Eric’s Storytelling Bag #1

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I have been a storyteller since I was 17.   It’s something inside of me, something I will always have as a “thing”.

In our recent times of isolation, as we’ve been all trying to do our part to assist our world in fighting COVID19- interesting things have popped up from us.  Talents, skills, gifts- they’ve popped out from hiding as we ourselves have gone into hiding.

For me, stories have come out.

Here is my first attempt at it along with an introduction.   It’s where I perform Walt Wagnerin Jr.’s “Ragman” story:

 

This next tale is where it all began.   When I was 17, I first saw storytelling in all of it’s fiery glory.   I retell this story-not an original of mine- in this video, a favourite of mine as I have spoken in churches, camps, and schools.  (Warning:there’s a video glitch in the middle.  The sound is fine, just my face freezes) Here:

The last story is an original and it allowed me to dust off my banjo.  I get really nervous about playing it in front of people, but the story insisted.  It’s probably the most timely of the three stories:

More will be coming.  Stay tuned!

The Therapy of Binge Watching

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Suddenly, this morning, the COVID19 situation got to me.

I’ve made mention to many that you can’t pick your triggers, that there will be moments when the normal we have enjoyed on Planet Earth has been taken from you and you want it back.

For different people, it’s different signposts.  For a member of the homeless population of the Mustard Seed- where I work-, he became irate when we could no longer play cards before dinner; for my girls, it was when all of their school stuff was bagged and placed in the gym for their Mom to pick up; for some it might be the shut down of a favourite coffee place; and for some, it might be the very real loss of a friend/family due to COVID19.

This morning, the triggers of loss were for me more than anything else.  I found myself scanning Youtube to find my favourite scene a favourite movie of mine.  It’s the scene when the heroes of Lord of the Rings are surrounded in Helm’s Deep, but they decide to take on their enemies.  They ride out and, moments later, are rescued by Gandalf the White and the Riders of Rohan.

Here’s the clip:

Overwhelmed, I watched this clip and started crying.  I live in a house full of women who tend to favour Jane Austen, baking shows, and craft challenges.  I say this not to affirm any stereotypes or forced genderfication: it is what it is.  Simply, the women in my house don’t cry often at Lord of the Rings.

There I was.  Crying.  Wanting Gandalf the White to ride down the Whitemud bluff and eradicate COVID19.

My eldest daughter saw me and asked why the film was so sad.  “It isn’t sad.  It’s good triumphing over evil.  And you Dad needn’t to see that was possible right now.”

After a good cry, I had strength for my day.

I know we’re all pretending that we’re super busy, right now, in isolation.  On Facebook, I’m seeing blueprints for people’s homes, musicians posting new songs, kids doing yard work, and Salvation Army is probably getting flooded with donations (as they should) from spring cleaning.

But let’s be honest: we’re also watching a lot of shows/movies.

Why?   And is that bad?

Right now, many of us like to return to simple stories of good versus evil.  We’re not interested in falling into angst or the complexity of life right now.  No, most of us are not watching Igmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (And if you are, great.)

No, we’re watching shows that are bit more predictable, where evil is obvious and ineffective, where comedy is a way to experience grace in the midst of tragedy and failure.

And that is okay.

We’re watching Michael in “The Office” who shouldn’t be as sympathetic as he is, we’re watching “That’s So Raven” even though we know exactly what will happen even if we mute the show, and we’re watching “Lord of the Rings” because we know how it ends.

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Think about art history.  In times of great suffering, uncertainty, and strife, did you notice how the human race was drawn to simpler stories?  Think back to the morality plays of the Dark Ages, where the villain’s name was “Liar” and the one who rescued the hero was named “Truth”.   Sure, you can find exceptions to these stories, but generally the Dark Ages were…dark (locusts, plague, institutional anarchy, wars, etc.) and darkness begat simple stories.

Then we got streets and towns and guilds and wine and cheese which led to complex stories.  That’s okay, too. This led to Shakespeare and complexity where audiences scratched their head with the question, “Tell me, how was that guy in the Scottish play a hero?”

Here’s my encouragement: watch simple shows that are based on hope.

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Don’t feel bad that you were rather binge “Little House on the Prairie” rather than “Twin Peaks”.  Both are good.  Re-watch shows that remind you of what is good.  And keep doing your part so we can all, as a community, get through this dark age.

It is our mind going back to a passage from the Scripture: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4).

Now, I’m not saying problem stories or open-ended tales or films abut tension are false, ignoble, wrong, dirty, ugly, and shameful…no.  But your brain might not be able to to the work right now to get to those ideas when under the stress our planet lives in right now.

So watch stories that remind you that this dark age will pass…

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Our Congregation’s Precautions Concerning the Coronavirus

To the Filipino Congregation that meets at St. Matthias Anglican Church;

We have seen, for months now, the effects and measures made around the world to treat and protect people from the Coronavirus.  This is now coming to our home in West Edmonton.

We exist as the Anglican Church to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  We can do this through prayer, through ministry, through church services, and through any means God has given us.

Here is a link of what our Primate, The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, has instructed us in our worship changes for our Sunday Morning gathering:

Primate’s update regarding COVID-19

Here are a couple of rules we will be adding to her directives:

1) No one is an expert yet on the Coronavirus.  Canada is new to this pandemic.  There are many in our neighbourhood who will say things like, “I’m not worried!  I have faith, not fear!”

It is good to have faith, sure.  However, this can be code for not following any of the directives given to us by experts that are based on science.  None of us are experts on this virus.  It is not like other viruses we’ve experienced before.  We will not fear; we also will not act different to what is recommended.

The result is that we will be given direction from our Bishop and from other authorities that we will be following.  Our congregation will follow instructions and will not use faith to go against them.  And if they are over-precautions, we’ll be quick to forgive.

2) For Eucharist, we will not be passing the Common Cup..  Father David and I met yesterday, deciding that we will pass the bread only. Later, our Bishop (Jane) over our Diocese gave us the orders not share the common cup.

I will be wearing gloves for this.  After, I will bless you with the words for receiving the cup.  Then, as Priest and a representative of our congregation, I will consume the cup for us.  There has been a lot of anxiety expressed about this part of our tradition. For now and for this season, we do not want anyone to worry about drinking from a shared vessel.

3) Feel free to spread out when sitting.  We are a congregation of 50 and God has blessed us with a building that can hold way more than our small group.

Spread out.  I will use the microphone so everyone can hear me.  Right now, in my country of origin, the government is encouraged large churches to not meet for a few weeks.  We’re lucky!  We’re small with a big building.  So sit where you feel comfortable sitting.

4) Wash your hands often.  Often as you can, wash.  When buying soap, purchase only what your family needs so that other people in our neighbourhood can have soap.

5) Pray for those in our neighbourhood who are sick.  On Sundays, I will be giving out my cell phone number.  I am more than willing and happy to pray for those who are sick.  If there is a quarantine, we can always speak on the phone or through video messaging (FaceTime, Skype, etc.).

We are people of prayer.  Our job, as the church, is to pray.  When you know of people sick or affecting, I know many of you ask permission to pray for them.  That is wonderful.  If they say “yes”, please encourage them to contact me and I would be willing, as a Priest, to pray for them too.  As well, we can find out what they need outside of prayer.

6) What is normal now might change.  We are still the church; God is still with us.  We might not be able to meet in the near future.  If that takes place, that means I may have to change the way I lead us in worship.  But do not worry: I will still be your Padi and God is still our God.

We might have to explore ideas like video messaging for worship services, calling you as a priest, or delivering the Eucharist for those who are healthy.  It is my honour to do this. As well, if you need prayer for blessing- CONTACT ME!  Please, do not hesitate.  The Coronavirus cannot stop us from being the people of God.

God is with us.  Our faith is in Christ, which causes us to enter into this time with reality and knowledge that God is working in us.  If I can serve you in any way, please let me know.

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Ash Wednesday: Why?

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This year, on Shrove Tuesday, my eldest daughter went in for oral surgery.

She wears braces and she has a rogue, lone tooth that’s coming down all wrong from the roof of her mouth.  So the surgery was to attach a chain and then guide it, through the braces’ tension, to it’s rightful place.

I’ve had this done when I was a pre-teen, so I think she inherited my teeth.

We got to the surgeon and he mentioned that she was due for her wisdom teeth removed.  We figured oral surgery might be cheaper buying in bulk, so we agreed while she was knocked out to also pull four more teeth.  My daughter shrugged: why not?

For the evening of Shrove Tuesday, she was on the couch recovering.  She asked if Mardi Gras was the same as Shrove, as Anglicans.

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“No,” I said.  “Mardi Gras is in Brazil and New Orleans and other exciting, Catholic places.  It’s with beads and dancing and music.  For Anglicans in Canada, having breakfast for dinner is all the excitement we can handle.”

I wasn’t aware of Shrove Tuesday until I came to Canada, most certainly not as an Anglican.   In Canada, it’s a thing.  A big thing.  A & W serves pancakes for dinner on Shrove Tuesday.  You don’t get bigger of a thing than that in Canada.

Shrove is past tense to the word “shrive” which means to abstain or go without.

Shrove Tuesday is to celebrate fat and sugar for the last time before we enter into Lent, the time of going without.The placement on the calendar is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is the service where ashes are applied to a believer in the sign of the cross, to mark the beginning of the lenten season.

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I love the idea that it’s a tangible marking of seasonal change.  The morning I became 18, I was confused.  I felt the same, thought the same, and looked the same: yet I was in the new season of adulthood.  What, I wondered, was it to be an adult?  A man?   And how did I know, other than a birthday, did I journey into this season?

If someone came to me, declared me an adult, and then punched me in the stomach…that would be at least something.   Or anything.   But no, everyone was nice to me on my 18th birthday which further confused this rite of passage from one season to the next.

Ash Wednesday is marked by the placement of ashes.   It symbolizes death, for something usually dies when we go from one season to another.  A new job means the death of an old routine from the last employment; marriage is marked by the death of single-hood; and becoming a man means childhood’s end.

Death marks the passage of Lent, when a believer considers one’s sins, asking those painful, often avoided questions:

? What did I get wrong?  What am I missing?

? How have a benefited from someone else’s pain and misfortune?

? What have I done wrong?  How have I gotten out of doing something right?

? What am I addicted to?

? What prejudices do I have?

? Whom have I judged lately?

? What am I proud of ?

     Back to my daughter.  After her surgery, all she could think about was the pain of her surgery.   It’s quite natural.   She would lay on the couch, just thinking about pain.   Being sick is like that: you can only focus on what is wrong.   She walked around the house like a zombie, staring at nothing and everything because she was razor focussed on what was wrong with her body.  Namely, her missing teeth.

     The Lenten season is similar.  There is something terribly wrong with the world and it’s…us.  It’s Eric.  Eric is what’s wrong with the world.  The church I came to faith in Christ used to have an old pastor who would invite all of the new members to the front of the church.  He’d publicly welcome people to the church and then whisper the same thing in each of their ears: “We’re now no longer a perfect church because YOU are now one of our members.”

It was a joke, but he was also right.  What’s wrong with our world, our countries, and our families isn’t just the other people who disagree with us- it’s us.  We keep contributing to the problems.  The Lenten journey is to remind us of this again and again and again until something sharp, primordial cries out inside of us: “HELP!!!!!!!!!”

And then Easter comes, where we are brought face to face with our Risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.   And if this is not glorious and amazing and weepy and full of wonder, then it might be because we skipped the lessons of Lent.

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Lent is about waiting, waiting, and waiting for help to come.  And when it comes, we give Christ our undivided attention.

Or as Mary Ann Bernard writes in her poem “Resurrection”:

Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’s stormy sea
She’d raise her green and growing head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.

Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow.  (But) The pain’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.

Long before this winter’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold.  I’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’s pains.

Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes.  It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.

 

Brazil 32 Years Later: Does Reality Kill Our Dreams?

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“Brazil” came to the US in 1985 and it grabbed a hold of my almost teenaged brain, lighting it on fire.

Terry Gilliam had already earned my trust as a filmmaker.  Former Python, he made “Time Bandits” and offered a different set of story telling rules not new to my world groomed by G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Disney.  Oh no, in Time Bandits: 1) The parents died at the end of the movie, 2) “The Powers That Be” may not be benevolent, and 3) we may not get to be adopted by Sean Connery.

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I had read about “Brazil” in a worn out copy Starlog Magazine a few months before had, as it was then called “The Ministry” and it struggled to get US distribution.  Finally, it came to the US and I drug my dad to watch it.

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Here’s a synopsis not only of the movie, but why-even today-we are still thinking about this film:

The Nightmare of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil 30 Years Later

In Canada, it’s easy to think about what the US has become and that it’s grown into this film.  However, before we become too smug we must remember the spirit behind Donald Trump, bureaucracy, and institution over the health of an individual can and does exist here in our northern land.

But aside from politics, there’s a firm thesis in this film that I struggled with as pre-teen: the dreamer will be destroyed by the rigidity of our reality.   The reality of “Brazil”, however outlandish and surreal, is the real enemy to our dreams.

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Is this true?  Do all of our dreams die to the cement and steel of reality?

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Of course, in other films of Gilliam, the dreamer thrives.  But Sam Lowry, in this picture, struggles to survive the great, bad enemy of his setting.  Is this the dreamer’s fate?

 

 

A few days before I graduated with a B.A. in English, my father sent me a Xerox copy of a commencement speech.   It came in the mail, a thick letter with the staple threading to break free from the packaging (this was the 1990’s version of sending a link).   A note written in a ball point blared at the top: MY FATHER GAVE THIS TO ME ON MY GRADUATION AND I AM RETURNING THE FAVOUR BY GIVING IT TO YOU.   YOUR SAINTED FATHER.

The speech was of a man, someone important in the 1950’s, who railed at these graduates for being a bunch of dreamers, of being too idealistic.  He talked of raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.  It’s easy to do in University when you are surrounded by like-minded friends.  However, there are no flags to raise in the real world.

The speaker further insisted that every day is a sell-out.  He then spent most of his time in a thought exercise.

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Let’s say, he argued, that you are in a nice restaurant with a date or a business contact.  Suddenly, you realize it’s a Jim Crow establishment (think 1950’s).   Would you leave once you knew?  Probably not.  You might not come back, but you wouldn’t raise a fuss.  You would just eat your food, smile, and take it.  The setting won and there would be no flag raising.

And that’s how he ended the commencement address.

The speech wasn’t ironic, wasn’t to push those graduates to action by angering them into not accepting something wrong.  Oh no, the explicit message matched the implicit tone: your dreams, your ideals don’t survive in the real world.

After reading it, I tore up the speech with a young man’s fury.

When my father came down for graduation, he asked if I got his speech.  I said I did, but didn’t tell him about my reaction.  Instead, I politely suggested that there were other ways of doing things apart from what the speaker suggested.

My dad laughed, a knowing chuckle about the inevitability of dreams.

We went out to dinner after my graduation ceremony, spent the remaining day with family, and then we went to church the next day.

Churches can be places of warmth and acceptance and understanding.   Sometimes.

I worked with this particular church’s youth group as an intern and the youth group decided to throw me a graduation party.  At that party was one of those times when the church was exactly what it wished to be, a place of warmth and acceptance and understanding.

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The kids were running around, eating way too much cake while flirting and joking and playing games.  The parents were there, bringing potluck dishes.  My parents were there with the awkwardness due to aliens trying to figure out such human things as light bulbs or tissue paper.   They stood around, gaping at the room.

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The Jr. High Room, where I worked, was a place I told my parents about but they never really “got”.  It was a place of community, where kids from the neighbourhood and kids from the church could hang out, be themselves.  They could be themselves, knowing full well we were a church that believed certain things.  But they didn’t have to believe them, they could be themselves and enjoy the space.

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I have spent a lot of time trying to make spaces like this and I’ve learned that when people are relaxed enough, when there’s space to be yourself…then you have room to dream, to pursue your ideals.  But if you spend all of your time, your effort trying to fix, make, and force something to happen…then you have created another Brazil.

My parents couldn’t fit the space into their head.  Instead, they did with most of us who stumble into the strange: they leave it with the label “oh, that was nice”.

 

 

My Grandfather, who sent my Father this speech, fought in World War 2.   He was a chaplain in the Army.   For that war, it was about one system needing to win against another system because it was superior.  The Allies had Democracy on their side which was far greater than that of the Nazis.

The system of America, for my Grandfather, worked.  It was good and didn’t need any dreamers wrecking things.  My Father, who inherited this system, became a police officer (in the 1960’s, stationed in San Francisco!) and he also believed in the system.

Brazil, for these two men of their age, ended happily ever after.

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As for me, I’ve spent a good portion of my life being a dreamer.  Not all of my dreams work (in fact, perhaps a majority of them didn’t happen), but things working out isn’t the point of dreams.

If one has a dream to change reality and it doesn’t take hold, you still have reality unchanged: there’s no loss.  But if one does change reality for the better, then there is only gain.

An imperfect dreamer which seeks to create spaces for other’s to dream: this isn’t bad.

I’m reminded of another movie that came out around 1985: The Mission.   In this film, the church sells out a Jesuit Mission in South America so that rich Europeans can own Human Beings as slaves.

At the end, those who sold out remark to one another.  “We have no alternative.  We must work in the world.  The world is thus,” the Portuguese Emissary says to the Bishop.  The Bishop replied, “No, thus have we made the world.”  The scene ends in despair.

However, for the dreamer and the idealist, worlds are also made…

 

What We Need Now Are Leaders With Propriety

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Once upon a time, a visitor from the city was wandering a relative’s farm.  She came across a single pig in a pen, an odd looking creature with three natural legs and one wooden peg for the fourth leg.  Politely wanting to enquire about this foreign prosthetic, she complimented the farmer, “Boy, that’s some pig!”

“I tell you what,” the farmer said, launching into a homily.  “That is some pig!  Two weeks ago, there was a fire in the barn.  The pig woke up, pawed at our bedroom window, and woke us up.  We called the volunteer fire department and the barn was saved!”

“That is some pig,” she said.

“And another thing, a week ago there was a gunman!  He tried to steal our money, what little we have. The pig crept up behind him and bit his leg.  He dropped the gun, I grabbed it, and we were able to keep him here until the police came.”

“That is some pig!”  She then paused, working up the nerve for her next question.  “Tell me, then: why does your pig have a wooden leg?”

“Well,” the farmer said. “A pig like that, you don’t want to eat ‘em all at once!”

This is an old joke.  I used to tell it to describe the dangers of exploitation.   I knew colleagues, great pastors and priests, who were worked to death by their congregations and parishes to be used, used up, and then discarded for a new version.

However, I think this old joke has more to do with propriety (or lack thereof) than anything else.

Propriety is an ancient word, for me locked in a southern caricature of a frail, southern matron who is disgusted with something outside of her social bubble.  You know the image: she fans herself as if she fears she’ll faint as she declares, “Have you no sense of propriety!”

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Not gaining the sense of this word, I’ve been using the phrase “The Virtue of Appropriateness”.  It’s the idea that a mature person is able to bring goodness that is exactly needed for the setting he/she is a part of.  It’s kindness that is regional, specific , and indigenous.

As a former youth pastor, I would describe this as: The right thing at the right time and in the right place.  Realize this: if the right thing is done at the wrong time or the wrong place, it becomes – immediately –  the wrong thing.

At the time, I was talking about sex.  Sex is a good thing, yet without the context of love and commitment it can become something horrible.  The teenagers in our youth group would roll their eyes at this idea because they knew I was trying to talk them into sex within marriage and yes, at that time, that was my agenda.  However, I was trying to talk about something bigger than that: the virtue of appropriateness.

Now I need to rethink this new term I’ve made because Wendell Berry has given back to me an ancient term: propriety.

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“The idea of propriety makes an issue of the fittingness of our conduct to our place or circumstance, even to our hopes.  It acknowledges the always pressing realities of context and influence; we cannot speak or act or live out of context.  Our life inescapably affects our life.  We are being measured, in other words, by a standard that we did not make and cannot destroy.  It is by that standard, and only by that standard, that we know we are in crisis in our relationship to nature,” Berry writes[1].

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On an environmental view, this is the virtue missing from mass production and industry.  Rather than working with nature and for nature, we exploit nature and take what we don’t need to sell what we’re not sure we want: propriety versus impropriety.

In church ministry, we try to give our version of the Gospel in such a way that it is good news only for ourselves and not for our neighbourhood.

I’ve seen this first-hand at a funeral service for a beloved grandmother, when a distant relative did the eulogy.  He spoke nothing of her life or her community, but harangued the collection of mourners for an altar call.  “Will you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior today?  If you were to die tonight, would you go to Heaven?  Do you know for sure?” he asked.  Impropriety.

In our community, there was a group called “Minutemen” that offered to shovel driveways for seniors who no longer had the strength to do so on their own and would be fined by the city for neglecting their walks.  The group grew into a network of handymen, food deliverers, babysitters, and general do-gooders.  It grew out of the original idea that some folks needed help who lived next door.  Propriety.

On a business level, there’s the joke that we first must create a need for our product before creating the product itself.  This is the idea of sales where, to quote the novel “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk:

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On a political level, impropriety is when Republican Congressmen of the United States choose to run an impeachment trial without witnesses when 75 per cent of Americans polled feel this would make it a fair hearing.

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In farming, propriety is when a farmer has only as much land as he/she can reasonably maintain.  The soil is amended naturally.  Rivers and creeks and lakes are worked into the growth and love of the land.  The food produced is sold for a fair amount and it adds to the health of the people.  This cycle is repeated over and over so that the land is strong, ready to produce the best foods.

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Propriety is simply to take what is inherited and used to solve problems that are genuine for the mutual good of all those who are involved.  Imagination is used by answering the question: “How can people be helped today?”  Tradition is used by answering the question: “What has been done before?  What good is in the past?”    And it is love with the question: “How can others be their best because of what is being used?”  It is the marriage of process and result, being the same in kindness.

Impropriety is exactly opposite to this.  It often begins with the question, “How can I profit from this?”  In this question, there is no imagination given to the mutual good for others.  It is often measured only by the “now” without any reflection upon what is taking place in present tense.  It is exploitive.  It is defensive, for the will of impropriety is always to maintain, control, and enhance what are the present, short-term gains.  And it always, always fails in the end.

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Propriety is the pastor of a small, country church who seeks to teach the children of immigrant labourers how to read and write, knowing they may never go to his church or tithe in his collection plate. The pastor does so knowing it’s right, even though he will not be paid back.  He does so because it is a gift and this will match the Gospel he preaches to his elderly congregation on Sunday.

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Propriety is the family who eliminates half of their garbage by using re-usable products.  They struggle with this at first, until they meet with their grandparents who were born and raised on the farm during the depression.  Suddenly, the elders around them have skills needed for our present energy crisis.

Propriety is the politician who puts a cap on how much a single contributor can give to her election.  She does this so that not a single person or company can “own” her office, but that her leadership is shared by “the people”.   When she introduces new ideas, they are from the people and are at home with the people, not for the exclusive benefit of a few individuals or foreign governments.

Propriety may seem like just ideals washed in fantasy, something beautiful until “the real world” takes over and we are back to living lives of impropriety, being out of touch and out of sync with our immediate settings.

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However, then, what do you do when those who have lived in moments of propriety and it’s worked?  The Mennonite farmers of Alberta who, on the smallest of scales, produce food that is in harmony with the land?  Or families who makes changes and live better lives because of it?  Or pastors of Christian churches who see a bright future of their faith because they are focusing on one immigrant at a time?

When you surround yourself with the stories of propriety, soon the promises of exploitation seem more of a fantasy than anything else; and when politicians or world leaders speak from a platform of impropriety, their words sound more and more crazy.

To quote W.C. Fields: “You can’t cheat an honest man.”  Propriety is the salve to being conned by politicians…amongst other things.

Propriety, one might say, is the hope for our future.  Why?  Because it worked in the past.

 

[1] Berry, Wendell.  “Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition.” 2000.

The Mandalorian, Doctor Who, Greta Thunberg, and the Role of the Prophet

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On New Year’s Eve, I finished watching “The Mandalorian” with my girls.  They binged watched this series for Baby Yoda; I watched because of the spaceships and the fellow who resembled Boba Fett, the greatest action figure from the Star Wars Kenner line.

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After the show, I announced, “Girls, l like Star Wars again.”

The show is based off of the gunslinger archetype found in almost every culture.  It’s an old tale: the Ronin who suddenly enters into a new community.  This character is detached, seemingly out-of-place with his or her world.  It could be Clint Eastwood’s fixed, angry expression as the cowboy of “the man with no name”; the slow walk of Alan Ladd’s gangster; or Mad Max’s growl.

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Or, in the case with the Mandalorian, the main character wear’s a space helmet and speaks through a radio.

The point of this character is that their emotion does not match the rest of their world.  They are set aside, they stand alone.  Or, to quote Pee Wee Herman: “You don’t want to get tangled up with a guy like me.  I’m a loner.  A rebel.”

Edwin Friedman, in his book “A Failure of Nerve”, describes this quality as the virtue of self-differentiation.  Here’s a video that describes why this is a good thing for any kind of leader:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgdcljNV-Ew

 

The world needs the Mandalorian, someone who is not possessed by the community’s collective anxiety or anger.  The drifter who walks into the bar does not share or is held captive by the shared past.

In my line of work, as an Anglican Priest, it’s often the new priest or the incoming pastor that bears the image of the Mandalorian.  The church is guarded, wondering what this “stranger” is going to do to their community.

And worst, the emotion of the priest does not match their own.  When they talk about how the youth left water balloons in the baptismal it’s received with laughter and not horror/disgust/outrage; the priest performs the liturgy different than how they are used to doing things and doesn’t seem embarrassed; and the new priest talks to new people, unaware that he/she should be talking to those whose been there the longest and, therefore, are the most important.

In my world, it actually would make sense for a new priest to spend their first few months dressed as the Mandalorian.  At least, just wear a space helmet.

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The Mandalorian, it seems, cares only about getting money and turning that money into armor.   But then the character enters more and more into the world, starts to care about people and sees the harm of that world.

Enter Baby Yoda.

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I won’t give too much away, but the main character changes from protagonist to hero and it is found in gaining relationship with the other characters.

This happens in all of these kinds of stories.  The gunslinger rids the towns of the bullies, the gangster cleans up crime, and the superhero repels the aliens.   And then, when intimacy is established and felt, they disappear into whatever works as a horse riding off into the sunset.

We love these kinds of stories because no matter how fixed we become in our routine, our own group’s narrative, we can’t help but scan over our shoulder and look at what isn’t us.  Carl Jung calls this the lure of the shadow.  The shadow-everything we aren’t-comes across our path in the form of a stranger and we can’t help but stare.

These stories affirm the important reality that things don’t get better with more of more of the same.  It’s not the town’s barber or the green fellow at the bar who looks like his cousin Greedo that brings about transformation: it’s the outsider, the person not like us.

So, back to my line of work as a Priest, the very thing or person that a congregation can fear- the stranger- could be what they need most.

 

 

 

Doctor Who is an outsider.  He/she is an alien, a character from an ancient race of Time Lords who cheat death through regeneration.   The Doctor travels through time and space, with the only constant is that of self-differentiation.

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This season, she stepped onto our planet and uncovered an alien spy plot to rid us of our world’s spies; rescued a resort from monsters; and saved America from scorpion aliens.  At one point, in this present season, the locals would get mad at the Doctor stating, in so many words: “We were fine until YOU showed up!  You made all of these things happen!’

In truth, the Doctor didn’t make more problems: she, instead, brings them to the light in order to solve them.

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But what makes the Doctor good?  It isn’t just being an alien, for the cosmos is full of aliens.  It is kindness.  To quote the actor Peter Capaldi who played one of the Doctors:

The essence of Doctor Who is kindness, that is what really is underneath all of this. This is a person who moves through time and space and history, and all kinds of situations, and reacts to them, ultimately – despite the way the different versions of him may appear – he reacts with kindness.”[1]

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Friedman would call this emotional intelligence.  It’s that strange mixture of empathy (what is someone else going through) and vision (what does that person need).  You need both empathy and vision.

In the church, I’ve known a lot of congregation who were full of vision, but little empathy.  The result would be, as described by a former Baptist Regional Minister, “The church spends all sorts of time giving things to their community no one has really asked for or wanted.”

There can be empathy and no vision.  This is found in the sympathetic ear who hears one’s problems, loves and accepts, and, when it comes time for a solution, they simply grimace and mumble, “You’re hooped!”

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            The Doctor is that stranger who brings to us a vision and kindly applies to his or her new world.  The world may doubt the Doctor’s intention (most often they do) or they struggle with the Doctor’s vision because it’s new, it hasn’t been thought of, and it’s…alien.

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For those who know I am an Anglican Priest, you can anticipate that I will claim these things are found in the character of Christ.  Well, rest assured: yes, they are.  The Bible, that old book, describes Christ as empathetic (Hebrews 4:15) and having a clear vision for what is needed (Luke 4:18-19).   He is, as the church creeds and the Bible explain, both human and God: that mix of outsider and insider.

And for those who accept this outsider of Jesus, He brings them a new life.  Those that reject the outsider, are stuck in the problems of more of more of the same.

 

 

How do we, in our own little planets and civilizations, receive the Prophets?

The Prophets are like the Mandalorian, the outsiders, the Doctor, the weirdos, and those who are outside of our frame of reference or circle of cozy.

In the Old Testament, the Prophets were these wild men and women who lived outside of civilization’s cusp, residing in the margins of society.  They would bring news that would either be good or bad.  It would be new news, something alien to what is considered normal or usual.  The news was given, hopefully, with love and a vision for something better.

Prophets might be wrong, most certainly.  They need truth and reality on their side, otherwise they could just be someone weird and odd and mismatched in their community.  The treatment and the listening of these prophets is on the burden of the community.  A prophet being odd does not MAKE a community abuse them for not fitting in; instead, there must be a listening and weighing of evidence.

Throughout history, the Prophets were rejected by the mainstream for the most part.  Only when they were martyred, did the message ring potentially true.  We have examples of this like Martin Luther King Jr. or Jeremiah or…take your pick.

Today we have a potential prophet in our world, Greta Thunberg.

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Her message is simple: listen to the scientists who are telling us that the way we are doing industry is adversely impacting our future on this planet.

It’s odd, I think, that many Christians have reacting with so much wrath, so much anger, and so much hatred towards this teenage girl.  Granted, there are atheists and other faiths who have reacted against her…so it’s not unique to Christendom.  But what is surprised is that Christianity has been shaped by the outsiders, the prophets, the weirdos, and those whose message is alien to more of more of the same.  Why now, this teenager, is not fitting in?

I have read the posts that quote the studies that refute “Greta’s Science” (which is a fallacy because she doesn’t have a unified science, but rather her message is to listen to scientists).  I’ve seen the anger that is a reaction to her anger (“How dare she say ‘how dare you’ to the UN?  She should be grateful she was able to be there!”).   And I’ve seen the energy, the time, and passion denying climate change and defending capitalism.

I’ve read the conspiracy theories that Greta is really an actress in her 20’s or that her parents have made her a puppet for a one-world government organization seeking to rule the world.   Again, her empathy and kindness is questioned with the purpose of changing the facts of her claims.

And yet she’s an outsider, a Mandalorian, a stranger who is bringing up something new against our present assumptions.  Why be a prophet?  What’s in it for her?  There is more money and power to be had if she is wrong and we do nothing than for her to be right.

As an agrarian conservationist (see my posts on Wendell Berry), I would probably disagree with some of the scientists she refers to…but that’s okay.  Science, in the pursuit of fact, allows disagreement; disagreement disregarding fact for the pursuit of industry is where we fall into trouble.  As a priest, my calling is kindness and capitalism only fits into that plan if it allows us to be kind.  But if it prevents kindness, it cannot be defended.

My question for the Christian church is simple: how do you deal with the outsiders, those who challenge our way of thinking?  Could they be prophets from your God?

And this question is posed to my friends outside of the Christian church: do we listen to the strangers, the aliens from our margins who challenge our status quo?

 

 

[1] https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-04-11/peter-capaldi-had-this-to-say-to-the-cyberbullies-targeting-a-doctor-who-fan/

Eric’s 47th Birthday Wish: I’d Like to Visit the Younger Versions of Me.

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For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write a story about a man who visits different versions of himself throughout time.  The 20-year would meet the 30-year old who is getting drinks with the 73-year old.  All of them would step out from their time-line, for an afternoon, and visit the different men who are separated only by age.

The idea behind this short story would be that we are different people at different times.  That’s okay.  Of course, this idea is shaped by Doctor Who: a Time Lord who is played by different actors and actresses who retain the character’s memory and basic life’s essence.

Doctor Who, in my mind, brilliantly embraces the passage of time.  We change, we grow; that’s okay.  Just so long as you remember who you once were and embrace who are now, to quote Matt Smith’s incarnation.   We change; yet things remain the same.  The tension is time travel.

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Back to the story.  What would it look like if I visited my 26 year old self?  This young man who ran a Jr. High Ministry and Skateboard park, full of energy and vision and discretionary time?   Or my 26 year version met my 40 year old self?   In my early forties, I was a rural pastor in Northern Canada who has a wife and two kids and no discretionary free time.  Would the 40 year old me and the 26 year old me get along?   I would hope so because the 47 year old me really likes these two incarnations of myself.

This is what a birthday, I guess.

This week is my 47th birthday.   I’m celebrating by buying a Lego set and reading really hard to see books.  You see, for three months my eye sight hasn’t been what it’s used to be and there have been large sections in my basement’s library off-limits to me.  Yesterday, my first ever reading glasses arrived and I’m having a party.   With Legos.  And my girls.  And wife.  And dog.

I wonder what my present self would say to my 32 year old version of me?  I know I’d first have to begin with a disclaimer: “Look, you are not going to believe what’s around the corner.  Trust me, it’s good.  It’s going to be scary and weird and the jury is still out that we made the best decisions, but the me you become is something to look forward to. Mostly.”

But how much would I say?  If I gave away too much of the plot, it would take away some of the wonder and terror.   Not knowing has done so much good for me.  I had to trust God to see me through, I had to focus on what mattered, and I treasured the things I knew wouldn’t change or go.  If I knew then what I know now, would I celebrate what I had then?  Or would I be cavalier, hoping to rush through the then to get to the now?

Perhaps this is why I never wrote the story.   Every ending I could imagine would be the older characters being silent, cagey, and misleading to the younger.  When asked why, they would shrug and admit, “Not knowing is half the battle.”

The more we know the less we trust or try or invest, which is a veiled indictment to higher eduction…but I’m okay with that.  The point being, I couldn’t write the story because it would be essential 4-5 characters without any back story, character development, or resolution.

Essentially, it would be:

A young man meets older versions of himself and they tell him nothing.

That’s life- so mad and wonderful and terrifying and joyful.   We don’t know and we won’t know and when we do know, it’s too late because it has already happened.  Instead, we live in mystery and we enjoy our former versions of us.  We visit them on our birthdays, wishing they could get messages from the future but can’t due to the unknowing of time travel.

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Lingering on my birthday, I have just one message that will never be sent.  Like an e-mail forever lingering in DRAFT or a postcard lost on a train in Belgium, it’s an unsent message to my young self.

Simply: Stay in the moment and trust God.  And don’t worry: the best is yet to come!   

A Christmas Ghost Story

I will be telling a version of this story for Sunday’s Eucharist because it matches perfectly our Advent Readings from our Lectionary.  For now, I decided to share the original that appeared in the South Peace News and was a favourite Christmas story in years past.  Enjoy!  

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Our family’s Nativity set was incomplete for years.  When asked why, I usually replied by telling the story behind the missing piece.

My grandmother, Henrieta, had gotten in the habit of stealing the figurine of the baby Jesus any chance she could get and would have the baby show up throughout people’s errands or daily activities.

She picked on me most with this figurine.  I can remember going to school and finding the baby Jesus in my coat pocket; once, while I was playing an away game with hockey, the baby Jesus was found in my skates; and there were a couple of times he was laying in our family’s pew at the Baptist church I attended throughout my childhood.

When confronted on her “messing” with the set, she would coyly rebuff these accusations by saying, “Oh, I think it’s nice that Jesus is going to his school,” or , “I didn’t know Jesus was a hockey fan!”

She was not alone in this little stunt.  Rev. Hans Lubbick, her close friend and the Baptist pastor of my youth, would often ask me around Christmas, “Hey, did you bring Jesus with you?”  I would dig in my pockets and find the figurine my grandmother planted.  I’d show it to him and he’d grin.  “Good,” he’d say.  “Can’t start the service without Jesus.”

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I grew up and my grandmother got older resulting in the baby Jesus’ theft became less and less.  I got a family of my own and we grew out of the habit in going to church regularly.  There wasn’t a good reason.    Really.   It’s just that it seemed to take a lot to get dressed, get in the car, and drive to hear a sermon preached by the now elderly Rev. Lubbick.

Grandmother as well stopped bringing up the subject as she had spent her final years living in a nursing home.  When she would ask about our family and didn’t hear anything of church mention, she’d simply say, “Oh, it sounds like your family is really busy.  Perhaps too busy.”  She never saw that going to church every Sunday would make us busier, but, in her indirect way, she was making her feelings known.

She died three years ago in her sleep and with it, the figurine of baby Jesus went missing.  Her passing was a month before Christmas and I faithfully pulled out the set, with everyone except Jesus present.  I got away with it that Christmas, but the next one was when I started getting a bit more in trouble with the wife and kids. And the one after that, everyone assumed that our Manger set would still be missing baby Jesus.

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And missing church.  Once in a while, one of my kids would mention going to church and I shrugged it off.

This Christmas Eve, the subject came up again.  My oldest daughter asked and I told her that we were really busy, with Christmas coming the next day.  She then, in the same breadth, asked where the baby Jesus figurine was and I said I didn’t know.  Again.

She left the room.  I heard the back door open and slam shut.

Suddenly, it struck me: she wasn’t wearing a coat or toque.  I leapt out of my chair, making my way to the back door in the kitchen.  Suddenly, I heard her laughing wildly as she bounded through the snow.

Shooting to the back window, I saw my little daughter speaking to a stranger in our backyard.  The face obscured, I could only see the small frame of a woman and a shock of snow white hair.  My daughter laughed as she spoke to this silent shadow.

I swung open the door.  “Hey,” I hollered to the darkened figure.  “What are you doing here?”   I then yelled to my daughter.  “Come away!  Come away!”

The shadowed woman handed my daughter something and quickly turned away.  The figure disappeared in between our shed and fence, never to be seen from again.

My daughter came back to me, her face wet with tears and ripe with giggles.  Before I could chew her out or find out who broke into our backyard, she put something in my hand: the figurine of the baby Jesus that belonged to my family’s manger set.

“Where did this come from?” I asked.

“It’s a secret,” she said in a teasing voice.  “All she said was that we needed it this year.”

She.  A sharp, silver shiver shot up through the back of my legs and up my spine.  For a second, I didn’t dare put to words what I was thinking.  I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “Who was that woman?”  My daughter seemed all the more in delighted by my discomfort.

Finally, I said what I was thinking.  “Grandmother?”

Without anything else said, we headed inside the house, got on our coats, our hats, started up the car, and made our way to my childhood’s church for the service.  With my entire family being led by my daughter, we made our way inside and to my family’s pew.

Rev. Lubbick saw me and quickly charged over to me, before the service started.  “Do you have Jesus this year?” he asked and I wordlessly showed him the figurine.

“Good.  It’s good to see the Baby Jesus bringing friends with him.   Welcome.”

Forever, that was the Christmas that changed for our family and for the better, I might add.  For it was the Christmas that Jesus, with my grandmother partnering with him, brought my family back to church…completing our Christmas Manger set.

A Grandfather Finishes Watching Fellowship of the Ring With His Teenage Grandson…

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(The scene begins with the familiar end credits of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings showing on a flat screen tv.   The Grandfather wears a dubious expression; the grandson, 15 and wearing a Tolkien fan t-shirt, is joyfully smug, sharing a bit of his world to his grandfather.)

G.Father- That’s it?  Your favourite show.  It seemed kind of sad.  Although, Shakespeare and the Opera are sad.

G.Son- Well, it’s sad now.  But it gets happier later.

G.Father- How?  Is there one of those end credit scenes that’s going to make sense of the movie?

G.Son- No, there are more films.

G.Father-(Ontological terror) There are MORE films!  Not just this one?!

G. Son- There are two more films and three more prequels.

G. Father- Great Scott!  Really?!?!  I mean, that isn’t it?  They kept making movies?  How?  Didn’t they run out of ideas?  What more do they want to say?

G. Son- (Lovingly, in a way known only to Millennials who take it upon themselves to teach Boomers)  Grandpa, what do you think happened in this film?

G. Father- Well, first there are a bunch of short people from Manitoba who live in holes in the ground.  They’re happy until some guy who dresses like an un-red Santa Claus comes and tells them to scram.  They do.  And then they’re rescued by some bearded hippy who dies in the end.  And Manitoba is taken over as well.  So it ended poorly.

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G. Son- Only one of their team members dies.  Aragorn lives.

G.Father- No he doesn’t!  He gets struck with a million arrows.  Takes a half hour to die.  And then they put him in a canoe so his carcass can be found by picnicking tourists from Toronto.

G.Son- That was Boromir.  He died. Aragorn lived.

G. Father- But Aragorn had a beard.  The man with the beard and long hair who got killed by heavy metal kids coming out of a club.

G. Son- (A pause long enough to consider the Universe)   Grandpa, there were two men with beards and long hair.  One died, one lived.

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G. Father- Why do people do that?  Why do they hang out with people who look like themselves?   I tell you, if there was a party with some old guy wearing red flannel, John Deere green, and bald…I’d be clear on the other side of the room.  Don’t confuse the world marching around with your twin!

G. Son- And you thought the film began in Manitoba?

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G. Father-  Yeah, it was some sort of colony off on the highway.  Where they were all short people with curly hair.  And their town got sacked.

G. Son- When?

G. Father- Probably when I went to the washroom.  It was a long movie and I had a lot of fluids.

G. Son- It didn’t get sacked.  It’s fine.  Nothing happened to the Shire, which is what it’s called.  It’s not Manitoba.  It’s where the Hobbits lived.

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G. Father- Well, that’s good.  (Empirically snorts)  I liked those people.  I was feeling bad that they all had to die.   (Looks up to Heaven)  Why didn’t they go back to this Shire?  Why did they quit, right when the Supermodel in the Horse saved them?

G. Son- They have to destroy the ring.

G. Father- But they didn’t.  They got attacked on the beach and ran to everywhere else but the Shire.  They should have gone home.  The film ends with them still having the ring, which-I might add-makes it a very sad film!

G. Son- There are two more films!

G. Father- Oh, so in those films they meet the Lords of the Rings and destroy the thing.

G. Son- Kind of.  They destroy the ring, but they don’t meet any of the Lords.

G. Father- Why not?  That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?   The movie is named after them!  You mean, they never meet the Lords of the Rings?

G. Son- There’s just one Lord and they don’t meet him or her.

G. Father- Why not?  That’s false advertising!   Have their name in the picture and, in all six films, they never meet the Lord of the Rings!  Plus, there’s only one ring!  Did the Lord lose all of the other rings?   When do we see those rings?   Probably they same time we see the Lord, which doesn’t happen.

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G. Son- The Rings and the Lords existed before the movies began.   They either died, moved on, or because Ringwraiths.

G. Father- So all of the main characters of this film were alive, well, and playing Crib BEFORE this movie began.  (Cosmic Incredulity) What’s the point?  If I see the movie “Superman” and find out he isn’t in it, will not be in it, and only existed before the movie began would be a rip-off.

G. Son- That problem isn’t in “The Hobbit”.

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G. Father- Good.  I’m glad someone listened to some feedback.   The Hobbit is in “The Hobbit”?   (The Grandson reassuringly smiles and nods at his Grandfather, de-escalating the conflict.)    The rest of the films are about what?  Hiking somewhere to get rid of a ring?

G. Son- Yes.

G. Father- And the world will be a better place because of this hike?

G. Son- Yes, Grandfather.

G. Father- Okay, then.  Put another film in.  Let’s give ‘er a rip.

(End scene)