Category Archives: Culture

More biblical than the Bible

Scot McKnight on the issue of alcohol (but it could apply to any issue):

It seems every year someone brings up the Bible and alcohol (the drinking kind)…What I find every year in this conversation is a serious, but repeated mistake. The tack is this: If I take a stand more “biblical than the Bible,” then I can’t be wrong. That is, if I choose not to drink at all, I will keep myself from sin and all appearance of evil and will be safe. This is what I call the sin of “zealotry” — the belief that if we are more extreme than the Bible, then we can’t be wrong. Wrong.

If God is God, and if God speaks to us in the Bible, then God spoke words that show that wine drinking is fine. One may choose not to drink, but that view is more extreme than what the Bible says. Drinking too much is contrary to the Bible, but not drinking at all is not what the Bible teaches (except for ascetic strands at time). 

But, let’s not fall for the idea that being more biblical than the Bible is safe ground. Extremism is not righteousness; extremism is zealotry. Trust that what God says is what God wants.  (Link)

Stress Level: Midnight

My ongoing responsibilities:

  1. Family/Home
  2. Legal assistanting
  3. Church work
  4. Seminary course

I’m not a multi-tasker, so these have been interesting times.  The seminary work has been the biggest stress.  I just can’t seem to find the time or discipline to read when I’m awake enough to be fully aware of the text I’m reading.  I have quite a bit of time left, but with December mostly a write-off I’m feeling a bit of pressure.

Last Sunday I planned the worship.  It’s not one of my strengths.  Believe it or not, I find putting an order of service together much more stressful than writing a sermon.  So I came down from a fairly high-stress week after last Sunday’s service.  I preach this coming Sunday, but that’s not stressing me out so much.  Not yet, anyway.

I got a call at work this afternoon advising me that I’ll probably be heading to Chicago the first week of February for a conference.  This was all fine and dandy, until I told Dixie about it and she reminded me that I need a passport to get into the U.S.  That’s when my stress level shot up.  If I get my application in before Christmas, I should get my passport juuuuuuuuust in time to fly to the Windy City.

So I sat at the computer for an hour and a half trying to complete a 3-page online application form.  The site kept timing out on me, so I’d lose some information and have to sign in again.  (And it would have been nice to be able to renew the passport that expired in ’87.)  But I finally got that done.  Then off I went to Shopper’s Drug Mart to get my passport photo taken.  I sat there for 20 minutes while the poor guy there tried to get the flash behind me to sync with the camera-mounted flash.  He finally got it working and took the most dreadful picture of bewhiskered me.  Dixie says the picture is cute.  I think I look about 15 years older than I am.  You should see the bags under my eyes!  It doesn’t help that you’re not allowed to smile in passport pictures.  (Dixie says I never smile in pictures anyway, but my face looks particularly long in this picture.  The beard doesn’t help.)

Hopefully the application will be dealt with tomorrow.

Now I’ve finished everything I planned to do today.  Except study, work on my sermon, fill out the conference registration form and seal the air leaks around the door frame, but tomorrow is another day.

I don’t begrudge this stress.  It’s thrilling in some respects and “good” stress, as far as that is possible.  But it’s tiring.

Sinterklaas

I have lots to write about, but every time I get the time to write (usually after 8pm) I have lost the will. Things I want to post about in the near future:

  • God’s Catch-22: thinking about what the Almighty is to do about the fact that we want him to rescue us, but we don’t want him telling us what to do.  Are the two related?
  • Free will in the afterlife: Gregory McDonald, pseudonymous author of The Evangelical Universalist, proposes that when humans are confronted with the full glory and majesty of God they will choose God.  Does this interfere with free will?  I propose that the traditional view of the afterlife has a similar position as McDonald’s, only not universalist.
  • Is everything in the Bible meant for everyone?  More specifically, are all of Jesus’ words and commands applicable to everyone, or are some of them applicable to only specific people, such as his (then) disciples?
  • Christian idealism.  I preached on this a couple of months ago and that didn’t get it out of my system.  Should we be idealists?  Is it even possible in our pessimistic, “realist” society to discuss the topic?

As it is, I have 29 drafts calling for either development or trashing.

But, in lieu of writing…anything else, you’ll note that today is the eve of the Dutch (and Belgian) celebration of “Sinterklaas“.  Sinterklaas is essentially the Dutch Christmas.  For some reason I always thought that today (Dec. 5) was Sinterklaas, but it is actually tomorrow.  (I was 7 years old when we moved to Canada, so some of the details of the celebrations are hazy).

Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nick), is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus.  In fact, they probably have similar roots, with the myth of Santa Claus being much farther removed from its source.  Sinterklaas looks more like a holy man (he has a hat similar to the Pope’s) than a fat buffon (as per Santa Claus), which is to be expected, since he is based on the actual Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

Sint Nicolaas’ home is in Spain (as opposed to the North Pole) and each year he comes to Holland by boat, accompanied by his assistants, who are known as “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete).  That seems like a rather un-PC thing to do these days, but upon reading the Wikipedia article further, Zwarte Piet is zwart because he goes down everyone’s chimneys to leave candy and gifts.

Upon the arrival of Sinterklaas to a given location, Zwarte Piet (there would be several accompanying Sinterklaas) will throw mandarine oranges and pepernoten at the children (non-violently, in a manner akin to throwing candy during a parade).  Pepernoten are one of the best things about Sinterklaas.

Before going to bed on the evening of December 5, children across Holland will put out their shoes by the fireplace, along with a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse and maybe a letter for Sinterklaas.  In the morning, their shoes will be filled with candy and maybe some small gifts (either thrown down the chimney by Zwarte Piet or personally delivered by him via the chimney).

Read the Wikipedia article.  It’s better than this post (but maybe lacks some of the humourous touches).

In conclusion, a couple of Sinterklaas songs, spelled in my best Dutch:

“Sinterklaas kapoentje, gooi wat in m’n schoentje, gooi wat in m’n laarsje.  Dank u, Sinterklaasje.”

I had this song and the next one as my Facebook status today and Toni noted that both of them confounded Google’s translator.  I just checked this first song.  Google Translate’s English version:

Sinterklaas kapoentje, discard what is in my shoe, discard what is in my bootie. Thank you, St. Nicholas.

Hilarious, but wrong.  My translation:

Saint Nick kapoentje, throw/put something in my shoe, put something in my boot.  Thank you, Saint Nick.

“Kapoentje” is, as far as I know, a word made up to rhyme with “schoentje” and therefore untranslatable.

Another song:

“Sinterklaasje, bonne bonne bonne, gooi wat in m’n lege lege tonne, gooi wat in m’n laarsje.  Dank u, Sinterklaasje.”

I won’t bother translating that one, but the message is the same: Hey, Saint Nick: gimme some stuff.  Put it in a container such as I will provide. There isn’t much sacred or religious in Sinterklaas, as I recall.

Anyway, happy Sinterklaas.

Memory haiku

That smoky odour
Brings back brown spectacled glass;
Sunlight; dark wood beams.

(My first haiku.  Not sure if it fulfills all the technical requirements, but it does follow the 7-5-7 5-7-5 syllabic pattern…which is the traditional form of the English haiku, though not the traditional Japanese way. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Black Friday indeed

From the Globe and Mail:

Wal-Mart Worker Killed in Bargain-Hunting Stampede

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled by a throng of unruly shoppers as consumers, who had snapped their wallets shut since September, flocked to stores before dawn Friday to grab deals on everything from TVs to toys for the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, feared to be the weakest in decades.

Retailers extended their hours — some opening at midnight — and offered deals that promised to be more impressive than even the deep discounts that shoppers found throughout November.

The 34-year-old Wal-Mart worker was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 6 a.m., an hour after the store opened, when a throng of shoppers “physically broke down the doors, knocking him to the ground,” a police statement said… (Link)

This needs no comment, does it?

Fair Trade fair?

There is an interesting discussion going on at Scot McKnight’s blog about whether or not Fair Trade is a good thing.  Naturally, there are good (non-self-interested) arguments for both sides in the comment (Scot is now blogging at beliefnet.com and I haven’t quite figured out how to get both the full text of the post and all the comments at the same time).

One comment (by a Joey) stood out for me:

Live local, buy local. I don’t claim to know tons about how the world market works or even the Fair Trade industry but it seems that the only sustainable and responsible way to do agriculture is to do it locally and to encourage others to do the same. We have plenty of farm land in the US to supply our nutritional needs. So do countries in South America. It is our attitude of entitlement that makes us think we deserve strawberries in January not our responsible stewardship.

(No comment linkage possible.)

Not about the Fair Trade issue per se, but a good point nonetheless.  I keep thinking that I should, to begin with, buy more stuff at the local farmer’s market.

My Economics 101 professor in university told me that I should think about pursuing an economics major.  Economics 200 proved within the first two weeks of class to be disasterous for me, so that didn’t pan out.  So, I don’t have a clue about the ins and outs of international trade, economics and politics, but I’ve always wondered why we import grain and oil (for instance) from other countries when it’s my understanding that we’re quite capable of meeting our own demand for those products.

Incidentally, the other day I got to thinking that I should just start buying Tim Hortons’ beans, because, quite frankly, it’s the coffee I enjoy most (I don’t care what the rest of you snobs think).  Judging by their website (their website, mind you), Tim Hortons appears to be involved in fair trade practices (without, apparently, a stamp of approval from an arbitrary fair trade approver and stamper) and even addressing some of the concerns of some of the commenters on Scot McKnight’s blog.

They offer

direct financial assistance for technical training to improve the quantity and quality of coffee produced and assist farmers in getting their coffee to market at the best time and for the best price. Assistance is also provided on environmental management, in both proper farming techniques and reforestation projects, led by Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons also recognizes the need for direct involvement with coffee growing communities for their social programs – providing assistance primarily in education and medical care.

The Tim Hortons approach is different from other world wide sustainable coffee initiatives. While admirable, some programs may require certification on behalf of the farmers which is an expense they cannot afford, plus the price provided may be less than what it should be and may have no relation to the quality of the coffee produced. In addition, the programs can have little or no involvement on the part of the coffee retailer. The Tim Hortons program ensures that the money spent actually reaches or benefits the coffee grower and the surrounding community. (link)

Am I just gullible or can I buy Tim Hortons coffee in good conscience?  (And if you think I’m gullible—how many of you have looked up the organizations that allow other FT coffees to put their stamp of approval on their packaging—how do we ever know if it’s really fair trade without going down to the plantations ourselves?)

Obama

Well, I see Obama has been elected President of the United States of America.

And so I join the throng of bloggers across the globe who in the last couple of hours have at least typed the word Barack and/or Obama at least once.

I admit I haven’t followed the U.S. election campaign very closely, and so the Obamic* appeal for me is based purely on his apparent ability to inspire hope in people—hope for possibility and change.

Will things change?  Some people seem to be giving Barack a messianic air.  I, on the other hand, tend to be quite pessimistic about politics.  In Canada, at any rate, it seems that as sincere as a candidate’s campaign promises may be, his or her hands will be fairly tied once in office.  Maybe it’s different in the U.S.  And maybe Obama is a president-elect unlike any other in recent history.

But right now any promises he has made are still promises.

Having said that, and with my almost complete ignorance of the candidates’ respective policies (which makes the following statement fairly vacuous) in mind*, I’m pretty excited that Barack Obama was elected. For some reason he inspires hope in me, too, and I’m not an American.

Clever campaigning? Or sincerity? Once again, we shall see.
____________________________________________
*Keep you eyes open: I’m counting on “Obamic” and maybe even “Obamic appeal” to become a pundit mainstay in the relatively near future. And, as far as I know, I just coined it!
**Please don’t bring up the abortion issue now. I’ve been thinking about it again and may post my thoughts soon, so maybe save your comments until then. Also, there are probably elements of both candidates’ policies with which I take issue. Which candidate has more offensive material? Or, which candidate’s offensive material overpowers whose? That’s not for this post (or for me, in my ignorance, to even ponder at this point).

Monday Mix

Watched Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events the other night.  It got mixed reviews from the critics and its domestic (U.S.) gross didn’t make up the film’s production budget.  But I enjoyed.  Jim Carrey was excellent as Count Olaf.  I was worried that he’d play Count Olaf in a too Jim Carrey-ish way, but he did quite well.  The humour in the role was more quirky than rubbery, if you know what I mean, and he did well.  Quite a dark film—could’ve been directed by Tim Burton (but it wasn’t)—and not sure what to make of the ending, but still…3.5/4

Of course, I’ve always thought Jim Carrey was a fine actor.  The Academy has a hard time with crossover actors, at least at first (Tom Hanks has broken that barrier, though).  One day Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell will get their due acclaim.

* * *

Looking at some of my site stats, particularly country of origin for hits.  Lots of 1 and 2 hit stats from all over the world, which I consider flukes or bots or spam.  The number spikes in the UK, but I know I have at least one regular reader there.  Canada is the majority source for hits, with the U.S. in distant second. But there is an oddity: a significant number of hits from Switzerland.  Enough hits to not be accidental.  Who could that be?  Swiss reader: show yourself!

* * *

The worst part of writing a sermon?  It’s impossible to include everything without taking up an enormous amount of time, turning it into a lecture and losing everyone in the process.  I wonder if any sermon ever feels complete to some degree.

* * *

My favourite song ever?  “The Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, for several reasons:

1. Apart from everything else, it’s a fantastic song.

2. It moves me, probably because

3. It’s steeped in memory.  As a young boy in Holland I must have seen a episode of the animated Pink Panther at some point, because I remember seeing a number of opening credits when they played the Pink Panther movies (starring Peter Sellers) and getting excited.  The opening credits always involved the animated Pink Panther character and the animated Clouseau character in hot pursuit.  I loved those opening credits, which included the theme song, because I thought it was an episode of the Pink Panther.  But I was always disappointed when the “episode” ended and the live action film began.  I appreciate Inspector Clouseau much more now than I did then.

* * *

I anxiously await Phil‘s review of the Bob Dylan concert in Regina.  I’ve heard Bob Dylan’s concerts can be quite “tempermental”: sometimes they’re fantastic, sometimes they’re terrible.  Here’s a review by my seminary course “instructor”.  I take his review as “mixed”—good because it was Dylan, not so good because of poor sound.  He links to the setlist, which is largely made up of post-1997 material.

* * *

I’m listening to some music samples on BobDylan.com.  Some observations:

1. Why is it that the best artists go through nearly-unlistenable periods in the 1980s?  Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn both do and it’s a shame.  I have a large Bruce Cockburn CD collection, but there is a huge gap in there spanning the late-70s and the 80s.  1978-1986 are nearly unlistenable years musically (although I’m sure he remains lyrically brilliant during that time).  And just at the time when Cockburn comes to his musical senses, Dylan dives into his own period of 80s darkness.

Who ever thought that drum machines and synthesizers were a good idea?

2. Bob Dylan’s “born again” albums are fantastic.  Shot of Love is a personal favourite and, based on what I’ve heard on the website, I think both Saved and Slow Train Coming are worth purchasing.  (I’ve said it before, but I can hardly believe that “Gotta Serve Somebody” won a Grammy for Best Song—not because it’s a poor song, but because it’s so overtly evangelical.)

3. I could use more Bob Dylan.  The unfortunate fact of being born in the mid-70s and not getting into Bob Dylan until well into my 20s is that I have a lot of catching up to do.

Who would benefit from a government bailout?

song chart memes

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.  I’ve been thinking about this $700,000,000,000 since it was announced.  Where did this come from?  Why do the people who caused the crisis in the first place get such a bailout?  And where was this $700,000,000,000 when Bono & Co. were working on Third World debt relief? Why should the U.S. economy (or the Canadian economy for that matter) be bailed out, but not Third World economies.

It bothers me that this money is available, but it is brought out for purely political reasons.  I know there’s probably more to this than I understand: I’m not a finance and investment guy.  But still:  $700,000,000,000 is a lot of money to pull out of your arse just like that.

I guess that’s the perk of being a billion dollar corporation.  You can bring thousands of people and businesses to financial ruin, but the government will bail you out.

I think I’m an idealist—or I should be.  I think that might be my sermon topic this week: should Christians be idealists?  Were Jesus’ commands and way of life simply options for us to accept or reject?