilly is a CBC Radio One personality. I first listened to his show Age of Persuasion and now listen each season for Under the Influence. With the result that there were a number of times in the book that I started reading a story , recognized/remembered it from the show and could "hear" Terry telling it as I read.

I chose this book for two reasons.  First off was because I really enjoy the radio show. The other was that I in fact think a marketing book is a very good thing to read for work in the church. Because, to be blunt, the church often sucks at marketing. Possibly in part because we don't think we should be worrying about marketing.

So as I read and enjoyed the book I was constantly asking myself "how does this translate to the church?". ANd there were a number of places. There were things I should consider in sermon prep, things to consider in Council visioning discussions, thing to think about in what advertising we do (which is very little).  I think the place to start is the basics.  What is our brand? What is our key purpose? Our Elevator pitch?

I need to give more thought. I need to find a way to share the thoughts with others, because marketing the church is not (just) my job.

Good book. entertaining but also thought provoking.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Book 9 of 2019 -- The Gospel According to Star Wars

My daughter saw this one on a book table at Presbytery and told me I had to buy it (although she is not a Star Wars fan at all). So I did.

Like many of my generation, those of us who grew up with the original trilogy, I have long seen God-talk in the Star Wars story.

In this book I found that McDowell does a good job of exploring theological themes (most doing with the nature of evil and the nature of power) in the original trilogy and the prequels. One place I would have enjoyed more discussion was how did the politics of the day shape the movies themselves.  Lucas has spoken at great length about how that helped shape the first movie but where did that impact the later movies?  McDowell does this to a degree but I would want to look at it some more (admittedly Lucas had the broad strokes of the story in mind well before the movies came out so it is a challenging line to draw).

I appreciated the depth to which McDowell takes the look. There are some interesting ways to look at the movies many have said are pure escapism.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book 8 of 2019 -- Birth of Jesus for Progressive Christians

'Tis the time of year to be thinking of fall studies.  This book was suggested as a possible late fall/Advent study.  Earlier this year I read another book by the same author, that one was on Revelation.

I think it would work as a study.  I disagree with some of the comments Schmidt makes about the Scripture he  is discussing but that just makes for more opportunities to discuss.... right?

THough part of me wonders if a study group reading Borg/Crossan's The First Christmas might be better....

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book 7 of 2019 -- The Theology of The United Church of Canada

I was very excited when I saw advance news that this book was being released. Often those of us in the United Church have met with accusations that we have no theological principles, or that our theology is not "Christian enough" (we are a denomination that has been accused of being "Christianity Lite") or that we really just allow ourselves to get blown around by the winds of popular opinion. On the other hand an academic theologian within our midst has suggested that one of our issues, likely growing from our 'big-tent' reality and our practice of having theology and polity heavily influenced by local contexts, is that we are awash in theology.

At any rate this book is a systematic attempt to lay out what the United Church's theology is on a variety of topics and how it has developed. Each chapter is written by a different person and so there are a variety of points of view present in the book -- as is only appropriate for the United Church. Generally speaking the authors track the development of Theological thought through our 4 statements of faith that we term subordinate statements because our primary source for theology (whether some of my colleagues agree/like it or not) remains Scripture. When relevant they will also refer to other reports/studies/commissions that the church has produced since 1925.

Some of the chapters were more engaging than others (as one would expect). The chapter on the Holy Spirit, written by an indigenous person is a masterpiece. The chapters on Foreign and Home missions work were also striking in their willingness to name where the church grew in understanding of this cross-cultural work and where it remained stuck in very colonial attitudes for many decades.

The nature of the UCCan is that we do not always agree. And so there are interpretations here I found myself arguing with. (Again this may be part of why we are awash in theology because I am sure I am not alone.) However this is a book that needs to be widely read across the church  And plausibly hand delivered to some of our detractors, not to convince the we are right but to help them see who we are and how we got here.  In seminary I took a course called the History and Theology of the United Church. I think this volume would be a good reading for such a course, and then augmented by some of the studies and reports it alludes to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book 6 of 2019 -- Growing Pains

In a discussion recently about the state of the world and the Donald Trump effect one of the people mentioned this book and offered to lend it to me.

It is a good read, unsettling at times but thought-provoking. While I have never read any of Dyer's books I did generally appreciate his syndicated columns. He is able to take what could be relatively dry material (the book contains analysis of voting patterns and economic data) and present it in an engaging manner.

Dyer offers an alternate interpretation of the populism espoused by Trumpsters and Brexiteers, one I find much more logical than the rhetoric from the populist side. I found myself wondering what he would have to say about the rhetoric from our recent provincial elections in Alberta and Ontario where populism has made a definite impact.

I especially appreciated the case Dyer makes for an Universal Basic Income. I have long believed a Gauranteed Annual Income would be a good idea, though of course the devil is in the details. I really liked Dyer's contention that it should be universal where many proposals have seen it solely as a piece of the social safety net. The idea of universality and therefore removing stigma of receiving it makes sense. And of course if Dyer is right (and I think he largely is) that the future changes to the global economy will bring on massive shifts in employment then UBI becomes a good way to avoid the revolution.  Coincidentally I was reading an article earlier today outlining the link between income inequality and social and physical health. Dyer highlights the dangers of this as well

Another interesting take in the book is Dyer's suggestion that humans are somehow hard-wired to seek a more equitable society, even as humans are also apparently hard-wired to seek dominance. This would be a good book for a discussion group.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Book 5 of 2019 -- The Power of Kindness

I have listened to Brian Goldman's radio show White Coat, Black Art for many years and so when a colleague of mine posted that she was reading his latest book I had to take a look.

While the book title is about kindness the book itself is about empathy. Goldman talks about his quest to learn about empathy as he seeks to learn how empathetic he is.

In his search we learn about some biological markers of empathy that show up in an MRI. We explore some psychology around empathy, and the lack thereof. We meet people who have the ability to connect with others, often because of a shared woundedness but sometimes just because they are good at connecting. We see how roboticists are trying to program empathy. We explore a program that is trying to teach empathy, or maybe plant the seeds of empathy, in school children by bringing infants into the classroom.

Possibly my favourite story in the book was the chapter that discussed working with dementia patients. That one was a real eyeopener about the possibilities.

Like Goldman, I often wonder how empathic I am. This book did not answer that question for me. But it did give me some more insight into the question. It is one I would readily suggest to others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Book 4 of 2019 -- The Sacrament of Interruption

For Lent I am preparing a series called "The Practices of the Church". Actually I did the first one in the series on Baptism of Christ Sunday since that was an opportune time to talk about Baptism and the other parts of the series will be: Prayer, Marriage/Relationships, Funerals/End of Life, and Communion. This book was suggested as a possible resource for the series.

It is a quick easy read, though I will likely re-read any relevant chapters while prepping for the sermons in the series. I tend not to follow where Schaper goes  much of the time but she does present some sparking thoughts about what it means to be sacramental.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book 3 of 2019 -- TheMerchant of Venice

Because sometimes you just need to read a classic.

To be honest I do not think I have read any Shakespeare since I was in University, which would mean either Richard III or Othello is the last play I read.  I might have looked up a sonnet or two in the interim but certainly the last play was for a drama class. Which puts it pretty close to 30 years ago.

It took me a scene or two for me to get the rhythm and get my language back under me. All the more so since this is one I have never read before. I have heard some passages like Shylock's contention that as a Jew he is much the same as other men "if you prick us do we not bleed" and Portia's plea for mercy "the quality of mercy is not strained" but had little more than a passing understanding of the plot.

Interesting play. To read it in an English class today would not only lead to discussions of love and mercy and revenge (definite themes of the piece) but also to the racial dynamics of how Shylock is written and described.

And I need to read such things more often.

Book 2 of 2019 -- Out Of Sorts

In her book The Great Emergence the late Phyllis Tickle spoke of the idea that every 500 years or so the Church has a great rummage sale as a part of a grand reset. I found the idea intriguing, even if I think it fit the Reformation better than her other historical exemplars, and only time will tell how the current era will math that image. In this book Sarah Bessey takes a similar tack to discussing her own faith journey.

Bessey uses the image of gathering to sort through a loved one's 'stuff' after the funeral. What gets kept? What gets donated? What gets tossed out? She then uses this image in terms of how our faith changes over the years, a process in which we once again ask what to keep and what to toss, along with deciding whether or not or how to integrate new insights and understandings.

This book is largely a memoir, but in the act or writing a memoir Bessey invites us to consider the questions we bring to faith.

I think Tickle is right. I think the church is once more at that time where we need to investigate what needs to get put out to sale.  I am not sure the church is yet willing to do it. I like Bessey's approach.  When we go through the belongings it often takes a few goes. Some stuff gets tossed immediately. Some gets put in a box because we just can't deal with it yet. Some survives one or two cullings before eventually being put out to sale or toss. I suspect that is how the church will move into what Tickle called the great emergence.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Book 1 of 2019 -- Revelation for Progressive Christians

Early this month I pondered offering a Bible Study on Revelation and this book was suggested as a possible resource.

Revelation is, to say the least, challenging book for many of us. This is largely because of how it is sometimes used by some of our siblings in faith. It does not help that it is a challenge to move through the imagery in much of the book to see where meaning may be found (well that and all the death/destruction).

I think Schmidt does a good job here. Indeed this is likely to be one of two resources I use for the study group,

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Book 12 of 2018 -- Grounded

Another random find this time.

I started reading this on in the early fall when working on a worship series around environmental stewardship. Then took a break from it for other things and finished it in December.

To be honest it almost felt like the two parts of the book could be separate books in and of themselves, maybe as a two volume set.  There were some linkages between them and Bass does a good job of highlighting those links in the conclusion, but in the end it felt like two books on a similar theme melded into one book.

I really appreciated the beginning discussion of the primary question of "Where Is God?" as it kept popping up in the book.  I do agree with Bass that this is a key question as we move forward.

THe first portion on eco-theological issues is a good book. The second portion which pushes for a look on a social environmental level is also a good book. I just am not sure they work as a single volume.