Saturday, October 3, 2009


I can still recall (probably a good thing) sitting in Peter Denny’s cognitive psychology class during grad school days, enthralled by what this man had to say about language, it’s infinite cultural variations, how one’s environment shapes the subtleties and nuances that insinuate themselves into our speech. And perhaps most profoundly, how words facilitate thought (which, after all, was the point of the class); and its converse, how, without words, thought beyond certain, elemental levels becomes difficult, if not impossible. I’d venture that my love affair with language and reverence for same was cemented in those heady days of academe. A favorite read: Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Fowler’s English Usage and The Chicago Manual of Style continue to occupy positions of veneration on the book shelf. How fitting that I have earned my living with words for all of my working life. And please don’t presume to correct my syntax!

Then encouraged by a friend to give ear to a recent Rowan Williams’ BBC interview and focusing on prayer, things shifted. He finished with reference to a poem written by a priest-poet, following 9-11 recounting the meeting of a priest, a rabbi, and an imam (no, this is not the lead in to another tired joke!) Sharing neither a common language nor essentially a common belief, the three contemplate the enormity of what’s just happened and what their respective roles might be – as they minister to their damaged and damaging flocks. They sit in silence – and, in that wordless space, the healing began.

I was immediately struck by the paradox that the very capacity to speak, not merely ‘communicate’ (as, obviously some ‘sub-human’ species are able), at once contains perhaps the single most defining aspect of our ‘humanness’ and the particular seeds of our undoing. Although the point of Babel was to highlight the folly of human achievement for its own sake (vs. the ‘glory of God’), an interesting sidebar is the mechanism by which the endeavor was ultimately quashed – failed communication. How many times have we heard variations on the theme of being ‘misunderstood’, when our meaning fails to match the intention of our spoken word; heard email pilloried because it lacks the nuance, the face-to-face quality and cues, the inflection in the voice – and is ‘mis-read’. How, when we sense we are being misinterpreted, our compulsion is to throw more words at the issue – and succeed in only making things worse.

Conversely, how often silence is referred to as ‘awkward’ and gaps in conversation filled with idle chatter – seen, most times for what it is, yet indulged nonetheless. How, faced with the prospect of ‘being out of touch’ for more than minutes, the cell phone comes out, the recent ‘texts’ checked, the twittered comment sent, email reviewed. How often is the quiet person vilified in some fashion – standoffish, sullen, uncommunicative, isolated; the loquacious one seen as social, friendly, engaging. How we abhor silence. How we suspect what it might conceal.

Our friend, as she so often does, built some lovely connections between Williams’ comments and a much-loved subject of hers (and ours): meditation – and the attendant importance of silence. “What is going on when nothing is going on?” a popular invitation to ‘listen to the silence of oneself’, foregoing the urgency to fill the space with noise, words. So elemental, so primitive and involuntary is our compulsion to ‘drown out silence’ that reportedly our brain, confronted with same, will ‘manufacture’ its own sound (in the form of that hugely irritating hum, the whine experienced as a tinnitic ‘ringing in the ears’) that plagues so many of us as we age.

Our priest today, quite unwittingly I suspect put the final punctuation point behind our culture’s tacit but widely shared opinion of this ‘anathema’ of human interaction – silence. Excluded from the oral and quite redundant recitation of the ‘announcements’ (printed in their entirety in a bloated bulletin of Sunday services) was any mention the contemplative (read: reflective, meditative and silent) activities in the parish. I suspect the irony was lost on most that, in his own way he was ‘supporting’ these very goings-on and their shared de-emphasizing of the spoken word by ‘keeping silent’ about them; while airing the things we could quite easily read about, were self-evident, or of little interest – much in the vein of so much of our ‘communication’.

A small plea then to test drive the alternative. When compelled to share the bit of gossip, the less than helpful suggestion, to fill the space between with small talk, to ‘tweet’ – try silence. For anyone who’s sat in a filled room and foregone the ‘human privilege’ of speaking, who’s experienced a day or even an hour at a silent retreat, will know the potency of quiet. Perhaps it’s time to heed the words of another poet and listen to ‘the sounds of silence’.
David Howard

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Estrogen and Anima

I still remember the first time I suggested to a client that he may find it helpful to do some anima work. A thirty-something, well-educated professional, who’d already achieved what most of us might aspire to in a lifetime, this man had always measured his successes with a traditional ‘male’ yardstick (Note 1: as a culture, we were still on the cusp of metrification; note 2: any double entendres are completely intentional). He was ‘appropriately’ aggressive – in work, interpersonally, in leisure – allowing him to advance quickly and deliberately on all fronts. He could fly jets, he had leading-man good looks, he was a good provider, and he was respected and deferred to by colleagues. In short, his animus, his male ego was fully intact. So why the niggling dissatisfactions, the cracks appearing in his relationship(s), the relentless searching for the final piece, attaining which would no doubt make him feel complete (or so he thought).

Bear in mind that these were times, in the very early 1990’s, of rampant gender-role identity confusion (bit of a mouthful, that). There were women trying to be men – at least psychologically; there were men masquerading as women – athletically, entertainingly; there were men trying to be men – but ever so carefully so as not to ‘piss off Mother Nature’; there were strong women with traditional values; and there were men wondering just when it became politically incorrect to be male. And so on. . . and on. The ‘roar’ of the strident feminists, the equivocation of the fence sitting ‘soft male’ apologists (as Robert Bly was derisively fond of labeling as he advocated for men to reclaim their ‘wild man’), the entrenchment of any number of seemingly incompatible, ‘gender postures’ made one, at once, long for the simpler days of Father Knows Best and celebrate the energy of such diversity. So when the consummate, well-socialized macho man is advised to explore his feminine side, one can only imagine the confusion contained in the “my what?” response – not to mention, the resistance.

In the past fifteen to twenty years, we’ve made some progress; although I strongly suspect, were I chatting with this same man today, I’d be greeted with the same quizzical, initially amused look – conveying every bit of the unvoiced “you’re kidding, right?” Dinosaurs like Steinam at one pole and the religious, fundamental right at the other, beating its paternalistic drum relentlessly, still survive – but the uncritical acceptance of these anachronistic extremes has thankfully diminished. A sort of regression to the gender-posture mean, as happens with all statistical and social phenomena, has once again asserted its truth.

Jung’s concepts of animus and anima, descriptive of the male and female energy contained in each of us, have once again found a more sustainable, more balanced, less suspected expression in the culture. My now yellowed with age comments to my former client were little other than a suggestion that he explore a healthier balance in his life. The (literally) high-flying, aggressive, competitive ‘yang’ energy that had appeared to serve him so well in his first few adult decades, was sufficiently lopsided that it had begun to flag as a formula for living. A little more ‘yin’ was needed. At the time, no easy prescription – when polarities abounded; balance, equanimity eschewed.

Which brings me to the impetus for this piece. In our parish, this is ‘ACW Sunday’ -- for the uninitiated, the Anglican Church Women’s day to report in and hopefully recruit a few younger folk to their ranks. Some discussion had grown around the choice of readings for our BCP service – together with the ‘preferred’ language to be used. The ‘Virtuous Woman’ (of Proverbs 31) was to be described as the ‘strong and capable’ woman. And the homilist was to be the assistant priest, with no small reputation / track record for championing the role of women in the church. My wife and I had joked a bit around how she might ‘explain’ my absence from service today – with my rather flip summary comment: “Too much estrogen!” I’d anticipated (and I really must resist the temptation to pre-judge these things) a, how can I put this, asymmetrical morning (read lopsided, polarized rant – once again at the cost of equanimity); and chose to take a pass, rather than boost my blood pressure.

I suppose this is, in some ways, an extension of last week’s rant (of my own) – a rebuke of exclusivity. My client and our priest are, in the words of a friend, the ‘sandpaper’ that rubs away our surface rust and allows us to consider things from a slightly more ‘exposed’ (and hopefully, available) perspective. My sense is that, as long as we travel back and forth along the same ‘highway’, with feminism at one end and chauvinism at the other, making our points, expressing our position at the expense of the ‘other camp’, we will never see any other landscape. A detour, just a little ‘north’ of this all too well-travelled path allows us to both distance from this adversarial, partisan and pointless debate, bent on cultivating the already converted (whichever camp that may be) and alienating the other; and to regain a little balance in our perspective. Welcome to Equanimity, population TBA.

BTW, what was the homily about? Community building – but that’s another story.

David Howard

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Long-haired, Freaky People Need Not Apply

Carl Jung calls it synchronicity. Sometimes defined as a ‘meaningful coincidence’; a confluence of events that draws one’s attention to an underlying truth or significance. I’d bristled briefly at the rather generous description of my home parish as an ‘impartial community’, eschewing discrimination, exclusion, judgment – of ‘those not like us’ – as the centre piece of our rector’s homily this past Sunday. Hopefully enough in tune with my own antennae twitches to identify the source of the ‘Oh really?’ reaction, I’d attributed it to a ‘well that may be a stretch’ conclusion. But that was before this week’s new and improved ad for this particular church in our small-town rag.

As web mistress for the parish, my wife had invested considerable energy this past week in dressing up a ‘60’s GM product (I’d see it as a heavily chromed, gas-guzzling, Buick or Cadillac) of a website, as a vehicle a little more contemporary, a little less ponderous, and something that ‘gets you where you want to go’ without all the attendant glitter and arriving today (versus, whenever the site would load up). A toss-in was the sub-header: ‘in the heart of Stratford’. I can assume in recognition for her efforts, this week’s announcement of Sunday services in the local newspaper borrowed (more or less) from the site’s new clothes with an invitation to join us at the Parish of St. James’ – the heart of Stratford.

A bit of history at this point. This particular church, populated by this particular congregation has often been, somewhat disdainfully viewed as the ‘church on the hill’ and ‘out of reach’ of the broader population of Stratford. Rather like a snobby club with particular standards of membership and a vetting process that sometimes suggests that ‘long-haired, freaky people need not apply’ (to paraphrase). Rightly or wrongly in its take on the parish, the effort has been expended from within over the years to soften this reputation, to have it seen as more accessible and more (boy, I struggle with this word) welcoming, and less ‘exclusive’.

Like most things Freudian, the slip’s the thing. Drop a preposition and (I hope not, but) the underlying reality starts to surface.

But I’m getting ahead. The other bit of scary data arrived in my email early this Sunday morning. As a newly minted lay reader (and Anglican, for that matter), I was on tap for the BCP at 9:00. Lifers might recognize 1st Corinthians 1 as one of Paul’s little castigations against arrogance, self-satisfaction, celebration of human ‘excellence’ – in favour of humility and such like. Cautioned to be fully familiarized with the ‘unpronouncables’ (those tongue twisters of names and places) and caught substantially off guard a few months back with what passes for biblical porn (an account of David’s vile behaviour and lust; not to mention Bathsheba’s having recently endured ‘that time of the month’) – all because I hadn’t previewed the reading, I scanned this one pretty carefully for hidden potholes. I stopped mid-bagel.

The self-same theme leapt off the page: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . .” and so forth. Let me see, how does that inclusiveness dance go again. Sounds unsettlingly like us and them to me, if that’s not too many pronouns in one sentence – but we are trying to be inclusive!

My wife argued eloquently that the passage required a metaphoric reading; and that Greeks and their ilk were merely symbols of folks of the time that hadn’t yet got it. That this was not a barefaced identification of an in-crowd, and that if you’re not with us, you’re agin’ us. Unfortunately not sufficiently eloquently to allow me to stand at a lectern and voice the substantive opposite of an issue that I feel is at the root of the jaundiced eye that’s turned toward organized religion and perhaps Christianity in particular by the hoards that are departing for less fundamental shores.

Dress it up anyway you want. Statements given the weight of a ‘reading of the word’ can and will be heard by a huge majority of folk in the pews as a literal truth. Endorsement of an attitude that continues to segregate, differentiate, discriminate; to validate a belief that ‘we’ve got the inside track’ to wherever. It’s just too appealing to be soothed with the balm of ‘you’ve got it right’ – and everybody else doesn’t – to question the inherent contradiction that presents when one moves forty feet across the chancel from lectern to pulpit and (literally) speaks out of the other side of one’s mouth. Over there, we’re judgmental, exclusive, partial; over here we’re welcoming, inclusive, impartial. Sorry, doesn’t work for me.

When we start to understand that there are any number of ways of skinning the spiritual cat; that those that don’t drink at the same trough are not just Greeks and Jews in waiting for the only true path to someplace; and that living Buddha might just be hyping the same stitch as living Christ – maybe we can get on. Until then, the old label of hypocrisy is as well-fitting a shoe as inclusiveness. When we can describe ourselves as being in the heart of Stratford – and not the heart of Stratford, typo, oversight, or no – maybe we can get on.

David Howard

Monday, September 7, 2009

Driving In The UK

So what do John Wayne, weed-eaters, attorneys general, and driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road have to do with one another? Well while you’re pondering that one, allow me to share an, at the time, very small epiphany – and, in the bargain, slide in a ‘what I did on my summer vacation’. It’s Glasgow Airport, 6:45 a.m. (local time, after a largely sleepless, trans-Atlantic night). The expected ‘I’m sorry sir, that model is not available’ opening line from the car rental desk followed by the decidedly unexpected ‘Would you take a Mercedes in lieu?’ had already brightened the morning significantly. (In passing, I’d recalled from a distant time that the Brits have a variety of labels for ‘washroom’ – WC, bog, ‘loo’ – that, to the North American ear, may or may not compute at this silly hour. ‘A Mercedes in the toilet?’ What an odd question; and why is that particular car being parked in such an queer spot?) Having located my vehicle (in a parking lot), doing the usual, again North American, entry from the passenger side, and holding my breath, I insert Emily’s (my constant travel companion, aka GPS) UK brain and (victory number 2) am greeted with ‘loading maps’ – and, as bonus, a clear route out of the airport labyrinth, over the Pennines and on to York.

I suck in a second breath and fling myself (and my lovely little B-Class) into the surge of morning, Scottish traffic. Straight onto the M8, chock-a-block with commuters, lorries, coaches, and tourists, I merge – vehicle as well as brain – with the flow, chanting quietly ‘mirrors, signal, move’ – inverted, reversed, counter-intuitive. Slowly the shilling drops, as it would continue to do so over the next few weeks of crisscrossing this lovely land, on all manner of multi-laned, single-tracked, and everything in between roads: here, where one drove on the wrong side (compared to most of the rest of the globe) thrived a near-universal respect for rules of the road and the drivers with whom one shared these thoroughfares. Two immediate observations: the ‘passing lane’ is reserved for, wait for it, passing! Audi’s, BMW’s, and the occasional Deux Chevaux (go figure!) slide past, then, signaling, return to the middle of the M8’s three lanes. Not a truck or a bus to be seen on track three. No oblivious, sub-speed idlers; no hyper-aggressive jackrabbits; just those overtaking – and only while overtaking. The corollary, of course is that traffic moves along swimmingly, in an orderly, ‘at the limit’ fashion, with very little lane-hopping and, accordingly, much less visible impatience and acted-out road rage. (Incidentally, in the two-week, 2000 kilometer journey, I didn’t see a single traffic accident.)

And secondly, as one ‘downshifts’ to ‘A’ series roads, villages are encountered (with their countrified, ‘curbed’ thoroughfares and speed zones, generally of the 30 MPH variety). Nobody violates these limits! As far as I could discern, not because of speed traps, flocks of crossing sheep (or children), houses perched precariously a generous 10 inches from the travelled portion, or one-lane bridges (that’s another story). It, marvelous to relate, appears to be a widely shared and observed respect for the privilege of sharing the roadway. What a novel awareness!

Figured out the weed-eater connection yet? Not long after my return, commuting into Toronto, with 1080 (the ‘inside track’ on traffic facts, as it were) on the wireless, I was ‘privileged’ to be party to a call in, debating a (some would say, Draconian) bylaw proposed for parts of Quebec. The (inflammatory) issue: should we be allowed to operate power tools, in the open air on Sunday? The usual lines formed up, represented by the polarities of: ‘It’s the Sabbath and one should treat this as a (universal) day of rest’ at one extreme; ‘I work hard six days a week – it’s my right to cut my grass, build my deck, whack my weeds. . . if I want’, at the other. Not too hard to fill either argument with a good load of buckshot (fired on any day of the week I please from my – it’s my right to bear arms – 12 bore!) This is a most decidedly ‘ecumenical’ culture and certainly not one that should be governed by the conventions of one religion – however prevalent. As for the proffered work week – no other time. Oh, really!

No, the real issue is one that is increasingly prevalent in our social weave – entitlement! Have a listen to any rationale (adolescent or otherwise), justifying one’s ‘right’ to ________ (you fill in the blank). God (or any other deity for that matter) bless John Wayne and all his progeny. The rugged individualist, the swaggering, ‘nobody’s gonna tell me what to do and when to do it’ mentality that pervades this culture of ours certainly, and for a very long time, has dominated our approach to the roads.

And finally, to the sometime attorney general of Ontario, Michael Bryant. To refresh, this politically and professionally accomplished individual, with his deeply steeped personal and educational history in the laws of the land, killed a cyclist with his car on the streets of Toronto recently. Not to adopt a too-biased perspective, said cyclist has been variously describe as arrogant, swaggering, criminal, substance- and relationship-abusing, interpersonally confrontational, etc., etc.; in short (together with some other, uncatalogued characteristics), something of a sociopath. The tragedy which unfolded, followed a late-evening confrontation between driver and cyclist, as the latter exacted his ‘fair share’ of a downtown lane (after all, he was a cycle courier of nearly two decades experience and needing to ‘stake his claim’ to the roadway or be marginalized); and the former, encased in his thousand pounds of armour, his damsel at his side, inched his steed forward, issuing the implied and all too familiar challenge of ‘move it or lose it – you’re on my road’, tapping the latter’s rear wheel with bumper. Tempers flared, battle engaged. Casualty list: one literally dead, the other metaphorically so.

The ‘debate’ of who was in the wrong, how could this heartbreak have been avoided (‘should the police have escorted Mr. Sheppard home?’), a reiteration of cyclist etiquette, driver arrogance, and on and on . . . continues; the mutual victims being championed to prop up one’s personal soap box; pilloried as examples of ‘what’s wrong with cyclists' (or drivers, depending on one’s point of view). The real villain – John Wayne. Entitlement. The battle cry of ‘it’s my right’, bannered on the pennant flying at staff’s end, from the saddle scabbard. The real victims. Not Mr. Bryant or Mr. Sheppard; but civility, mutual respect, and ultimately, society. And, BTW, Michael, this is Canada -- driving on the wrong side of the road is not allowed.

David Howard

Monday, March 16, 2009

Civitas Sancti Tui

Lent 1 Evensong and Evilution 010309

Henry Scott Tukes paintings are full of vibrant colour as they depict the play of light on landscape and the human body. They are mostly painted in and around Falmouth and last year Falmouth Art gallery in concert with other galleries put on exhibitions.

In one of the main rooms in the gallery during this exhibition featuring Tukes work was a darker piece. At first I didn’t want to look at it with its dark brooding colours and from a distance it looked impenetrable. It was my wife who made me look again rather than return to the vibrant attractive Tuke paintings all painted before the First World War.

But as I looked more closely at the dark panels details emerged, these details were fragments of ordinary life, the smashed computer, the broken crockery, the teddy bear amongst scattered spoons, the broken 78 record semi covered by broken brick and corrugated iron.

It was the detail that drew me in, resonated with memory- memories relayed by relatives from two world wars- they spoke not of battles or great movements and meaning but vapour trails over south east England, or a broken leg as one emerged from the observer’s seat in a WW1 aircraft which had crashed into a railway embankment.
It’s in the details of life that joy and sorrow are experienced, the fractured frame or the fragrance of the rose, the sounds of a song.

These details were in this work by Roy Ray and the bigger picture emerged as each panel revealed through the details its ghastly meaning. Looking at the broken computers unleashed images of clerks and secretaries making the familiar sounds of tapping keys before bright screens as passenger aircraft ripped open walls and their lives.

We Christians are at the beginning of Lent, our major fasting season and season of preparation for Easter. Now we concentrate on details, fragments of life, what we eat and drink, service to the poor, the use of time. We are encouraged to understand that it is in the fragments and details of our lives that we truly see ourselves, we truly hear the judgements we make of neighbour, and we truly feel the need for our will to succeed. Jesus often talks of these details in simple terms- to whom did you give a cup of water? Who do you judge? Do you visit prisoners? Love your neighbour- the very person next to you; love even someone across a national or religious boundary like a Samaritan. It’s in the details that we know the reality of Jesus life in ours. As the tree is shaken what kind of fruit drops down? Roy's painting here in the Cathedral reminds us to keep on looking at the details of life, and from there to a bigger picture.

These panels show us the details of city life smashed. The city- places where most people live. The city, the place of abundance, art, life, security and future. Cities have resources and cities typify our human aspirations where no longer determined by soil and season alone we can explore other ways of being human. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Parisians, Londoners, New Yorkers will all know this. For Jews and Christians this is all summed up in the city Jerusalem, as a metaphor, a hope an aspiration. In Roy’s painting the City, the place of hope and aspiration is pulled down fragmented by human violence and envy, by distorted religion feeding off of violence and poverty.

The destruction of the City doesn’t suddenly come from nowhere- it comes from the build up of detailed actions and thoughts. WW2 emerged from so many small factors including the 33% of the German people who marked with a pencil a cross on a piece of paper at an election. London’s bombing in 2005 was made up of detailed decisions and actions going back years.

But it is in the city where the details gather and finally pull down and break not just details but big pictures and patterns. The patterns of aspiration and hope, vision. The London bombings of 2005 shook our dreams of multiculturism and liberty, New York broke for a time the American ideals with Guantanamo Bay, the Blitz even led us to fire bomb Dresden with the loss of 30000 plus lives.

(Tuke painted before the cataclysm of WW1 Roy Ray born in 1936 inherits the memories and knows the broken dreams of the 20th Century. It was a stroke of genius to have his work alongside Tukes in Falmouth Art Gallery. It created an unexpected balance. )

On Good Friday a big picture is painted. The fragments and details come together in destroying through betrayal, politics, mis- aimed religion. The big picture and pattern which is destroyed is something thrown out of the city- without the City Wall. It is the life of the God bearing human Jesus of Nazareth. The hopes and aspirations of many hang broken and destroyed. All the details bubble and push until their final end is the death of beauty, mystery goodness and hope.

The Choir has sung about this- Salvator Mundi- O saviour of the World… Roy’s painting also points not directly to Christ on the Cross but upwards to how all the details make a bigger picture, how the details reveal both the effects of violence and the cause.

At the end of this service as we process out the choir are going to sing near Roy’s panels William Byrd’s Anthem: “Civitas sancti tui” by William Byrd.

Scholars suggest that Byrd was thinking metaphorically of the demise of the Catholic Church in England when he chose this text about the desolation of Jerusalem. His hopes and aspirations fallen, his life’s inspiration snuffed out.
The words are:

Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.Sion deserta facta est,Jerusalem desolata est.
Your holy city has become a wilderness.Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate.
As you hear these words, these fragments of sound you might like to pray for all who have lost their Jerusalems, their hope, their vision. You might like to consider as you look at Roy’s work the details of your life this Lent. You might like to trace how those details of belief and behaviour can lead to the destruction of beauty, love, hope in the body of Jesus Christ hung outside the City Wall.

Prayers. Artists, scientists, politicians, musicians. Cities, Ausw. Rick Rescorla RIP- Cornish who saved so many lives.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them, and they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; death will be no more;; mourning, or crying, or pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

The Rev'd. Canon Philip Lambert
Truro Cathedral, U.K.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Changeling

The Changeling, the recent Clint Eastwood movie about social justice, has a line that Angelina Jolie (the Mum) tells her young son Walter: "Don't start a fight, but make sure you finish your fights." The real-life mum of the movie, Christine Collins, showed us the importance of not only feeling deeply, speaking up but and most importantly, taking action. She publicly criticized the LA Police Department about their policies. With good reason. Walter was missing; and for whom her search never stopped. Christine, herself, had been physically and psychologically abused by the system. If you disagreed with the police force, you stood a good chance of going missing or being locked up in a mental institution, or dead. She pursued her feelings and her criticism with action.

Part of my faith journey has included studying the history of the church, especially the Lutheran branch. I wanted to understand what it meant to be Lutheran. That's when I discovered the shadows of the Lutheran Church. Two large dark ones.

Martin Luther was an anti-semite. There is no question about this, one need simply read his words. He preached anti-semitism. Some historians trace Germany's anti-semitic roots to Luther.

The Lutheran Church, the official church of the Germany, yielded to Nazism. There is no question about this one either, one need only to read the biographies of Dietrich Boenhoffer.

Criticism in Germany was dangerous in the Thirties and Forties. It could cost you your life. The church took the easy road on this one. Certainly there was compassion for the plight of those who were persecuted by the political regimes. But compassion without action is pointless.

As we are learning from our indigenous people, apologies are the first step to healing centuries-old hurt. In my mind, Luther and his followers (and that includes me!) owe the Jewish population a long overdue apology. These shadows of the church (and not just the Lutheran branch) continue. Today’s discriminated social sector are those with non-conforming sexual identities. Today, we are oozing with compassion for the portion of the Anglican Worldwide Communion whose religious convictions preclude them from unconditional acceptance of the LGBT sector. Hence the continuing moratoria on making a decision about how we will include the ‘sexual niggers’ of our society.

In this time and place of our lives, we have the great ability to exercise our freedom of speech and voice our concerns. We have the freedom to question authority without risk. With this freedom comes responsibility. Criticism is a form of freedom of speech. With it comes a heightened responsibility. It requires self-questioning, removal of reactivity and compassion. If criticism does not walk hand-in-hand with this trio, we have meaningless, hurtful diatribe. However, without out action, thinking and feeling are the incense of Christian life; only a reminder of what we are called to do: love radically.

Think (critically), Feel (compassionately) and Act (love radically). Think of these as alchemical elements which need to be balanced to equal Life.

Criticism is not just bad. Compassion is not just good. Criticism without responsibility or purpose is as destructive as compassion without action. Christine Collins provides us with a simple piece of wisdom: “Don’t start a fight but make sure you finish your fights.” I might add: thoughtfully and compassionately.
Nicola Adair

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Forgive the adolescent opening – with a definition, as the cliché goes, from my Funk and Wagnall’s. A covenant, in its varied interpretations, is essentially an agreement, a contract, a compact between two or more parties. Lynn’s excellent homily of this past week examined, among other things the covenant between God and his people to never again destroy the earth by flood, in response to, in retribution for the actions of its occupants – however reprehensible. The ‘signature’ on this document, if you will, is the ‘bow’ in the sky, reassuringly appearing, as the clouds clear and the sun peaks through again to settle that bit of anxiety that percolates up in the psyche of the literalists among us. Lynn goes on to point out that this particular contract is as much a pledge given by God with no attached condition – as it is an agreement between. . . Sounds a bit like Grace to me.

As I attended to the rhythm of her text – as always accompanies a good homily in my experience – the linkages began to click and whir (again as usually accompanies) with the somewhat unexpected shunt to An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s diatribe on the earth’s (inevitable?) march toward global warming and all the attendant fallout. In particular, the graphic projections came to mind of what parts of the planet might look like 50 or 100 years hence. Namely that what is now heavily inhabited ‘land’ would have morphed into sea bottom. ‘Free-associative thinking’ being what it is, next stop was a recent Globe & Mail piece on computer modeled predictions of the disappearance of the Antarctic ice shelf with its kilometers-thick mass relentlessly dissolving and pumping up sea levels. And I started to wonder a bit about said covenant.

Pledge or contract, these ‘arrangements’, at least in the human world, have both a need to be revisited and renewed from time to time – boasting a distinct shelf-life as it were. Granted, such mortal agreements generally have a term attached – but even those so-called open-ended deals (pension plans, pledges of undying love, you name it) seem to have a way of yellowing around the edges after a while and slipping into the nether world of ‘that was then; this is now’. And I began to speculate if global warming was not, in some way, Gods serving notice that the terms of his covenant were in need of ‘renegotiation’. Just that little tickler that “I know what I said, but things have changed – and it’s not pretty”.

Now I’m all in favour of Grace. A pretty good deal: behave as you will, deny as you might, diminish for that four score and ten – and, with God’s grace, all is forgiven. (In passing, for those of you who haven’t seen the new Brideshead Revisited, there’s a great scene wherein the dissenting dad, on his death bed, does a little gestural recant of his ill-spent ways and, presto, the family is reassured of his future, post-mortal coil existence, as it were. Good ol’ Grace!) But being in favour of something and adopting it as the moral instruction manual for structuring one’s life decisions are two pretty different issues. In my world, contracts are a two-way deal. It may feel like it’s management piping the tune and we poor workers have no choice but to comply or else. But contracts are a binding agreement that obligates both parties to fulfill certain conditions. I work for 40 hours; you pay me an agreed upon rate. I die prematurely; and you agree to continue to provide pension coverage for my surviving partner. And so on. And further, we typically have input into the terms and conditions that comprise the contract. Put more succinctly, there is a mutual responsibility that attaches. No free (Grace-driven) lunches!

So what of God’s pledge? As Lynn indicated, the world is a much-changed place. Our capacity to wreak havoc and ruin is much-amplified from those days some 600 years BCE. And what’s that (schmaltzy) line from Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility”. So maybe it’s time to start mutualizing things a bit – and to lean a little less heavily on the ‘management’ obligation to keep a finger in the dike or to turn off the celestial faucet before we hit the 40 day mark. Maybe it’s time for the worker contingent to flesh out its side of the contract a bit more fully.

A year of so ago Nicola had researched a unique spin on stewardship as part of her then involvement in that ministry, creatively coined Green Stewardship – and somewhat confusingly and distressingly, had the ideas marginalized as ‘flavour of the month’. Undaunted she continued to assemble reference material, much of it originating from Earth Ministry and distilled into a succinct manual of parishioner responsibility entitled: “Greening Congregations Handbook”. (The website for those interested in looking a bit further is ) In keeping with the stimulus for today’s blog, reprinted in this handbook is a speech given by Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and environmental activist, “Between the Flood and the Rainbow”, which too is worth perusing – when speculating about our side of the deal (online at ) So next time the clouds break and the bow appears, enjoy the show. But I’d wager that little tickle in the gut is as much one of felt responsibility as it is relief that the pledge is still good.

David Howard

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Christian Church and The Titanic

This is going to take awhile: I suggest, if you are up to the task of reading this tome, that you pour yourself a triple dram of your favourite Friday night single malt first. I’ll take mine neat, thank you.

Given the recent round of discussion, for me, this must be how Sister Wendy would feel if she were handed the keys to the Louvre: what thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion! Thank you, fellow catacombites for an abundance of food for thought. My head is spinning with the stimulation:

Leader vs. intermediary;
altar of worship vs. common table;
God in our midst vs. God in the East ;
Jenny Geddes alleged cry;
and deck chairs on the Titanic with poetry by Yeats:
this is a feast of serious thinking!
There are enough separate discussion threads to keep us going for a year.

The ‘deck chairs on the Titanic’ metaphor is the one that keeps popping up the most in my head. Obviously, the Church as ship is an ancient symbol; the word nave points this out. The last twenty-five years in the Church has felt like we’ve missed the signal about the approaching iceberg. Moving around altars and renaming them does seem quite akin to the aforementioned metaphor. But when I think about it more, it is not just the last twenty-five that have triggered the impending doom: I vote for the last two thousand years.

For me, it is quite confusing and has had me questioning how we worship God (modern or traditional approach, you choose). The Christian liturgy is the public worship of God by the people that has emerged through two millennia of political, social and theological evolution. If I wait until Sunday to have the presence of God symbolically represented to me by an altar position or priest position, I fear that I have lost much in my daily struggle to have a relationship with God. My private worship and relationship with God is an everyday responsibility.

The sacrament of the Eucharist is not God-worship, but Jesus-remembrance for me. Jesus went into the garden to work on his relationship with God; he went into the synagogue to study, teach and worship God. Not for one minute or a great bottle of single malt could you convince me that the position of the altar or the like would matter to Jesus or God.

So, before I look for a life boat or ask for the last dance on the Titanic or the altar to be moved or renamed, this question keeps nagging away in my head: can we save the ship?

Put that question on hold for just a minute though; let me tell you about chapel this Wednesday.

At the heart of St. James’ is the Lady Chapel. It is for me a little and barely-noticed jewel through which life at St. James’ flows. Every Sunday, the community passes through it; rarely pausing to breathe in the special quality that pervades the room. During the week, it is used as the short-cut to sanctuary. People tramp through it; every so often, someone will make a quick nod at the altar as they scurry along. It is on Wednesday morning that this room glows. 10 a.m., to be exact.

The paint is peeling off the walls in certain areas; the carpet is worn. Usually, the chapel chairs are helter-skelter. Many times, tired floral arrangements from the previous Sunday service quietly count their days in the corners. The altar is planted against the north wall.

A small, fairly consistent group of us gather each Wednesday. We wait quietly for the officiant to arrive; rarely is there chatter of any sort. We always start at page 67 in the BCP. There is always the epistle and the gospel; there is never a homily. We always kneel at the same points in the service. Very rarely does the presiding priest stray from the course that is hundreds of years old. Each week, we are reminded of the essential elements of the Christian life.

Because the service is always the same, I don’t really use the book. For extended passages of recitation, it is open for reference. I can focus on the why’s instead of the how’s of worship. Stopping my mid-week life to do so is not very easy for me. It would be far simpler to recite a prayer at home at 10 o’clock on Wednesday morning and get on with the have-to’s. But having observed mid-week chapel now for two years, I find it disturbing to miss it. Rather, my soul finds it disturbing to miss it.

In its quiet, contemplative way, Wednesday chapel dusts of my worries, sets me up straight and sends me back out into the world with a gentle nudge, ready to start all over again.

This Wednesday, Malcolm Wilson presided. We weren’t sure who to expect as it was not printed in the bulletin. Malcolm opens the sacristry doors and enters the chapel. He stops and lovingly looks at each one of us and greets us with a warm “Good Morning, everyone”.

Malcolm does not really preside. He speaks for us, not at us. He kneels when we kneel, he faces the altar as we do. He offers the words of absolution to us as though they were being offered to him. He invites us to read passages along with him that normally we are excluded from. He is amongst us, not above us. He does so not from a physical position; he does it in spirit. Malcolm’s authenticity, reverence and humility elevates the service to the most meaningful level. When the service is finished, we all sit in silence. There is no urgency to speak, to move, to get on with life. It is as though we have had a small slice of the peace that passes understanding; we don’t really want it to end.

Not many Wednesday chapel services feel this powerful, but when it does happen it is the most amazing tonic for the spirit and soul. Back to my question: can we save the ship?

The Titanic metaphor comes back to mind. The Christian church is very comparable to this famous ship: a huge vessel that seems unsinkable, carrying confident but oblivious passengers. A vehicle so large that it cannot react quickly enough to change its course to avoid destruction. The comparisons seems to go on. Let us not forget E.J. Pratt’s poem Titanic and its epic portrayal of hubris. There was nothing structurally wrong with the Titanic. The hubris of the people sank it. In the Christian church’s case, it has been sinking for nearly 2000 years.

Got that bottle of exquisite single malt handy: I would wager that Jesus never intended that there be a Vatican or a Canterbury, a pope, an archbishop, a diocesan appropriation that is sinking small parishs, an altar of worship or a common table/altar. He pointed out the slavery of the 613 Mosaic laws; he came that we might have life more abundantly. And, we, his disciples, took the 613 Jewish laws (this spreadsheet is available online and is a helpful outline ) and created an equivalent number for Christian liturgy and denominational dogma. Jesus pointed the way to God; not to himself. He taught that life is about paradox: The Beatitudes; he taught that love had to be radical ; he lived with authenticity, reverence and humility.

It has taken 2000 years but I wonder if the ultimate Christian metaphor may be unfolding. The Church will have to die before it can live again. No amount of shuffling of furniture, or glitzy signage, or dumbing down of the language, or sparkles of vibrant liturgy is going to get this ship out of the way of the iceberg of reality.

I can’t save the ship alone. My generation could maybe save her; I'm not sure what it would take to light a fire under the adherents. It is mind-boggling to imagine what it would take to usurp the political armour that her leadership have built around them and their systems. Perhaps miraculous radical love and action? Reminds a bit of this ancient story of a young rabbi...
I'm ready for a refill; are you?
Nicola Adair

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Evolution and the Ideomorph

What better forum than the Catacombs of St. James to discuss the niceties of Darwinian theory. Margaret Wente seemed to stir up a more potent than usual wasps’ nest this past week with her commentary on evolutionary psychology and the ongoing debate of whether we’ve pretty much arrived (the ‘as good as it gets’ view) – or are still not only continuing to evolve, but at an accelerated rate. Responses, mostly rather unflattering (but then her skin has also ‘evolved’ to lizarderm status, as it were), populated the op-ed pages of the Globe this weekend. Briefly, evolutionary psychology applies C.D.’s main thesis – that, pairing of stronger, more viable, and hence sustainable matches, over time produce a more dominant genetic line that will survive and thrive, while weaker, more ‘flawed’ pairs will gradually drop out of the mix – to social selection. Smart, accomplished folk who pair up with others of similar endowment and drive are in effect propagating that ‘line’; and you can fill in the other half of the equation.

This exchange of view was perched atop an equally ‘stimulating’ piece citing this same theory as an element underpinning the gender-wage gap in our culture. Feminists are fond of pointing rather exclusively to the ‘glass ceiling’ that exists for women. The ‘enlightened’, young (female) psychologist / columnist was suggesting that accomplished women actually select themselves out of the wage market (taking with them their significant incomes and abilities, thereby dragging down not only the ‘female average earnings’ but also removing a particularly promising group of employed and employable folk) by choosing as partners, males like unto themselves: bright, upwardly mobile, high achieving, etc., etc… In short, this process of modified ‘natural selection’ (to attach the usual Darwinian terminology) skews the number of top female candidates, leaving the males in play.

To illustrate her point, she cites the case of Michelle and Barack Obama. A mere three years before his election, Michelle was reportedly earning in the $300,000 (USD) range annually. Expected 2009 income: $0. The implication of course is that the Obama’s are representative of a significant group of similar couples, all studiously engaged in the process of pulling the female earning potential out of the market, leaving their male counterparts to boost the average male numbers. Maybe yes; maybe no. Unfortunately the theory is, how shall I put this, yet to be tested. While not a devil’s ‘advocate’ per se, I’m at least a promising protégé.

An occurrence that old Charles D seemed to struggle to account for was not only the appearance of but the apparent thriving of anomalies – those quirky right turns in the methodical, relentless march of evolution from which sprang, quite suddenly, spontaneously, and without apparent genetic forebears, completely new (and sometimes desirable) directions, homo erectus being a prime example. The fossil record, after several millennia of plod along one, well worn trail, seemed to lurch (in evolutionary terms) rather abruptly along a new path. I would maintain that the Obama ‘match’ might better be viewed as one of those desirable hiccups and far from sufficiently representative to account for anything as far reaching and ubiquitous as the wage gap across genders. I’d put Mr. Obama himself (perhaps prematurely – hopefully not) in the category of the Winston Churchill’s, the Lester B. Pearson’s, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s, the JFK’s – politicians to be sure; but certainly not leaders born out of the existing genetic political pool, nor the ‘expected’ progeny of the existing ‘political parentage’. I’m not sure if the term in the title is original (I highly doubt it) – but it certainly works in just these situations. The aforementioned are ideomorphs, one-offs as it were, unique forms (to consider the etymology of my makey-uppy term) that pop out of centre field (if the metaphors may be mixed) and not from the predominant, primordial ooze of the political landscape.

Nicola and I got to discussing, at the same breakfast time ‘round table’, just such anomalies in the slightly lowered profiles of our own families; triggered in no small measure by content of an extended family history, provided Nicola some ten years ago and detailing three centuries of paternal genealogy and more particularly some of the extended writings of a grandfather. Her mother is fond of saying: “just where did you come from?” – reference the values, style, integrity, attention to detail, and so on that not only characterize her daughter (and make her, I believe in mother’s view, something of a rebellious handful) , but set her at some considerable distance from the value systems detailed in a family history of high-achieving, but decidedly ethically challenged progenitors.

I, like most borne out of a scientific training, subscribe quite heartily to Darwinian ideas. Creationist science is not only deemed bunkum, but is positively oxymoronic – with the emphasis on the final three syllables. I am left, nonetheless, in some awe of individuals that strike a unique path, that eschew the proscribed direction – whether it be swinging from trees with a penchant for walking on one’s knuckles or simply donning the party (be it political or familial) colours and espousing the expected and predictable rhetoric. In a tradition within our household, certain festivals and other ‘Hallmark days’ are marked with homage paid each other, most often in form of a haiku. Following is a variation on just such an acknowledgment of the ‘ideomorph’ I am honoured to be partnered with:

Culvert cultivar;
One’s weed, one’s wonder –
Uncommonly principled.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Captain Karma Comes A Callin'

A wise friend (and, for all I know, avid Jim Croce fan) once paraphrased those words to live by: “ya don’t tug on Superman’s cape, ya don’t spit into the wind, ya don’t tug the mask off that ol’ Lone Ranger, and . . .” with his own caution. “Always answer the door when Captain Karma comes a callin’.” Easier said than done. What’s this guy look like? How do I know it’s not just another JW in a fancy cape. If I open the door to another bag of stale chips or almond chocolate bars, I think I’ll explode. If I had a swimming pool that needed cleaning, I’ll sure call you first. Sorry, no tax receipt, no ticky. In short, we’re pretty much conditioned to slam that door in the face of just about anybody that rings the bell.

And so as I fired up the snow blower on what, to all appearances was not a particularly auspicious, winter morning, I was not really prepared to entertain such a guest. Two, three inches at most; should be able to blast through this in top gear and get in before the coffee cools. Driveway, done. City walkway – all the way to the corner (self-absorbed slugs who drop their citizenly duty, take note), done. A little polish off of our own sidewalk . . . Oops, just about dropped the ball on that one! Toss the newspaper safely out of the way onto the front porch; mark that extension cord, frozen in place ‘til Spring – and WHANG!

Blue smoke, usually the exclusive province of the machine itself, redoubled as its owner added to the column. Nothing stops a blower in its tracks like a good, hefty, mid-week edition of the Globe & Mail. Momentarily at a loss, I poke my head around to the business end and confirm that, yep, a little tattered and twisted but otherwise wedged in tact was Wednesday’s best (bearing out my fear that I’d carefully rescued yesterday’s paper) mid-maw as it were.

Years of anger management (teaching, not taking – thank you very much!) reminded me to belly breathe, hit the ‘pause button’ (as if that would get the *&%@! Globe out of the blower!), put an optimistic construction on events (‘could have been the extension cord’ seemed a bit limp at this point). And thus, as the mailman (and it was a man) strode up the driveway with his sunny greeting of how much he appreciated a clean path, I responded in kind with an “it’s the least I can do” – and went back to work with the sledge, crow bar, and sotto voce curses. It was some time before my mind (and the smoke) cleared sufficient to register that just maybe that wasn’t the mail man after all. Maybe that was CK in a mad bomber hat (the guy is a master of disguise).

Now the parallel tale, of course, is the Lenten theme at St. James this year. Let me get this right: something about consumerism, loving the planet, caring for our non-renewable resources. For some time, heeding the refrain that the church website is such a wonderful tool for communicating with the parish, for sharing life at St. James with those that can’t attend on a regular basis (Hmmm?), for keeping folks current with bulletin and community news, coming events and music lists (well, those will come, I just know it), the scribe and faithful sidekick have connived and plotted, pushed and (digitally) published this little vehicle in every way possible to save a tree here and a pinch of Xerox powder there. But alas, the drafts of drafts, the photocopies of photocopies, the pink, purple, and puce ‘eye catching inserts’, the printed reminders to check the website for details – just keep a rollin’ off the press. The direct emails, weekly updates, the attempts at ‘reverse marketing’ (“if you want to receive a hard copy of . . .”) have fallen on deaf ears. Ah, but Captain Karma hears!

Feeling ever the hypocrite, I recall my rants about inserts, flyers, ad mail, and unsolicited newsprint – dropped disdainfully into the recycle bin between the mail box and the house, unread, unwanted, resented; as I pull a shred of “Leafs lose another one” out of the blower’s rotors. As I untwist the plastic wrapper from the drive shaft, I cast mind back to the (now hollow) advocacy to ‘read online’; the barely controlled telephone exchanges with the London Free Press, censuring them for delivering ‘complimentary copies’ of their ‘illiterate rag’ to our house. Tentatively tweaking the clutch to expel the final few remnants of Rex’s column onto my neighbour’s snow bank, I shudder to remember the carefully lettered warnings taped to mail box cautioning anyone who might challenge to “save a tree – leave no junk mail here!”. How many times does the message need to be delivered? How much clearer can CK be? P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E W-H-A-T Y-O-U P-R-E-A-C-H. Come to think of it, that’s kinda catchy – even has that kind of churchy feel to it. Hmm. Wonder if there’s an application of that up on the hill. Or do we have to wait for a visit from CK? Wonder what the liturgical equivalent is of a Globe stuffed up your rotor?
David Howard

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Riddle For You

Question: What does the Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener-Waterloo and St. James’ Anglican Church have in common (other than The Rev. Lynn Mitchell)?

Answer: Members who do not take ownership.

December 13/08, the KW Records reported that the Grand Phil has an accumulated deficit in excess of $110,000 and its very existence is in jeopardy. Everyone from the outgoing President, the Artistic Director and a humble chorister were quoted as bewildered with the dilemma. They’ve done everything possible, they are very good as a performing ensemble, they’ve featured world class soloists, they use a great hall and they have an orchestra as the back-up band. Yet, the concert hall is half-empty for performances and the cash cow just died.

Choristers pay $275 per year to sing in this choir, the newspaper reported.

February 1/09, the St. James’ annual Vestry meeting is presented with a BDO Dunwoody financial statement that shows a General Fund deficit of $83,438 before inter-fund transfers and opening bank balance (hello everyone, this is the real deficit; not the questionable numbers that have previously appeared from internally generated statements). The 2008 calculated deficit (including net income from the restricted fund) was $59,729; 2007’s deficit was $32,791. According to the Treasurer, the parish has cut costs and been responsible. And, oh by the way, parish council did approve a 2.4% Diocesan recommended pay increase for 2009.

A few brave souls query the increase, given the facts that parishioners are losing jobs and retirees on fixed incomes are living with significantly reduced disposable incomes. These naysayers are soon humbled for their scrooge-like outlooks by an inner circle that is chanting the refrain of ‘but with all of these problems, the priests will have to work (note: future tense was used by the speakers) harder to help counsel the needy’.

My knitting keeps me silently absorbing the information, the dialogue, the rationalizations. A very popular parishioner promotes the idea that the parish can cover the extra costs by encouraging more than the current 26 parish families (total active families statistic for parish in 2008 = 238 families) to use the Eat To Give programme.
More knitting.

I stop to glance at the 2009 proposed (internally prepared) budget numbers. More knitting. The actual 2008 givings were $258,000 (down from $263,000 in 2007). For 2009, $269,000 has been budgeted. Wow; talk about faith!
More knitting.

From this same proposed budget chart, 2008 payroll was $193,000; the Diocesan apportionment and other expenses were 64,000. Oh, how I love the beauty of numbers: 2008 actual givings is almost the same as the total of 2008 payroll and Diocesan apportionment. The minute we turn on a light or turn on the heat or photocopy a piece of paper or (the really important stuff) like feed and shelter the poor, we have DEFICIT, Houston!

Another popular parishioner speaks up: Come on, Folks! We’ve got a million dollars in the bank; stop worrying!
More knitting. More math.

Let’s do the math, folks. At the rate of the increasing annual deficit, we are talking a dozen years, more or less, before we face the same dilemma that the Grand Phil faces today. And that does not include any capital work that requires doing (as opposed to discretionary change) or the very real fact of declining membership (hence, declining givings) or the ongoing truth of diminishing investment value and earnings.

More knitting, more math.

A Grand Phil chorister pays $275 a year to be a member of that choir. How much should a St. James’ parishioner pay to be a member of this ‘choir’? By my math, and using the 2008 actual external accountants’ numbers: $1510.27 per year or about $125 per month or about $30 a week or about $4 a day. Not really that much, is it? And, I fully understand that not everyone can afford the cost of membership at St. James’. However, using the 2008 receipted contribution chart included in the vestry report, of the 238 reported active families, 182 of those families give less than $1500 per year. That is a whopping 76% of active membership. I find it impossible to believe that more than three-quarters of the parish cannot afford to maintain their membership costs.

My thoughts to the Grand Phil and every other non-profit organization that is facing a deficit: Ante up! If I want to sing the music that I love, it is going to cost me; anything that the public contributes through ticket sales is a truly wonderful gift. If I want to be a part of a church that provides me with a venue for worship and community, then it is going to cost me. If I want two priests, a half-time paid office manager, a music director and lots of paper to hold in my hands, it is going to cost me. Manna from heaven, we feed ourselves and our souls with. Church operating costs are the responsibilities of its membership; not God.

Or the reality, like the one the Grand Phil is facing, (and I really hate to use this line but...) ‘the fat lady is singing’. The singing will stop; the doors will close.

I am going into my sewing room now. I love this part of my creative life as much as that chorister in the Grand Phil loves to sing. Every fibre, machine, needle and what-not was paid for, lovingly, happily and with hopes of sharing my ‘voice in fibre’ with others.
Nicola Adair

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mystery of Private Prayer

David and I strongly encourage contributions to the blog: our intention is that this be a place for dialogue. Thus we thank Mackie100 for taking that risk and engaging in our digital conversations. And, as another means of engaging, we present a contribution from Fiona Wilkie. We are more than happy to add your thoughts to the blog by simply giving us them: we’ll type them. That brings us to Fiona’s contribution. We toyed with the idea of scanning her contribution and posting it as a pdf- her handwritten piece is artful in its beautiful script on crisp thick creamy-coloured paper. Alas, the timeliness factor played in and her piece has been transcribed.

Fiona’s piece underscores for me many strongly-held beliefs: life is enriched by ritual, the transcendental power of music, the liturgical mystery of divine offices, and the need to stop and listen to the still, small voice of God within us.

Thank you, Fiona, for this sharing:

Sometimes the most private experiences are meant to be shared. Nicola has so persuaded me and, as she was the instrument of my blessing, here is my story!

Last Wednesday Nicola interrupted my self-imposed week of house-bound solitude-due to a severe cold and exhaustion-by dropping off a complete, delicious, ready-to-eat, dinner and a CD. To celebrate these gifts, I lit a fire, revelled in the tasty, nourishing feast, then cleared away and tidied the kitchen and returned to the fireside. I built up a good fire, lit a number of candles in old brass candlesticks, switched off all lamps and lay down on the rug in front of the gently licking flames to listen to the CD. I had purposely read only the title: ‘Evensong for Etheldreda’ – the choir of Ely Cathedral.

There followed over an hour of perfect beauty and of heavenly bliss: lying on my back I could see the shadows of the firelight and the flickering candles on the ceiling – a shadowy, cathedral-like atmosphere evolved; I was totally absorbed into the music, its intimate calm, its soaring challenging, overwhelming magnificent passages of choral singing, its hauntingly beautiful soloists, its comforting plainsong—and the organ; as never ever before I was surrounded, wrapped, lifted up and carried inside beauty by the richness and warmth of the organ’s music. I experienced feelings that really defy my accurate or even adequate description- I just knew: beauty was God and God was beauty and I was there.

The range and depth of emotions I experienced differed from those engendered by any Evensong before, and when I read the words and titles in the CD booklet-I understood. ‘Tongues of Fire’ – the final organ solo title- perfectly described the awe, cleansing, encouragement, and even grace, that I had experienced.

Last summer in Buckfast Abbey I was blessed with an insight which has remained with me almost as a point of reference for decision making.

It happened during the middle of three Compline evenings I was able to attend. The service in the vast abbey, lit only by one candle, was one of mystery, meditation and the prayerful chanting of the brothers in their long, black, hooded habits. In that particular brief act of worship, I was unexpectedly but calmly, surely, completely and utterly filled with a certainty that all would always be well. This definite feeling was accompanied by two precise instructions for my life in the next year- totally unsought guidance. I have abided by these tenets despite persistent kindly opposition, and, quite amazingly, I can summon strength by returning in my heart to that Compline in Buckfast Abbey.

Following that memorable Compline, I pursued a slow, meaningful walk through the labyrinthine paths of the Abbey’s lavender gardens. Very separately, and silently, but very joined- so did Nicola.
Fiona Wilkie

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Likert Who?

It’s hard to escape them. The phone rings, typically as the family gathers round the dinner table; and then the query: “Can I have a few minutes of your time?” We all have strategies (some passive, some not so) for dealing with the ubiquity of telemarketing and its blood-brother, the telesurvey. Nicola’s personal favourite is to feign distress that, yes they could – but it’s usually her husband who answers all questions; and he’s not due to be released for some time. I try to stick a little closer to the facts (maybe she knows something that I don’t!). No, Mr. Adair doesn’t live here anymore (this is a true statement – as the phrasing goes). Or, in my more generous moments, I just acquiesce; as much fallout from having a possible future son in law who is one of those folks on the other end of the survey and has quite likely had all the abuse he can swallow for one day.

“On a scale of 1 to whatever, could you please rate the following statements? ‘1’ being ‘strongly agree’; ‘whatever’, being ‘I don’t ever want to hear another of your questions for as long as you may choose to live’.” “Sure, I guess.” “Are you married?” “Yes.” “No, sir; using the rating scale I described, please.” “OK, 1”. “If you answered ‘1’ to the previous question, could you please rate… ” And so it goes: a (painfully) long list of queries that produce (no doubt) a dog’s breakfast of irrelevant information that will be quantified, averaged, standard deviationed, and ultimately passed on to the company who hired this underpaid, abused individual to stick it out to the end… and then do it all again. Talk about Groundhog Day! Much as I hate to admit it, these litanies of meaningless inquiry do compel me, on those generous occasions when I agree to participate, to listen to the question and, God forbid, think about my answers.

Something approaching a high point in my week of mornings is Friday – the day the Globe and Mail includes, in their Review section, the entertaining, acerbic, droll, and frequently insightful review of the recently released movies. Time to fess up; I’m a movie nut – not just any movie but one that might steer me to the next good book on which one was based; or maybe just the next candidate for what Nicola charitably calls “treadmill fodder” (aka, something too violent, too macho, or just too inane to occupy us on a weekend evening – but suitable for David to wile away his time on the ‘mill’). Rick and Liam (two of my favourite ironists), after lauding or lacerating the video candidate (whichever is appropriate), will offer a ‘score’ as it were (somewhere between 0 and 4 stars), reflecting the global merit of the particular offering.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that ‘4’s’ are relatively hard to come by; equally (believe it or not, given the parade of mindless ‘mill fodder’ that seems to fill the big screen) ‘0’s’ don’t show up too terribly often either! Most ratings are in the 2 to 2 ½ range, indicating a product of interest, but with significant shortcomings, indulgences (gratuitous gore), irrelevancies, or just plain bad acting to make it a struggle on some level for our erudite judges to sit through – without engaging their finely honed senses of humour.

What binds these seemingly quite unrelated experiences are two elements: a) the use of some kind of mechanism for ‘scoring’ as it were; and b) the (somewhat unexpected) attention that must be paid to meaningfully ‘rate’ one’s response. As one who has, in one way or another, spent a large part of his working life in the realm of ‘ratings’ and the (sometimes fruitless) attempt to have people take this exercise sufficiently seriously to enable me to draw conclusions about their personality, intellect, pain levels, and career aspirations from pages of blackened-in bubbles on the response sheets of questionnaires, this resonated indeed. Years of being called upon to quantify the subjective, to supply a number to a definition, a writing sample, a partially recalled design, to rate a mood, or to score someone’s ‘global functioning’ (“please consider the following on a hypothetical continuum of …”) can’t help but endear one to the sheer simplicity and reductionist thinking embraced by a lovely, linear, Likert scale. The kind that’s anchored by a ‘strongly something’ at one end (often the equivalent of a ‘+2’) and a ‘strongly not something’ (‘-2’) at the other. Do I hear Ebel’s “two thumbs” echoing in the background?

Now I am not so naïve as to assume that everyone attends with rapt focus to a homily from beginning to end. But I have observed that sometimes my attention is captured; and sometimes, let’s just say, less so. Sometimes the Sunday morning efforts are an “English Patient”, or a “Schindler’s List”; and sometimes, let’s just say a “Death Race 2000”. And, as with any good screen play, script, or text, one looks for the requisite component pieces: the inclusion of timely scripture (a premise), the delivery (the acting), the integrity (does it wander, does it hang together), the climax (does it consolidate), the sidebars (the self-indulgences), and the resonance (does it touch, connect). And, sad to say, mere popularity, sentimentality, familiarity, as with the movies, sell tickets but may be, what shall we call them, ‘box-office successes’, but critical failures. (For fun, I’ve correlated – another psychologist’s ‘trick’ – dollars of ticket sales with the G & M’s ‘star’ scores. Not good.)

And so was born a little device, a context, a rating scale that, for me both fosters critical listening and invites a serious, considered evaluation of a weekly (hopefully) event that has as its structure and intent a pulling together of liturgy, church calendar, scripture, proffered guidance, spiritual stimulation, and reflection. How could we afford this less importance than the relentless “On a scale of … could you please rate your enjoyment of the themes explored in this week’s episode of Becoming Jessica or Being Veronica or . . ?”
David Howard

Friday, January 23, 2009


Synchronicity: a meaningful coincidence. It always surprises me. The most recent occurrence for me has had me looking back into my past.

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of our neighbours to the south captivated the interest of a good part of the world. The local rag had a front page story of a Stratford resident who was travelling to Washington to be a part of this historic event.

America needs the energy, optimism, realism and hope which Mr Obama genuinely embraces. Afro-Americans needed the affirmation that this historic event delivered. The world needs a superpower to shift into, hopefully, a new direction of leadership.

For most observers, though, the significance of Mr Obama's success is obvious. For myself, and this is where the synchronicity comes into play, it goes deeper. Enter: The Secret Life of Bees.

With a healthy chunk of our RBC reward points, David, unexpectedly surprised me with my very own Ipod, a sleek, shiny Nano 8. I had been resisting this popular device for one reason: its popularity. I had also been resisting a friend's several-year-old suggestion that I should listen to audio books. Na...nope, not for me: can’t walk and chew gum so how could I walk and listen at the same time. Besides, I’m the touchy-feely type: I want to fondle my books while I read.

That held until I became smitten with the writing of Ian Rankin. Mr Rankin, a Scot PhD, wrote the Rebus crime fiction series. Rebus is an Edinburgh detective inspector; a fully developed character with lots of complicated and nasty crimes to deal with. For a 2009 resolution, I decided to read the entire series from start to finish. David suggested that I listen to a download that he had of the first novel: Knots and Crosses. I thought about it for awhile. The realization that I could needlepoint and listen occurred. Brilliant. The long-in-the-tooth Leek pillow project could be finished along with the novels.

In a weekend, I finished Knots and Crosses and a long border on the Leek; six hours of listening to a delicious Scot brogue. The decision was sealed: I would listen to the series. Onto novel two: Hide and Seek.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a hyperactive imagination. My dreams during the period listening to these two novels became vivid crime fiction fodder. Not very restful. Best take a break from the crime fiction, but what should I listen to. As Inauguration Day was approaching, I thought about Obama’s Audacity of Hope. Na. His autobiography, I felt like some chick fiction. David suggested that I look at his download library, 117 books and still growing. That’s when I stumbled on The Secret Life of Bees.

1964, south of the Mason-Dixon line and a complicated childhood...that resonates. For the better part of my life (age 8 and on), I would mumble when someone asked me where I was born. Dallas Texas. Yep. You know, the city that killed JFK. I came from the country that killed its dreamers, sent its future to a dirty war in the South Pacific, and had missile silos buried all across its landscape.

Worse still, I came from the part of the country that celebrated segregation. My grandparents had 'nigger' help, a gardener and a housekeeper. There were only white people in our neighbourhoods, schools and churches. There was no mixing, no respect and no tolerance.

When I started listening to The Secret Life of Bees, I had vivid mental pictures of the events that Sue Munk Kidd describes. Things like the regular atomic bomb safety exercises at school (and yes, it seems oxymoronic to me but...). The alarm would sound and we were instructed to immediately crouch under our desks until we were given a signal. Or, watching Walter Cronkite on the nightly news. In my grandparents' home, conversation and movement of any kind was forbidden while the news was on. As an eight year old, it was unnerving. It seemed like you couldn't even breath. My grandfather would yell at Walter whenever a nerve was touched: like the enactment of the Civil Rights seemed like the world was coming to an end. It was scary.

For me, being an American was a terrible thing. It was humiliating. I couldn't wait for the day when I got get my Canadian citizenship. A few years ago, I couldn't believe my ears when my brother said that he was going for his dual citizenship papers and would be moving back to the U.S. I considered it temporary insanity.

February 2008. Michelle Obama is getting heat because of her Milwaukee speech, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country...not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. I've been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and not just feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment." I knew exactly where she was coming from. I wasn`t convinced that America was prepared for change despite the hunger.

A part of me is relieved that my grandparents are not alive. Not for their sake; for mine. It would be impossible to talk about a Democrat in the White House, let alone an Afro-American. It's hard enough talking to my very Republican but colour-blind brother about it.

But this Tuesday, I know that for the first time ever, I too was proud of my former country. I actually said 'God bless America' out loud and meant it. Not just because the impossible became a reality. Probably, more, because I saw Americans joyfully jump into a great melting-pot of hope. I sensed that the global community was breathing in the sweet smell of hope that was rising about the USA like incense.

A chapter of history is complete, the old book is done.

In closing, I would encourage you to watch the embedded link to Bishop Gene Robinson's invocation at the Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. He reminds us that Obama is a man, not the Messiah. It is a powerful and beautifully hopeful prayer for the future.

Nicola Adair

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mr Howard says toMAYto; Mackie100 says toMAHto

To me, they are saying the same thing.


i) A resolve or determination (as in to do something)

ii) The act of resolving or determining upon an action or a course of action

iii) A reduction to a simpler form; conversion

iv) Medical-the reduction or disappearance of a swelling or inflammation without suppuration

v) Music-the progression of a voice part or harmony as a whole form from dissonance to consonance.

Mr Howard suggests using the mindfulness pruning tools of reciprocation, intention and boundaries to achieve premeditated acts of reduction that will achieve the resolution outcomes that Mackie100 welcomes.

As Mackie100 eloquently describes the desired outcomes of pruning: improve the plant’s health (necessary to sustain the momentum of continuing the journey in whatever direction or beyond whatever obstacle), increase its production (expansion) and enhance its shape (moving beyond or in new directions), he is simultaneously describing his desired outcomes of resolutions.

So, to me, we are singing from the same page; which is where the music reference, in the aforementioned meaning, comes into play. And where the paradox of the faith journey enters: hopefully moving forward on a path that we have no idea where it is taking us. Through the years, whether we are using the plant or the drop analogy, we can only hope to move from dissonance to consonance. Whether premeditated or spontaneous, our action or reaction is best from a position of mindful awareness.

Nicola Adair

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Same old, I suppose – lose 10 pounds, get back into shape, drink less red wine, simplify. The good news (as it were) is that the first two are, as I write this, attainable; again, depending on one’s definition of ‘shape’. The third? Well, the jury is sufficiently ambivalent (on the respective benefits and costs of same) that I think I’ll just hold that one until the definitive study is done. Also, there is that case of good Australian Shiraz that still sits on the rack. But the fourth. Now we’re talking real resolve. As Nicola and I sat on a blissfully quiet New Year’s Eve at home, and discussed where we’d like to see 2009 be directed, the need to ‘reign in’ was uppermost in both our thoughts. Not just a rewording of the old ‘take more time for ourselves’ mantra – but in the neighbourhood.

A few months back, sitting amongst a group of old friends and acquaintances, I’d begun to muse about the pleasure I was able to take in the ways in which a number of areas in my life had apparently begun to crystallize, particularly in the past year. It would be arrogance indeed to claim that these were ‘goals attained’ – since that would imply some intention in the setting of same. No, these events were more a subtle coalescence of important and very occupying quarters of my life into what could be loosely described as ‘achievement’; reaching a satisfying state that, on reflection, could have been goals if, twenty or more years ago I’d had the wisdom, forethought, and sustainable drive to target them.

I rambled (much as I am now) about the satisfying growth and expansion of an ‘accidental business’ commenced some sixteen years ago. How, without any discernible plan, a small (and decidedly tenuous at the time), private practice had evolved into a twelve-practitioner, two-building ‘enterprise’. How ‘graybeard’ status seemed to have crept up and was, at long last a comfortable mantle in my community of peers. How the opportunity to mentor and spawn a second generation of colleagues had presented. Again, not with any intention (and certainly not desire) to build some professional edifice; but to merely give back to a profession that has been good to me over my working life. And how, with the waxing and waning of many different communities over several years and focuses of interest, a few such have attained gratifying and sustainable prominence in recent times.

And so it was not without some significant surprise that I heard, amongst the litany of well-wishings, a subtext of ‘now what?’; the personal and interpersonal cost attached; and the subtle, incipient seeds of ‘addiction’ being sown. Always ready to relate things to movies, I was reminded of What A Way To Go, a 1960’s comedy with Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, and Paul Newman, built around the ‘unintentional’ but fatal success, evidently spawned in any number prospective husbands by Ms. MacLaine’s interest in them; seeing a meteoric rise from small-town contentment to mega-success – and, predictably, one’s being done in by same, shortly thereafter. And so with more than a healthy sprinkling of addictions therapists present in said group, I thought it prudent to at least consider their take on what moments before had been a comfortable riff on being sixty-two and reasonably content at ‘having arrived’.

And so here we are with simplifying. Not such an easy task – when the ‘complications’ in one’s life are, at least on the surface, paying dividends as it were. Perhaps it was the time to actually make a plan – to contain, to build healthy and sustainable boundaries, to be selective, and to be a little less prepared to be seduced by the sweet smell of success. Another abiding metaphor for both Nicola and me is that of gardening: time to prune!

As with any good ‘clean up’, some principles need to be identified and applied. After all, one cannot just go about, randomly clipping and hacking at plants; and expect the result to be anything different than a bad hair cut – shorter hair, but a rather ragged and haphazard ‘look’. And so the task became not just one simplification – which, for me has always smacked of taking things out of an equation in the fond hope that there would be more ‘quality time’ left at the end of the day. But examining one’s commitments, roles, obligations from within the values of intention, reciprocation, boundary-setting as possible parameters directing the decision-making in the upcoming year.

A basic element in mindful living, intention invites a conscious awareness of what one chooses to do – not the harried, reactive, and ill-considered basis that seems inevitably to result in over commitment. Reciprocation, particularly in relationship, be it with individual or community, presupposes a ‘two-wayness’; a sharing with, true – but also a receiving from as a precondition of relations that present as balanced, authentic, satisfying. Too often I find commitments being made where the ‘flow’ is decidedly one-way, ultimately fostering a resentment of time and energy invested. How better to prune, to judiciously assign one’s precious resources than to those mutual attachments. And boundaries, those elusive, often porous limits to our emotional, interpersonal ‘properties’, and their companion principle – saying ‘no’ – consistently applied have simplification written all over the gatepost. With the careful excision of those co-dependent, enabled commitments, one clears the way for healthy growth, the creaking, groaning deadwood kicked to the curb.

And with it all, the opportunity to festina lente – make haste, slowly. No more rushing!

David Howard