Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mysterious doings at local Presbyterian church

An interesting, if obscure, story in today's Ottawa Citizen:
OTTAWA — Today marks a new era at St. Giles Presbyterian Church. It is the congregation’s first Sunday in “exile.”

The prominent red-brick building has stood at the corner of Bank Street and First Avenue since 1928. But last Sunday night, in a grave ceremony, the congregants were locked out of the building’s main sanctuary. The Presbytery of Ottawa, which said the congregation showed a “lack of respect” for its authority, announced that until the flock repents, it will be allowed to pray only in the basement.

The presbytery, which oversees the 18 Presbyterian churches in Ottawa (and one in Gatineau), imposed the move after St. Giles members signed a petition asking for the removal of the pastor.

I know this church - we used to live just two blocks away. But the story is very unclear in just what the problem is here. Maybe someone who knows will enlighten us. It just sounds like a pretty heavy-handed reaction on the part of the local presbytery (I guess the equivalent of a diocese). From the comments I gather that the congregation is pretty elderly (no surprise there) and not exactly large, especially compared to the size of the building they occupy. They don't fit the profile of Occupy-style troublemakers, though I can well believe that they could be recalcitrant and set in their ways. What did the pastor do to get them so riled?

The only clue is that their petition to have him removed complains of his sermons and actions, which left them feeling alienated and troubled. Is he some radical slash-and-burn type who wants to start doing gay weddings in the Glebe? Or is he just the sort who keeps lecturing them on their laziness? It could be anything. Though to tell the truth, I always wonder at ministers who think they can nag a congregation of octogenarians into leaping from their pews and charging out to evangelize the world. People wear out when they get old. You have to keep some young people around to do the heavy lifting; it's unreasonable to expect age and weariness to disappear just because it's church work that needs doing. Then again, why would any young people want to hang around a joint that's full of creaky old codgers? Especially once they realize that they'll have to pull a triple load to make up for the old-timers who are beyond it (and often don't see, or more likely, have forgotten, the point of the exertion anyway)? Vicious circle.

Whatever the reason, they sent them away from the table with a good solid thrashing:
Hymns chosen for the congregation to sing included “We come to ask Your forgiveness.” The responsive readings included a turn for the congregation to say “Compassionate God, how quickly we forget you. We trust instead in our own judgments; we pursue our own agendas.”

The scriptural reading was from the book of Lamentations, Chapter 3, with words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light.”

The sermon, given by Rev. Jack Archibald of St. Paul’s Presbyterian on Woodroffe Avenue, made the comparison explicit, likening the St. Giles congregants to the Jews of Judah who suffered expulsion from their temple in Jerusalem and exile from the Holy Land.

Archibald spoke of the calamity and humiliation involved in both the biblical and current episodes.

“It’s a tragedy,” Archibald went on to say. “But you know what makes it the greatest tragedy of all? Certainly for Judah it was this: that they had brought it on themselves. They knew that they had deserted their god, that they had left him and were worshipping idols as their pagan neighbours did. And they were warned by prophet after prophet who came to speak to them until finally it was too late.”

There was a lesson there, he said.

Anyway, exiling these people to the basement of their own church is the sort of action that would be advertised far and wide as an example of heavy-handed inflexibility if it were the Roman Catholic Church doing it. The Presbyterians don't really have that reputation, so I'm wondering what's going on.

It occurred to me that maybe the newspaper has hit on a new way of sparking interest in their product. Instead of the old-fashioned method of just telling us all the news in one edition, they can turn this story into a serial, like the old Charles Dickens method of publishing his novels in monthly installments. I know I can't wait for Part II of this intriguing mystery - I'll be watching the paper like a hawk for the followup story, where we may learn a little more.

UPDATE: No real additional information, but Metro News seems to have sent their own reporter along to the church this morning, and she reports that 40 people attended the service in the basement, which is a good turnout(!). I guess this church is a bit more "fragile", in the words of the minister, than I realized. The earlier story implied a church membership of nearly 200, but this sounds like a very small, probably elderly group, and the worries that people will just leave are probably very well-founded. Nobody wants to say just what is wrong there. I didn't think of it at first, but the pastor is ALSO down there in the basement with the rebellious congregation. Oh joy. It must have been a great way to begin Advent.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Playing Fields of Penn State University

Mark Steyn has a good (as always) piece up about the disastrous child-rape scandal in the football programme at Penn State University. How telling that this scandal erupted in the university's sports programme, and not just in any sport, but the football programme.

I know one of the arguments for sports is the health one, but few people who love sports are thrilling to the sight of calories being burned on the field, or muscle resistance being built. That's the utilitarian facade erected to satisfy the philistines (and the one resorted to to force people like me, lazy dreamers who hate participating in sports, into smelly gyms and onto cold fields 3 times a week in school). People who LOVE a sport love it for its beauty, and the human skills and strengths required to do it well.

Wellington never really said "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton", but it makes a sort of sense - you can see why the saying caught on. Sports are small-scale yet magnified enactments of human endeavour, and when they're done well they involve much more than pure muscle development. A football game employs physical strength, but combined with farsighted planning, canny strategy, wily deception - it's a whole little battlefield, scaled down to manageable size.

In short, sports showcase what have traditionally been called "the manly virtues" - courage, daring, innovation, loyalty, camaraderie, and more. This is why sport has always been praised as "character-building". How pathetic to find in a crisis that the development has all been on the outside for some of these sports leaders. Where is the "character" that should come from all these years of "building"?

Steyn rightly scorns the 28-year old assistant who witnessed a little boy being raped and then ran away. The apologists have gone the usual route of exculpating the responsible adults by mewing about typical reactions to severe shock, how "nobody can know what they'd do in such a situation". Steyn quote Kathy Shaidle who correctly squashes this pre-emptive surrender by saying "When we say 'we don't know what we'd do under the same circumstances,' we make cowardice the default position."

How acceptable would the "I was so surprised I just froze" or "I couldn't think of what to do so I just ran away" argument be if a football game were in progress? Part of the game is to try to outwit the opposition and ruin their plans. If a player has been prepared to do a certain play and the opposing team suddenly does something unexpected, what is the player required to do? He's supposed to have some backup plan to immediately switch to in reaction. He can't just stand there open-mouthed and refuse to act. You have to do SOMETHING, to TRY to rescue the situation.
You can't just give up and then snap at critics, "Yeah, well, I'd like to see YOU play the hero without warning!" Life is all without warning.

I was disappointed that one of my favourite newspaper columnists, David Warren, took a rather lackadaisacal approach to this matter when he wrote about it last week. One argument (or lack of argument) that sets my teeth on edge is the laid-back "Oh, this is nothing new. It's ALWAYS been like this" approach to evil. It smells of that pre-emptive "making cowardice the default" mentioned above. What's the point of doing anything? Nothing will change, so why even try? His argument is that people responsible for institutions might see that more harm than good can come of taking swift and thorough action. Theoretically, I can see that that's true, but practically it seems to be that the opposite is true: however much harm might have been done by calling in the police and having Sandusky arrested, could it really have been MORE than leaving sleeping dogs lie, and having the scandal erupt more than 10 years later? Who really benefitted from the delay except Sandusky? He had 10 more years of child-hunting to enjoy. Everyone else is getting now, and much worse, what they could have weathered more easily back when the crime occurred.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Refinishing the bed, Part II - veneer

Yesterday I got started on applying the veneer to the spot on the bedrail when it peeled off. Don't believe these DIY websites that say applying veneer is so easy; it's VERY DIFFICULT. I spoiled so many pieces of veneer with false cuts.

Stupidly, I took seriously the advice not to use straight lines, but to cut the veneer on a curve to hide the lines of the repair. If I'd just completely removed the veneer from the entire rectangular section of rail, from edge to edge, I could have easily applied two pieces to fit, and it would have been done in an hour or so. Instead, I laboriously traced an outline of the curved section that needed fixing and went through hell trying to cut veneer to fit.

One thing that did work well, though, was taking off the old veneer around the edge of my design. I used a steam iron to loosen the glue and then pried it off easily with a putty knife.

Then came tracing the shape on paper and cutting it out:

I tried to do it in 2 sections, but I had to give up when I was about half through. The pieces just wouldn't fit, so I got the first piece glued down then the second piece broke in half and I glued that down, and resumed work today.

Today I redrew the remaining section so the curves are a little wider, and applied the last piece.

Here's hoping it glues down without too many bubbles and gaps; I'm getting sick of trying to squeeze glue into tiny cracks and clamp every square inch of this thing. I don't know if I'll bother fixing the back of the rail - this was really hard to do, and took me 2 days. The back won't be seen when the bed is in use; it could just be left and nobody would ever know.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bawdy humour - Nicolas Cage's Agent

Yes, it's a bit vulgar. But it also made me laugh so hard I literally fell over sideways and had to beg Emma to stop the video because I couldn't hear the lines anymore. I'm not a fan of Nicolas Cage - the only movie of his I actually have watched from beginning to end is 'Raising Arizona' (and I liked it a lot). But I gather from this that he may be a little lacking in discrimination when it comes to movie projects.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another refinishing project

I have a new furniture project: stripping and refinishing the bookcase earlier this year went so well, I decided to try my hand at another one. A few years ago at a country auction I bought an interesting bedstead - it's rather plain in design - just flat wood with a small Art Decoish trim on the footboard - but it has one interesting feature: in the headboard, on either side, there are two diamond-shaped cutouts with glass in them, and behind the glass is a little light fixture! I guess you could use this to read by in bed, or else just as a nightlight while getting ready to sleep.

My sister saw a bed like this in Vancouver and really liked it, though I think in her case the cutout was a different shape - maybe a circle, like a porthole. Anyway, the finish has deteriorated over time, and on one of the side rails some of the wood veneer got damp and peeled off. I'm going to strip the finish off, try to patch the veneer, and rewire the electric fixture, to make this bed fully functional again.

I started early this week, simply stripping the finish from the side rails, and moved on to the footboard yesterday. I was so surprised when the finish started coming off. I'd thought the bed was some very dark wood, like cherry. It's hard to show in pictures, because the flash tends to brighten the grain of the wood and it DOES look like walnut, but these pictures are pretty close to the darkness of the wood in everyday light. I always mentally considered this bed as black - almost as if it came from the House of Dracula! You can see what it looks like with one of the glass windows illuminated. It turns out it's just light walnut veneer! There were so many layers of varnish, and it had turned so dark, it gave the impression of near-black wood. When the stripper went to work, the top layer of varnish just started to crystallize, and then the lower layers of stain (I had to do several coats of stripper) peeled off with a putty knife, just like icing on a cake!

Anyway, today I finished stripping the headboard, so the whole thing is stripped now and ready for a new finish. I'll go to Lee Valley Tools, where they sell small sheets of veneer, and get some to patch that one rail. If that fails, there's another trick I could try; the inside of the rails is also veneered, but with no finish. I could lift off a piece of veneer from there and use it to patch the front (sort of like a skin graft). Then I could patch the back with the bought veneer, not caring if it doesn't match that well, because this part will never be seen once the mattress is set inside.

I'll take some more pictures when I start working on the electrical part of the project, perhaps next week.

Monday, November 07, 2011


This is the sort of "public service" we enjoy in Ottawa:

And no, we don't see what preceded this, but the guy who videotaped it was there, and didn't report that the young guy was attacking or abusing the driver - there is NO EXCUSE for what this pig did to this young man.

Dean told me this morning that the kid apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. So does Emma. (The article shows a nice confusion between the terms "mentally ill" and "mentally handicapped", which doesn't help.) It took us years of practice to get Emma to be able to ride the bus by herself; I want to be sure that she doesn't run into this pig of a driver some day and find herself being screamed at because she laughed or chatted too much, and then flung off the bus in the middle of nowhere, maybe in the winter. And what's worse is that she's come to trust bus drivers, because most of them have been pleasant to her; she'd be completely defenceless against an attack like this. If she even WITNESSED it, she'd probably be so traumatized she wouldn't want to go back on a city bus again.

Two weeks ago this entire city was bawling and striking dramatic "Never again" poses over the suicide of a young man who was victimized by bullies. Well, what is this incident but pure, naked bullying? What breaks my heart is the poor kid blurting out "Sorry," as he runs out of the bus - it must have been the cherry on the sundae for that thuggish driver. Terrify a kid and then have him humbly apologize for his own torture - must have made his day!

I hope they throw this asswipe out the door, but I have little hope of that. Instead of being concerned by the behaviour of Mr. Bus-Pig towards a vulnerable passenger, the Hog-In-Chief of the drivers' union had his priorities right:

Transit Union Local 279 president Garry Queale took aim at the passenger who videotaped the driver threatening a rider, saying the employee’s privacy was violated.

Queale said the person who captured the incident on video shouldn’t have been filming in the first place, even though a city bylaw allows recording on buses for personal use.

Just sit back and enjoy the brilliant brain power involved in that statement. According to this guy, every employee walks around the world encased in an inviolable virtual bubble of "privacy", even when he's out in public doing a job that involves dealing with the public. I guess people who look at him when they board the bus can be fined for peeping, too.