Monday, April 30, 2007


I've got to boast a little: Dean has been working very hard on a cross-border legal dispute involving a company called Teck-Cominco. DEAN did the writing of an amicus curiae brief, and it's now ready to be filed before the Supreme Court of the United States! His name's on the front page and everything. That is rather a distinction, especially for a non-American. Of course, SCOTUS might not hear the case, but it's still pretty impressive for this to have progressed to this point.

A New York state of mindlessness

In yesterday's Citizen, we learned all about Colin Beavan, a New Yorker who, with his wife and 2-year old daughter, is going to live a year without making any impact on the environment. It's the modern version of 'The Invisible Man'.
No Impact Man arrives at the cafe on foot. He declines coffee or tea (not locally produced) or anything else for that matter (needless consumption). He's wearing jeans and a white T-shirt with black stripes (durable and always in style) and looks lean and fit. "Twenty pounds," he says, patting his midsection contentedly.
"Contentedly" is certainly the operative word here. Beavan is positively glowing with self-satisfaction.
Such is life when you're No Impact Man, a.k.a. Colin Beavan, a 43-year-old writer of historical non-fiction who's more than five months into a year-long environmental challenge he calls the No Impact experiment.
"Historical non-fiction", otherwise known as "history", I believe.
The experiment has two prongs. One is to reduce his family's harmful impact on the environment as much as possible. The other is to increase their positive impact by cleaning up riverbanks, rescuing sea birds and the like. "The idea," says Beavan, "is that the two will come together to have no net impact."

Scientifically that's impossible, he admits. "Every time I breathe out my carbon dioxide is having an impact. But it's an experiment and it's just an attempt to change our consciousness."
That exhaling business is not an insuperable problem; I guess it just is a question of how much you REALLY prefer the environment over yourself. This is where we separate the genuine nihilists from the dilettants.

And of course, we don't have to wait long before we read this:
Among other things, eliminating garbage meant giving up paper products, including toilet paper -- a deprivation that has transfixed incredulous Americans. A New York Times story on the No Impact project last month even carried the heading, "The Year Without Toilet Paper."

Beavan isn't sure how harmful toilet paper really is -- some brands are made from recycled paper, after all -- but banned it because we use far too much paper, and most consumers can't figure out whether a particular product does damage or not. He broached the ban to his wife uneasily, expecting her to object, but after the mildest of protests, she gamely submitted. The substitute is bowls of water and lots of air drying.
This must be the latest craze - celebrities are getting into it. I don't think it'll catch on, but I've been wrong before. Fifteen years ago, I thought that nobody but burnt-out academics would ever take "environmentalism" seriously, and here we are today, with even the Weather Network giving that old prune David Suzuki a platform from which to hector us. So maybe after 12 or 15 years of lies, we'll have a government Department of Toilet Paper Rationing, too.
While having coffee at all may seem like cheating, Beavan demurs. "It's really important to me that the experiment's not divisive," he says. When friends suggest getting together over coffee at a cafe, "we don't go, 'oh no, we're not meeting you there -- we're environmentalists! That's a turnoff for everyone and doesn't support the message I'm trying to give."
I'll bet it's not half as divisive as knowing the guy doesn't use toilet paper. I wonder if he's noticed any diminution in handshaking since this project started?
Most food comes from a farmer's market, and the family has joined a community supported agriculture program, in which people buy shares in a farmer's harvest. "If it's a really great harvest, you get an abundance of stuff," he says. "It it's not so good a harvest, you get less stuff."
Gee, couldn't just ride his bike or walk down to Wall Street and get the same result?
Beavan makes bread from scratch, using sourdough because yeast is not a local product. Such domestic chores, his wife jokes, have turned him into a 19th century housewife.
Actually, that 19th century housewife would have known a lot of ways of cooking meat. Since they're living on pulses, roots and vegetables, and without paper or electricity, I'd say he's more like a 9th century housewife. But hey, it'll just make the transition to life under sharia law all the easier.

There's lots more, and he even has his own no-impact blog (which I haven't checked out yet). But the best part of the story is the expected outcome of this Year of Living Invisibly: a book and possibly a movie deal. I wonder how many squares of toilet paper his first printing will equal?

Ornamental grasses

This weekend, in the garden, I learned the hard way the meaning of the word "invasive". About 3 years ago, I planted a small pot each of Miscanthus sinensis, and Phalaris, or Ribbon Grass. Both of them are invasive, it turns out, and they've spent the past 3 years fighting it out over a patch of ground at the side of the steps down to the garden. They're both pretty, especially the big tall Miscanthus - it produces these tall white plumes which stay in the garden all winter, waving in the breeze. The way it's worked out is the smaller Ribbon Grass pokes out first in the spring, and then the Miscanthus takes over and hides everything else. But it hasn't succeeded in killing the Ribbon Grass. Yesterday I decided they both had to go - they've spread from 2 little pots to cover about 15 square feet, and no end in sight!

First, I went at the area with the rototiller, but soon I discovered that the planting area is also where one of the underground sprinkler hoses is installed, so I couldn't keep using the machine without the danger of severing the sprinkler line. So it was time to sit down on the ground with a hand trowel and start digging it up by hand. I worked all day, and finally quit when I was too tired to go on - there's still a few feet left to go. The roots were so mashed together, I had to stab them with the trowel to try to sever them in order to pull a bit out. One of them (I think it's the Ribbon Grass) has a long underground root system with joints, kind of like a foxtail weed, and out of each joint, a new sprig of grass can grow. Everywhere I looked, I could see these pinkish fangs of grass poking out, ready to leap into action. Good thing I started now, until they'd been able to sink more roots down. In the midst of all this tangle of grass, a delphinium had managed to take hold, against all odds, so I had to try to remove the roots without disturbing it. It must be pretty hardy to have held out against all this bossy competition, so I think it will be OK.

I'd have liked to keep a little of the Miscanthus, it's so pretty, but logically I realize that I'd just end up doing this all over again in a few years' time. I know just pulling them out won't be enough, either; the way these plants work, if you leave a little scrap of root in the ground, it will regenerate and put up another plant, so I'll probably be hunting these things down for a long time. Once summer comes, if things are desperate, I can give them a good blast of RoundUp and kill them that way, but I prefer to avoid the chemicals if possible.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Conservative Anglicans make death threats...

...while liberals just get the job done.
A British missionary was fatally poisoned after helping to prevent a London vicar from becoming a bishop in Central Africa, The Times has learnt.

Relatives of Canon Rodney Hunter, 73, believe that his food was contaminated by supporters of the Rev Nicholas Henderson in a battle between the liberal and conservative wings of the Anglican Church.

In November Canon Hunter was found dead at his home in Nkhotakota, Malawi, with a strange black substance around his mouth. The day before his death he had complained of severe stomach pains, and postmortem examination has now shown that he was killed by three poisons.

Malawi police have charged his cook with murder and are investigating rumours that the poisoning was organised by supporters of Mr Henderson, who had no knowledge of the alleged plot.

Canon Hunter was an outspoken critic of plans to appoint the liberal Mr Henderson as Bishop of Lake Malawi. The Province of Central Africa is at the heart of conservative evangelical opposition to the liberal Anglican outlook in the West on homosexuality.

Not the first notch on the belt for liberals, either. I remember when Canon Gareth Bennett spoke out against the liberal corruption of the CoE under Robert Runcie, and was hunted out of anonymity and driven to suicide by the outrage of the Left. Meanwhile, Gene Robinson is still dining out on his famous bullet-proof vest story, 3 years after facing down the fearsome Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

Caption Contest

"Oh no, you haven't a chance when I go into my dance!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Off to the doctor's

Had a checkup today, and the doctor says I have a skin disorder called Rosacea. So THAT'S why I always get red as a beet whenever I step outside on a hot day! And it takes forever to subside, too. Mine is very mild - just a pink flush across my cheeks and nose, I don't have the pimples or rough skin, but it CAN get bad if you don't deal with it. Apparently more women than men get it, but men often have worse cases (they don't get treatment until it's bad). And in the worst case, you can end up with a nose like Karl Malden's - sure hope it never comes to that.

There are some things that trigger outbreaks or aggravate them, so it sounds a bit like living with herpes - you just try to avoid the things that set it off, and treat the symptoms when they occur. One thing that does make it worse is alcohol. Now, I hardly drink at all - I stopped 12 years ago when I was pregnant with James, and just never reacquired the taste for it. But one thing I DO like sometimes, on a hot day, is a cold beer. So now, when I've been working in the garden, and I come in all hot and thirsty, the very time when you'd want a beer, I can't have it because I'll already be red, and this would just make it worse. I suppose I could drink a beer in the wintertime, but what's the point? I guess it's back to water and ginger ale. It's not the same, though.

UPDATE: I found the quote I'd been searching for, which is very apropos. From Season 6 of 'Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist', the episode entitled Snow Day:
Dana Gould: Well, I shoulda known my dad was drunk - he turned red. Let's see, you're Irish, you get drunk, you turn red. Physiological signal we developed years ago in case there's a sudden insurrection against the British - we know who not to give loaded fire arms to.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Garden toys

This is A COOL TOY!

I got one last fall, at an auction near Winchester. I actually didn't know what it was, but I knew I'd seen a picture of it before (it's in the Lee Valley Tools catalogue). I thought it was a thing for aerating the soil, even though it seemed pretty heavy-duty for that. Mine was practically brand new, and a very good deal; I think I paid $25 for it (it's $140 new), and yesterday I decided to try it out, having figured out that in fact it's for turning soil over. I couldn't believe how well it worked! It's true, you don't have to be strong at all, unlike trying to lift soil with a spade. This digs down almost 10". and then you just pull the handles toward you, sort of like playing a slot machine, and it levers the soil right up. I went over the whole garden in 2 hours, and never broke a sweat. I recommend it to anyone.

It wasn't the only toy I was playing with, though. Bob, my gas engine guy, came by on Saturday and tuned up all my machines. He did the little rototiller I wrote about last year, but at the same auction in Winchester I'd picked up another, bigger rototiller, and I asked Bob to look at it. It had started when they were selling it, but I hadn't been able to start it when I got it home. It hadn't mattered, as it was the end of the season, so I put it in the garage until I could get Bob to see to it. He said it was very old, but it works just fine, and when he'd oiled it and cleaned it up, it was just fine. It's rusty and ugly-looking, but it starts like a dream, easier than my lawn mower. It also weighs a ton, but once we'd got it into the backyard and down to the garden, I had a blast digging up the gardens. I'm going to get Dean to help me get it out again this weekend, and go over the edges of the flower beds where the grass and weeds are encroaching; this monster will rip them out by the roots and then I'll put in a barrier to keep them out for good.

The hot weather has passed, and we're back to our more normal 14C today. It was very windy yesterday, and we had a 2-hour power failure in the evening. Fortunately, I was making a simple Almond Chicken, and was just combining everything to make the sauce when the lights went off, so the pan was still hot enough to make it work. James and Thomas were flummoxed at the total disappearance of their computer and TV pastimes. Dean tried to explain to James what had happened, and finally settled on "House broken," which satisfied him. Later on, we were out on the lawn, looking up at the dark windows, and he said, "House night!" I told him all the other houses had night too, but he didn't care about them; there is only ONE house that matters - his. Then he added "Poooooor computer!" When the power came back on, he immediately went to start the computer and told me, "Computer BEAUTIFUL! HURRAY!!!!!"

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lessons from the VT disaster

I posted this story yesterday, but I was dissatisfied with my treatment of it, so I decided to pull it and try again. Basically, I seemed to be muddling my response to two quite different questions, and I wanted to separate them to see why this story bugged me so much.

First of all, there's the incident itself. (And it's not a joke, that really is the name of the school.)
VANCOUVER - The Delta, B.C., school board is planning an investigation after a popular elementary school teacher had students in her Grade 6 and 7 drama class re-enact parts of the Virginia Tech shootings.

"The teacher was told that it was a completely inappropriate lesson and that it was certainly a lack of judgment on her part," said Doug Thomson, principal of South Park elementary, where the incident occurred.

The students had been creating tableaus, or frozen scenes, from newspaper headlines for a few weeks as a drama class exercise. On Friday, the teacher, whose name has not been released, chose a headline about the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.

"The purpose of the lesson was to give the kids an opportunity to address their feelings about violence and about the tragedy," Mr. Thomson said. "But to involve students in such a lesson was inappropriate."
Now, I don't object to children being told what's really happening in the world, as long as it's suited to their level of understanding. There's nothing to be gained from terrifying children with scare stories that they have no way of dealing with. I think what annoyed me here was that the VT massacre was being re-enacted as part of a drama class - "tableaus" - almost like a Victorian parlour game. That just seems trivial. And the reason given for the project made it even worse: "to give the kids an opportunity to address their feelings about violence and about the tragedy". It's that damn "therapeutic" approach to life that I just detest.

Right after I'd posted this (the first time), I came across a similar story out of Boston. Only in this case, the professor was trying to prove a point - that if there had been someone with a gun, the killer could have been defeated before claiming so many victims. I think he's right in this thesis, but teachers are too inclined to use their position to propagandize their students, so I don't fully support him. He could have as easily been a pacifist, anti-gun teacher browbeating his students over the necessity for absolutely disarming every citizen. But I'll give him points for trying to tell his students that it's possible to DO something in such a situation, not just passively allow someone else to take control.

That seems to be the unspeakable suggestion, that we could really do something ourselves. Mark Steyn was the first to point out that the passive approach we'd all learned to accept when it comes to airline hijackings died on 9/11, when we learned that up there in the air, when the crisis happens, the government, the experts, the all-knowing authorities who've studied the phenomenon and issued the guidelines, are not going to be there to protect us. And we learned that lesson. Now, I think everyone who gets on a plane mentally rehearses what they'd do if a bunch of guys tried to cow them into submission and take over the plane. "Hmm, let's see, I'm supposed to throw something - well, I've got this magazine, and my purse, and that guy's got a laptop, and there's 110 of us here, and if we all kept pelting them, they'd be unable to aim very well, and they might lose their balance..." And that's in a confined little airplane cabin, where you've already been disarmed and you know there's nowhere to flee. We're not talking commando exploits here - this is very basic "fight back" stuff. But it's sunk in that over 100 people are NOT totally helpless, even if the other side is armed.

But the lesson seems only to have been learned in that particular situation. Nobody is mentally rehearsing what to do if they're in a movie theater and someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting. Or in a mall, or in a school. And even suggesting that you COULD do something, as in the case of the Boston professor, or Kathy Shaidle, or Mark Steyn leads to a knee-jerk reaction (from CONSERVATIVES, note, not just liberals) that you're insulting the honour of the dead and blaming the victim.

I disagree. I don't think it's reasonable for people to think that as long as they can avoid being in the rare situation of travelling on a plane the day some terrorists leap into action, that they can just going on leading lives of tranquil innocence. Evil LOOKS for people who are unprepared and won't resist - why give it more opportunities to succeed? So what's really wrong with going over a disaster like VT and trying to teach students what to do if it happens to them? I'd fault the professor for not taking a wider approach; instead of just saying, "If they'd had guns, this wouldn't have happened," he should have said, "OK, you're here, you don't have a gun, what do you do?" Don't tell me there isn't SOMETHING people can do. Throwing things might work - harder to take aim with crap hitting you all the time. Everyone moving in different directions too - never just follow instructions and line up against the wall to be executed, the way those students did. You might have a chance if you're moving - you won't have any if you're standing still with a gun at your head.

I don't blame those students at VT - who ever talked to them about this? When were they ever told to mentally rehearse an escape strategy in the event of that sort of disaster? It's not enough to say, "You've never been in that situation, you can't know how you'd behave." How many people in the WTC on 9/11 had ever been in that situation? And yet all the information of what to do in case of an emergency worked - they took to those long, long emergency staircases and got out. It worked, without any advance training at all, and great numbers of people were saved. We are level-headed when it comes to the need to react to fires or earthquakes, but our brains lock up when it's time to devise a similar plan for combatting some human, as opposed to natural, disaster. Nobody wants to admit that such a thing is possible, and so we leave people unprepared when it's their turn.

So I'm not opposed to talking to kids about this event, I'm only opposed to doing it in a frivolous way. The teacher in Delta wasn't trying to teach her kids a strategy for dealing with such an emergency; she was using it "to give the kids an opportunity to address their feelings about violence and about the tragedy," and that to me is completely useless. Gnawing over one's feelings and doing no more is pointless. So kids feel sad and scared that something bad has happened - what else is new? What next? Nothing, apparently. They're not given any reassurance that if such a thing happened to them, they'd be able to escape or they'd be OK because they could do this, this and this. No, they're just encouraged to emit feelings. And since that was the whole point of the exercise, we should hardly be surprised that one student took it to its logical conclusion and carried the experiment home to weep and complain about hurt feelings to her parents.

The school board leaped in right on cue, and immediately provided "a multicultural worker" would could speak Korean, and "A counsellor will be available to speak to the children this week," so everyone else won't feel left out, and can have their noses wiped too. So the mere fact of having to acknowledge the existence of this incident has become a trauma all its own.

I think Andy Warhol was wrong - in the future everyone get 15 minutes of victimhood.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Welcome to Appalachia

I was raking up little pinecones from the front yard when Dean came over smugly, having finished surveying his latest haul of driftwood from the river (currently draped over the front porch).

Dean: Say, maybe we should just LEAVE all that wood in the front - like an art exhibit?
Me: No, I think you should REMOVE all that wood as soon as possible, since there's hardly any room to move around on that porch by now!
Dean: (mildly) My, that was a very prompt and well-formulated answer!
Me: Yes, almost as if I'd been thinking it for quite a long time.

Later in the day;

Me (looking out the front window): Well, the front lawn sure looks better now that I've swept up all those pinecones and dead leaves.
Dean: Yes, I think the front of the house is pretty well finished now (ostentatiously avoiding my eye)
Me: (after missing a beat or two, to process this comment) What? No! You get that wood moved!
Dean: (looking out the window) Why, I can't see the wood for the trees! HAR HAR HAR HAR!!!
(Exit, pursued by a slow burn)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Garden cleanup

Good weather at last. At last! It was 21C today, and they're predicting temperatures just as nice for the whole weekend. Not a moment too soon; I'd begun to have dreams about the garden. I dreamed I had lilacs, mock orange, roses and tulips all in bloom at the same time! The fellow is coming tomorrow after noon to tune up my gas engines, and I might be able to take a cultivator out into the garden this weekend. This isn't going to last, of course, but it's wonderful to be able to go out in a t-shirt instead of bundled up against the cold and damp. I cleaned up all the dead leaves and rose prunings, and have at least 10 bags of garden waste for the first pickup this Thursday.

I've already started haunting the garden centers, though they haven't got much in them yet except bags of soil and fertilizer. Still, I managed to find two little rosemary plants I brought home; no hurry to plant them just yet. And I spread a thick layer of composted cow manure around my lilacs and the mock orange. I don't know why, but they hardly produce any flowers. The shrubs are tall and strong, with lots of leaves, but no flowers. I'm going to try giving then a fertilizer blast this year and see if it shocks them out of their trance.

Yin came outside with me too, and spent a lot of time happily chasing a ball and various dry leaves and stick, and then she finally found a shady spot to lie down and rest. I came and lay down on the grass beside her, and she climbed all over me, licking my face and nose until I could hardly breathe. I realized that if I should ever collapse from a heart attack in the garden, she wouldn't behave like Lassie and fetch help, but she'd give me a hearty sendoff to the next world.

"I LOVE you, Mummy!"

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The VT killer

Naturally, G.K. Chesterton wrote the best and sanest judgment on suicide:
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings; it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds, but the suicide is not; that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury; for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the crossroads and the stake driven through the body... There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes--for it makes even crimes impossible.

I read some of the killer's "manifesto" and found it pretty much what you'd expect from a lunatic - hopelessly self-absorbed and self-pitying. Nothing in the world existed except him and his grievances, and everyone and everything was a prop in his tiny, self-centered drama. I'm sure he thought he was making very grand and sweeping condemnations of the world and society, but I think I've never come across anything so small. Chesterton also diagnosed this sort of madman:
If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman(like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connnecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections....Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. A bullet is quite as round as the world, but it is not the world. There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions. Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.

In the VT killer's case, the world seemed to have contracted into one tiny dot, with himself at the center. And then, as Chesterton said, he obliterated the world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bishop Gene Robinson at Vanderbilt

There was an audio link to this address posted at StandFirm, and I spent so long trying to make out the words in the very echoey hall, I finally ended up transcribing the whole thing. I did the best I could, though some words were inaudible and I indicated that with square parentheses. Also, I had to guess at a Greek word; I'm sure someone will know what it's supposed to be. And I don't know what Bible translation he was using, so I copied and pasted the text in the version that came the closest

After all that, I'm left a little drained, and don't feel like commenting on it. I've never read anything by Robinson to compare with this in length, and I don't think he improves on greater acquaintance. I'll leave it to anyone who's got the stamina to plough through this whole speech to make any comments on his theology - it seemed a bit thin to me, especially the "We're all going to Heaven" stuff. But I'll just say that this should answer once and for all those well-meaning people who say, "If he'd only resign, then a big part of our troubles would be over!" First of all, the troubles wouldn't be over - he's just a symptom of a big, ugly disease that's eating Episcopalianism alive from the inside out. (And not the smallest part of the disease is that someone with this shallow mind and understanding could be made a BISHOP.) But also, he'll NEVER resign. All you need to know is in this little segment:
And I tell you, the greatest blessing of this last 3 and a half years is that God has seemed so close. Prayer sometimes seems redundant…God is so right there. Now, how can you regret something like that? People say, ‘If you had to do this all over again, would you do it?’ Well, my God, of course! Because look at what it’s done in terms of my relationship with God!
You see, it's all about HIM, and what a mind-blowing experience this has been for HIM. It is better that the people die for one man, and the nation perish.

MC: Bishop Robinson is a graduate of the University of the South, but we promise not to hold that against him, and at the General Theological Seminary, and we promise not to hold that against him! His years in the priesthood established him as a wise and compassionate leader, and an advocate for justice, and this is demonstrated by his involvement on issues including emerging wellness, youth ministry, AIDS ministries, debt relief for impoverished nations, and many health insurance boards assessments. No doubt his investiture as the ninth bishop of New Hampshire in 2004 was a recognition of his gifts and his commitments. And as we all know, that even has placed him at the center of a firestorm. Yet through it all, Bishop Robinson has remained steadfast in his compassionate and prophetic witness. He said recently, according to CNN, “If you want to know my homosexual agenda, it’s Jesus. And I would propose to you that people’s coming out, gay and lesbian folk being honest about who they are, what their lives are, what their families are like, and their desire to contribute to this culture, to serve in the military, to take their place as full citizens of this country, is God at work.” Please join me in welcoming Bishop Robinson, who will speak to you about Ministry in the Eye of the Storm. (applause)

(Some opening conversation with the audience, who had trouble seeing him.)

Bishop Gene Robinson:

I want you to go home and tell people that I have a Bible in my hand! I asked for a leather coat with a zipper, but… It is my great privilege to be here today, this is really really terrific. I have to tell you, it is a very great honour to have the bishop who confirmed me Easter Day when I was in senior year at Sewanee, here in the audience. He’s either to blame or congratulate, depending on where you come out on this controversy.

I wanted in particular to address my remarks to those of you who are studying for the ordained ministry, but also what I have to say will pertain, I hope, to all people of faith. This is a very daunting and intimidating group, and I always find myself thinking what I could I possibly say that would [inaudible] and possibly help. And so I have 5 things to say to all of you who take seriously your ministries in the name of our Jesus, or your ministries in the name of God, even if you have not come to know God through Jesus. And I wanted to talk about 3 passages of Scripture. And somehow get through all of this and still have time for your questions. I stopped assuming a long time ago that I knew why people showed up for something, and learned that it’s better just to ask them why they came and what they wanted to know. Let me just begin with this:

The first thing I want to say to all of you is that I think the most important thing you can learn, whether it’s in seminary or in life, is to learn to tell the story of your own salvation. And I want to read to you the passage that I read to all the candidates in our ordination classes, and I tell them that above and beyond everything else, this is what I want to hear from you.

I want to hear from you, in your own words, the story that’s recounted in the 6th chapter of Isaiah:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
It seems to me that story contains all of the elements of the call to ministry that all of us know by virtue of our baptism. First of all, if you were coming through my ordination process, I’d wonder about, “So what’s your vision of God?” It may not involve odd things like seraphim and cherubim, with various and sundry wings, and so on, but what is it? What is that vision of God for you? And if we mean to be effective witnesses in the world, we need words, we need language around which to describe that vision of holiness that we hold.

And then, I want to know about your experience of saying “Woe is me! I am a person of unclean lips!” In contrast to this vision of holiness, what is your own sense of humility?
I’ve learned in AA that the best definition of humility is being right-sized. That is, not do not include who you are and what your gifts are, but understanding where you are in relationship to this ultimate goodness. And faced with that ultimate goodness, can any of us say anything but, ‘Woe is me! I am so unworthy, given that vision of goodness.’ And Isaiah says I understand I come of a people of unclean lips – that is to say, we’re all in this together. How dare any of us judge one another, when in fact we are all a people of unclean lips. And then God does this astounding thing: a live coal is taken and is touched to the lips of this person, and his sin is taken away.

I want to know from you, your experience of being saved by God. Being loved despite everything you are in your failings and your shortcomings. I want you to be able to tell me in what sense you have been saved. I know I sound like I’m coming back to my Kentucky evangelical roots, here, but it’s real. It’s true. How were you saved? And then what did you do about it?

I hate that last part. You know, that first part, it seems to me that sometimes the great divide in religions is that some people stop right there. As long as I’m right with God, as long as I have a sense of my own personal salvation, then that’s enough. But that’s not enough, not according to this account. Because God is always then saying, “Oh yeah, and by the way, who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” And so I want to know what risks you have taken for the gospel?

I tell my clergy, that I expect them to get into gospel trouble – that is the ditch I will die in for them. If they are in trouble because they are preaching the gospel, then I’m their guy. And I also say to them, if you’re not in trouble, are you sure you’re preaching the gospel? Because Jesus was always in trouble, so if you’re moving along without causing too much of a disturbance, then ask yourself if you’re really preaching the gospel? It seems to me that the only story we have to tell is the story of how the God of all creation cared enough to save me and save the world – it’s the only story we have to tell. And if your theological education isn’t preparing you to tell that story, go somewhere else. So much can be in our heads, and what is really called from us is to be called to stand up and tell the story – of whether you are the kid on the street, or the kid from the wealthy suburbs. You’ve got to be able to stay how God has acted in your life. Once you’ve told your story, leave it to God to do the rest. You don’t have to do anything else but witness what God has done for you, and you don’t have tell anyone else what God is to do for them.

Second of all, I think we should take the Scriptures back from those who are abusing them (applause).

I think in the South, people are abusing them, and in the North, you’ve got people who just don’t care. Either way, it’s an abuse. And the only way we can take those Scriptures back is to make them our own. There’s that wonderful word – I think it’s Greek… Mercifully, I became a priest during that brief time when you didn’t have to take Greek (thank you, Jesus!). And I think this is a Greek word: anathesis? It’s the word that’s used at Passover, and it’s also a word we use about the eucharist. And it means that you take a past event, and you so dramatically bring it into the present, that it becomes a present event. Not just a remembrance of the, but it literally comes into the present moment and becomes effective there. It’s time that we reclaim those stories.

This is especially important for gay and lesbian people, who have been told for countless generations that we only appear in Scripture in about 7 places and they’re all bad. But you know, I find myself in Scripture all over the place. The Exodus story one of the greatest coming-out stories in the history of the world. Literally. Use whatever prison you find yourself in, but gay and lesbian people we know what it’s like to be in slavery, to be worth nothing more than slavery. And we know what it’s like to have a Moses show up and say, “You know what? They’re wrong. You deserve to be free from slavery. God has in mind for you a promised land in mind for you beyond anything you have ever known.

Some of us have been courageous enough to follow. And then we get to the Red Sea, and we expect it to be like Cecil B. DeMille, and it opens up, and there will be a nice, dry path to cross. What I find is, when you get to the Red Sea, it only parts enough for one footfall. And once you’ve taken that, and it parts enough for the next footfall, and so on and so forth.
You don’t get to see the other side before you start have to start crossing. You have to put your foot down, and assume it won’t be mud but it’ll be dry, and then put another foot and then another. And then, all along you thought that when we got to the other side what would be there? We thought we’d get to the other side and the world would be there for you? Hello? It won’t be! And so you find yourself in a desert; and this is a very special place, because it’s where you become really dependent upon God. And the manna may taste like wet, soggy cardboard, but it teaches you about being dependent upon God for your very life.

I can remember, being separated from my wife, and there was just this incredibly dark time. I felt so close to the ancient Hebrews. Because I literally didn’t know if I could make it through each day. And I would go to bed at night, and all that I would have was my integrity and God. And what I learned was, that’s just enough. I wouldn’t want to go through my whole life with only that, and by God’s grace, I have so much more than that, but it’s pretty nice to know that if you’ve only just got that much, it’s enough.

And so, you can wander for a long time, putting it all together, before you make it to the Promised Land. Ultimately, I don’t think we can get to the Promised Land until we get to Heaven. And that’s why Abraham had to learn the [inaudible]. And while [inaudible] was sitting with firm foundations. That’s the great thing about a city tied down with all the answers, but we’re just not meant to live there. We’re meant to be wandering around; we’re meant to learn that the journey is the destination, and that in the end God will bring us to heaven.

It’s an amazing coming out story. But we’re all coming out from something, aren’t we? We’re all children trying to find our way home. And we have to make the Scriptures our own. You have to find yourself in the scriptures, and then let them inform that story you’ve learned to tell about your own salvation.

Thirdly, I’d say we’ve got to pay attention to the people Jesus paid attention to.

Just this last Holy Week, at least in our church, we’ve changed the name of Palm Sunday to the Sunday of the Passion. Which I think is our admitting that very few people come to church during Holy Week anyway, so we’ve got to pack it all into that Sunday. It’s not too bad, because there’s enough material in that week for the whole year.

But what occurred to me what that we so often separate Jesus’s death from Jesus’s whole life, and what Jesus was passionate about. And that if we are to be followers of his, we have to become passionate about the people and things Jesus was passionate about. Because he was killed because of what he was passionate about.

I will read the verses in Isaiah 61 ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me, [and has come] upon me to bring good news to the poor; to bind up the brokenhearted, to release those who are in prison, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’. The words that Jesus read in his own hometown synagogue (and by the way, they wanted to throw him off the cliff, if you’ll remember). These are the people that Jesus cared about. Jesus was always about releasing people from prisons. Think of the prison of leprosy – that terrifying disease of Jesus’s time. Nobody knew what caused it, they assumed physical contact was what did it, you had to leave your home and family and children, and go live in a cemetery or a cave, and yell out “Unclean!” if anyone came near you. Can you imagine what it was like to have this whole and holy Jesus walk up and touch you, knowing that he was making himself ritually unclean? Can you imagine what it did for the souls of those he touched?

Can you imagine being a woman, reviled just for who you were, at the bottom of the social status, not worth much of anything, and can you imagine what it was like to have Jesus treat you like a human being? Not like a piece of meat, not like something to be bartered in marriage? But like a human being? No wonder they followed him everywhere. No wonder they supported his ministry, personally and financially. No wonder they stayed at the foot of the cross when everybody else would run like crazy. No wonder they were the first witnesses of the Resurrection.

You and I have to get into that kind of gospel trouble. You and I have got to start connecting the dots between sexism, and racism, and heterosexism, against abuse of environment. Those things are all connected – they’re all connected.. If we could stop fighting each other over whose pain is the worst, & started working together, we’d be the majority.

I think this whole debate about homosexuality is a massive avoidance mechanism from talking about those things. If we can keep talking about them and what they do in bed, we don’t have to talk about us. And the way all those isms are connected.

Martin Luther King was shocked just after he moved beyond racism and started talking about poverty, and the war in Vietnam - that’s when he became really dangerous. He was dangerous before, but that’s when he got REALLY dangerous, when he began to connect those dots. And you & I will become dangerous if we start to do that. That’s why they killed Jesus – he saw them & pointed it out. His victory was because he kept pointing it out even when it looked like it would get him into big trouble, & of course it did
You and I are called to be passionate about the people and things Jesus was passionate about, otherwise this is just some personal feelgood thing we’ve got going back home in a church. If we’re not on the spot, making trouble, and making waves then we’d best check if we’re preaching the same gospel Jesus is preaching. It got him into trouble with the religious powers that be, and believe me, if we start doing that we’ll be in trouble too.

Isn’t it interesting you can preach a vengeful, angry God, and nobody will bat an eye but if you start preaching a God who’s too merciful, too loving, too forgiving, too compassionate, and there’s hell to pay. Right? Absolutely. And that’s why Jesus was always in trouble with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We have to be passionate about the people Jesus was passionate about - the last, and the lost, and the least.

I had my first inkling of this and how my election was so much bigger than issues of homosexuality. 3 days after my election, I got this amazing note from the NH State Women’s Prison, and I’d never met this woman, and it said, “I’m neither gay or a Christian, generally, but something about your election that makes me believe there is a community out there that could love me, despite what I have done.” So just before the General Convention I went down to meet this woman, who turned out to be a very young woman, she was 18. And when she was 15 she had killed her mother, who interestingly, was a forensic psychiatrist. Actually, I went down to play softball with the women of the NHSWP, which is about as near-death an experience as I’ve ever had. These women played softball! And this woman, who’s become a dear friend, the woman who plays first base, is, well, let’s just say she’s so big, when she stands on first base, you can’t get to first base. I love those women. And they saw something in what happened in NH that gave them hope, and I wanted to find out what that was. The women were amazed I baptized 7 or 8 of them. The followed the consent process at General Convention. They wanted me to come back after my consecration and wear all my fancy stuff. I passed around my ring, which I got back. I spend every Christmas Eve with them. It’s an awful time to be in prison. They don’t know which family member, if they’ve got a family member, has got their kids. They’re not wrapping present and putting them under the tree, they feel completely forgotten. And it’s my Christmas present to myself. If they’ve got 1/10th out of my being there that I’ve gotten from being there, it would be amazing.

I go to the men’s prison quite a lot, and one of the young men there, he’s 19 or 20, he was one of the 2 kids who brutally murdered 2 Dartmouth professors. He will live the rest of his life there. And my challenge is to preach the gospel and say something about how he is going to claim his Christian ministry in that place, never ever getting to exercise it on the outside. These are the kinds of people we are called to reach out to. They’re desperate for the good news. Interestingly, last night I was at my old fraternity at Sewanee, and those guys at that magnificent university there are just as needy, they’re just as spiritually hungry as those guys in prison. They express it in a different way, they ask different questions, but it’s all the same thing. It’s like you and I have got to get good and tell the story about our salvation, and tie it to Scripture, and then take it to those people who so desperately need to hear it. The kinds of people that Jesus cared about.

I want to read you another story. This has come to be one of my favorite things.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
This is very soon after the resurrection, and these very simple fishermen and [inaudible] other types, who had spent 3 years with Jesus NOT getting his message, suddenly having a big turnaround and getting it. And this story is so important to me as a gay man, because I and an awful lot of other people – people of color, women, people in wheelchairs, all kinds of people – have been told that they don’t belong in the temple. That the closest they can come is the back door. And there are plenty of people willing to carry them there and sit them there and let them beg for what’s left over, but the message is you’re not good enough to come in. And Peter and James[sic] call out to this man - and I love these quirky little things that appear in Scripture and you don’t know why – “Look at us! I don’t have any money, but what I do have, I give you. In the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” And this guy, not only gets up and walks, but begins to dance and run and leap and play and oh my god, he runs inside the temple, claiming it for his own. And it says – this is very important - he did so praising God, not praising Peter and James[sic] – that’s very important. That there was something about what Peter and James[sic] did and the way they did it that pointed to God, not to themselves. And he runs in, where he’s suspected he belonged all along, but for way too long he’d believed what he’d been told, which is that he belonged no further than the back door. And let me tell you, it made people mad. He knew this place – their world was all nicely ordered and set, thank you very much. And him running inside, claiming the temple for himself, claiming God and God’s blessing for himself, upset that applecart big time.

That story is so important to me, because for the first 40 years of my life, I believed I was an abomination. You know what? God didn’t get it wrong, but the Church did. The Church got it wrong, the way the Church got it wrong about slavery, and about women, and about the differently-abled, and all kinds of people. God didn’t get it wrong. And in the name of Jesus someone told me to stand up. That’s our story. We belong right in the center of things. But you don’t get to stay there. You then have to go out into the streets and find all the people who still don’t know the year of the Lord’s favor. Who still think they’re not worthy; who still think that God could not possibly love them. And then bring them to the center. Those are our stories. And we need to learn to run and leap and dance and laugh and sing, and then invite the others to the dance.

Number 4: you and I need to be prepared to pay a price. We have gotten so wimpy. People in the civil rights movement knew that they had to pay a price for what they did; whether it be water hoses or dogs or jail or death. And we have gotten so wimpy that we think that we should fight injustice and not pay a price for it. It won’t happen. It just won’t happen. And why does that take us by surprise? What risks are you and I taking for the gospel? What waves are we making for God’s sake? One of the hard things about the last 3 and a half years for me, but also one of the blessings are the costs. Just before my consecration, there were a lot of death threats. And I had to wear a bulletproof vest at my own consecration. We had to have bomb-sniffing dogs. It was pretty tense. And as I’m strapping on my bullet-proof vest, and my partner as well, my daughters…our daughters are there, pretty worried. And I was able to have this conversation with them; I was able to say, ‘You know, there are a lot worse things than dying. Like not living, for instance.’ That’s the real tragedy. There are people who are walking around and not living! I think we’ve got to be willing to pay a price, and not be surprised by it. We need to prepare for one another for it, and when someone is paying the price we need to support them. It just goes with the territory. You know, the miracle of the Resurrection is not that it brings us life after death, because that was already there. God’s going to take care of that. The Resurrection is about life before death. It’s about the quality of life that you and I are going to lead when we so believe. That’s the difference.

And so we’re doomed to a life full of conflict. Isn’t it funny that people are shocked there is conflict in the church? There’s always been conflict in the church! Most of the New Testament wouldn’t have been written if there hadn’t been conflict in the church. Paul didn’t write all these letters saying, ‘Way to go, the Corinthians are doing a great job!’ They were doing such a bad job of it, and they’re fighting with each other like cats and dogs. Peter and Paul were fighting over whether you had to become a Jew first to be a follower of Jesus. We’re all probably sitting here today following that argument. So why should we be surprised if there’s conflict in the church? And if conflict doesn’t keep us away from God... I think conflict…you know, I re-edited the Beatitudes, you know, all those states that make you blessed. I think conflict is one of them.

In the middle of the process for my consent at General Convention, when the charges were brought against me for sexual misconduct, and being linked to a pornographic website…I knew they weren’t true, but didn’t know if I could prove it before the end of the Convention. My Canon to the Ordinary brought me a little piece of calligraphy, and it’s just become my mantra. It says, “Sometimes, God calms the storm, and sometimes God lets the storm rage, and calms his child.” And just about the same time, my priest from Keene sent me a picture of a hurricane, taken from outer space. It’s a picture of this enormous swirl of cloud, and right in the center is this tiny, tiny little speck of blue. And that’s where I try to put myself. And the only way to do that is you let God get close. And I tell you, the greatest blessing of this last 3 and a half years is that God has seemed so close. Prayer sometimes seems redundant…God is so right there. Now, how can you regret something like that? People say, ‘If you had to do this all over again, would you do it?’ Well, my God, of course! Because look at what it’s done in terms of my relationship with God! You bet. You bet. So let’s not be afraid of conflict. OK, somebody’s going to get mad and pull their pledge…OK. Then what? Just don’t run from it. Let’s expect it, and then let’s look for God in the middle.

The last thing I want to say to you is that I’ll share with you the way that I get through every day, and maybe it works for you. It’s the [inaudible] archives, and people have used it for a joke. I believe with my whole heart that we’re all going to Heaven. I just believe that. And I believe that I’m going to Heaven, and that knowledge helps me put in perspective everything else that’s happened to me. So if I believe with my whole heart that I’m going to be with God when all is said and done…so what if I get a death threat? I mean, I’m not looking to be a martyr…I just want to be a bishop. But I know if it happened, it would not be the worst thing. Believing with your whole heart that you’re going to Heaven, and believing with your whole heart that your enemies are going to Heaven…that’s the trick of it. Partly I say it because I know it would drive him crazy, and partly because I believe it…Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria and I are going to be in Heaven together. A wonderful lady theologian, an African-American woman, Berna.Dogier(?), she just recently died, said that the thing about Heaven is we’re all going there, it’s just that some people are going to be a little more surprised than others at who else is there. And when we’re all in Heaven, we’re all going to get along, because God wouldn’t have it any other way. So we might as well practicing now. So it makes a difference how you live your life. It means that you can take some risks, and you can get in some Gospel trouble, because in the end, I’m going to Heaven. And everything else is kinda small potatoes compared to that. I can do this bishop thing well, or I can do it poorly, and you know what? I’m going to Heaven! I can enter into a conflict, and try to effect reconciliation, and I can make things worse, and I’m going to Heaven, and I can make things better and I’m going to Heaven. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about how it comes out; it doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. It means that your worth doesn’t depend on it. Your worth doesn’t depend on whether you’re successful or not, no matter what you’re doing in life.

So I think you and I as ministers of the Gospel, ordained and lay alike, are called upon to make this story our own. And then to take it to people who don’t have the benefit of knowing and believing. And what I experienced last night at Sewanee, at the fraternity, is what I experience on every college campus; it’s that people are so disgusted with the institution of the Church, that it’s the last place they’d look for help with their relationship with God. [inaudible]….that spirituality…and they don’t want to talk about it, because you and I, as church people, have forgotten or temporarily misplaced the notion that our job is to assist people with that relationship with God, and then sit in the background So you and I first of all need to recover that, and then we need to take it to the people, who are still desperate to hear it. And who believe the church is the last place in the world you get help. That’s sad.

This God of ours is amazing! There is no end to this God’s love for us. How do I keep going every day, in terms of all the stuff going on in the Episc. Church, and the Anglican Communion? Because I know how it’s going to turn out, I know how it’s going to end, don’t you? It’s going to end with the full inclusion of all of God’s children. That’s how it’s going to turn out. Yeah, I don’t expect to live to see it, but that’s how it’s going to turn out. And so I don’t have to lose hope, I don’t have to get discouraged or burn out, because I’m just doing my little piece. And you can do your little piece, because we know how it’s going to end. It’s going to end with this loving God of ours being absolutely victorious. This God of ours will keep loving us so much, no matter how hard-headed we are, no matter how much we’ve resisted, this God will keep loving us until we are all reconciled with that wonderful God. That is very good news on this or any other night. Thank you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Room with a view

The room was James's, and THIS was the view that greeted our eyes this morning! Over 10cm of snow, and it's wet and slippery as can be - Dean said it took him an hour and 40 minutes to get to work this morning.

Can't blame this one on the usual "cold front sweeping down from Canada", as this came UP from the U.S., and I hear the East Coast is getting it bad. And naturally, whether it's 10 degrees below normal and snowing as it is right now, or "the middle of a heat wave in August Bank Holiday" as Scrooge put it, it's all because of Global Warming.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

In damp places, nasty things thrive

Vancouver is a damp place. And a very nasty thing is thriving there - the Green Party in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway has chosen Kevin Potvin to run as its candidate in the next federal election. In November, 2002, Potvin published A revolting confession, describing his glee during and after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He nonchalently dismissed the thousands killed that day with the observation that more Americans are murdered in one month than were killed by terrorism, and Africans are dying in great numbers all the time, so why should one more big batch of corpses be worth getting steamed over?
Nor was I alone, I know for a fact, whenever I passed a TV or newspaper with a report on the ensuing US war to capture Osama bin Laden, and I secretly said to myself, "Go, Osama, Go!" I am happy he has eluded capture by the Americans. I am in love with those Afghans who, whenever asked, said, "He went that-a-way," and their fifty hands pointed in fifty different directions.

There is a war on. US President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld call it "a war on terrorism." But is war not terrifying? And is terrorism not war, waged by those who can't afford tanks and airplanes? If someone wanted to wage war on the US, with all its satellites and drone bombers and smart missiles, what other form could it possibly take besides terrorism? To call it "a war on terrorism" is like calling it a war on war–surely an absurdity.

This is not a war against terrorism. It is a war against unbridled corporatism and militarism. And I'm not sure which side my heart is on.

It's bad enough this jackass wrote this piece while the WTC was still smoking. What's worse is that he waited a full year, and THEN published it. This wasn't flung into public in a fit of wild excitement, that he might have later regretted. No, he cold-bloodedly sat on in for a full year, re-read it, said to himself, "Damn, that's good!" and then published it. Showing the sort of courage I've come to expect from leftist jerks like this, and thinking that surely he'd be safe now that everyone had been dead more than a year.

Today, this little cock-a-doodle-doo has landed him in trouble. The leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, doesn't particularly want this guy running for her party.
Of her own feelings about the terrorist attack, May told The Vancouver Sun: "I was just shattered by 9/11. I could barely function for two weeks.

"The idea that somebody felt celebratory about it makes my stomach turn, so I will talk to him, I'll find out what his views are."

...May said she found Potvin's comments "despicable" when she saw them in media coverage this week, but added that she also read the original Potvin column and "found [it] even worse."
It's a dark day when Canadians have to depend upon the leadership of the Green Party to stand between us and this sort of depravity, but I'm grateful for any help at all. Frankly, I found Ms May's statement refreshingly honest and human. I hope she sticks to her guns and keeps this bum out.

Just to highlight the contrast, here's Potvin's "apology" from Friday:
"I apologize for the way my essay of four years ago has been characterized. I stand strongly against all forms of violence and I always have.

I was revolted by the imagery of that morning and openly sharing my contemplation of the source and nature of that revulsion. Some sentences out of their context may appear insensitive."
So he's apologizing for the stupidity of everyone else - mighty white of him. And then he issued ANOTHER statement, through the Green Party, that put it differently:
"Nearly five years ago, I wrote a piece on the tragedy of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre.

"Today, I would like to completely and unequivocally apologize for any offence or hurt that my writing may have potentially caused," the statement declares.

"We all suffered a terrible trauma on September 11th. I stand strongly opposed to all forms of violence and I always have. I was revolted by the imagery of that morning, and in openly sharing my contemplation of the source and nature of my revulsion, some sentences, out of context, may appear insensitive."
This tries to sweeten the venom with a little mawkish sympathy - the 'tragedy', the 'terrible trauma' WE ALL SUFFERED. And "revolted by the imagery" conveys nothing at all to me - did he dislike the news coverage that day? Too sympathetic to the Americans, perhaps? Not enough "context" for his taste, to explain to the viewers why they should be cheering and pumping their fists in the air just like him? And since he can't resist reminding everyone that he's never been wrong, "Earlier this week Potvin told Public Eye Online he endorses "in its totality" the column he published in the Nov. 28, 2002 edition of his community newspaper, The Republic of East Vancouver." Then he added in ANOTHER remark elsewhere, ""I regret having written it, I regret having felt that way. What I was trying to do is confess an emotion that I now find so despicable in myself that I can barely recognize myself in what I wrote five years ago."

OK, got that? He wrote it, and he wishes he hadn't written it, but he still endorses it, and he hates himself for it, and anyway, everyone else got it all wrong.

Disgusting. Just disgusting. And what's even more disgusting, is that this asshole was ACCLAIMED by the riding association in Vancouver Kingsway. Their unanimous choice to represent them.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How revolutions end (plus another opera)

This post on StandFirm really disturbed me. And I have to think that it disturbs many people who are on the revisionist side. How many of them, when this whole experiment with "inclusiveness" and new liturgies began, thought that they'd end up scheming to use the RICO statute to throw other Episcopalians in jail? Is this how they imagined they'd be spending their old age? But this is always the way with revolutions. They start off with bright hopes, and lots of dreamy "Wouldn't it be wonderful if only...?" reveries. And they end up with hard and haggard men and women, cursing and grinding their teeth, and shouting "Ecrasez l'infame!"

This puts me in mind of a new opera I've just discovered: Umberto Giordano's 'Andrea Chenier' (I think it's currently being performed at the Met). Some scenes are on YouTube - this one in particular I like. It's the aria "Nemico della patria?!", sung by Carlo Gerard, a former servant who is now an important figure in the French Revolution. Here he realizes how far he has fallen since his days of innocent idealism; now he signs fake accusations to send innocent men to the guillotine.

An enemy of the state?
It's an old story, but luckily the public still swallows it.
(He writes)
Born in Constantinople? A foreigner!
Studied at St-Cyr? A soldier!
Traitor! An accomplice of Dumouriez!
A poet, who subverts hearts and morals!
Once, I was happily free of hate and revenge.
I was innocent and strong,
I felt like a giant.
Yet I'm still only a servant.
I've changed masters - now I serve violent passion.
Worse yet, I kill and tremble.
And as I kill, I weep.
I was a son of the Revolution.
I was the first to hear her call.
And I shouted in unison with her.
Have I lost faith in the dream of my destiny?
My glorious mission once blazed before me.
To rekindle the people's conscience,
To dry the tears of the suffering,
To make the world a Pantheon.
To turn men into gods.
With one kiss, to bring all mankind into a loving embrace.

This isn't the most perfect rendition, musically speaking, but it's the one I enjoy watching the most. Sherrill Milnes was 61 when he performed this, and had been retired for some years; he was a brilliant baritone, but suffered from health problems in the 1980s and injured his voice. But he's got such presence, I really like him here, even if his voice is not what it was at the peak of his career.

Another segment, from the early 1960s (in black and white) still has lovely sound, with Mario del Monaco in the title role. Here he sings a love song to his homeland, which turns into an attack on the aristocracy and clergy who ignore the poor and suffering. Lots of sweeping passion and emotion; del Monaco or Corelli, I can't say which is best, I like them both. I don't know what it is about this music, but I just love it - I think it's the long, sustained deep notes in the strings, combined with the harp. Gets me every time.

This is what they call 'verismo' - sort of flowing and almost "conversational", instead of the usual structure of arias strung together with recitatif. It reminds me a little bit of the way Wagner operas are put together. But the odd thing is, I really like this opera, and I just HATE Wagner.

It's my fault - somehow I can't respond to Wagner. I try to listen to him; this fall, the CBC broadcast the entire Ring cycle, and I would turn it on and think, 'This is it. This time, I'm going to discover the secret - the wonderful thing about Wagner, and I'll love him like other people do.' And without fail, I listen for about 15 minutes, think, "Hmmm, well, THAT's a nice tune. If they'd sing a bit more of that...oh, they've gone on to something else... What's the orchestra doing now? That's not the same thing the singers are singing!...Is that SUPPOSED to sound like that? Is this all written down, or are they just making it up? Hey, look what's on the Weather Channel..." and I'd wander away and the radio would be switched off, and my Wagner experiment would come to another inglorious end.

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Oh, NOW I get it!

Chris Johnson at MCJ has unearthed yet another collection of dim Episcopalian clerics, one of whom launches into yet another chorus of the late, great "Three-Legged Stool" of the Anglicans. Typically, the author describes the concept in one sentence - Scripture, Tradition and Reason - then in the sentence immediately following does the old switcheroo on one of the "legs" and substitutes in "experience" for Reason.

Nowadays, every time I hear the words "three-legged stool", I immediately think of Edward Gorey's miniature romance (for want of a better word), 'The Curious Sofa, a Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary'. Read the reviewer's synopsis and you'll see how perfectly everything fits:
The Curious Sofa tells of the delightfully open-minded Alice who, approached one day in the park while she's eating grapes, takes a taxi ride with a young gentleman during which she does something that she's never done before. The story then proceeds to a country house, during which various upper-class folk introduce Alice to a dizzying variety of fun, variously involving a French maid, a Countess, a married couple who each have a wooden leg, numerous "exceptionally well-formed" gentlemen and an enthusiastic Old English sheepdog. You don't actually see anything, thanks to Mr. Gorey's discreet placing of trees, bushes, clothed persons and screens between us and the action, so fans of genuine porn can expect to be disappointed. But this is still a highly titillating book. It climaxes, as it were, when the whole party encounters the eponymous and somewhat sinister sofa, at which point events get rather beyond Alice's control in a way that I'll leave to your imagination.
It ALL has to be left to your imagination, as we never actually SEE the mysterious sofa, but we do read an interesting description of it:
It stood in a windowless room lined with polar bear fur and otherwise empty; it was upholstered in scarlet velvet, and had nine legs and seven arms.
Soon to be appearing at Trinity Church, Wall Street.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Three Easter essays

I complain a lot about our local newspaper, The Citizen, and say that if they ever stop running David Warren's column, I'll just quit reading it altogether. And they did run a a typically ankle-biting series of "skeptical" stories prior to Easter, going over all the lurid speculations that Jesus was gay, or married, or non-existent. But to make up for it, over the Easter weekend they published three really EXCELLENT essays by one of their columnists, Robert Sibley. They were well-written and even footnoted, an unusual thing in a mere newspaper column.

The first one was entitled Rethinking the revelation, and was published on Saturday. It is a nice overview of the way Christianity learned to synthesize reason and revelation, and of how the Enlightenment philosophs began the process of separating religion from the realm of what is "knowable". And here we are today, in the age of scientism, when the public assumptions are all on the side of materialism, and religion is corralled into a little area off to the side. (Though never quite successfully - as Sibley notes, materialists are vexed to see religion stubbornly rising from the grave yet again.)

The second one, published Easter Sunday, was Recovering Reason. It continues the theme of reason combined with revelation, using Pope Benedict's Regensburg address as a starting point. He goes on to point out the irony of the modern tendency to exalt science and disparage religion, since it was only because of Europe's Christian foundation that such a thing as modern science could arise at all.

The modern arrangement has led to physical advantages, but has left us spiritually impovershed.
"What is special about our case is that we see the breakdown coming about in a particular way," says Charles Taylor. "We see it coming through hypertrophy, through our becoming too much what we have been. This kind of fear is perhaps definitive of the modern age, the fear that the very things that define our break with earlier traditional societies -- our affirmation of freedom, equality, radical new beginnings, control over nature, democratic self-rule -- will somehow be carried beyond feasible limits and will undo us."
Chesterton wrote something uncannily similar in 'The Everlasting Man', when he described the ancient world on the eve of Christ's birth.
It was the best sort of paganism that wore the laurels of Rome. It was the best thing the world had yet seen, all things considered and on any large scale, that ruled from the wall of the Grampians to the garden of the Euphrates. It was the best that had conquered; it was the best that ruled; and it was the best that began to decay.

Unless this broad truth be grasped, the whole story is seen askew. Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old. But Carthage at any rate was dead, and the worst assault ever made by the demons on mortal society had been defeated. But how much would it matter that the worst was dead if the best was dying?
I admit that often today I feel like I'm living in that time - the West, and today American, are the best things the world has ever seen, and I feel that I'm watching it falling under its own weight. As Chesterton goes on to say, "The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end." Those words "dreary festivity" come to me now every year when the Oscars come around; every time the papers recount the exploits of Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith, or whoever has their name in the news these days.

The series finished on Monday with The mystery of Easter, and I think it's the best of the three. Sibley writes about the unconcealed hostility for the truth of Christianity, and the obvious wishful thinking among materialists that somehow it can be made to disappear.
It would take volumes to account for these anti-Christian attitudes. It is perhaps sufficient here to suggest a psychological paradox: The hostility toward Christianity is a response, in part at least, to what theologian David Hart describes as "the dark night of humanity's interior retreat from faith." Westerners have been deprived of the sense of meaning and purpose that Christianity once provided them, both as individuals and as a civilization. As psychologists know, denial and hatred are often the flipside of longing and love. In this light, hostility toward Christianity (as distinct from skepticism) is a form of self-hatred born of loss and fear.
He goes on to deal with the obsessive quest today to de-Christify Jesus, and strip him of the miraculous and the godly, and quotes C.S. Lewis (among others) to refute the claims that Jesus was just a wise sage and a good man.
Christianity, as theologian Jean Danielou once said, "is essentially faith in an event" -- that event being God's Incarnation. In the same way that "proving" Mohammed was a war-loving madman, Yahweh a figment of Moses' delirium, or Siddharta Gautama a delusional psychotic, would undermine Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, so, too, does "disproving" Christ's divinity strip Christianity of its substance and, arguably, open the door to nihilism. Too often, though, our response to this threat of meaninglessness isn't a courageous refusal to abandon the moral conduct that gives humans their dignity and worth. Instead, as journalist Brian Appleyard observes, the result is "the increasingly desperate pursuit of any kind of transcendence" -- sexual obsession, extreme shopping and ideology being among the most popular -- to mask the fear and the loss. Just ask those who make money insisting on the holiness of bones.

Oh, come on...DO SOMETHING!!

That's how I feel every day when I go out into the garden. The chives are still growing, the rhubarb and bleeding hearts still have just barely poked little pink noses above the earth, but apart from that, not much is happening. Nevertheless, I pruned the roses - still can't tell if those David Austin roses I bought last year survived the winter - and also the currants. All three look healthy and covered with buds; this year I'll be wary of late frosts that might kill the blossoms, as happened with the black currant last year. I also raked up some dead leaves and sticks, to Yin's great dismay. I've got to find the phone number of the guy I call every year to tune up my gas engines, so he can get my rototillers working again, as well as making it easier to start the lawn mower. I hate it when I practically give myself a hernia yanking on that starter cord first thing in the spring.

It's actually a bit too early to till the soil - even in the New Garden, when I squeezed a handful of earth, a little water squeezed out, and the Old Garden is wetter, as it was covered with snow longer. But maybe in a two weeks it'll be ready, so I want to get my machines prepared ahead of time. After all, the seed packet for my Purple Haze carrots says one can start planting at the beginning of May!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Easter icon

This is The Resurrection. Tatiana restored it for us - the wood had been eaten by termites, and the whole icon split into two pieces, from top to bottom! Also, much of the paint had worn off - almost all the gold was gone, most of the white from Christ's robes, and some of the faces of the smaller figures. Now you can see how beautiful it was when first painted.

The center section shows the risen Christ, standing on the fallen beams of the Gates of Hell. The figures on either side of him are Adam and Eve, coming out of their tombs (they look like stone boxes). Above them, on either side, are crowds of the virtuous dead - prophets, kings, heroes of the Old Testament, and you can see John the Baptist there too. In the West, we call this the Harrowing of Hell - all those who died before Christ are saved too, and being brought to Paradise.
On the lower left, is a big open-mouthed creature like a whale - I think this symbolizes the mouth of death opening to release the dead, and it reminds me a lot of the story of Jonah and the Whale. You can see a bearded old man lying on the ground, tied up with an angel over him - that is the Devil.

In the lower right corner is the scene of Christ breaking from the tomb, the stone rolled away and the soldiers struck unconscious. I love the stone - look at it, it isn't just a big dull, grey rock the way we always picture it in the West. It's brighly-coloured, and painted in a diamond pattern, almost like a quilt! (Though I guess it could be one of the soldiers' shields, but I don't think so - there's not much space on an icon, and I think the stone rolling away is an important part of the story, so I prefer to think that the artist would have put that in, instead of just a detail of armour.)

I'm so glad Tatiana was able to save this icon for us. It's got a power and vividness to it that are really amazing.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Two articles about atheists

The first is by Charles Moore in the The Telegraph, and follows a bit on the post immediately below. He detects that same air of superiority in the most prominent atheists speaking out today, "the voices of a university high table - and almost invariably male voices at that - proving something to their own satisfaction while other people cook the lunch." It's an odd fact that while individual atheists can be great people, generous and understanding and accepting of people with differing views, their most prominent spokesmen are often strident and sneering.

By contrast, this article in our local paper impressed me very much. The writer is himself an atheist, but he's the kind of guy I would enjoy having a talk with. He's not inflated with a sense of his own cleverness in "seeing through" what has bamboozled the majority of people.
At the little gift counter there, you can buy yourself a Darwin fish. The Darwin fish looks just like the Christian fish, except that it's got legs -- a fish evolving into an amphibian.

But Christians don't display a fish in support of creationism (something most educated Christians don't believe in anyway; they know that life evolved from simpler forms, thank you very much). Rather, they're declaring their adherence to a moral code: Blessed are the peacemakers; if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer them your left; forgive and forget. Responding to that with a smug joke about evolution not only misses what the Christians are saying, but it makes the atheists look mean-spirited....No, what they're really saying is, "If you want time and space devoted to something that's important to you, then I should be given equal time and space to ridicule that thing."
I agree with him. Too many "public" atheists seem to be perpetually crouched to spring at something - they're tense, hostile, and angry. They seem as anguished at the possibility of letting a believer escape unmauled as an Inquisitor would be at seeing a heretic slip his chains and scamper off to lure more souls to perdition.

The article has a slightly disappointing ending, but you must take into account that expressing scorn for George Bush might just be a deeply engrained Canadian prejudice, and have nothing to do with atheism at all. I just think that atheists would be better off themselves if they could relax a bit and think like this guy, and it would be a lot pleasanter for believers when encontering them, too.

Dalrymple article

Theodore Dalrymple is another one of my favorite writers. He's like Mark Steyn - never writes an article without at least ONE phrase you want to write down and remember for the future. But as he's English, he's not quite as light-hearted as Steyn, living as he is in a country that is even further down the death spiral than ours.

This latest article struck me as both depressing and stimulating. I got the feeling that he'd finally adjusted a lens I'd been squinting through for years, and brought a shape into focus. He's tracing the decay of virtue in the British civil service, and by extension, all of British society. I feel strongly about this, because the Canadian civil service was very consciously modelled on the British one, and up until recently was actually quite good. Up until about 15 or 20 years ago, pride in our civil service was a peculiarly Canadian thing. Politicians...well, you can always expect to find some bad eggs among them, it just goes with the territory. Politics is like acting - weak characters tend to gravitate to it as a profession. But the people in our government departments were for the most part good people, like us, doing a job that was probably a little dull, but doing it conscientiously and honestly. And we got that from the British, in a time when replicating the best of Britain was something we did deliberately.

We've slipped from that high quality, but we're not yet as badly off as the British. But Dalrymple is writing about more than just the civil service - he's writing about the decay and corruption of the intelligentsia, and at the moment that's more visible in other fields - academia, media, and (naturally) the church - which presently display more of the symptoms he describes. Doesn't this sound familiar?
Anyone who has had dealings with the British public service in the last ten or fifteen years will know that the principle qualities required for advancement within it are unceasing sanctimony, brazenness, a craven dedication to orders from on high combined with an ability to justify a complete change of direction at a moment's notice, and a capacity for bullying those lower down the feeding chain, or (to change the metaphor slightly) those jostling for a place at the trough. A rigid self-control is required to suppress any independence of mind or a tendency to consider the ethics of orders to be implemented....

I recently met a public servant who had risen up the ranks and had about him a triumphalist air, as of a successful revolutionary. He had arrived in bureaucratic heaven. He travelled to London on the train first class every week (a ticket costs the equivalent of an annual working class holiday in the sun), and attended sumptuous functions there attended by others such as himself, under the impression that by so doing he was working. Had he been a little boy recounting a visit to Father Christmas in a department store, it would have been disarming: as it was, I found it profoundly alarming.

Here was the voice of militant mediocrity, who expressed himself even in private in the language of Health Service meetings, believing that his large salary and high living at public expense were all for the good of those who paid for them.
Is there anyone who doesn't recognize the Eloi type described here? Always giving opinions to the media, from universities, special-interest groups, the cathedrals? And the good people, who still exist, "have become a defeated class", of no importance, who don't even have to be treated politely anymore.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Captain Bruno sails on

The Bishop of Los Angeles, has written a non-pastoral letter. It's quite remarkable for it's tone of clueless pigheadedness, combined with a sort of awkward chivalry toward TEC's First Lady:
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is one of the most articulate and capable women I've ever met in my life, and to undermine her authority would be a great disservice to our Church. Furthermore, to allow the Primates---who have no adjudicatory responsibility or power over The Episcopal Church---to have a steering committee that would look over Bishop Katharine's shoulder and see if she's doing things in a "proper" fashion (according to them) would be an even greater disservice to our church.
"I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone."
I hope that the next few months of study--a "fasting" for a time of study as suggested by our Presiding Bishop-would be a great gift to the Church.
Except that that's not what she proposed - it was a period of "fasting" as a concession to the "weaker brethren" in the Church, who were, for some unaccountable reason, annoyed with all this marrying and ordaining among homosexuals. Nobody said anything about "study", but the word does give off that air of brow-furrowed seriousness that looks so good in portrait photos. And by the way, what is a "metered" response? Is it anything like a "measured" response? Or is it closer to a "mitred" one?

The best part comes as Bruno gallantly promises to forge ahead on the course that has proved so successful up to now:
For we cannot go backwards. We are not a church that will turn around and walk away from our decisions.
When the appointment of Jeffery[sic] John, a gay man who was chosen to be a bishop in England, was reversed, that act of going backwards did great disservice to Jeffery John and to the English church. When the Presbyterian Church made proactive statements about sexuality and went backwards, it did great disservice to that church-and on and on with other denominations. The Episcopal Church shall not be one that backs up on this issue.
Thanks for reminding us about Jeffrey John, Bishop - it's been a few days since he was last in the news. Bruno is starting to remind me of a description I read a few years ago: "so stubborn that were he captain of the Titanic, he would have run the ship into a second iceberg to prove he meant to hit the first one." I don't suppose he'd be too flattered to know who that was originally written about: it was President George W. Bush.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Possible Charter challenge

Our puppy, Yin, is doing well, and now about 6 months old. Actually, we're taking her to be spayed tomorrow. Now, toilet training is fine, but like all puppies, she sometimes has accidents. The odd thing is, she always has them IN JAMES'S ROOM. And she never goes in there at all otherwise.

Emma was the one who suggested that maybe this was an expression of hostility, because Yin doesn't really like James much - he doesn't do anything to her, but he's loud and abrupt and she can't relax when he's around. When I mentioned it to Dean, he said that in that case, this moved the poop into the category of Political Speech, which, as we all know, is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that this could be the basis of a challenge to the Charter. Just think: Mr. A habitually takes his dog to do her business on Mr. B's lawn, and refuses to stop. When Mr. B finally resorts to the law, Mr. A can claim that his dog has never liked Mr. B because he yells at her, and so this is her way of expressing herself. Ah, you may say, but defecating is not SPEECH - it's just a natural bodily function! Then Mr. A could bring up the well-documented habit of dogs and wolves to urinate to mark their territory, thus establishing that elimination is in fact a method of communication. And he might even dare to mention "Piss Christ" and the Dung Madonna (since our courts are always thrilled to follow what the rest of the world is doing), and that story about apes having rights in Spain, and voila!

This would never fly in the U.S., where you have a REAL constitution, but up here in Canada, a few judges are just making ours up as they go along, so anything could happen.