The Plastic Straw Test; Or Why I Don’t Like Using Straws or Lids in My Drinks Anymore

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In recent times, the plastic straw has been linked to needless population and increased waste.

Many are saying that an easy aid in taking care of our environment is to go without the straw. It won’t solve all of our problems, but it could help.  Here is a link behind the science of this ban:

Using plastics means less waste in the first place

Many, on the other side, have defended the straw and have claimed the world is fine, it’s not polluted.  They speak of nostalgia when kids could sip their pop in peace.  They will often site conspiracy theories behind this ban (IE. “They take away our straws now, next they’ll come for our FREEDOM!”).   And, from this argument, there is no science behind any of these claims so I can’t provide for you a link.

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I don’t like straws anymore.  Furthermore, I don’t like plastic lids.  I like drinking things like I do at home.  And if I’m in a hurry and need to go somewhere, perhaps I should rethink drinking something in the first place: my life is to hurried.

At home, I drink without lids and caps.   In public, maybe I can try to live with the same comfort as I do at home.

Why?  Here’s the axiom:

The plastic straw is kind of a test. Someone, somewhere has asked you not to use it because it may litter someplace else. Do you go without? Or do you complain about the inconvenience, decry their answer, ramble off statistics only to invalidate their request, and wax eloquently about the “good old days” when people could sip straws without being hassled? If you are willing to go without a straw, then you’re more apt to change some other things in your life to make room for that someone else who lives somewhere else who wants you to help someplace else.

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This is the straw test, which could easily be the “hand washing test”.  Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have just learned that washing your hands has been studied and an easy way of breaking the chain in viral infections.  But you don’t want to wash your hands.  For you, it’s a waste of time.  As a kid, you didn’t wash your hands and you were fine.  Plus, aren’t there other ways of getting viruses?  Aren’t some airborne?  Can’t you get a virus from a drinking fountain?  Why isn’t anyone banning those?  It’s a conspiracy to control people!!!

You don’t wash your hands, then.  And you make everyone around you sick.

This is the same logic.

You may not want to believe in climate change, pollution, global extinctions, or any of the other crisis connected to our environment.  With that steadfast unbelief, the straw is an emblem of pride and honour and “the way it used to be”.

When I saw that I don’t like them anymore, this might challenge your disbelief.   And I’m okay with that.  For me, someone somewhere has asked me not for the sake of benefiting someplace else and that’s enough for me,

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What if…there was a new Church?

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For years, I’ve fought the dream of church planting.  I’ve seen so many great attempts fail and wondered why.  When you see someone else’s dreams get crushed by reality, you tend to hold back on your own dreams.

But it is still there, the dream.

Here it is in a nutshell: what if there was a church that tried to invest half its resources, time, programming, and talents to help out its local neighbourhood?

One reason why I’ve seen church plants not be successful is that the emphasis is usually on the Sunday morning gathering.  The push is to make a really neat and amazing and brand new expression of a worship service happen, as quickly as possible, and all community engagement is based around that goal. The service happens and then the plant becomes just another small church. 

Another reason I haven’t listened to the dream is that church planting looks to be ministry in isolation.  The model is, typically, you parachute a highly charismatic minister into an area where there are no churches, he/she creates a following, and this minister is the one with the brand new, amazing vision of church.  Then, BLAM!  A new church is born.

This is a fine model, other than the fact that I’m not a highly charismatic leader and I actually really like the model given to me by my Anglican family as to what happens during a service.

So the dream has been put on hold. Until some of my friends, with Fusion Canada, started chatting with me.

What if, we dreamed … we could put all we have learned, researched and done for neighbourhood engagement and made a church?

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Fusion Canada exists as a non-profit organization for the purpose of networking churches with their neighbourhoods and the neighbourhoods in network with each other.  “Together is always better than apart” – would be an expression for their roles. 

I’ve worked with Fusion for about 7 years and have seen a lot of good from their ministries, festivals, block parties, and other ideas that have worked for people to get to know each other in the neighbourhood.

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What if… a church, an Anglican Church, worked to do this?

Come to find out, there’s a small group that has been meeting faithfully to where the next step could be their own parish. The idea is to explore the notion of a team approach between the Anglican Diocese and Fusion Canada.  The services, leadership, structure, and ethos would be entirely Anglican; the neighbourhood engagement would be from Fusion Canada.

I approached the Bishop (since it is the Bishop, in the Anglican churches, who erects parishes) and she has given me permission to explore this idea.

That is the stage we are in, exploration.  Right now, the idea would be West Edmonton – just south of the mall. There is a vibrant, healthy church next door to this neighbourhood (St. Matthias Anglican Church) that could be our neighbour and help us out as we grow alongside their ministry.

 If you think of us, pray.   And consider this might be something God is calling you to.

Rest in Peace: Terrance Dicks Taught Me How to Tell a Story

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Terrance Dicks has passed away.  His fans know him from the classic era of Doctor Who, mainly the Tom Baker era stories.   He wrote for other shows, had other stories to tell, and was know for being more than just a script writer: it’s just that most of us know him through his Who stories.

What Terrance Dicks taught was was wisdom in storytelling.  That you can’t wait for the perfect moment and the perfect place and the perfect time to tell a story.  Instead, you tell a story while working with the medium, the tropes, the setting, and what is right in front of you.

Born in East Ham on 1935, he great up under the shadow of WW2 and entered military service during peacetime.  He left the military and came into writing for advertising, writing radio scripts on the side.  One thing led to another, so he was writing from the BBC by the time Doctor Who came onto Britain’s airwaves.

Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams, and other names were often seen right before the show started in the credits about the time, as a boy, when I picked up the show in the 1980’s in California.  This was during the Tom Baker era when-for many-the show was at it’s zenith (before, of course, the 2005 reboot).

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Dicks wrote “The War Games”, “Seeds of Death”, “The War Games”, “Robot”,”The Brain of Morbius”, “Horror of Fang Rock”, and “State of Decay” amongst other stories.  During this time, he also wrote for Target books that novelized many of the Who stories (he wrote over 50 titles).   He worked on some Who projects in between “the desert years” of the 1990’s when the show wasn’t making new episodes.  He was a script editor for a spell, so he probably left his mark on several uncredited stories.  He did many other scripts  (Charles Dickens adaptations, the Avengers TV show, Space 1999, etc.) and they remain part of our library of appreciation.

Here’s what he taught me: work with what is in front of you.

Doctor Who was considered, at that time, a show for smart children.  However, he told some very, very scary stories.  He also worked in some great, adult jokes (not crude or lewd, but you had to be well-read and educated to get them).

The sets were cardboard, Mary Whitehouse was breathing down their neck to keep things dull and moral, and the stories had to be cranked out super fast.

And yet, there was an elegance and a wit to the stories.  Yes, they were for kids…but also really frightening.  Yes, it was just science fiction…but something more was going on.  The production struggled…but something was compelling.

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“I will not work in this kind of conditions,” would have been the death knell for us hearing these great, Dicks’ stories.  I mean, think of “Horror of Fang Rock”: the monster was rarely seen, it was a single set in the claustrophobia of a light house, and all of the characters (except the Doctor and Leela) died.  And yet, the story worked!

I’ve mentioned before the Tom Baker effect, but it came from Dicks.  The effect simply is you start an episode of Doctor Who expecting campy, goofy pantomime.  The sets’ paint seems to still be drying on them as the story begins, the actors walk lightly so they don’t shake the fabric walls of the cave, and there is an air of “after school production” to it.

And then the acting becomes intense, believable.  The story takes over.  You start believing in the lie from the BBC.  You’re scared.   And then, right before the show ends, some horrible fate falls upon either the Doctor or one of his companions.

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It was the cliffhanger idea that was perfected by this era of Who.  Certainly, it existed before but they were never as elegant, stressful, or sharp until Dicks and his crew took over.  There were great moments before Dicks, but he began the succession of one sharp ending after another after another after another.

Which is the lesson of great story telling: use what is right in front of you to really panic and stress out your audience.

For this, Mr. Dicks, thank you.  May you rest in peace.

Happy St. Aidan’s Day: We Really Need Him Today!

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Around 590 CE, Northumbria was considered by the Christian church a pagan mess.  Not that the pagans were particularly messy or cruel or malicious, but they represented a growing population that simply did not want convert.

Rome left England about a century before, no longer concerned with being a world leader and focussed on itself, like a collapsing star singing to itself, “Fac Roma magna again!”  Nonetheless, the Roman Church hated the idea of all of those pagans who lived in Northern England who had rejected the one, true faith.

The Roman Church went through their playlist of solutions.

First, they obtained a Christian king for the area, King Oswald, and they figured if they ruler was a Christian, the people would automatically become Christian.  This didn’t work and Oswald himself saw Christianity losing it’s radiance.

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Next, they built a wall.  Hadrian’s Wall (actually it was built 400 years prior), but it stood as a monument for bad ideas.  The pagans could cross it, good Christians could see over it all of the fun pagans were having without them, it grew holes and breaches, and soon became just something to pen in sheep unsuccessfully as farms shared the wall’s space. It was meant to keep all the bad people out and keep safe all of the good people, but crime and pillaging took place equally on both sides and it soon was abandoned.

They tried missionaries, preaching sermons of Hell and repentance.  If possible, they held big shows in sport’s arenas with Roman Catholic celebrities and famous bards and got people to chant creeds led by long haired evangelists…okay, that part might be a little extra I’m adding to history.  It just didn’t work.

Luckily, around 590 CE, St. Aidan of Lindisfarne was born.  At the time of his birth, he was neither a saint or from Lindisfarne- this should be noted (he was born, maybe, around Connacht and was raised in the monastery from the Isle of Iona).

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Aidan was sent to Christianize northern England.  He did so without the aid of an army, preaching, being a celebrity, passing around tracts, or any other tricks from Rome.  He didn’t require kings or politicians to make people listen to him.  No force, no power.

Aidan just walked.  He walked from village to village, talking to people.  Listening to their stories.  Learning what people needed and offered prayers.  Or help, if he could.  He did this for years.   His walking tour wasn’t just a single event, a short dare until he worked up to his “real ministry”.  No, walking and visiting was his ministry.

He was known as a kind man, a good listener, and someone who could use a tree, a rock, or a cloud as a way to convey the Gospel, by offering “them first the milk of gentle doctrine, to bring them by degrees, while nourishing them with the Divine Word, to the true understanding and practice of the more advanced precepts.”

There is an old saying: “If you want to change your world, spend time with the people who live in it.”  This seems to be Aidan’s motto.  Bede, the ancient writer, recorded Aidan’s adventures which usually centred around the Saint’s visits and walks.  Taking care of the poor, buying slaves in order to free them, taking care of the orphans- this was the product of his walks.

King Oswald heard about this and wrote letters to this missionary, praising him as he did what others could not do.  Aidan did not speak English, only Irish- so their correspondence had to be translated.  They saw a kindred spirit with each other, the king and the monk inspiring each other to do good in their world.

Aidan’s converts grew and grew, demanding the need for monasteries.  Enter Lindisfarne, along with many others.  He soon became Bishop of Northumberland and he encouraged those under him to walk, to get to know their villages.

King Oswald finally met Aidan.  One night, the king held a great feast and word came to the crown that there was a sudden famine in the land.  The King wanted to make a really good impression on the visiting monk with a lavish feast, but he also couldn’t ignore the needs of his kingdom.  He ordered that all of the food for the feast would be packed up and distributed in amongst the poor.  The King was readying himself to apologize to his guest, but Aidan stopped him.  He grabbed the king’s right hand.  “May this hand never wither or grow old, for it has been used by the poor to feed the poor.”

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As legend goes, King Oswald’s hand never aged.  I have NO idea what that means, but he had a young man’s hand when the rest of his body aged.  His hand was considered holy, for it fed the poor.  Hopefully, the king fed more poor people every time he looked at his right hand.

St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters.   Let me explain.  A few weeks before he died, pagan armies were raiding his lands.  They set fire to one of his monasteries.  Aidan knelt and prayed.   While he prayed, the smoke simmered and settled and the fire disappeared.

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He died on August 31, 651 CE.   After his death, he became a saint.

This Saturday is his saint day, according to the Anglican calendar.  And as I reflect on our day and age, I think we could have a bit more St. Aidans in our land.

“Augustine was the Apostle of Kent, but Aidan was the Apostle of the English,” was said about him by Bishop Lightfoot.

 

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aidan_of_Lindisfarne

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/bede-book3.asp

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/a/staidan.html

Five Things to Know About St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

 

 

My Latest Assignment

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I got back to work in the Summer after my hip replacement surgery to work with a church just outside of Wabumum, Alberta.

However, just at the tail end of July, I’ve been assigned to a 2nd church, literally in my own neighbourhood.

St. Matthias Anglian Church, under the rectorship of Rev. David Theissen, is a thriving, growing congregation.  However, in the afternoon when the congregation clears out, another congregation steps into their church’s building and runs a Filipino service.

Those who attend this service are Igorot, the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

As the story goes, the Philippines was colonized and Christianized by the Spanish.  The country became mostly Catholic, however the Christianization never went north to the mountains, where the Igorot people lived.  It was only when the Americans took over that Episcopalian missions took place and brought the Gospel to the north.

Zoom to the present day.  As many immigrant to Canada’s welcoming, many Igorot people have come to Edmonton, looking for a home and a place to worship.  St. Matthias graciously has welcomed them and a service grew.  The service is now grown to where there has been a question posed to them by our Bishop Jane Alexander, “Do you want to become a Parish?”

Is that what God is doing?  I’ve been sent to find out.  It is an interim position, officiating the services, getting to know the people and their stories and their experience with God in Canada.

If you have the chance, please pray for this congregation.  And also pray for me, as I sound out what God is doing in our neighbourhood.  Pray, as I dream about the possibility of another church plant.

But that is for another blog…

The Parable About the Church that Wouldn’t Grow

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I write about churches, it’s the vehicle for my metaphors.  Wendell Berry had the farm, Stephen King had monsters.  I’m stuck in churches.  Of course, I’m talking more than just the church.  This can be taken politically or as familial issues or personal choices.  So when I think, usually churches pop into my mind.

Once upon a time, there was a church that didn’t grow.  They sat on the corner of their town’s Main Street.  About a hundred visitors came to their church every year, but never stayed.  The building was nice, clean.  The music was current.  And the preaching wasn’t too bad.

But it never grew.

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So the church hired an expert in church growth.  The young man, an expert, wandered around the church with an I-Pad for three weeks, taking furious notes.  He interviewed people, had coffee every day with the pastor and administrator.  Took pictures.  And walked around in every room.

At the end of his time, he pulled the elders together.  “The thing on everyone’s mind is that you’re not growing.  You want more people to come into the church,” he began.

He then was interrupted.  The elders chimed in, talking about how worried they were that the church would end in their generation.  Young people, another said, weren’t coming to church.  Another said that culture had turned against the church and it was no longer “cool” to go to church.

The expert waited for the lengthy comments to end before he continued.  “You can’t control growth, but you can change some of the ways you do things.   And those changes can make you more healthy.

“First of all, greet new people who come to your church.  Don’t just say ‘hello’, but get to know them.  Don’t sit with just your friends.  Sit with people you don’t know.  Your next potluck, sit with people you don’t know.  The elder board should know everyone in the church: it’s small enough you can do that.  Visit.  Talk to people.  Invite new people over to your home for a meal.   Make new friends.

“Secondly, try new things.  Allow new things to happen.  There are only four people who run ministries here.  Let other people try things.  Don’t get mad if they go wrong or what you see as going wrong.  When you hear a new idea, don’t rush to tell them what’s wrong with the new idea.  The old ideas you do now were once new.  Let others into the leadership huddle.

“Lastly, you are very proud of your building.  Try to let others enjoy it.  Share your building.  Allow rentals to use the space.  When a quilting group spends the day in your building having a good time, they associate your place of worship with happy memories. And maybe even, every once in a while, let someone use your building for free.  Give it as a gift to your neighbours.”

After this presentation, the pastor ended said that his recommendations weren’t anything new and they have heard it all before.  Rather than this being a way to dismiss what the expert said, the pastor said, “I think God is trying to tell us something.  For all of your ideas can be done and are reasonable.”

For most of the elders, this was the worst thing that could have been said.

Later, the administrator remarked, “I think the elder board was hoping the problems were complex and the solution were almost impossible to accomplish.  If that was the case, they could do nothing and have the church the way they like it.”

The pastor, the next Sunday, became a new man.  He visited everyone, going from pew to pew.  He drafted a rental policy.  He invited some new musicians to lead in worship.  And things looked like they were going to change.

This caused anxiety.

It first began with parking lot meetings, people talking about “something’s wrong” with the church right after they attended a service.  Next, it came in the prayer cards that would be given in the church’s offering.  “We’re losing our vision”, “A lot of people are hurt by what is going on”, or, “The church is changing.”

The Pastor could not get a straight answer from the elder board.  However, he could read what was happening: someday, something upsetting would happen and the entire board would explode.

The Pastor came up with a solution: have a membership meeting and invite the former pastor, retired now, to chair the meeting.  The former pastor was a kind, wise man who was known for being a great listener and then, when least expected, would sum up all of the problems with a well-placed, carefully measured sentence.

The meeting began and comments were flung around the sanctuary:

“There are new people here.  And some of them are now doing worship, with songs we don’t know and they’re music is different!  We can’t sing new songs.”

“The pastor is running around.  Making new policies.  Changing things.  The board can’t control him!”

“The Pastor seems to care more about new people than us, the original people.”

“We’re just giving away our building!  And sometimes, for free!  What if it gets wrecked?  Or worst, what if we can’t use it for our programs because someone else-who doesn’t go here- is using it?”

“We wanted to grow, not change.”

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The last comment made the pastor emeritus’ brows lift as he suppressed a grin.  He stood up, after the room exhausted it’s complaints, and he said in a quiet, kind tone, “It sounded like, before you hired this expert, that you were in some trouble, some pain.  It sounded like you couldn’t grow.”

The chairmen of the elder board interrupted: “Yes, we are getting fewer and fewer members every year.  People are giving less.  Our budget has a deficit.  Soon we won’t be able to pay our bills.  We need more people to come to our church.  Our numbers need to increase!”

“I know that pain,” the retired pastor said with a chuckle.  “And now, you are in pain because you are doing some new things and you don’t know what’s going to happen.  Pain in your present set of problems and perceived pain for your future.  You were worried that your church would end.  You are worried that you may not like the church anymore if it changes.”

The pastor emeritus then did something he never did while as a pastor.  He reached into the pocket of his tweed coat, pulled out a pipe, packed it full of tobacco, lit a cherry, and took a puff.   The congregation all turned to each other with the wordless question, Is he smoking indoors?

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“You face a question, dear children,” the elderly pastor said.  “Which is the greater pain: the present pain of your problems or the perceived discomfort of the changes you do to fix your situation?”

The church was silent, unable to answer his question.

Today, we live in a changing world.  New things are taking place that require new ways of thinking.  This can create a culture of anxiety, fearing that “the way we used to do things” can no longer work.  With new ideas mean new people might be in charge, doing new things and the deck of the powerful gets reshuffled.

Which is a greater pain: the way things are or the change to solve our present situation?

 

 

 

The Game is Afeet: Summer Camp at Pioneer Lodge

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Abstract conception alert:

Every group, every team, every church, and every workplace has a social ladder.  Those on the top rung have the most influence, those at the bottom have the least.

Every ladder has a currency to buy one up the ladder.  If the group is healthy, that currency is talent, gifting, trust, and-since I’m a Christian mystic-the calling of God.  However, if the group is unhealthy, the currency can look horribly wrong- time, money, race, intimidation, anxiety, etc..

The goal is not to climb the ladder and whomever gets to the top wins.  Rather, it’s to find your place on that ladder and have as much influence as you need to enjoy your gifting, calling, place, and job.

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Since, as humans, our knee jerk reaction when we feel anxious is to have as much control as possible, one must fight the urge to wrung hop past one’s calling.  A disastrous effect can be a church led not by the gifted, but by the most anxious, who have bought their way up simply either because they have been there the longest or they tithe the most.

Or we climb the ladder because we feel being in charge will give us fulfillment, love, or a sense of accomplishment.  Again, this is very human and can be very, very exploitive.  To climb something we shouldn’t because we feel we must is a recipe for disasters.

But when it works, it works.   Community becomes a joy.   You are less worried about your status and mostly worried about enjoying your purpose.

Abstract idea ends.

 

I returned for my third year helping out with InterVarsity Pioneer Lodge Summer Camp, their Discovery 2 camp.

My job was to help lead games, run the morning Bible studies, and then tell stories at a campfire.

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This year, the Camp Director and his wife came to our house and we were playing the game “Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective”.   In this, we came up with the camp’s theme being one of mystery.   I wanted the camp to have a Sherlock character try to solve a mystery and the detective was terrible, so the camp had to figure things out.

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We crafted that a map was stolen to a treasure.  Four characters would be interviewed during meal times, giving really bad alibis (Ex.: “I was in the washroom for four hours”, “I was signing autographs in absolute darkness”, or, “I cooked deer meat so long it turned into hamburger.”).

Games would happen in the evening to tie the story together.   The first night was a massive wide game, the second was a sock war in the woods (the first two games did not advance the plot any), and then we drew to the last two games.

The third night was a 3D live action Clue! game.  I got this idea from a volunteer back in my youth ministry days at Chino Valley Community Church.   The kids, through process of elimination, discovered the thief, the location of the theft, and the object used in the theft (the chalet, a copy of the book “Ramona and Her Mother”, and Welbodor the Magician).

When it was revealed Welbodor was the baddie, a great impromptu line was given by one of the cabin leaders: “You’ve done your last trick, Magician!  Take him away!”   Knowing this leader, he probably had a line for each other suspect.

The last day was the treasure hunt.  This is when things got redemptively out of control.

One of the cooks approached me in the morning and asked if the character “Swiper” from the Dora cartoons could steal the map.  This was such a brilliant non sequitur that we had to follow it.  We had one of the cabin leaders dress up as the character and the cook ran into town for her costume.

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The bit went that the Sherlock character held up the wrong map to the treasure as the right one, with Swiper bursting in and stealing the map from Sherlock’s hand.  He then yelled, “Swiper, No Swiping!”   The music played and it was from the cartoon.

The kids then yelled that the real map was in the room and all was not lost, but the detective couldn’t see it.  A cabin leader then told me we, as the staff, should pretend that none of us can see the map and only the kids could: kind of a dysfunctional version of the golden bell from “The Polar Express”.

I was feeling not a 100% this year, so I had to lean on the rest of the team.  Plus, for the treasure hunt, they had all of the great ideas.  One of the staff spent 3 days making the map, another crew buried treasure, another group came up with the “where” and “how” of the game.  My job, at the end, was to be Sherlock again and try to not solve the mystery.

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The reveal of where the treasure was found was through invisible ink revealed by black light (my wife’s idea).   When the treasure was unearthed, it was maps to where the individual cabin’s mini-chests were hidden.  Inside those boxes, were personalized coins with the camper’s individual initials stamped on along with the name of the camp.

During the camp, I felt wonderfully goofy and could be myself.  I also saw other people come out from their shells, step aside from their roles as responsibly adults and just play. I hope everyone got a chance to play, to jump into the circle of fun (fully realizing that those who find themselves on the ladder sometimes are blind to those still stand on ground level, trying to find their place and voice).

But this was a gift for me, to find my rung and watch others climb up and down to do the same.  This, of course, could not have been accomplished unless it was for the camp director’s great skill to juggle, listen, and bring people up and down the ladder.  His leadership allowed others to be themselves.  And for me, it allowed me to throw out all of my crazy ideas for ministry.

 

An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

Hi!  How are you?  How are your kids?

Right now waiting for a parade to start in Downtown Edmonton and I thought I would drop you a line.

I am a citizen of the US but I live in Canada.  It’s a long story, but I live in Canada due to a series of adventures.  I’m not protesting anything nor have I fled anything.  I have nothing but love for our country and for the people of our country.

I am writing to you because of my love for our fellow country people, specifically the Evangelical Christian.  I used to be one; I still am, despite my ordination into the Anglican Priesthood; and I have fond memories of working with Evangelical Christians.  Many of them are still my friends.  They were kind to me when I needed kindness, forgiving to me when I was in the wrong, and did a lot of good around me.

However, I can’t talk to them anymore.  They will do what you do and will defend what you say.  I can only agree with Evangelical Christians if you have said it first.  I wish this wasn’t the case, but many of them trust you over their pastors or their youth pastors or those who went through the hard work of study, experience, and affirmation from their community to be in leadership of their churches.  They will follow you no matter what anyone else says.

To speak to their hearts, I feel like I need to speak to you.

Simply put, no one wants to be a Nazi.

Calling someone a Nazi, in this day and age, is a knee jerk reaction.   Whenever we see someone with a too much swagger or seem to disregard the pain of others, we call them a Nazi.  I am not calling you a Nazi, Mr. President.  I am just beginning with the statement that no one wants to be a Nazi and that might be the beginning source of our problems.

You see, if someone brings up a problem that is Nazi-like, it gets one defensive, angry, and combative.  We all want to be on the right side of history and we can’t think of a people group on the absolute wrong side of history than the Nazis.

Dialogue ends and we don’t get to learn from each other.   The divide continues.   And we end up calling each Nazis.

Or Socialists.  Or whatever insult we can pick.

And yet, your behaviour is against the American dream.  Let me explain.

Your followers, whom I love, are defending you.  Soon they will mimic you.  Churches will lose their witness and influence, which is ironic because this is one of the main reasons why they follow you without question- you have promised them more power and influence and street credentials.

But what mistake am I mentioned to you?

Your tweet towards the four congresswoman.

This is the tweet:

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Many people have deconstructed this tweet, so I won’t go into the finer points.  Instead, I just want to speak to you about the essence of this tweet.

In essence, you want people to leave the country you are President of because they disagree with you.

Nothing makes American Apple Pie and burgers on a Fourth of July taste better than a heated row about politics, sports, or the Oscars- this is America.  It’s also the American dream to have such disagreements and have them cut short because Grandma wants to say grace over the meal.  You fight, you stop fighting because we’re all part of the same, combustable family.

The American family will never leave you, like it or not.

As an Ex-Pat, I feel this keenly.  I’m still an American, despite my weird Albertan accent or my love of poutine.

I don’t want Evangelical Christians to think this is an acceptable way of handling disagreements and they will follow you, without question, in this new way of handling conflict.   They used to believe that disagreement made us stronger, that one had to work through issues…but now, I’m not so sure.

You may noticed, Mr. President, the country has grown farther a part.  The solution is not winning more arguments or creating more losers or getting rid of those who stand to disagree with you.  The solution is embracing those who disagree with you, work through the issues.  Rather than deporting conflict, a leader embraces such things.

When you run from conflict-as this tweet demonstrates- it opens the doors for all kinds of interpretation.  A familiar one that you’ve heard is that you are a racist.   This would be a jump in conclusions if there wasn’t all sorts of stories about you in this department.

I’m not saying you are a racist.  But I bring this up because there has been many stories that have been interpreted racism in your past.  And now, there is this tweet.

“I am the least racist person I know,” you have said as a defence.

Here’s the problem with that defence: you do not get to decide if you are a racist or not.   This is a lesson I learned from Canada through the many “Truth and Reconciliation” projects between the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and those whose heritage came from Imperialism.  As a descendant of a White Imperialist, I don’t have the right to decide how bad someone else’s suffering was, when they should “get over it”, or how racist I am now as my present power and influence systemically grows from historic exploitation.

My response is to allow those who were hurt by my advantage to control the dialogue and set the terms of the solution.  My job, simply, is to ask, “What can I do to make this right?”

I’ll admit, it’s scary: I can’t be in control of the outcome.  It also takes a long, long time.   But it is working (present tense) here in Canada.    And it only works if I allow those wronged to set the stage of the dialogue, not me.

In other words, it is up to those wronged by me who will decide if I am a racist or not.

This dynamic works in most areas of life: those who perpetrate crimes and offences are not the ones who get to assess the damages.  If I rob a bank, I can’t decide if the money stolen was a big deal or not: that is for the government, the judges, and the victims to decide.

You have decided you are not a racist but the proof is that you want a specific kind of people (who, in this case are all women of colour) to leave your America.  And now you do not want this to be a racist comment.  It has become, like it or not, about race.

My fear, which is why I write to you, is that the Evangelical Church will copy your posture and they will decide if they have done anything wrong, independent of the assessments made by their surrounding community, those in authority over them, and, ultimately, God.

No one wants to be a Nazi.   And yet history is giving you and your supporters an advanced notice: stop trying to get rid of people who disagree with you and who are not like you.

Here’s what I propose: you call a meeting with these four women.  They can invite someone they trust as a mediator, to keep things fair.  Likewise, you can bring some people along who will keep things pleasant.  Have coffee.  If this was Alberta, I’d say you should bring some squares or coffee.  Maybe doughnuts.

Sit and talk.  Fight, if needed.  “Go for a rip,” if you must.  And keep telling each other no one is leaving or being kicked out, because that isn’t the American way of doing things.  Listen.  Repeat back to each other what you think the other person is saying.  Make some resolutions, if needed.  Apologize for the real stuff that was said and done.  Disagree.  Fight again.  Take a ten minute break for coffee and doughnuts.   Do this again and again until there’s something that happens between the both of you:

Peace.

If this happens then, maybe, Evangelicals might copy this behaviour.  They, in fact, might do it so often they get good at it.   So good at it, in fact, they might get a reputation.  It’d be nice if they did it first, but they are going to need some leadership.  YOU could be that leader, Mr. Trump.

I mean, think of how amazing the nation would be if we listened to each other and worked out our problems?  If we visited and listened to each other?  We had coffee and doughnuts instead of rallies?  Our list of enemies got smaller and smaller?  What if we measure greatness not by who likes us and who agrees with us, but how we work together with those different than us?  We were defined but what we want, what we’re for instead of who are against?  What if…

Now I must stop.  I’m assuming this is the America you want, but is it?  I’m also assuming this is the kind of America Evangelical Christians wants. I’m not sure.

Perhaps I’ve said too much.

I shall return to my rainy day in Edmonton, as I sit in a coffee house run by a Lebanese immigrant who makes the best Chai I’ve ever had as I watch a parade in our downtown sector.  It’s Kondike Days, here in Edmonton.  The parade is made up of marching bands with white cowboy hats, an LGBTQ float, a Highland pipe band, mounties in bright red, Sikh dancers, floats from some of the nearby mosques, a Gospel choir, some 4H club kids, a Chinese dragon, Girl Guides, and some dancers from Northern Africa.

I’ll go back to the parade.  Keep working hard on America, Mr. President.  And if you need any help, we’re here for you.

Sincerely,

The Ex-Pat Priest Located in Canada

 

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The Silent Back Pew

Another thought experiment:

Years ago, there was a struggling Baptist church in the country.   For decades, they used the same hymnal and had the same 7 families attend their church.  However, at they faced the close of the 20th century, they realized the great grandchildren were no longer coming to this country parish.

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They hired a new pastor.  She was kind, she listened well, and seemed to be respectful of the church’s traditions and ways.  But trouble came in the form of a newcomer.

A family came made up of three teenage boys who liked to play Ska.  Their friends played in the town’s marching band and on weekends, they would practice in each other’s garages.

The eldest from this family approached the new minister to see if they could play in the church for a Sunday.  The minister had a bunch of rules: the songs must be taken from the Bible, no dancing, no swearing, and it would be within 7 minutes.  The band agreed and were faithful to their promise.

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On the “Ska Sunday”, the church welcomed them.  Families rushed up to the band and thanked them for playing.  Some of the moms asked when they would come again because they wanted to invite their neighbours.  One old farmer, came up and slapped the ringleader on the back.  “You can do every Sunday, son!”

Only a silent row of people sitting in the back pews were the ones absent from congratulating the kids.  They sat, fixed as a back row of crossed arms and tight expressions.   Silent.

The kids in the band were more than willing to take over Sundays, but the new minister was smart.  She used words like “transition” and “process”, knowing that if the style on Sunday went Ska suddenly then they might lose half of their people.  “Give them time,” she said.

However, the back row listened to her leadership and knew for every time she said expressions like “slow change” or “ease people into it” there was an inevitability to her words.  They remained in the back row and silent.   And waited.

The hymn leaders grew old or got tired or lost interest-no one knows what really happened, other than worship spots were needed to be filled.  And the Ska band from the garage was more than happy to fill it.

The change of the church seemed almost inevitable until one Sunday when an elderly man, who hadn’t been at the church for ten years, came on a Ska Sunday.  He heard the band and the stood up during sermon.

“Sad times!” he began.  “These are sad times!  We have lost our faith!  This church is more of a rock concert than a place of peace and shelter from the world!  We’re too worldly!”   The man turned and pointed at the Ska band.  With his finger sharp and shaking, he looked to the pastor.  “Tell me!  Did they just worship God?!?”

The Pastor nodded and the man stormed off.  She looked around and saw the shock. Months of slowly getting them on the stage resulted in a settling of this change.  She was surprised: hadn’t we already dealt with this issue?  

The elder board met for an emergency meeting after the service.  “We don’t want to lose any more people,” the chair said although the pastor was confused: who was this angry person in the first place?

The elders used brand new language to the minister.  “We are a divided church,” one man said.  “We have been moving too fast,” another commented about the Ska band.  “There are those in the church, who are very good and strong Christians, who don’t believe the Bible allows this kind of music,” was another.

Who are these good and strong Christians?, she thought.  And why haven’t they talked to me?  I have the facts, the Scripture, and the reasons: if they just heard my arguments, they might agree with me.  

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The elders decided to have a congregation meeting a week from this outburst.  At this meeting, the back row was now moved to the front row.   Some of them brought cakes and squares for the reception afterwards.  One man, who was neither an elder or a deacon, took to the floor to moderate the discussion.  The pastor asked him to sit down and she took the microphone, earning a bristle from the new, front row.

It was a time of prayer which most of the prayers were about love, unity, and hearing each other.   Then came the sharing from the microphone.

The crowd was in favour of the Ska band, with many people praising the kids and loving their church.  “I feel proud to come to this church which is a new and strange feeling,” a mom shared.  She then concluded that she didn’t understand why they were meeting in the first place.

One of the elders stood up and gave the only dissenting voice.  “There are many who are hurt by the changes that happening to our church.  For the purpose of unity, we need a vote.  The members will vote and the elders will vote.  We’ll average the two together,” he said.

The motion of the floor was that the worship service could use other music outside of the hymnal.   Another meeting was scheduled to vote and everyone was dismissed, to go home and pray about their vote.

The pastor, during that week, hardly slept and rarely ate.  What church am I serving?, she thought.  I thought we could change.  I thought they were open to change?  I did everything right: I listened, I prayed, I moved slowly, and I was respectful.  Plus, they seemed to not mind the changes.  How did I get this wrong?  

And during this time, not a single member visited her.

The day of the vote came, there was a time for discussion before the vote came.  “I can’t believe you’re trying to get rid of our hymnal,” one woman cried.   “It’s good.  It’s fine.  It’s part of my story.  Where am I going to go if I can’t sing from the hymnal?”   This set the emotions for the whole meeting.  Every comment, after hers, was a lament from the damage due to Ska Sunday.

The Pastor spoke once.  “I am hearing your comments and they are good because they express emotion.  But if we’re going to vote on this, we’re going to need more than feelings.   What does the Bible say?   Please use the Word of God in your response.”

This killed the crowd.  Since they couldn’t use the Bible in their responses, they went silent.  And two families moved to the back row.

When the vote came, 85% of members were fine with using music other than hymnal; 70% of the elders only wanted to use the hymnal.   When the average was made, it was decided to keep exclusively to the Hymnal.

The elder board after the meeting was a somber victory.  “We must have consensus,” the chair person said.  “We can’t afford to lose any more families.  Everyone must agree.”

The ska band offered to play the words of the hymns but with their rhythm.   The pastor offered this to the board.  The Finance Officer just shook his head.   “Not at this time,” he said with a fatherly grin to the pastor.  “I think we need to focus on what makes us good. Too fast, too soon.  We need to quickly get back to what we once were.”

And that they did.

Today, the building is empty.  The Pastor is serving in another party of the country with the skill under her belt of not changing, keeping congregations the same.  The families of this Baptist church have gone to other places, other churches.  And the Ska band, since that congregational meeting, has never gone back to church.

 

 

The is a thought experiment about American Politics.  Also Canadian.  Also about church.   Also about families.   Mostly, it’s about change.

We know change is needed and there can be great reasons given for change.   But then, at the last second, the back row speaks up.  They share what they were really thinking.  And they know how to win.

I’m from the church world, so my metaphor matches my background.   You’ve heard the phrase, “You are preaching to the choir.”  Indeed, that is true.   But choirs don’t run churches (or countries or families or businesses) as well as those in the back rows.

The question I leave with you is this: how does one preach to the back row?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Excerpt from a 17th Century Duel: You’re Welcome.

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           (This is an except from the novel “The House of Bones”).   

            A duel was the farthest event in Edmund Canin’s plans for that morning.

Edmund arrived in Stralsund moments after sunrise.  He woke up early in the morning, broke his camp, and hiked into town, believing he was farther from the city than actuality.  As he wandered through the cobble stone streets and amongst the town waking up, he hoped he could find a bakery or café opening for breakfast.  The Mercy Tavern, where he was sent to go, wouldn’t be open so he decided to take in the sights of Stralsund.

The city awoke somber and silent.  Few made eye contact with him, as it awoke.  The crowds of gray people did their chores quietly, and tended to their business without much attention to the world around them.  One of the first streets Edmund walked down was silent, the weight of sadness hung heavily in the air.

Edmund couldn’t tell how big was the city, since it was relatively flat and every other building was tall, with a point.  Is it a law in Stralsund that every building has it’s top sharpened like a sword’s point?, he asked himself.

He wanted to believe it was some pagan superstition, making the town a bed of spikes as a defense against storming dragons. Foolish to believe that superstition, since the city was held tightly by a Catholic Church and was close enough to feel the hot breadth of Protestant Germany.  He figured both sides of Christianity would band together against the common enemy of dragon worship.

Then why the points?

The more the sun rose, the more people came out to do their silent business in Stralsund.  More Swedish soldiers came out, all sharing an alien confidence as they laughed, joked, and chatted amongst the Germans.  One of them even wished Edmund a good morning.  It took him a few moments to recognize the greeting and he chirped a “good morning” back.

He rounded a corner, finding a small tavern in between a shoe cobbler and an apartment building.  He stood in the front, fists on his hips, reading the sign hanging above the door:

The Sad Pony

He chuckled at the name, finding it the worst name for a bar he’d ever heard. Through his playful sneer underneath his thin moustache, he whispered to himself, “It’s hard to find Mercy in this town.”

As if answering his call, the double doors crashed open.  Erupting from the bar marched a Swedish Officer grasping the hair of a serving wench.  Immediately, Edmund’s eyes were drawn to the woman’s eyes, tearful and shaking with fear.

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“And now that we’re outside, I’ll show you what proper service looks like your forest creature,” the officer said with his spittle flying towards her face.

“Please don’t hit that woman, I’d hate for you to hurt your tender hand,” Edmund, fists still on his hips, said in German.

The officer, standing feet from Edmund, twirled around to face him. “This doesn’t concern you.  Run along.”

“Of course it concerns me, it’s in my field of vision.”  Edmund didn’t move.   “Let go of the maiden.”

“Walk away.”

Lifting his foot slightly, Edmund’s foot tapped the Officer’s right foot slightly as it was off balance.  Within a flash, the Officer let go of the girl and fell to the ground.

“Run inside!  Quick,” Edmund said to the trembling girl.

Without moving, he stood with his fists on his hip and watched the Solider rise. They were of equal height, as the officer stood inches from Edmund’s face.  The white, pink skin of the Officer’s face turned beat red within a seconds.

“You ought not have done that.”

The playful sneer returned to Edmund’s smile.  “Quite right.  Please forgive me.  I didn’t mean to soil your costume,” he said.

“It’s-a-uniform-I’m-an-officer!”  The officer could barely speak, standing as rage shook his whole body.

Edmund flashed a quick look to the officer’s saber.  His eyes returned to the Officer.  “Might I interest you in a life of pacifism?”

The officer lifted his index finger to Edmund, readying to give him a speech. But he as he began to speak, Edmund grabbed his saber’s handle as quick as light, unsheathed the sword, struck the soldier in the nose two times with the handle, and put the sword back in the sheath.

Edmund recoiled back and smiled at his work, pleased with himself.

The Officer quickly held his nose, took two steps backwards, and let out a shrill cry.  The crowd snickered.  Edmund placed his fists on his hips.

“It’s an easier life, that of a pacifist.”

The Officer returned to Edmund’s space, inches from his face, and rose his quivering finger at Edmund.  And like before, just before he spoke, Edmund grabbed the Officer’s own sword, again, and gave two quick taps to his nose.

The Officer recoiled, grabbing his bleeding nose and growled.  Blind with rage, he lunged at Edmund for the purpose of tackling him to the ground.  Edmund pivoted to the right, allowing the officer to trip over his left foot firmly planted to trip his attacker.  The officer hurdled to the ground, face in the cobble stone.

“Any time you’re ready to end this, let me know.  I’d hate to drag this thing out.”

Face in the ground, bottom to the air, the officer didn’t notice Edmund reaching for the saber on his side and taking it from him.  The officer rose on all fours, oblivious to the swipes Edmund swished through the air and around his leggings.

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Within a few seconds, the officer’s breeches were to his knees free from the support of his belt.  The crowd laughed, sounding like a gaggle of geese.

“This is a fencing technique called ‘tagging’.  It is meant not to harm, but to demoralize the opponent,” Edmund said. Cat-like, he spun around to the officer’s front.  With swipes of the sword, he cut the fabric in the shoulders of the officer’s coat. “Any time your ready to quit, let me know.”

“I shall beat you with an inch of your life!”

“You have a long way to go in order to beat me with an inch of my life,” Edmund said as he pointed his sword in the air.  “I intend to live forever.”

The Officer rose, shaking with rage.  He didn’t notice his leggings and jacket falling to the ground.  His eyes burned with hate as he stared at Edmund. “I did not come here to be humiliated!”

“Where do you usually go to be humiliated?”

The man swung at Edmund’s face.  Edmund jerked his head back, missing the punch by inches.  And with the Officer’s saber, Edmund swatted the left side of his opponent with the flat part of the sword.  Another punch, another miss, and another swat.  The third and final punch delivered the same results: the crowd thought this was hilarious.

“Stay still!”

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Edmund chuckled.   “What good would that do me?”   Edmund, with a couple of quick swipes, cut the buckles off of the Officer’s boots. Now his boots flopped around his ankle, slowing his otherwise drunken reactions.  Edmund sidestepped to the left, allowing the officer to scramble around with his uncertain footing.

Edmund, for good measure, slapped the backside of the soldier with the flat side of the sword.

The soldier spun and charged at Edmund. Edmund quickly stepped out of the way of the Officer’s charge, allowing him to crash into a wooden crate full of water left out in front of the cobbler’s door.   The wooden planks broke, flooding over the officer’s head and back.  The soldier went limp from the blow to the head, as all of the water drained out of the bucket.

Edmund returned the saber to the unconscious soldier’s scabbard.

He looked around, seeing a cheering crowd of soldiers and villagers.  He didn’t notice, behind them, was a carriage, bearing the seal of Bavaria.