Thursday, May 31, 2007

One is the Loneliest Number

On my friend Lee Distad's blog site is an article about the imminent closure of the iconic Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto. The current management of the store comment that they are forced to accept that the day of the recorded music retailer is drawing to a close as alternative forms of distribution, primarily based in the internet, are taking over.

While consumerism is a issue with deep, difficult and wide ranging implications for people of faith, commerce in and of itself is not sinful - only out attitudes and actions stemming from those attitudes can make our shopping choices sinful. I see the loss of Sam's as a cultural loss that goes beyond the music world as it sends us signals about what may draw us into the public marketplace, or what may make us decide to remain cloistered within our private spaces. As I opine in the comments section on Lee's blog, portions of our culture and society are becoming less and less communal pursuits and more and more individual pursuits. This raises troubling questions regarding what sort of society and culture we may be moving towards.

I am ambivalent about what the power of the internet is doing in regard to our communal/individual experience. I watch my son regularly communing with his peer group from his desk as he simultaneously chats with anywhere up to half a dozen friends. I can keep in touch with my sons in Edmonton, friends all over the place, missionaries in other countries and forge new relationships through the power of email, blogs, text messaging and even voice and video. But at the same time the same forces are beginning to limit some of my interactions on other levels.

The physical marketplace has served a vital social and cultural function for all of recorded human history and we may be on the doorstep of the first generation we know of that will live without this physical presence as a dominant force in their lives. As more and more business can be transacted online, as more and more relationships can be engaged in online, people will face a life with increasingly less need for direct physical human contact. If, as some modern era historians suggest, the television drove those in Western developed countries (and eventually everybody else as the technology became available) into their private homes, killing some forms of communal interaction and recreation, what then might the internet do in this regard to further our isolation?

A story in today's news reports about the tragic deaths of an east cost mother with MS and her disabled daughter, who both died unnoticed in their own home, may be a disturbing symptom of what is emerging as the "new culture" of personal physical isolation. I have to deal with this issue personally as someone I care for deeply, living in another city, is experiencing loneliness and some isolation. Do my interactions over the internet with this person help or hinder their ability and desire to go out and have face to face relationships with other people? Is the telephone better because it engages another sense besides sight, or is it merely the precursor to our internet chat interactions? Do my online relationships interfere with my "meatspace" ones. What does a word like "meatspace" and its creation say about emerging attitudes towards physical interaction?

There is a deep spiritual significance to physical presence in relationship as well as Scriptural exhortation to maintain such relationships. Christ came physically. Being God there were much more efficient and effective options available to Him to bring the message of the Gospel to the world, including individual, personal revelation transmitted directly to each living person. But efficiency and expediency were not the point of the revelation of God through Jesus. The point is more closely wrapped up in our created nature and God's ultimate intention for us. We are "Created for Community" as the title of the book by late Stanley J. Grenz proclaims.

We will be able to find new ways to experience and enhance community through the potential of the internet because I believe Christ will grant us the wisdom to do so. He wants the internet to be redeemed as He wants all of creation to be redeemed, but the potential of our sinful nature will also mean that we must be on guard against allowing damage to happen to our relationships through this same medium. There will also be forces that will harness the influence of the internet to twist its potential for good into something that will damage our humanity. The more obvious uses in this vein are already well established (pornography, gambling, rampant consumerism, fraud, theft, infidelity, etc.). We are now beginning to face more subtle issues and challenges that are just as, if not more dangerous. The influence of the internet is shaping our common cultural experiences - the public marketplace for one - and we do not seem to have the power to control such shifts.

That being the case, we must then decide how we will respond. We cannot seek a path through anachronistic entrenchment of bygone church customs and practices. We need new and creative approaches that recognize and reflect the reality of our lives today. This will take more brain power and prayer than any of us can muster individually - again we see the power of the community becoming more important.

If the very foundation of community is at risk, then we who are "created for community" have interesting and challenging days ahead.


Thursday, May 24, 2007



My wife bought tickets to the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. Three days in advance of the day we will go. She's home right now watching the first movie, and will likely watch the second movie too before we go on Saturday to see more.

My marriage has officially gotten very crowded now that Johnny Depp has moved in.

First there was the safely quirky "Edward Scissorhands".

Then the innocent and cute "Benny and Joon".

Next thing I know the guy's playing "Don Juan DeMarco" with every woman in North America.

And now the guy's a PIRATE and he's everywhere I LOOK!!!

But can I go on and on about Marg Helgenberger...(gimme a break guys - I'm a bit older, OK?)...Noooooooooooooooooo!!

Bloody pirate!


Old Tech Rules!

Before your church writes that big cheque for that Power Point/Multi-Media Nightmare System you better contemplate this.

"Gosh, Pastor, the power's out. Where did we store the candles and Hymnals?"



Going Off On the Links

This title is slightly humorous because I don't golf - sort of. Indeed, I've frequently threatened to call my memoirs "The Pastor Who Would Not Golf". The Scots - my tribe - may have invented the game, but a Scot gave it the most accurate description ever. Robbie Burns said, "Golf is a good walk, spoil'd."

I have to be truthful though, I play computer golf, only because I can do so on the easiest setting and thereby kick everybody's butt. The thing that scares me is that after playing all of Tiger Wood's PGA Tour '06 I only made one hole-in-one! How rare would that achievement be on the expert setting?! It would probably be frustrating enough to make Billy Graham go postal.

I know a lot of pastors who golf, but I just don't get it. This gig is frustrating enough without going out and volunteering to take on some more. It would be like being an auto mechanic who always bought the worst cars reported in the Lemonaidcars Report just because he - or she - didn't think there was enough stress in their lives or grease under their fingernails.

Anyway, digressions aside, I'm just here to point you to the "links" section of this blog. If you've wandered here by mistake as 99.9% of our visitors do and you've figured out that this is a CWOT (Colossal Waste Of Time) as 99.9% of our visitors do then I hope you'll find something amusing to follow in my links list. This list is still evolving and will undergo periodic changes and updates, but it is probably the most accurate reflection of my tastes and interests on this page. Try not to let your pity for me overwhelm you, and maybe click on a few.


As a note of caution, due to the very nature of the intermessnet some links may lead ultimately to places with questionable material for viewing at workplaces or by minors or by narrow-minded 'fraidy-cats.

In the first case - go back to work! There's nothing you need here for that quarterly report. Seriously, your company is paying you for your time. Do you really want to have to explain this to the sys-admin? I mean playing Sudoku online is one thing, but getting caught looking at my blog - that's just sad!

In the next case, if you don't know what your kids are doing online why don't you just build a basketball court or skate-park for them in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway? Or maybe buy them a Colt .45 revolver but refuse to send them to firearms safety training? Again, seriously now, what are you thinking? If you've been paying even the most cursory attention lately you'd know there are more ways for your kids to get into trouble on the internet than there are ways to use/lose/spend money in Las Vegas. Those children are your responsibility, so suck it up and exercise some parental prerogative - and don't say you're "scared" of your kid. I know you can take 'em! And hey - you're the parent - who says you have to fight fair?!

And if you happen to be one of "those kids" just cruising the 'net let me say this - if you wouldn't look at it with your mom or dad looking over your shoulder why the heck would you look at it ever while your young, inexperienced and helpless butt is still being fed, clothed and sheltered by your parent's hard work and sweat? They're the ones paying for the IP you're using and you spit on them by breaking their rules and disappointing their expectations? Wanna be a grown-up? Pay the bills sunshine - and don't complain. Until you can do that you owe your parents your obedience. Don't break their trust in you. It's impossible to completely repair. I know from personal experience.

In the third case, just know this - I may see stuff from time to time that is ugly, profane, frightening, gross, violent or otherwise icky. But I don't revel in it. It's not my desire. And the truth is that, in life, the divine is found often amidst the profane. Christ was called a "friend of sinners" and accused of having what Garth Brooks would have called "friends in low places". But Jesus wasn't low. I know I'm prone to temptation and sin, but I am trying to not be afraid to go anywhere or face anything if it will help me understand others and follow Jesus closer. There are many disturbing things in this world, but ignoring them will not change them. We need to face them with the mind of Christ and see what God is already doing. If you close your eyes, you close your heart.

Hey, I suddenly feel much lighter. Blogging can be therapeutic!

*Breathes deeply - a smile steals across his face.*


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay Too Serious

There hasn't been much that could be called "amusing" in "a musings" lately. I just re-read my entries and it's no wonder nobody reads this stuff. I'm positively morbid lately. Sheeeesh!

So here's my attempt to lighten up.

What can you find on most middle-class North American Christians and also on their Bibles? - (Love) Handles.

What's the single most popular Christian bumper sticker?
The one that best covers the scratch on the bumper.

If a "Pastor's Office" is the position of authority and responsibility he or she is the steward of within the church body then what's a "Pastor's Study" for?
About 20 hours a week if their sermons are going to be worth listening to.

What's the best way to frustrate a fundamentalist Christian?
Tell him or her that you don't agree with them, but stubbornly refuse to argue about it.

If obesity is becoming a world-wide problem then what will it mean when we sing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hand"?
God may soon be suffering from carpel-tunnel syndrome.

When I was a kid I thought the benches in church were called "pews" because of the way they smelled.

My dad used to say, "Point weak? Pound pulpit harder!" I used to think that was how they came up with the term "Bible thumper".

In grade 8 everyone in my class agreed that if our math teacher asked "How do you find the hypotenuse?" on our geometry mid-term we would all answer "Look for tracks around the watering hole." He did. We did. He didn't think it was funny. We thought it was hilarious.

The first time I was in a Catholic Church I thought the folding kneeling rails were padded footrests, but that they weren't very comfortably placed.

Hey I said it was an attempt! It was not qualified by any adjectives.

On Sunday the Pastor bragged that he could write his sermons in the time it took him to walk from the parsonage to the church. Believing that quantity might lead to quality the Church Board sold the parsonage, which was next door to the church, and bought a new home for the pastor on the other side of town.

Excuse me now, I need to go for a long walk.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Interconnectedness of Things

I was listening to The Current this morning on CBC and was struck my some interesting connections. The RCMP is about to open their new museum in Regina, not far from where your humble servant makes his home, and excitement for some is running high. This new facility will be a place that celebrates, educates about and promotes the storied history of Canada's national police force. Meanwhile the community of Houston, B.C. will be the site of a public inquiry into the death of a man in RCMP custody last October as covered by The Current this morning. And here in Saskatchewan, while the new museum opens, the RCMP detachment responsible for policing the community I live in has not been fully staffed since before we moved here 5 years ago, and they have not had a detachment commander for over 7 months as a direct result of decisions made by persons higher up the chain of command.

I am a great supporter of the RCMP. My parents told me that the first career I ever said I wanted to pursue was being an RCMP officer. It stuck for a while, too. I remember wanting to pursue this line even as late as Jr. High School. My Kruder Preference Test scores said I'd be best suited for social work, and the police are at the decidedly pointy end of that particular line of work. It amuses me that I'm in social work now, albeit in a different role. I even work fairly closely with the RCMP as I serve as the chairperson of our local Community Justice Committee.

That's why I'm going to say my piece here. One of the biggest flaws I've detected in the leadership of the RCMP in the past several years is their intense aversion to scrutiny and criticism. Let me just offer this one observation - when, now ex-Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli took his post several years ago I noticed one other news story about him besides the announcement. The story related how he purchased a (as I recall) $7000 pair of custom made dress riding boots during the first week of his service as Commissioner. I remember thinking that was a very interesting priority for the new leader of the RCMP to act on in the first days of his new job. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about Commissioner Zaccardelli's legacy, but I can safely say I'm not impressed.

There is something seriously wrong in the leadership echelon of our national police force. The hard-working, dedicated and utterly selfless members of the detachment that services our area are worked beyond their capacity, frustrated by their limited resources - especially human - and appear to be under supported by their leaders. In the meanwhile, we are dealing with serious issues in our town that could be addressed effectively by being able to forge creative initiatives with our local police, except they can't be here for us to work with because they are literally running from pillar to post trying to meet the demands placed on them. And tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the last 5 years or more on the new museum.

I'm frustrated, other leaders in our town are frustrated, I know members of the detachment are frustrated. And the message keeps coming from the top - "Everything's OK!"

The truth is always somewhere in between. What is disconcerting is that one would hope that the RCMP would be more interested in the truth, rather than the spin.

I'm involved in justice issues because through the Community Justice Committee I get the opportunity to work on restorative justice issues and initiatives. I get to contribute to my community and help raise the quality of life in our town and area. I get to work with people who are passionate about truth, justice, community and relationships. I get to work with the best police force I know of, the RCMP. But our police partners are suffering from a lack of visionary leadership and political support. Ultimately this comes down to us - that's the way democracy works. Ultimately if the national police force has a problem it is a political problem and thus our problem. And you should care because it's your money that pays for it.

I want to be happy about the fine new RCMP Museum in Regina. I want to whole-heartedly congratulate the force for the fine work they've done in creating such a wonderful resource for us to share. Only, I can't be fully happy, or completely whole-hearted in my response until some very serious issues get taken care of. Such is the interconnectedness of things sometimes. No pure joy - no pure sorrow. But it is worthwhile to work towards joy - more joy than we have right now.

Someone once said, "Wherever you go, there you are." I don't believe anyone is anywhere by choice. You don't have to believe what I do, but I know this, no one ever chose the time and place of their birth. When Israel was in exile in Babylon, God basically said the same thing to them, essentially, "As long as you are here, make things better."

We're working on a few things here, trying to make them better. Maybe if we do they will help make other things better here and elsewhere. Because we're all connected and this isn't a "local" issue, I'm praying that some of you will get involved, too. Write a letter asking why things are the way they are. Visit your local detachment and ask about the civilian volunteer programs the RCMP has. Get involved in your community - city and provincial police face the same challenges the RCMP do. If the RCMP prospers nationally we'll all benefit.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Beyond the Typical Church Rummage Sale

The Christian church in North America has garnered the reputation in recent years of being unwilling to truly act sacrificially on behalf of the needy and more particularly those who it has wronged. This perception has been fueled particularly by some of the response of the Roman Catholic Church in the US to findings of abuse of its parishioners at the hands of some of its priests. The unfortunate dialogue demonstrating unwillingness to take responsibility in the case of the Archdiocese of Boston being one of the prime examples of this decidedly un-Christ-like reluctance.

Canadian mainstream churches have added their own unwitting and unfortunate examples to this issue as well. The response of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada Diocese of Richmond in BC to the findings of the superior court in the case of its oversight of the ill-fated residential school system under its watchcare was to suggest bankruptcy was their only choice while the Anglican Church overall seemed to turn it's face away from the problem. This raised the spectre of many claimants being left with little or nothing in compensation while the tax-exempt church found relief in bankruptcy legislation. Thankfully that outcome was avoided when the Anglican Church of Canada's leadership finally stepped up to the plate.

While I am adamant that all Christian churches in North America still have much to answer for in regards to abuse, both historical and present, that they either tolerated or participated in, I am beginning to become hopeful that the lesson is being learned and that God is reforming the hearts of church leaders everywhere. This is evidenced by the numerous local and the less numerous national apologies some denominations have proffered in recent months and years to the victims of such abuses. And now today a news article reports that at least one Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the US is willing to sacrifice what it must to make appropriate reparations to those who were abused by its priests. The sale of its assets goes far beyond what most of us would believe they would be capable of doing.

The mainstream media will no doubt under report these stories - it is significant to note that the story linked to in this entry regards a US church but was reported by a British news service. Nevertheless, reconciliation is happening, and we must applaud and encourage it when and where ever it takes place. Reputations and perceptions can be changed. It begins with us paying attention to what is really going on, praying that it will continue in God's will and doing our part to diligently seek grace where we live and work.


Where Do The Children Play?

The unintentional spotlight of media frequently seems to shine its vexatious light upon apparent trends in our society. So it seems this week with a trio of stories regarding the brutality of the life of children in Canada. While it may seem that this has been a particularly brutal week, the more awful truth is that daily children across Canada suffer much and find little protection afforded them by the state.

It would be easy to point fingers here at government agencies, political or social agendas, blame moral decline or simply rant about racial inequalities, but I'll try not to. The sad realization is that what the children of this generation are experiencing is no different from any previous generation or time in human history. Even the Biblical record attests to Israel sacrificing their children to bloodthirsty gods of the day.

The children always pay the highest price for our greed and anger. But they can be saved. I have a friend who has risen above the cruelty of the childhood abuse they faced and is becoming one of the most beautiful people I know. I have faced my own experience of abuse and come through it to a place where I can forgive and be released. But, even so, even as these stories give me hope that God can reclaim what we throw away, I am convinced that we do not yet do enough to protect the least vulnerable in our society.

Our society is voting not to have children. The number of childless couples by choice has risen to over 17% in the last generation. Canadians no longer produce enough offspring to replace our dying numbers, let alone replace our retiring workers. In such a state can children ever hope to become a priority?

Right now as I write this entry I'm listening to the sounds of 5 children attending the play school held in our church. They are upstairs, gleefully playing on a plethora of percussion instruments. In the face of ugly stories about children abused and lost it is the most beautiful sound in the whole world to me.

Any society can best measure its capacity for fairness, justice and compassion based upon how well it cares for the most vulnerable of its members and how far it will go to protect them. I refute what P.E. Trudeau said about our nation. We are part of a society that is neither fair nor just. And until the children of Canada occupy the position of most cherished of our citizens - we never will be.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Farewell Falwell

This blog could definitely get a reputation as an obituary obsessed site based on several of my most recent posts, but it's true that what has provoked me to comment has recently been the passing of significant persons who have trod the cultural stage in North America, particularly.

I am decidedly ambivalent regarding the passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell. I suspect I am not the only confessing evangelical Christian in North America who is so conflicted today.

While I will leave it to more learned persons to assess the life and career of Rev. Falwell and his impact on our culture, I will say this - his uncompromising stand on many issues was inspirational in the fervor he showed and also frightening, too. I simply wish that he had shown more grace from time to time as Scripture suggests we should if we are truly followers of Jesus. I will not argue here for or against his positions on several controversial matters - that would take more time than I can dedicate to this post and it would probably bore me to write it as much as it would bore you to read it.

Rev. Falwell was and still is a believer in Jesus Christ. Christ was and still is a very controversial person. He said Himself that He would bring conflict. Sometimes as preachers we need to deliver unpopular and controversial messages from God's Word, but I am convinced that this can always be done in a loving and gracious manner. It may not make for good TV or news headlines, but I don't believe we've been called to attract undue attention to ourselves - we are to attract as much attention as we can to Jesus. Often, in my opinion, Rev. Falwell missed his opportunity to do just that.

I have to confess that I don't personally know, nor understand, the pressures of having a mega-church ministry, a popular cultural presence and a considerable political influence. As such I want to state clearly that I do not judge Rev. Falwell on his decisions and choices in these matters - none of them could have been easy. What I am commenting on is the personality he presented. It is not an insignificant thing that Rev. Falwell's on air persona has become the paradigmatic example of what I call "the insufferable Christian". It is a stereotype that even evangelical Christians are reacting against as evidenced by these ad-like teasers created by Community Christian Church to promote a sermon series they delivered in 2006.

I am supremely confident that God will deal justly and mercifully with Rev. Falwell, just as He will deal with all of us, but I can't help but wonder if the most useful work Rev. Falwell accomplished was to clearly define the Christian stereotype that all true followers of Jesus would most earnestly desire not to emulate.

And even in that seemingly dubious work brother Falwell - flawed as he was; as we all are - served the Lord and His good purposes. Such is the gracious truth of the One who loves us enough to die for us.


A good friend pointed me to this. It states things much more clearly that I could ever hope to. I shouldn't always get the last word 'round here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wrenching Analogies

Another tick in the column headed "The Death of Debate" was marked down this week by leader of the Canadian Green Party Elizabeth May's unfortunate attempt to compare Stephen Harper and his new environment policy with WWII era British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement towards Hitler and his rise to power in Germany. As I have suggested in other blogs and writings, the art and skill of reasoned debate has died a convincing death only to continue to shuffle on as a zombie animated by personal diatribe and fueled by scathing invective.

Ms. May, who at one time purported to be the champion of political change and constantly encouraged her audiences with her vision to "do things differently" in Ottawa has entered free fall in the credibility ratings (in this pundit's never-to-be-humble opinion). Her slip began with the cynical and opportunistic deal she made with Stefan Dion to ensure that she could run uncontested against Peter McKay in his maritime riding in the next election. It is now closely followed by this gaffe which has the Canadian media debating Ms. May's dubious oratory skills with greater fervor that they are using to explain the Government's new environment policy. This kind of public debate "bait and switch" is fundamentally disingenuous as Maisonneuve Mediascout points out is becoming all too common in today's exchanges between political, social, cultural, religious and ethical rivals. Debate has devolved to the gutter where the best any of the participants can seem to do is bludgeon one another with accusations of being evil incarnate rather than offer an alternative vision or policy. If the voters remain only modestly attentive and informed I expect that Ms. May will remain in the political wilderness after our next trip to the polls. It will hardly be a shame as she has demonstrated, as far as i can see, that she doesn't bring anything that would make me believe she could influence Parliament to "do things differently".

As an aside; while preparing the links for this entry I discovered that Googling Mr. Harper and Ms. May led me to, respectively, the Government of Canada's site for the Prime Minister and the Green Party website easily, while doing the same with Mr. Dion's name led me nowhere near the Liberal Party of Canada's website - at least in the first few pages of results. I was aware that the Liberals are in disarray but I am shocked that they can't manage this bit of technological promotion and communication. As a long-time critic of the Liberals I am perhaps a little too happy to see that the confusion within their organization is so pervasive. While I am no fan of Liberal policy generally, I am always concerned when the opposition cannot be effective in their role and present a viable alternative to the current government, be it federal or provincial. My 42 years as an Albertan schooled me in the pitfalls of a constituency being governed by a party that fears no opposition and takes its power to govern for granted. No one will hear this but somebody with some intelligence in the Liberal Party better WAKE UP! And soon.

Back to the issue. The death of debate is having serious consequences for our nation. With the media jumping on the tactics, or lack of tactics, employed by politicians in denouncing one another we find less and less news coverage devoted to the issues at hand. Every policy announcement and program launch is met by inevitable slurs and sarcasm. The reporters wind up reporting who called who what and how both sides reacted. The paper, radio and TV reports are increasingly filled with articles about words said rather than ideas communicated. And thus we are all made an little more ignorant by the ignorance of the politician's comments and the duplicitous ignorance of the reporter's choice of focus.

These analogy bombs that get used almost every day need to be fixed. We need to step down the rhetoric. We need to call our politicians on this stuff. In Saskatchewan the opposition Sask Party has begun what I expect will be a series of ads, most likely anticipating an upcoming election. They have begun with a negative message right off the top. My disappointment is very great and I am going to the MLA's riding office today to tell either him or his assistant so. I'm not trying to throw a wrench into their communications plans. I'm only trying to suggest they need to take their policy wrench out and fine tune their message a bit. I guess this is participatory democracy.