Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sam, we hardly knew ya…

Sam's is CLOSING!

I guess it was inevitable, given that most folks buy music online. But, wow. This is the end of an era. I used to make trips to Toronto just to buy records (then CDs).

Good-bye, eh, to a Canadian institution.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pompous and Anal

I’m cataloging the books I’m reading this year. I know how pompous and anal that sounds. So, I’m pompous and anal. Shoot me.

Some say that reading is going the way of the Betamax. Some days, heck MOST days, I agree. Grammar and coherent thoughts are in shorter supply than hamburgers at a Hindu Temple. Not that I want everyone to talk like Rex Murphy (I don’t even want Rex Murphy to talk like Rex Murphy).

But talking to some folks and reading some blogs, the English is so bad that I’m wondering if some teachers should start taking out malpractice insurance.

Other folks I encounter BRAG about how much they don’t read. I call this the George W Bush (or Don Cherry) Syndrome. Sadly, many of my fellow preachers crow about not reading a book since seminary. “I don’t need all that book learnin,’ I’m too busy doin’ stuff.”

Donna Karlin, in a Fast Company article says,

“I maintain that those who can read and don’t are functional illiterates; don’t as in never, by choice, not sporadically as time allows. There’s a difference. There is so much richness to books, all literature in various forms, that our world would be very mundane without the concepts, mental images and perspectives that come out of books of any kind.”

Tim Sanders is much more direct, “Knowledge…is consequential. Knowledge currency is social currency on steroids. Thus it is value currency,” (Love is the Killer App, p.67).

Of course, reading is a big part of my job. I don’t just pull sermons out of my pocket. I like to get a variety of perspectives on the bible reading before I sit down to write my Sunday diatribe.

But also, I hope that my sermons are an intersection – or dare I say collision - between the bible, the lives my congregation lead, and the world around us. I try to paint with broad strokes but also use thin brushes to colour in the details.

Most books I read are not church books, but business books. I find many business books are the best sources of cultural criticism because it’s in business peoples’ best (read: financial) interest to understand how the world works.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Overheard in the bathroom

“THAT’S SO COOL!” - Our three-year-old daughter after discovering her dad can pee standing up.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sermon: Easter 7 - Year C

Last Saturday’s Globe and Mail had their yearly “Top 40 under 40” and, once again, I couldn’t find my name on the list. The Globe says that they get a cross section of people from every field of human endeavor, but 38 out of 40 of these people came from the realms of big money. Not that money, on its own, is a bad thing. But the criteria for being the best of their generation seemed to be their ability to amass great amounts of it.

Maybe I’ve got the wrong gig. If moments of glory come from vast sums of cash then I better get used to picking up the scraps of well-heeled entrepreneurs or powerful executives. They are the ones - we are told - who shine with glory.

Don’t you just lust after that kind of glory? Don’t you daydream about it? Wish for it? Maybe even...(the whole thing here)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Farewell to Falwell

So, Jerry Falwell has died. He was probably the most polarizing religious figure in the last half of the 20th century. Reading peoples' reactions to him is a surreal experience. No one wants to jump with the glee at the thought of not having to hear his lunatic ravings anymore, but neither do folks want to let him off the hook for the crazy things he said over the years.

John Ibbitson, in his prose typical of media folks who don’t know how to talk about religion, says that there is no real successor to Falwell. He calls Falwell an “anachronism,” which, according to downtown Toronto standards, may be true.

But while the Big Man has died, religious conservatism is still alive and doing quite well. Despite GWB’s wonderfully low poll numbers, and that the Democrats took back both houses of Congress last November, the Religious Right is not on the decline. This is a liberal fantasy that will bite them in the socio-electoral butt.

While folks like Rick Warren don’t have the fixation on abortion and homosexuality the way older evangelicals have, these are still issues for many rank-and-file evangelicals. They haven’t replaced a “pro-family” agenda with an environmental and economic one. They see issues of personal morality as intertwined with social justice concerns.

A new discussion is happening among Christians. One that’s less partisan but no less passionate. American Christian conservatives feel culturally at home in the GOP. But they are less interested in partisan gain than their grandparents’ generation – symbolized by folks like Falwell.

Evangelical Christians will form the base of the GOP the same way that greenies support the Dems. In 2006, the conservative Christians didn’t vote Democrat. They simply stayed home.

Update: John Stackhouse on Falwell's life and death.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Sell expensive buildings, focus on mission work" - Kevin Little

My friend Kevin Little offers some provocative advice:

THE WORD of the day in our mainline Christian denominations seems to be decline. Whether it is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax, the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. or my own Maritime Conference of the United Church, the dominant challenges we face are declining attendance and large, expensive buildings.

Look for more of what we saw in the news last week, long-time members expressing heartache over the possibility of their buildings being closed.

This past month, I read two books that spoke to this issue. One is titled Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, a very recent survey of mainline Protestant churches that are growing in spite of all the social factors lined up against them. The other was written a few years ago and is titled The Rise of Christianity, which answers the question: How did an underground Jesus movement that met secretly in members’ homes become the dominant religion we know as Christianity? (whole thing here)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A dog or security system?

Around noon yesterday, someone kicked the door in to the neighbour’s house across the street from where we live. Then they ransacked the place. Upstairs, the newly-wed couple lost all their new stuff – loot from their wedding day. A DVD player, waffle iron, stereo. But they left the jewelry that was sitting on a table in their living room.

The student in the basement got her apartment trashed. But she was philosophical about it, “Better me with nothing then someone with kids.”

What a great attitude.

But now we’re replacing the lock to our garage and my wife is musing about installing a security system. I’d rather get a dog. A big, mean looking beast that drools on my kids, but makes everyone else fill their pants.

Maybe one of these guys. What do you think?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Best Friends

Wonderful clips from Boston Legal. I think this is one of the best friendships on TV.

The morning after...

Scott Williams nails it:

we [clergy] also complained about the people in our churches. they were incessantly lazy and under committed. their priorities were wrong. they weren’t serious about the kingdom of god. they were basically lousy Christians. i’ve come to realize that i need to ask forgiveness for those comments and thoughts. i realize now that those of us in that room were not as in touch with the real world as we truly believed we were. we were paid to study, to coffee, to talk. we were paid to go to the board meetings, no one else was. people were not under-committed, they were over committed. they were not lazy, they were harried. it wasn’t that their priorities were necessarily wrong; it might have been that we had completely unrealistic expectations. life is nuts. (The whole thing here)

This is why I NEVER whine about my schedule. I NEVER badmouth my congregation; a lesson I learned from my intern supervisor, a very wise and effective pastor.

It makes me crazy when I hear my colleagues grumble about their congregations. Most churches are filled with hard working, faithful believers who are trying to do the best they can with limited resources but huge commitments.

This past weekend our congregation celebrated it’s 50th anniversary of ministry and mission to the people of Lethbridge. The whole event confirmed my view that people in our churches will give until they drop if they believe in a cause deeply enough.

The work that went into planning the weekend, much less making it happen. The hall, the worship, the history book, the banner, everything was done with love, joy, and excellence. All I had to do was show up. The committee did everything else.

It reaffirmed for me that I serve the best congregation ever.

When I was in the seminary, I was the typical sanctimonious seminarian. I saw the congregation as lazy, uninterested, goons, who were more interested in getting rich than furthering God’s kingdom.

Then I went on internship and had to confront my prejudices. My internship was a .life changing experience. The folks were faithful, hard working, and very patient. They gently guided me to a newer, and fuller understanding of what God wants the church to be.

I learned that God wants fewer heroes and more disciples, more graciousness and less sanctimony, greater love and care and less judgment.

Funny. When the scales fell from my eyes I began to see most churches like this. It’s amazing what happens when self-centredness and arrogance are washed away. Life in the church begins to look a whole lot different.
I’ve been fighting this nasty cold that my daughter brought home from school. The fire in my throat is quickly becoming a great apologetic for home schooling.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rainy Day Thoughts

It’s finally raining here in Lethbridge. Good thing, too, since my wife bought a rain barrel yesterday afternoon. Hey, free water. It might take a few months for it to pay for itself, but it will somewhere down the line.

Cold, grey, rainy…can it get any better than that? I’m serious. There’s something about the damp weather that brings out my inner guru. I write more quickly. I read more deeply. And I daydream more vividly.

Maybe I’m Irish at heart. Or maybe I should move to Vancouver. But I know that my wife finds the perpetual rain soul-crushing, akin to six months of darkness in the far north. Even if folks on west-coast brag about wearing shorts in February while we out here in chilly Alberta are defrosting our mukluks.

Perhaps the clouds make the universe seem smaller, less daunting; and myself, larger and less insignificant.

I could say something pious, like water reminds me of baptism, and I remember with thanksgiving what Jesus did for me and for the world. I could say that, but I think Jesus chokes on saccharine piety, preferring the real thing over the imitation.

I do know that I breathe a heavy sigh of relief every time the sky clouds over. After watching An Inconvenient Truth, I break out in hives every time the temperature turns red.

I live in the centre of the climate-change denying universe. Most people I encounter who deny climate change usually have an economic interest in believing that most of the world’s climatologists have been smoking too much ganja.

But those who deny climate change are like playing the slots with their children’s mortgage. If we tackle the issue of climate change and it turns out to be a cyclical phenomenon, then hey, no real harm done, but we will have cleaner air and we’ll start treating the earth more like a priceless treasure and less like a rental car.

But if we do nothing, and keep on doing what we’re doing, and it turns out all those hookah-smoking hippies were RIGHT, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lethbridge is in the news!

At least this time it's not Dar Heatherington. Snoop-Dog has raised the ire of gas-guzzling Albertans with too much time on their hands. This article made the FRONT PAGE of today's local newspaper, then on the Yahoo! news page. Slow. News. Day.