Wednesday, May 30, 2007


My van is still in the shop so I'm walking and busing it these days. One of the advantages of living downtown though is that walking places isn't a hardship. So today I set out to meet a student for lunch and then putzed my way back, stopping for a latte at the Round Street Cafe. As I noticed things I don't normally notice when I'm driving I was mindful of something Daniel Taylor wrote about walking on the island of Iona: "Walking is the maximum desirable speed for seeing things fully enough to name them. And when we name things then we begin to value them. No wonder that we all want to be named and known." Our technology has a way of distancing us from our environment. In the van not only am I separated from the weather, sounds, and smells of the city, but I'm too caught up in paying attention to other vehicles and lights to pay any attention to houses, pedestrians, flowers or anything else for that matter.

I remember reading something about how train travel changed publishing. When people traveled by carriage they were going slowly enough that they could pay attention to what was around them. But when they started to take the train they went too quickly and were removed from what was around them so they started to read on the train. So there were all sorts of magazines and penny novels produced for this new market.

Sr. Helen Prejean writes in the beginning of Dead Man Walking that not having air conditioning in New Orleans means that you have to move slow in the heat and humidity. Wendell Berry chooses to only write by natural light so he can only write during the day time. There have been a number of things written lately about stress and how the fact that technology allows us to work around the clock has been really hard on us.

It will make life a lot more convenient when I have my van back but there are things to be learned from an enforced slowing down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Friends of mine are about to leave on a pilgrimage to Ireland so I'm reading In Search of Sacred Places by Daniel Taylor. I hope this isn't a metaphor for my life - others do and I read about it. It would have been great to go with them but all my extra income these days is going to pay off vet bills and mechanic bills. The van is in the shop again for the second time in about a month and this time it is going to be very expensive. But Robbie continues to improve and I've decided to keep some perspective. If my little guy is well then everything else is okay too.

Anyway, back to more spiritual matters. Taylor says that the Celts recognized three kinds of martyrdom: red, green and white. Red martyrdom was death by the shedding of blood. Green martyrdom was living as a hermit. White martyrdom was to let the winds and the tides take you where ever God wanted you to go. It was a decision "to be a peregrinatio - a wanderer for God." (p. 29)

That is what I hope these peregrinations are helping me with, my inner pilgrimage with God.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Quiet Day

Rain rain go away...

Okay, it is blasphemy around here to complain about rain because things will be dry and brown soon enough but enough already!

Robbie continues to improve and I am very grateful for that.

And it is almost 10:00 pm and it is still light out.


Sunday, May 27, 2007


Today is the Feast of Pentecost and I'm off to preach at Christ Trinity Lutheran church. It is actually the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. I was ordained a deacon and Andrew Horne a priest on Pentecost at St. Augustine's Anglican church in the evening. It was a stinking hot day and there were over 400 people in the church and I was wearing the new alb my parish had had made for me - heavy raw silk. We sang My Song is Love Unknown and Jesus All for Jesus. It was a marvelous day! Three days later we had a foot of snow.

Robbie is doing a little better. He's still coughing in the evening and morning but he's sleeping through the night now and has a lot more energy. I really struggle with the coughing - it sounds like he's coughing out a lung. But I'm grateful that his lungs seem to be clearing and the renewed energy suggests that his heart is beating better. He hasn't had any adverse reaction to the heart meds either so that is encouraging. His vet says that we'll know whether or not he's responding by next week. Thank you to everyone who has let me know that they are praying for us. And thanks to M for bringing me meals on wheels last night! Never let it be said that it is only the Christians who know the value of bringing comfort food to folks.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Sick Friend

I've spent the last couple of days looking after a sick friend. Robbie has congestive heart failure and took a bad turn on Wednesday. He has a very kind vet who kept him yesterday and gave him IV Lasix. Last night was a lot better than the night before and we both got some sleep. Today is my day off and except for a little bit this afternoon when I'm meeting a friend for coffee he and I are going to be spending a quiet day at home. For the past eight years Rob and I have been pretty inseparable. He's gone to just about every Anglican church in our deanery. He likes to sleep in the choir pews and then pop down to listen to the sermon from the front pew (obviously not an Anglican himself). Church is one of his favourite places to be. He's really good at visiting folks who are sick or shut in too. For years we went to one of the nursing homes in town to visit a friend and he knew where her room was and would tear off the elevator in her direction. Of course it meant passing the dining room and sometimes the smell of lunch would distract him. I had one parishioner who would be very annoyed with me if I showed up without him. She kept treats on hand for him and delighted in the tricks he would do for her in return for one. He's a very good dancer.

I remember a sermon I heard many many years ago about whether our pets would go to heaven. The priest told the story of a young woman who didn't have many friends whose dog was killed by a car while she was at church. She asked if he would go to heaven and Fr. Bert said, this dog revealed to her that she was lovable and loved. How could he not be with God when he had shown her God's love for her. I loved that sermon. A few years ago on a retreat the retreat master asked us if we knew that when we came home God was running out to greet us and embrace us. I realized that I was reminded each time I came home to Robbie.

The vet said that if Robbie responds well to his new heart medication that he could live another couple of years. May it be so.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Star Wars' Birthday

Just read an interesting post over at Episcopal Princess about tomorrow's 30th birthday of Star Wars. She may have been in diapers when it came out but I was 15 turning 16. My Auntie Ruth of blessed memory took me to see it while I was in Victoria that summer. I remember enjoying it immensely. It was a summer of the arts. My aunt was also stage manager of a production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and well and Living in Paris and took me to see it. I fell in love with the music. A few weeks ago I listened to all of it again for the first time in years and sang along with much of it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Movies go to School

In the past couple of weeks I've watched three movies about teachers. The first was History Boys, the film version of the play by Alan Bennett about a group of bright English male students studying for their O levels in Yorkshire. The second was Half Nelson, a film about a drug addicted history teacher in an inner city school. Finally I watched Freedom Writers, the true story of an idealistic young teacher who did amazing things with her class of mostly poor, gang involved, minority students.

I had first learned about History Boys while watching the Tonys last year and was looking forward to seeing the film which was made with the same cast. There has been some controversy about the homosexual sub-theme which sees a teacher molest his students. But the main focus of the film is education and the difference between seeing education as a formation of the mind (and perhaps character) and seeing it instrumentally as a means to an end. Richard Griffiths plays the 'General Studies' teacher who uses a number of unorthodox methods to engage the boys. The headmaster fears, however, that his methods will not be sufficient to earn the boys places in Oxford and Cambridge and so he engages another history teacher played by Stephen Campbell Moore. There is some marvelous dialogue and Griffiths' character valiantly defends a classical view of education but ultimately one can't help but grieve its loss in the face of an emerging view of education as a tool to get ahead.

Critics were almost unanimous in praising Half Nelson but I didn't like it much. It isn't that the film isn't well done. Ryan Gosling is very good as the drug addicted high school teacher and Shareeka Epps is powerful as the troubled student who becomes connected to him a kind of odd friendship after she finds him stoned in the locker room after a basketball game. The film has a gritty realistic feel to it but ultimately I thought it said nothing. And the more I thought about it the more annoyed I was. Gosling's character is supposed to be some inspirational teacher but you see no evidence of it. He spends most of his time in the classroom stoned or hungover. Occasionally he gets up and spouts some theories of history and scenes of his students reciting the history of the civil rights movement are cut into the movie. But big deal. The fact that these kids learn anything is more accidental than anything. I can't say I enjoy watching someone get stoned. The whole film felt more emotionally exploitive than anything else. There seem to be a lot of movies these days that appeal to emotion but that offer little in the way of ideas.

Freedom Writers is based on a true story and in many ways it is an example of the formula movie about the teacher facing unbelievable odds who finds a way to reach the troubled students and transforms them. But Hillary Swank is great as Erin Gruwell and the movie is genuinely moving. I was struck by how she makes the connection with the kids by introducing them to the Holocaust. She gets them to read The Diary of Anne Frank and these kids make the connection between their own lives of violence and the experience of European Jews. A number of years ago a former student of mine who was working in a local high school with First Nations students asked me to come to speak to them about the Holocaust. He saw a connection too between their experience and the experience of the victims of anti-semitism.

There are many good 'teacher films' like Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, and Stand and Deliver but my favourites are the original version of The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave and the 1973 classic The Paper Chase with Timothy Bottoms, John Houseman and Lindsay Wagner.

Here is a review I wrote one fall for The Sower of Paper Chase:

In 1973 a small film was a surprising hit. Released on DVD last year on its 30th anniversary, The Paper Chase remains a captivating movie.

The film opens on the first day of classes at Harvard Law School. The first scene establishes the central relationship between James Hart, played by Timothy Bottoms in one of his best roles, as a first year student and John Houseman as Professor Charles Kingsfield. Houseman won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his marvelous portrayal of the infamous and famous professor of Contracts.

As I write this classes have begun again on our college and university campuses and I just watched the movie again as I often do at the start of a new school year. When this movie came out 31 years ago I was too young to see it but it spawned a tv series and I watched the tv show religiously. When I was in university a friend and I would hold all night study sessions scheduling our break to coincide with the late night reruns of the show. It was only later that I saw the film which is grittier and darker than the tv version.

Watching Paper Chase again for perhaps the tenth time I was reminded again of why I like this film so much. In many ways for me it captures all that is good and that is corrupting of academic life. Hart is passionate about the law and in particular about understanding contracts. I share his inclination for late night studying and know the joy that comes with being in a little world no bigger than the illumination of a desk lamp over a text. There is such delight in struggling to understand something and then realizing that you finally get it.

This is also a film about committing yourself to the pursuit of excellence. In some ways it reminds me of another surprising hit, Chariots of Fire which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1981. Again there are inspiring scenes of the hard work and agony that goes into doing your best. Perhaps the success of both these films is an indication that audiences are drawn to that kind of commitment to doing your best.

But there is the shadow side as well in Paper Chase when characters obsess over grades, jobs and competition. We live in a culture where this is often considered the only justification for an education. There is a college that portrays liberal education degrees from traditional universities in their television ads as useless because they don’t produce the desired jobs. I have been known to yell at the tv when these ads come on. I relish a film that shows this attitude to be ugly and soul destroying.

For it is soul destroying. Obsession with world’s rewards lead the characters into behavior that is destructive of self and others. Hart’s relationship with Kingsfield’s daughter Susan provides the place where Hart is challenged to save himself from these perils. Susan, played by Lindsay Wagner, is in the process of divorcing a former law student who dropped out to backpack through Europe trying to find himself. She is not about to go through this same process with Hart.

But this time, as I watched the movie, I was struck but something else I hadn’t really thought about much before and that is what the film says about the role of teachers. For while the film has a romance it is not a typical Hollywood romance. And while Hart has a close friend to study with this isn’t a typical Hollywood buddy film. The indispensable relationship in the movie is the relationship between a student and his teacher.

Twenty years ago I went off to graduate school at Wilfrid Laurier University and met my teacher, Peter Erb. Peter was and is the antithesis of the cold, distant, demanding Kingsfield. Instead, he is a man of great humour, generosity and encouragement. But like Kingsfield he has a passion for his discipline and like Kingsfield he inspires his students to share that passion. There is a scene in the movie when Hart breaks into the library in the middle of the night to sneak a look at Kingsfield’s own notes when he was a student. Hart is aware that he is a part of a great chain of learning passed from teacher to student, from generation to generation.

This is something of great value that is never captured in reports on universities. But for those students who have experienced it, it is life changing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Shatner Roast

Forgot to say...we started to watch the Shatner roast and except for a couple of funny lines it was clear after ten minutes that it was mainly crude, hurtful, unfunny abuse. Turned it off and watched Dogma instead. It is crude and kind of dumb but a lot more fun.

Jane Fonda

I caught the last 15 mins of The Actor's Studio on Bravo this afternoon. It was an interview with Jane Fonda. Hard to get my head around the fact that she's almost 70. I also didn't know that she had become a Christian. Here is an interview with her about her conversion. We both love Anne Lamott.

Socrates Cafe

There ought to be a law against rainy cold Victoria Days. Instead of working out in my garden I'm inside worrying that all the bedding plants I put in pots yesterday are getting very cold. (Observation: in Manitoba they are called bedding plants. Here they are called bedding out plants. Where else but out would you bed them?)

So in preparation for Unchurch I'm reading Christopher Phillips' Socrates Cafe. Interesting book - interesting concept. Create opportunities for people to come together to talk about philosophical ideas and they will come and engage the examined life.

From the book:

"Contrary to popular belief, the more questions you have, the firmer the footing you are on. The more you know yourself. The more you can map out and set a meaningful path for your future."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Friends, family, church

One of the problems of working in the parish and the chaplaincy is trying to balance both. Last week was a chaplaincy week. This week was a parish week. The first half of the week was clergy conference. Thursday evening was Bible Study. Friday evening was a parish potluck with the Bishop and this evening I went out with two families from the parish for Ethiopian food at the latest restaurant to open in Lethbridge. The nice thing about classes being over and lots of students being gone is that it is easier to flex my time. So chaplaincy work got done in the cracks around the parish this week - makes up for all the times of the year when it is the other way around.

A lot of neat things happened the last couple of days. We're doing a Bible study on the book of Revelation and it has been really interesting. Not every one is thrilled with the book. I'm having a hard time convincing folks that the message is really one of hope - they hear a lot of judgment in it. I've been reading Barbara Rossing's book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation and I like her take on it.

The really neat part of the Bible study was when I asked them what message they thought the Spirit had for our parish. There was general agreement that the parish was a warm and caring community but that we could do more to reach out and serve the community outside our doors. They talked about the young people in the town of Coaldale and their worries for them. I talked about the ministry of one of our priests in Aboriginal ministry and my concerns about how to support him. We agreed that we would pursue this with others from the parish.

Last night's dinner was really good too. We had a good turnout and it was a laid back casual time for people to meet our new Bishop. There was loads of food too. My theory, based on 12+ years of ministry and many many church potlucks, is that there is a directly relationship between the amount of food at potlucks and the health of a congregation. When people want to be there and want to make other people welcome they bring lots of food. I've been to potlucks where we ran out of food before everyone has gone through the line and usually there were problems in the life of that community.

Tonight I went out with friends to try our new Ethiopian restaurant and we had a great time. These folks are like family and the food was really good. After dinner we left the adults to visit and the kids and I walked down the street to get ice cream. As we walked by a window I realized one of the kids is now 5" taller than me. He was two when I started in the parish and now he towers over me. Sigh. We laughed lots - it was a really fun evening.

One of the things I was told when I started in ministry was that it was really important to have friends outside the parish and outside the church generally. I'm really grateful for the community of friends I have outside the church. When I was ordained I had a very large family section in the church and almost none of them came up for communion. It was very funny. At the same time, the friendships I have found in the parish and in the larger church community bring me great joy.

Tomorrow I'm bbqing with two of my Lethbridge family and I've rented the William Shatner roast for afterwards. I'm hoping they are game to watch it. I'm in the mood for a little Denny Crane and we've watched all of Seasons one and two of Boston Legal already.

Today's reading

"The question which, for the Catholic Church in Britain (and other Western countries), is today the absolutely paramount make-or-break question must be: Does this community have the resources (of symbols in the Liturgy, the material environment, devotion in the home), the language (in philosophy and literature) and the conviction (in doctrine and morals) to restore a broadly based public faith to the society in which it lives? No other issue in the Church is worthy of consideration with the same seriousness as this. The task the question sets is the vast one of depotentiating the effects of individualism and overcoming the dislocation of both religion and culture in our time."

Aidan Nichols, Christendom Awake: On Re-energizing the Church in Culture

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Diana Butler Bass

I'm working on a long post about all the movies I've seen lately but in the meantime just a quick note to say that I'm attending the Anglican clergy conference at the Lethbridge Lodge these days and our speaker is Diana Butler Bass.

It has been very interesting. She started by telling us the story of how she became interested in why some mainline (read liberal) congregations were flourishing when the common story line was that conservative churches grow and liberal congregations fade. She draws a much more nuanced picture of the differences between churches adding a distinction between established and intentional churches and between modern and post-modern churches.

So then she talked about different individuals and where they would fit on these three axis (represented visually with tinker toys!). She suggested that Jerry Falwell would represent a Conservative Established Modernist and Jack Spong a Liberal Established Modernist. When she moved in to talking about post-modern intentional Christians she quoted someone who had been at one of her talks who suggested that as people move towards this that the conservative liberal labels mean less and less.

Gotta get to the hotel. Robbie is suffering from some congestive heart failure so I stayed home to walk him and get his lungs clear. But I don't want to be late for the session and I have to stop and get a latte!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I'm Back in the Land of the Internet

I just got back from four days at King's Fold Retreat Centre where I was meeting with seven other chaplains in Lutheran sponsored chaplaincies. King's Fold is a great place to spend a few days - the view of the Rockies and the Ghost River is pretty spectacular and the centre itself is really comfy. It was a really fun time spent with colleagues sharing stories and ideas. We also spent a fair bit of time lamenting the cuts to campus ministry, particularly in the Eastern synod. There used to be chaplains at Dalhousie, McGill, Toronto, Western, and Laurier but the Eastern synod of the ELCIC cut the budget for chaplaincy. There is a little money for programming but no chaplains to do the programming. Add to that vacancies in Winnipeg and Vancouver and our numbers have been cut in half. As a result our theme for our sharing was, 'we took a hit,' but the level of commitment these folks have to their ministries is impressive.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Summer time

How do we know that summer is here?

#1 Roger Clemens has come out of retirement to join the Yankees' pitching staff. Go Roger!

#2 The NHL is in playoffs. How can anyone care about playoffs that take as long as the regular season with almost as many teams?

#3 I'm blond again.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Book of Revelation

We started a Bible study last night on the Book of Revelation. We had a great turn out too with some folks who don't normally come but who are fascinated with the book and with the way in which it is interpreted. We spent the evening looking at the way in which it has influenced our hymns, our Eucharistic prayers and Christian art. And then we looked at popular apocalyptic interpretation and the way it shapes some Christians' political views. We read passages from chapter 4 and chapter 11 last night. Their assignment for next time is to read the whole book and then we'll start diving in to the text more. My plan is to do just two more sessions on it before we break for the summer. I haven't decided what I want to do in the fall but I think it will be Genesis. I'm hoping to do some preaching on Genesis when we start our unchurch service this fall and to that end I've ordered a half dozen commentaries in the last two months from Amazon and Chapters. My book shelf is heavy ladened with new books to read. Now if I only could get out from under all the bits and pieces of stuff I have to do to finish up the term!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hwy #36

Yesterday I drove up to Bassano for a meeting of the Calgary-Macleod Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. They are one of the sponsoring bodies of the chaplaincy and I try to get to one of their meetings every year or so to report and to connect. The Mission committee invited me to have lunch with them first so I headed up there about 10:30 - out East to Taber, then north on #36, and then west again on the #1 to Bassano. It took me 1 hour and 50 mins and I figured there had to be a more direct way home. I don't particularly enjoy hwy #36. Over the years I've preached in Taber, Vauxhall, Scandia, Enchant, Tilley, Rolling Hills, Bow Slopes, Brooks, Duchess and Bassano so I've done that road a lot. And I don't enjoy it. The only part I like is the Old Man River valley just north of Taber. Otherwise it is boring to look at and dangerous to drive. I don't know how many times I've nearly been hit by someone trying to pass on the narrow two lane highway. It is a narrow road and there are a lot of trucks on it. Between oil and beef Brooks is booming and that translates into a lot of transport trucks.

So, after I left the meeting I stopped at the Esso and got gas and directions. It turns out that there is a shorter way back on a new dirt road that isn't on the map. You turn south at Lathom and take some jogs and you end up at Bow City. This means heading east (and south - that is where the jogging comes in) again but not as far as to the #36 and then you get to head west to Lomond before heading south to Coaldale and then west to Lethbridge. Did you get that?

She tells me to be very careful because the sign for Lathom is small and easy to miss so I head back down the #1 watching carefully for a sign when I see one that says, construction, 80 km. So I slow down. There is another sign saying that the left lane will be disappearing. Then I see a big flashing sign indicating that I should go right - and it is pointing right at the Lathom sign. And there is no construction in the left lane. I don't know if you remember the scene in Bruce Almighty where he's driving and complaining that God isn't saying anything to him. Meanwhile every sign he passes, ever vehicle that passes him is flashing a sign warning him of danger ahead. Well I felt like Bruce only I paid attention. I turned south and followed the dirt road until I came to a place where I thought maybe I was supposed to jog - she had warned me to jog and not go straight or I'd end up back at the #1. I wasn't sure what to do but a truck came up one of the two options and the driver waved. This way, I figured that meant. So I took the jog and came to another corner. Was this where I jogged south? I kept going east but then realized that there were people coming up the other road. Turn around I thought. I stopped and asked the woman on the ATV with her kid. Was this the road to Bow City. Yes, she said, just go straight. So I did, although straight was more metaphorical since there were lots of jogs yet but easy jogs without all the options. Oh, except the corner where a big piece of farm machinery blocked the wrong way. How is that for divine guidance!

The funny thing is that this short cut may have been shorter in distance but it took longer than the highway would have. So it took me 15 mins longer to get home but I enjoyed the drive a lot more. I got to drive along the Bow River valley for a short while and it is lovely. The valley is greening up and the coulees are beautiful. Then it was south along #845 and through several coulee valleys including the Old Man River valley and I find those so lovely. I was wishing I had taken my camera along.

I have friends who long for the beauty of the Rockies, or the ocean but I love the prairies. Mountains are showy and the ocean is pretty dramatic. But the prairies are subtle. There are a million colours but they aren't in your face colours. And the prairies are wide open so you can breathe deeply but they aren't flat. The joke about watching your dog run away from home for three days may work in parts of Saskatchewan but in Manitoba where I grew up, and south west Saskatchewan where I vacation, and southern Alberta where I live there are hills and valleys and trees and bushes and thousands of different grasses. I've seen pronghorn and white tail deer. I've seen pheasants, owls, eagles, hawks, a million geese, coyote, and fox. And you can breathe here. Well, okay, this part of the country has the highest rates of lung problems in the country because of all the wind and dust, pollens, etc. But think metaphorically. When I studied in Southern Ontario I used to feel so claustrophobic and when I'd fly home I could feel my lungs expanding when I looked out the airplane window and see all the farmers' fields below. My grandpa used to feel uncomfortable when he'd come from Victoria to visit us because he said he felt so exposed. But I've lived next to the Great Lakes and in the Swabian Albs and nothing can compare to a prairie sunset.