Monday, December 26, 2011

The lesser of two.


One of my personal favourites is the image of a cigarette in arced profile, flaccid and droopy, with the tip shriveled in ash. The caption is hardly necessary: “Tobacco use can make you impotent.”

Thank-you, Health Canada. The ol’ “Smoking Kills” was simple and to-the-point but strangely less effective.

Readers of this blog hardly need such a crass warning. We’re intelligent adults. We think with our heads. We know. Inhaling the airborne effluent of smouldering tobacco is unhealthy. We shouldn’t do it. Enough said.

But what about television? Hardly anything is said anymore about the healthiness of T.V.

Kurt Vonnegut is one exception: “Future generations will look back on TV as the lead in the water pipes that slowly drove the Romans mad.”

Did ancient Romans solder their plumbing with lead? I don’t know. I missed that episode on the History Channel. But it would be a pretty dumb thing to do. Lead is very unhealthy.

Kurt figures television is like lead-laced drinking water. It make us ‘mad,’ foggy-thinking political pushovers. Is he right? Does a steady diet of passive entertainment tapped and swallowed in the comfort of our own homes somehow reduce the strength and character of our culture?

In the past week, Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel have both died from decades of tobacco use.  Here a morbid question presents itself: What if instead of smoking they had watched T.V.? A straight trade, time spent sucking on a tube of tobacco for time spent staring at a tube of boob. For one, they would almost certainly still be alive. But how alive? And alive as whom?

Kim Jong Il also died a few days ago. Notoriously little is known about the secretive dictator. But we do know that he once kidnapped and held hostage a movie Director for the purpose of creating one of the few gifts that he gave to his masses.

Whatever else can be said of Havel and Hitch, neither was a pushover or a passive thinker. And it’s no secret that the deceased Supreme Leader was a manipulative despot.

Just a quick skim of recent obituaries, and of the two evils, television is looking the worse from where I sit.

We all know that tobacco is unhealthy. We know it so well that we have sent smokers hovelling to the margins of our vocational and social lives. The only thing our culture knows with equal measure about T.V. is that it is mysteriously integral to our fragile economy and unimpeachable in our most intimate spaces.

We approvingly endure the mini infomercials before our videos because they assure us it’s the tobacco companies that are trying to make a life-sucking habit look acceptable. The tacit message: The Entertainment industry (good guys) will helpfully identify the bad guys (peddlers of harmful addictive stimulants).

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, true, since T.V. can’t “kill” us in the simple sense. But a refrain from an Adbusters culture-jam comes to mind: “Do you spend more time watching sex on T.V. than actually making love?”

Maybe Health Canada should expand its campaign.

Television may not make life shorter, but there’s a good chance it’ll make it smaller.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Creepy


Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”



Sometimes people admire me even though they don’t know anything about me. This always creeps me out. The person they admire is of course someone entirely different from me and in fact someone entirely different from anyone who actually exists. On days when I’m in a gracious mood I can chalk this up as a vocational hazard. On the days when I’m feeling especially unlike the imaginary spiritual action figure in question, patience comes less easily. The latter kind of days have been more common recently so I've been finding myself eager to drop an F-bomb or pick up a cigar or lay down some smack, just to etch an exclamation mark behind what I’d really like to say: Foo. Dat. Idol.

Several Greek Church Fathers, a few scholastic monks and a handful of retro-hip modern theologians all say that you and I are like the Trinity in at least one very important way: We have our ‘being in relation.’ By that I think they mean that we don’t first exist all cozy and complete and then go around making incidental relationships. No, they say, that would be backward. Instead, our lives are meant to be something closer to the other way round: We find, discover and receive our identities from others in the throes of our relationships with them. Identity is not the nugget inside, the island, the ‘substance’ beneath it all. Identity is the gift our friends and family inject into our spiritual bloodstream by acknowledging us as the person we are becoming. This is  true of whatever weekly jousts we might have with the gas-station attendant and of however we might know the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

In other words, I’m not me unless everyone who knows me keeps knowing me as the person we are collectively creating.

But let’s bring this back from brink of deep-thought gibberish: We are whoever the people we love allow us to be.

And yah, that’s loaded. What if we’re lousy at love? I’ve heard that’s common. Or what if the people we manage to love are occasionally grabby, selfish dinks? Also common, I’ve heard. Or, now back to the point, what if some of the people in our lives ‘know’ us as someone we really aren’t?

I’ve been a dad for twelve years now. And each of those twelve years is filled with twelve months of four weeks where most days I respect my own parents more. They were the first to acknowledge me as the person I am becoming today, and somewhere in those early years I was given a sense that I don’t need to pretend to be anyone else. I have no idea how that worked except that it likely had something to do with courage and trust and their uncanny ability to allow me to make my own mistakes.

It would be a mistake to accept my identity from people who don’t really know me.

And it’s no mistake that ‘know’ can be a euphemism for love.

Those who do know/love me know that although I might have a weakness for cigars, I don’t ‘lay down smack,’ can’t cuss without sounding dumb and am nowhere near as impressive as the idealized mirage of a spiritual hero that some people want me to be. On my good days I’m okay disappointing the confused caravan of some people. They’ll have to get over it. It would be good for them to get over it. On the more common days, the days when there are more mirage seekers than grace givers, I can almost hear my soul crack in the baking sun of false admiration. Ack. Blech. Gasp.

On those days it’s up to the frazzled shards of my childhood faith to creep and crawl back from the pounding hooves. Let the caravan pass. 

And let me find again the soothing shade of God’s Grandeur.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Big Tent. Big Kicks. Big Mess.

I live in a town where most people are plainly not interested in Jesus. There are many possible reasons for this disinterest but one in particular comes to mind today: Christians. My hunch – and ‘hunch’ is putting it mildly – my hunch is that people don’t bother with Christ because they are already bothered by Christians.

The immanent second coming of the ‘Jesus Christ is Lord Gospel Tent Rally’ is a case in point. If the nature of their last visit is any indication, the purpose of this event will be to ‘share’ Jesus by blaring religious clichés at excruciating decibels from a pop-up tent on the lawn at the Community Centre.

A week ago signs appeared in Pemberton advertising something variously described as a “Tent Rally,” a “Revival,” a “Gospel Meeting,” or in one ominously vague, less-is-more case, simply as "Jesus." 




No-doubt in a calculated effort to be relevant within the current economic context, the signage imbibed a distinctly frugal tone. Clearly intended for re-use, the plastic-board signs all followed a simple pattern: Stenciled in large, bright letters across the top were the various titles about Jesus etc. while the bottom halves were reserved for pasted sheets of paper with event-specific details. Within a day or two the weather had wrinkled the paper and made the ink bleed, but a determined observer could still discern info about location, dates and times.



Within a week the signs had been significantly modified. It was curious at first. Had the organizers suddenly adjusted their plans? Was this some kind of newfangled marketing stunt? The careful but rushed style of the emendations matched the original design, but the content was considerably different, and strange.


Eventually we got it: This had been a rogue re-branding campaign and Chuck Norris was the aptly chosen figurehead. Well-played Pemberton. And leaving the original papers unedited was a nice touch too. The scene comes easily to mind: Swarms of aggression addicts amped for big kicks and fast punches arrive to a very different kind of show, filled instead with guilt trips and judgment jabs.


I have only one qualm with the signs, in either form. Slight variations aside, there is a consistent and conspicuous omission on every one. Standard event advertising includes basic contact information. But on these, there was none. No phone number, no website or email address, not even an organization name to Google.

Maybe they were in a hurry and this was just a clerical oversight.

Or maybe this was an unintentional way of providing one more very relevant piece of information: We will do the talking. You will do the listening.

But here’s the thing: Unilateral communication is kind of like a Chuck Norris punch in the face, its not really “co-mmunication,” it’s a contradiction in terms.


If I were a vegetarian [this is a hypothetical scenario for rhetorical purposes only] and you graciously wanted to ‘share’ your bacon-wrapped tenderloin with me, I would need an opportunity to explain my culinary convictions to you. But if as I opened my mouth to do so, you mistake my gaping jaws for an invitation to jam a juicy morsel down the hatch, we have a problem.

In Pemberton, we have this problem. Enter Chuck Norris.


When we presume someone wants what we are willing to give – even if we genuinely feel really, really generous about it – it’s not ‘sharing,’ it’s just presuming. And when presumption like that takes action, people get ticked-off, things get screwed-up and, as in this case, big nasty stereotypes rise again.

Maybe I’m overreacting here. So what if the last time this revival preacher arrived in Pemberton it marked the seventh all-time-history appearance of a three-piece suit in this town? Honest mistake. We all overdress from time to time. Some of us just happen to overdress especially flamboyantly, that’s all. And, let me assure you, it is far beneath me to judge a man by his clothes. Or by his gold jewelry. Or his Mercedes.

I might be able to appreciate that in some churches a preacher should appear, sound and behave in ways different than mine. I might be able to appreciate that.

Not sure.

What I am sure about is that most people in this town see the bling and hear the racket and immediately take several giant steps backward. The less inhibited and more jovial might pick up some paint and a Sharpie to conjure the help of a fast-fisted hero, but the majority will give the spectacle a passing glance then chalk it up as yet another entry on their own personal list of reasons for dismissing Christianity. And - this ought not need be said - when people dismiss Christianity, they usually dismiss Jesus right along with it.

The people of Pemberton are, presently or potentially, my friends. So if you come here and yell at them for a couple days, I am likely to get miffed. But if you come here and yell at them for a couple days in Jesus’ name, ‘miffed’ no longer captures it. 

Here’s a surprise: Even fully miffed, I’m no Chuck Norris. But let me put this in a way that doesn’t pull any punches: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ – Amen! I believe it! And I also believe that a ‘Gospel Tent Rally’ of the sort we saw in Pemberton last Fall is just about the worst possible way to make that statement in this town.

To Whoever-You-Are: Would you please contact me to discuss your plans for Christian outreach in Pemberton?

Also: If you haven’t disposed of it yet, I’d sure like that one about the grilled cheese as a souvenir.


Cordially,
Paul Cumin

paul@crux.ca
604.905.9404



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prolepsis

Within one 24-hour stretch
last week, I sat in the dark
with a young man
who thought death looked pretty good,
and stood in the lights
of an Emergency Room
with a middle-aged one
who desperately wanted to live.

The day after, I had arrived
late into a large, carpeted church-room
stuffed with well-tucked presentation
and half-embraced deep thought.

Then yesterday, walking
with the big hand of my young son
happily inside mine,
I stepped past a polite homeless man.

At that moment driving by
another stranger,
Plain for those with eyes to see
that his metallic-beige SUV
was not financed
but paid in full,
It was perfectly temperate
yesterday, but his gold-tinted
windows tightly sealed,
And his clean, buttoned collar
reaching up his neck to match
the empty grip
on his face.

That moment passed,
But it has also not passed.

Nor have the others,
The dark, the lights, the room,
the hand and the strangers,
All of them linger heavy
and wait for reconciliation.

So am I, Waiting,
Expectant and leaning
forward with these
and other such thoughts
for longer than I care to recall.

Usually, I don’t
Care or recall
Usually I forget to anticipate,
stranded on the moment
beneath my feet.

Maybe forgetfulness is a mercy?
Otherwise life gets too full,
The bulk tumbles out into the darkness
or bleeds-out under the lights,
When the cup runneth over
it stains the carpet
and slips through the fingers.

Or maybe it should pile up
The cumbersome abundance
from time to time,
Lest all of life’s moments succumb
to the unconstrained present
without a stop
for the remembering that becomes anticipation.

Then, deadpan,
we glide right past it.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Friday called Good.


For those of us unversed in the rambling routes between Olde English and modern, the held-over label for today – “Good” Friday – must seem a tad odd. As it happened, it was in fact a bad Friday.
For Jesus’ disciples it certainly was. A very bad Friday.
Jesus didn’t die peacefully in his sleep at the Jerusalem Home for Retired Prophets. His life ended violently and publicly in a prolonged and deliberately brutal execution. Russel Saltzman: “This is the final meaning of crucifixion: repudiation of a way of life so complete as to be a caution to anyone foolish enough to try it for themselves.”
So what were a rag-tag band of holy fools to think? Here’s their Lord, teacher, friend, Master; hung-up to die between two criminals. Shamefully, helplessly, bleeding and suffocating; in the kind of pain that defies explanation. What’s ‘good’ about that?
On that Friday which we call ‘good’ it would appear that God, the one this dying man so shockingly called ‘Father,’ was either just a dream or as good as dead himself.
And for those standing around watching, that is exactly the conclusion to which Jesus himself seemed to have come: Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?
Had God forsaken this moral genius? What’s ‘good’ about that? What ‘good’ is a God who abandons such a man?
Such a God is no good at all. Or no God at all.
Elie Wiesel recounts a day in Auschwitz when an extra piece of stale bread was stolen. The man in charge decided to ask the offending prisoner to confess. As an alternative, and as some incentive, he threatened to kill six prisoners if no one stepped forward. A man confessed. He was hung. And to reinforce his point, the man in charge had the six other prisoners hung too. One of these prisoners was a child so light that his own body weight was insufficient to collapse his throat in the noose. He hung for five, ten, fifteen and twenty minutes – while the inmates were forced to watch him – gasping and dying.
“Behind me, I heard a man asking: 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He?' Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows.”
This could have been the disciples remark on that first ‘good’ Friday. Jaded and redundant: Where is God now? One look at this sight and the conclusion is obvious: God is dead. Or as good as dead anyway.
If all that sounds too much like sacrilege, it should. On a day when it would seem the universe had finally dropped the veil from its morbid face, what’s the point of religion? On such a Friday, either God is not worthy of our religious effort, or there isn’t a God to waste the effort on.
As far as most of our world is concerned, Jesus is dead. And though there is much goodness in life, if death wins then ultimately it is all swallowed by a total, endless, eclipse. Like a day that never ends, with a night that never comes. No Holy Saturday; no Easter Sunday. Only the sustained darkness that covered the earth on the day that Jesus died: Empty, meaningless, void.
Friedrich Nietzsche: “Where has God gone? … I shall tell you. We have killed him. … Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? … Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?”
There is a word for ‘perpetually falling’ and ‘straying through an infinite nothing,’ for ‘the breath of empty space’ and ‘becoming gods ourselves.’ It is a small word, often peppered like punctuation through trivial babble: Oh, what the Hell?
The Friday Jesus died – the one we call ‘good’ – was Hell on earth. Everything backward, twisted, in-bent, dark and desolate was above ground and on display that day. It was on earth between the two hands nailed to some wood stood-up on a mound on the outskirts of town. Piled on him without mercy, until there was no backwardness left, anywhere else.
For those six hours, it was all there. Condensed and firmly in place, on him.
When I think of how that might look, I can’t even picture it. But still, I tremble. Hollow. Aching. Nausea. My God, my God… why have you not forsaken us?
Where is God now? He is there on the gallows. Right there. With all of the worst and not-good-enough we’ve ever done.
Where is God now? He is there on the gallows. And we have killed him.
If that is true – and, God help me, I believe it is – then everything is on the table. Everything hangs on whatever comes of this day.
Evil – ‘the Man in charge’ – he thinks he’s made his point: Put-down the mutiny of hope. Finished it, finally and for good, on that Friday.
As it happened, that would make it about the worst possible day imaginable.
But – as with all Fridays so far – a Saturday followed it. 
And after that?
… Sunday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pemberton Revelations.

Somewhere in the second half of the first century, John of Patmos heard from the risen Jesus in some of the most graphic and powerful images the Church has ever been given.

Stuck alone on an Island for God only knows how long, John received a vision that has struck more fear, more bewilderment and more sheer awe into the hearts of the faithful than any other book in the New Testament. 

Although some of us cannot resist adding an ‘s’ to it’s end, the book is called “Revelation,” and it is indeed packed with that. One of the most revealing of its parts comes early, in the second and third chapters, where Jesus speaks directly to specific churches of the day. Seven local bodies get his special attention – words of correction, challenge and comfort from the Head himself.

Along with three other pastors in the Province, I have been invited by the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren to write a letter in the style of Revelation 2-3 to my own church. These letters will be read at our annual convention later this month as a creative effort to hear from God and better understand what he is doing in B.C.

I have stuck pretty close to the style of the addresses in Revelation. I’m not trying to sound especially prophetic or dramatic with this, I’m just trying to allow the Biblical model to shape my own prayerful imagination about our church. As ever, I’d be very grateful for your responses and comments.



To the angel of the church in Pemberton write, These are the word of the One who strides across peaks and whose Spirit rolls through valleys:

By some standards you are small, but by mine you are large. You have held the course through difficult terrain and have become stronger. You welcome the stranger and embrace the newcomer. I am with you. And I am pleased with you. Remain faithful to me and I will remain faithful to you.

There are, however, two things I hold against you:

I hear what you are saying but I also see what you have refused to do. You sing and preach and pray with your mouths but your feet and hands are too quiet. I love those you do not notice and I look quickly past the things that hold your gaze. You borrow against my plans for your tomorrows to fill your homes today. The false fullness has shrunk your souls and the excess has made you heavier and slower than you realize. Now comfort and ease stalk you like confident predators. I advise you to re-evaluate.

Do not let your faith land short of the target. The Bible is my gift to you for knowing me, be sure that it does not become an idol that distracts you from its purpose. Misplaced zeal is worse than none at all. I am the One Who Saves you! This is also true for those who trust in a nameless ‘God.’ Do not mistake a puddle on the path for the Ocean at the end of it. You have pitched your chairs too soon. I am the Way. Get up! and continue the journey.

If this is something the Spirit is also saying to your church, then you should listen to it too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Top Ten Signs You Should’ve Given up Social Networking for Lent

  1. You think ‘news feed’ is a legitimate source of news and you spend more time reading it than actually feeding yourself.
  2. You use your cell-phone to ‘check-in’ so often that you’ve forgotten it’s also a telephone.
  3. You think ‘send friend request’ is a great way to meet new people.
  4. You wonder about how to follow Jesus if he’s not on Twitter and doesn’t blog.
  5. [#5 has been removed at the request of readers to allow a moment to check facebook. This list will resume at #6 momentarily]
  6. You update your status more often than you empty your bowel and you think your cell-phone is ‘smart’ because it allows you to do both at once.
  7. You used to workout, now you just Photoshop your profile pic.
  8. You think ‘unlike’ is an unspeakably severe form of condemnation: ‘God loves the sinner but unlikes the sin.
  9. You can’t even imagine going forty days without online social networking. Right now the thought is making you irritable, nauseous, clammy, and defensive. You just impulsively quit reading this to accept a friend request from a complete stranger.
  10. This list has made you decide to ‘unfriend’ me for posting it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wrench Conversion: A True Fable of Canadian Grit.

“The essential ingredient of politics is timing.”
- Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau 

In the history of educational controversy in Canada, surely the hottest was the eruption forty years ago over how to train auto-mechanics. The trouble began in 1970 when the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced legislation to convert Canada to Metric.

At the time many mechanics insisted that Canadians should stick with measuring things in Imperial, arguing that it was already established and was anyway perfectly sufficient for getting the job done. Others said if Metric was good enough for France and the rest of the planet, then maybe we should give it a shot.

Both sides proceeded on a similar premise: The weaker system would eventually be assimilated by the greater. Predictably, the proponents of both Metric and Imperial imagined themselves the ultimate victors. Entrenchment ensued with interested parties forming opposing schools of thought until, ironically, it was our Mechanical Colleges that got caught in the middle. Some opted to train young apprentices with government-sanctioned Metric tools, and others stuck to their Imperialist roots. A rare few tried to train would-be mechanics in both tool-sets, bringing into being what was then a bold new educational program: Wrench Conversion.

Although Wrench Conversion (WC) was a small and entirely optional program, it was seen by some at the time as ominously unorthodox, and so it met with resistance. 

Certain elements of teaching theory in the early 1970s suggested that punishing a child for throwing pinecones at recess by making him wear “the bad hat” and go without lunch while sitting on a stool facing the corner with the sound of his friends snickering behind him (even though he didn’t start it, and even though everyone else on the playground was throwing pinecones too, and even though this child was only singled-out because he happened to be two feet (0.61m) taller than his peers) – certain elements of teaching theory in the early 19070s deemed this perfectly acceptable. Other elements of teaching theory in the early 1970s suggested that streaming some mechanics out to learn both Metric and Imperial would compromise the quality of training in the single-track shops.

There is no connection whatsoever between these two teaching theories. Except that they were both teaching theories.

The pinecone throwing punishment technique was not found to be especially relevant to the mounting controversy over WC. But the ‘anti-streaming’ idea, it caught-on and eventually lead to the now-famous whisper-campaign jingle: Isn’t Wrench Conversion elitist?

Plus – it was eventually pointed-out – Wrench Conversion was kinda hard. The sheer persuasive power of this argument stood unchallenged for almost twenty minutes. Then an anonymous father-figure in the back of the room stood up and barked, “Difficulty – bah! – builds character.” With the brilliance of that insight as a guiding light, the appeal of Wrench Conversion shone brightly and inspired proponents to form the Canadian Association of Mechanics For Wrench Conversion (CAMFWC).

The CAMFWC worked tirelessly for years until, with their cause almost realized, a loosely organized band of Journeymen-Instructors entered the fray. These Instructors spoke passionately about the way their colleges were already brimming with diversity, and about how increasing it yet further with “Wrench Conversion” would certainly upset the already tipsy cultural melting pot. Too sheepish to confront these large people directly, some of those in favour of Wrench Conversion resorted to posting thinly-veiled polemical allegories in obscure corners of the internet. (This was possible because in 1974 the Canadian auto-mechanic community had been given high-level security access to early CIA prototypes of the internet for testing purposes.)

Eventually the situation escalated to the point where the Federal Minister for Tools and Rural Affairs had to intervene. At a special joint task force meeting between the Canadian Auto Workers’ Teachers’ Union of Canada and the National Board for Increment Equality the minister introduced his policy paper: “Conversion de clé: Est la moitié de la classe plein ou à moitié vide?” (trans: “Wrench Conversion: Is the class half full or half empty?”)

Unfortunately, only the title of the Minister’s paper was ever translated and so most of the country was unable to benefit from whatever he said.

Forty years after the boiling point of the most heated controversy in Canadian educational history, one thing hasn’t changed: Take a peek at the gleaming nuggets of chrome inside the toolbox of any mechanic worth the grease under his fingernails and you’ll see two sets of sockets. Inspect that towering chest-of-drawers further and you will also discover dual sets of wrenches, spanners and sundry other twisty-tools. Four decades have passed but amazingly these differences remain. Distinct yet deeply complimentary, Imperial and Metric are no longer seen as ‘alternative’ sets of tools but have somehow become a single, collective way of being a well-trained, well-tooled Canadian mechanic.

And so, as it turns out, the mechanics best prepared for how their trade actually works today are those who faced the challenge of being trained in both sets of tools. As it also turns out, even those who were not specifically trained in Wrench Conversion but who attended Colleges that included it as an option, they became better mechanics too. Apparently the fact that their training was not earned within an artificially simplified college culture helped prepare them for the less than ideal conditions of real repair shops.

No one would deny the fact that the automotive industry would be easier to deal with if all our nuts were spun the same way. Who amoung us hasn’t wedged ourselves underneath a ’91 Dodge Ram with a 13mm wrench only to find a 9/16” drain-plug? Sure, a person could just strip that bolt-head into a perfect circle out of brute stubbornness. But a person could also wiggle back out of the situation, stride calmly over to the work-bench, find the right tool for the job and return to the source of the dilemma equipped to face it. After all that – and with a faint smile and a sense of true Canadian grit – such a person would then be ready to get right back to work. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Young Life Ski-a-thon: Sponsor Me Here.

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

Young Life in Pemberton is an unqualifiedly great thing. I'd like to support them by riding laps on Blackcomb on Saturday. 

There will be Advil. But it needn't be like that for you. Just use the 'comment' feature to sponsor me and I'll take it from there.

This is legit. Here's a quote from the pledge form provided by YoungLife:

"I am participating in the Pemberton Young Life Ski (SNOWBOARD)-A-Thon. All proceeds will help fund the planning and operating budget. You can sponsor me for an amount per lap and can name a maximum amount that you are willing to contribute. After the ski-a-thon, I will return to tell you how many laps I ski and collect your contribution. Make checks to Pemberton Young Life. All contributions are tax-deductible."

"Comment" below with your pledge. Any pledge of $5/lap or more will receive dramatic 'before and after' photos, possibly X-Ray.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Me Man. Me like poem.


In a town where a man is measured by the height of his truck and the length of his snowmobile track, poetry features right up there with butterfly tattoos and simultaneous lavatory visits on the list of male faux pas.

Come to think of it, the use of French phrases like “fox pass” is likely also on that list. But I digress.

In the spit and fart of rural Canadian maledom, poetry does not register. At least not formally. But lean in close to your computer screen and I’ll whisper a secret: The rough and quiet bushmen in your life are poets.

They’re poets who just don’t know-its. (Exhibit ‘A’)

Ask these guys about what compels them to get up at 4:30 to stalk a buck, look what happens in their eyes when they re-tell turns on the South face of Mt. Such-n-such, listen to one of them struggle to describe a quiet moment with his young daughter, or fumble to explain why he risked personal injury for the sake of the neighbour’s cattle last time the river jumped the dyke. You will almost certainly not hear poetry. But if you’re leaning in close enough you’ll smell the breath of a poet, you might almost hear the thumping heart of one, and if you’re poetically open yourself, you very likely will be handed – plainly and without pretense – a little piece of the intangible.

Truth is, there are certain subjects that simply exceed the capacity, the payload, the GVRW of ‘normal’ ways of speaking. When we aim at these subjects, the targets are so beyond our regular range of thought that we need a heavier calibre. 

Sometimes poetry is just the right tool for the job.


An Embarrassment - by Wendell Berry

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft
thump.

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in a company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.


I have professional experience with dressed-up prayers that rise full of promise gracefully off the ground only to hover briefly, shift direction and then land with gentle disappointment. Albeit less – and less by far – I also have some knowledge of the scandalously intimate kind of prayer.

Keeping in mind that I have a large, loud truck, that I scratch frequently wherever and whenever it itches, and that I enthusiastically model many other established rural male stereotypes, I will offer some awkward honesty of my own: Whenever I’ve experienced the real, long-range, maximum-payload kind of prayer, I am not the dominant male with the party-stopping libido. I am the embarrassed wife swept into a quasi-erotic embrace. Straining against it, struggling for decorum, shocked, appalled; I am the weaker vessel at the mercy of the strong and determined grace of God.

So thank-you, Wendy, for the image. You nailed it. Macho never looked so un-macho. But don’t worry, we’ll keep the secret. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Christians and Yoga: Strike or pose?

“Yoga Schmoga.” So goes a window sticker on my buddy’s pick-up truck. I’ve always admired that sticker. In a town where Yoga is as close to being a state-endorsed religion as Christianity was on the eve of Constantine’s coronation, the casual flippancy of “Yoga Schmoga” has an attractive subversiveness to it.

And it’s meant to be funny too. This is important because humour suggests this Christian man has gauged his opinion of Yoga at least a few notches short of sheer panic alarm.

But let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t just fancy stretching. So what is it then? Isn’t Yoga spiritual?

And there it is. The question that haunts many a pious soul, right out there in the open with no bush to beat around.

That kind of frankness deserves an equally straightforward answer. Is Yoga spiritual? Yes. Of course it is.

And so is everything else.

Everything is spiritual. Of the many things worse than getting caught up in whatever ‘spiritual’ tangle there may or may not be to the Yoga nearby, one of the very worst would be thinking life, the world and everything can be divided neatly into bits that are spiritual and other bits that aren’t. As if there are issues and events that require religious consideration and others that somehow do not. This is about as close to the worst possible per-version of the Christian message that I can presently imagine.

Wendell Berry, an American poet, farmer and cultural crank traces the Christian version of this poison to the pulpit: “No wonder so many sermons are devoted exclusively to ‘spiritual’ subjects. If one is living by the tithes of history’s most destructive economy, then the disembodiment of the soul becomes the chief of worldly conveniences.”

If we are going to live whole and even remotely holy lives, we need to wrest the word from those inverted commas. ‘Spiritual’ means a lifestyle that requires more contortion than a Yogi attempting an upward facing peacock-crane.  But plain-ol’ everyday-spiritual means keeping our feet grounded and firmly in step with the namesake of this buzz-word.

Yes, [insert suspiciously religious activity here] is spiritual. But so is shopping for [insert suspiciously cheap consumer item here]. And so is eating [insert suspiciously tender meat or suspiciously flavourless fruit here].  Deny that and arrive at Berry’s ‘disembodied soul – destructive economy’ scenario. But if we are to take the Apostle’s advice seriously (Rom. 12.1) then all of life is charged-through with spiritual connections; from mundane and seemingly innocuous things like doing the laundry and changing the oil to glorious things like riding fresh snow and casting to rising trout.

The question then is not if something is spiritual but how. And before we even begin to answer that question we see that it will require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If Christian faith is as big as it claims to be then it includes complexities that resist reduction to binary alternatives. And that means, among other things, that there is space for a range of responses when we wonder about things like Yoga. Alarm and debate can be an appropriate position in some cases. But confident respect can be a healthy posture too. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sled Dogs Down: Mea Cullpa


“We’re going to give you a fair trial, followed by a first-class hanging.”
– Sheriff Cobb (Silverado, 1985).

By now most people in this corridor have already conducted their own little trials about the so-called ‘cull’ of 100ish sled dogs somewhere between Pembertopia and Whistneyland.  Although local reports initially refrained from using names, that modicum of discretion has since – excuse me – gone to the dogs.

I don’t know Bob Fawcett. But I like people who like him, and that gives me pretty good grounds for expecting him to be likable. It’s a bit early in my blogging career to rest an opening point on a cliché, but here goes: When it comes to people I don’t know, I’m a fan of a simple little nugget, “Any friend of X is a friend of mine.”

“AFXFM.”

Let’s note this is not AFXAI (‘any friend of X is always innocent’). Nor is it AFXNMM (‘any friend of X never makes mistakes’). None of my friends are always innocent and all of my friends make mistakes, often. And I’d guess that’s true of you and also true of all of your friends’ friends (and I hope we’re all following the circle in that logic).

All “AFXFM” really means is that although a person may technically be a stranger to me, I will nevertheless begin relating to him or her with a measure of grace and respect similar to the amount I extend to a well-known friend.

Friend. “F” is the operative letter in this awkward acronym. Friend is the crux in this cliché.

A friend snaps us out of ourselves, shattering our own incessant self-regard. A friend wakes us up so that if even for a brief moment, we are free to live outward, for this other. Friendship, at its best and most basic, is an intangible impulse, a spiritual instinct that whispers and sometimes screams: In order to really live we must somehow love others as we love ourselves.

So the little nugget has led us to the mother lode: Let’s treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves. This is not a new vein, and everyone seems to have mined it at some point or other. But getting the gold into our hot little hands is only half the task. If I’m going to take real stock in this most valuable of commodities then I need to admit the possibility that I have and will again make a mistake, that I am not now nor have I ever been completely innocent.

When I make a mistake, I like to be treated fairly. When I am found guilty, I like to be treated justly. Sure, if I am guilty of a really big mistake then impending justice would be intimidating and even frightening. But enter Golden Rule: If I ever find myself in such a situation then I’d at the very least like to know that justice will be served and not the appetite of an angry mob.



Friday, February 4, 2011

Blog Start: Isaiah 58


 1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. 
   Raise your voice like a trumpet. 
Declare to my people their rebellion 
   and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 
2 For day after day they seek me out; 
   they seem eager to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that does what is right 
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God. 
They ask me for just decisions 
   and seem eager for God to come near them. 
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, 
   ‘and you have not seen it? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, 
   and you have not noticed?’
   “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the LORD?
 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
 13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
   and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
   and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
   and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
   and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
   and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.