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Monday, November 15, 2010

Caveat Emptor

I had previously seen no problem allowing ads on my blog page until I checked it this afternoon and was appalled to see adds for the cult of Scientology on my page.  Adios adds!

Friends and neighbours, I will be the first person to say that any way one chooses to express their faith is their business and they are entitled to do that, however let me also point out a couple of facts which should be obvious to anyone with a pulse:

1. Any institution which charges a fee for spiritual enlightenment is not actually interested in your peace of mind.

2. Any institution which does not encourage its followers to continue in their academic education or to mingle with people who have different beliefs is afraid that the more informed people get, the less their beliefs will be able to stand up under the searchlight of rationality.

3. Any institution which professes to have the answers to all your questions is, in all likelihood, blatantly lying to you.

An add once came up on my Facebook page for a revolutionary new technique to learn guitar scales.  You`ve seen these prepackaged spiels before: "10 foods that burn off belly fat" and when you click on the add, you are treated to a scroll-down odyssey complete with a video of some woman wearing a convincing blue power suit, teaser clips of people looking frustratedly at their bathroom scales, before and after pics of two obviously different people and written testimonial from Chris in VA.

But back to the guitar scales  They were, of course, charging a hefty fee for said product.  Caveat emptor, so I Googled this product for reviews.  What I got was a series of comments from people who said that what they received was a book of scales and a schedule of practice times.  Reviews of the product were unanimously negative.  Many commented they could have gotten all the scales online for free, and that any moron with a piece of graph paper could have drawn up a practice schedule.

In reality, there was no revolutionary mnemonic trick to help you commit the scales to memory or to help you visualize them, or to help you integrate them into an actual song.

The reality is this: for many things, if there was a better way, it would actually be THE way.

There is no substitute for actually making an effort and doing the work, whether that be practicing scales, losing weight or plumbing the depths of our beings.

I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell, and in his excellent series of interviews with Bill Moyers entitled The Power of Myth, he once said that religion was not a matter of communally finding answers to life, but that it was a communal search for an experience of life.  Taking this im my own Anglican context, I understood this to mean that church is not about actually finding definitive answers to life's great questions, but that it was more about gathering us together into a community where we can explore the questions together.

Based on my interpretetaion of what Campbell said, I once commented in a sermon that the church cannot provide answers, but that we can at least all be confused together.

I realize that might not be what people want to hear, but if you want answers, try Scientology.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"You should write a letter about that."

Hell hath no fury like an Anglican scorned.  When you cheese off an Anglican, they do something very bad: they write a letter.

I don't know whether this is true of all Anglicans or just Canadian ones.  Canadians in general have a propensity for letter writing, so when some dipstick news announcer from the US says that we played no part in either Gulf War, we collectively write a big letter saying how upset we are.  When our politicians get drunk and blurt out that the last referendum was lost due to money and the "ethnic vote" (whatever the frig THAT means), we write letters saying that that wasn't very nice.  We are a nation of "I" statements.  Sigh...gone are the days when we got drunk, burned down the White House, got bored and came home.

But I digress.  Back to Anglicans.  Sparing you the names and gory details, I am in the middle of a letter-writing campaign now.  Not one of my own, nor is the campaign aimed at me, mind you, but vituperative nonetheless.

In short, someone wrote something that hurt someone else's feelings, and now that person has written a letter in response that will hurt other people's feelings, and the cycle will go on, probably ending in a cataclysm of Biblical proportions.

Have you ever seen the movie "2001"?  Stanley Kubrick at his self-indulgent best, but I can't help thinking about the scene at the beginning with the chimps.  They start off saber-rattling over the pool of water, but then one of them gets the idea (perhaps due to the effects of the Monolith) that there is a more effective way of scaring off their rivals than jumping and hooting at them.  So he grabs a bone and clubs one of his rivals in the head.

From there, man-apes in rapid order developed knives, spears, nunchucks and the atom bomb.  You see what I mean?

No?  Well, what I mean is that there is a certain level of decorum that is appropriate to some of the more cunning monkeys, but that seems to me to be obviously incompatible with Christian morality, if not the simple parameters of human decency.

Of course, Christianity has a great history of letter-writing, the lion's share of the New Testament is in the form of Epistles, letters which were written to guide, instruct and sometimes correct nascent Christian communities, but I wonder in what spirit some of our letters are being written today.  What ends are they meant to achieve?

The irony (I use that in the Alanis sense of the word) is that the people who write these letters will likely see each other in social circles in the near future, and pretend that these letters did not actually get written or read, that everything is normal and ok.  A true testament to Anglican and/or Canadian niceness is to pretend that nothing happened.  The goals that they were meant to achieve will not be accomplished due to our inbuilt desire to avoid open conflict, which is why we write letters from a distance: we dare not confront.

Why do you think I write a blog?

Jumping and hooting, anyone?

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Are We Building?

I once commented to a friend that I would dearly love to see the Pyramids in Egypt.  He shrugged rather non-committally and said, "Meh, they're just big piles of rock".

While I must concede the reality of his statement, I still maintain that he missed the point.  What intrigues and inspires me about the Pyramids is not the structures themselves, but the faith that built them.

Contrary to popular belief, the Pyramids were not built by slaves, nor were these slaves entombed with their Pharaohs.  The Egyptians cherished life above all.  The Pyramids were actually built by fervently willing volunteers.  The Pharaohs were considered to be gods on earth, and therefore the workers were literally building the last resting place of their god.  This was considered to be a great privilege, and workers flocked to this task willingly, and were well-treated.

So while I still marvel at the feats of ancient architecture and building techniques that the Pyramids obviously represent, what I find more inspiring is the faith and love that lay behind every exquisitely-cut stone block, every brush-stroke illustrating the tomb walls.

I often think that this must have also been the case when our ancestors built our own churches that we worship in today.

Our buildings are all beautiful in their own ways, but what impresses me more is the faith that built them.  Behind every stone, every shingle, every rough-hewn timber lies a faith and a love for God that is inspiring.

Perhaps these church-builders felt that they were building a place for God to live.  They were certainly building a place that would become the focal point of the communities that were built around it.

I feel quite strongly that these buildings need to be preserved somehow or another, although it may not be possible for some buildings to continue exclusively as churches.  But if our ancestors built these churches, there is a question that plagues me:

What are we building?

I don't suppose we will ever know for sure, but I wonder if our ancestors constructed these buildings thinking that the buildings themselves should become the mission and focal point of the communities of faith that gathered in them?  Or did they hope that the buildings would be places of worship and "bases of operation", if you will, from which the love of God would flow outwards into the surrounding community?

This is just a speculative question, of course, but regardless of what we think our ancestors wanted or foresaw, we are still left with that question:

What are WE building?

Are we property managers or Kingdom builders?  Are we hermits or missionaries?  Are we concierges or are we visionaries?

As our church resources are depleted, we have a real opportunity to rebuild from the ground up, as Christ Himself did.  Let's build together.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"I know it's your day off, but..."

I often get calls that start with that phrase.  I know it comes from a good place, but it gives me reason to make the following statement:

Contrary to popular belief, priests do NOT only work one day a week.

In fact, I would say in the long run that any dutiful and consciencous priest works far and above the standard 40-hour work week that most people do.  Granted, this work week is not divided into 9-5 days, which is part of the charm of this vocation, but this can also be one of its greatest drawbacks.  While it means that a priest has a very flexible schedule, it also means that we are NEVER off the clock.  Should an emergency arise such as an accident, a death, a serious illness or a need for immediate baptism (bear in mind, just because you might not see these situations as emergencies does not mean that everbody else shares your opinion), a priest must respond (incidentally, this also applies to our day off, but I don't want to muddy the waters).

That is the commitment we have made.

But while most careers benefit from a discrete and clear start of day and end of day, priesthood does not.  For example, if you work at a call center, at 5o'clock you head home and no one expects you to continue taking calls from your home.  Priesthood does not permit this boundary.  We are required to be available pretty much all the time.

This is why many priests, often at the risk of coming off as jerks, guard their day off like a dog with a bone.

We are entitled to one day off a week, which you will note is half of what you probably get.  This is balanced out by the fact that, as I mentioned, this is not a 9-5 vocation.  The problem with just about any helping profession is that we are motivated by a genuine concern for people, and that can lead to a lack of healthy boundaries on our part.  This means that it can be very difficult for a priest to stake out time for his/herself.

In order to stay sane, healthy and productive, a priest must therefore guard his/her day off strictly.  Often, it is the only time he/she gets to spend with his/her family or to engage in leisure activities which are so essential to a balanced lifestyle.

So priests, let people know when your day off is and stick to it with no shame or guilt because you need time off like everybody else.

There being two sides to this coin, I would also appeal to parishioners to respect their clergy's day off.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zaccheus: the first man to compensate for something?

I imagine that many of my priestly colleagues preached on the the story of Zaccheus today.  Most of the sermons I have heard about this story end up asking the question, "When are we going to come down out of our tree and follow Christ?"  But the problem is this: most of us aren't there yet.  Coming down out of the tree makes it sound as though we have made a decision, that we know what we want.  I contend that many of us are still jostling about in the noise and choas of the crowd.

I maintain that this story forces us to ask another question which is perhaps more relevant to our post-Christian society.  That questions is "When are we going to get up in our tree?"

Zaccheus was a short little man who had betrayed his people.  Being a tax collector for the Romans ensured that he would be a pariah among his own people.  While I can crap on Zaccheus for that, I can also sympathize with how lonely this must have been for him.

But then Zaccheus hears about this guy who is wandering around the Galilee spreading love, forgiveness and acceptance wherever He went.  Zaccheus wants a piece of that, so he goes down into the crowd, where some of the "righteous" probably took the time to elbow him in the ribs, knee him in the groin and step on his toes.  But he can't see because he's just a wee little man, so he climbs up in a tree where only children and manual laborers harvesting fruit should be found.

Imagine The Godfather climbing a tree.  The Don doesn't climb trees, OK?  They bow down to him or he has Sonny chop them into toothpicks.  Zaccheus is like the Don: feared and loathed by those around him, yet he assumes this ridiculous perch because he is desperate to find some meaning in life.

I will be the first to admit that faith is not everyone's thing, and even if it is, Christianity is not everyone's thing.  But Zaccheus shows me that we have to be willing to "go out on a limb", so to speak, to find meaning in this life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why I hate Sarah Palin, yet secretly long to be like her

So as I procrastinate on writing my sermon for tomorrow, I am reminded that my initial blog indicated that I might be taking some shots at Sarah Palin.  I wouldn't want to be called a liar, so here it is.

So Sarah Palin has a reality did this woman become a celebrity, anyways?  She doesn't appear to have enough intellect to keep her lips from moving as she reads, and yet somehow she managed to get into politics, become a presidential running mate, become a best-selling memoir author AND get a reality show which sold for a million dollars an episode.

I have a theory, and I base this theory on my own morbid fascination with the woman.  Here it is: Sarah Palin is the human equivalent of an accident site.

We have all had the irritation of being stuck in a long line of traffic, watching the red and blue lights flash on the other side of the highway, indicating that we are indeed stuck in a line of rubberneckers: arseholes who slow down and gape at accidents in the hope of seeing blood.  We tisk, we curse, and then when we get to the accident site, we do exactly the same thing.  There is no point trying to deny it: we all succumb to the temptation to cast a sidelong glance at disaster.

Sarah Palin is an accident.

I am drawn to her like I am to the sight of blood, although I am repulsed by both.  Through the sheer force of her mindless, chirpy optimism, she has gouged out a career.  If her rambling speeches are any indication of her abilities in other spheres of life, I wouldn't trust her to find her way out of a pillow fort without a map, and yet she writes books, drives a car, owns a gun, and frolics and prances like any other member of the human race.  I mean, she even put Alaska on the map for Pete's sake! (admit it, the fact that Alaska even exists barely impinged itself upon your consciousness before she came out of it).  And here's the kicker:

Sarah Palin is a millionaire.

Yes, despite a string of political and public appearances that can only be described as farcical, this woman just keeps getting bigger.  She can't string together a coherent sentence, and yet she is laughing all the way to the bank.

And then it hit me.  She may actually be brilliant.

The Internet is NOT a Passing Fad

So I have this friend who started blogging like 20 years ago on what I guess you could call the "ground floor" of blogging.  Back then, there wasn't much point in blogging because only 3 people blogged in the entire world, Google and Facebook hadn't been invented yet so no one could ever find your blog, and many people didn't see the point in becoming invested in a blog because they were still under the impression that this whole internet thing would eventually blow over.

At the time, I didn't pay much attention to blogging, largely because I didn't understand what it was for or what it could accomplish.  I admit to expecting that blogging would be a fad, much like Koala Pads and breakdancing.  20 years later, I have to admit that I have come to appreciate a number of blogs.  Granted, many of them reinforce the reality that the biggest problem with free speech is that some people will use it, but nonetheless I have gained much insight over the years from a number of blogs.

As my profile indicates, I am an Anglican priest with the Diocese of Quebec.  I have just come back from our Diocesan Synod, and we had a fantastic guest speaker by the name of Reverend Tom Ehrich; author, pastor, creator of Morning Walk Media and consummate blogger.  I got the impression that he once felt the way I did about blogging, but he succeeded in convincing me that blogging was truly the best way to reach people.  "Forget Facebook!", he said.  "Facebook is on its way out.  Blogging is the way to go".

So if blogging is a nuisance to you, blame Tom that I have started my own.

I guess I always thought blogging had to have a purpose, like you had to be explaining step-by-step how to spackle or refinish furniture or discuss philosophy.  But I really don't have a goal in starting this blog.  I am a priest, so you can probably expect a lot of religious musings.  I am an Anglo-Quebecer, so you can expect a number of political diatribes.  I play guitar, bass and drums, so you can expect postings about that.  I love fly fishing, expect that.  I love animals, check.  I am an amateur photographer, yo.  I hate politics and other forms of pop culture, so you can probably expect cheap shots at Sarah Palin.  I can't guarantee that this will be consistent, coherent or even spell-checked.

What I do want to do is generate conversation.  It has become increasingly clear to me over the past few years that we are living in an unprecedented age of communication.  We text, we email, we blog, we post on FB and Twitter, we Skype, we streaming chat with complete strangers as we play campaign video games, we call each other on the phone...but am I the only one that feels lonelier than ever?

It seems that with all these different forms of communication, we should feel more connected, shouldn't we?  And yet as I pastor and as I talk with friends and colleagues, loneliness seems to be more prevelant than ever.  I myself live and work in an area which isolates me from friends and family, so I guess what I would like to accomplish with this blog is to create a space where I can hear what is happening in the lives of my loved ones, where I can let them know what is going on in mine, and where I can make new friends and converse with them.

So please feel free to let me know how you are feeling!