Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Peter Hitchens: From Atheism to Faith

Here is a fascinating interview with author Peter Hitchens (brother of the even more well known Atheist writer Christopher Hitchens). He has a new book out, The Rage of Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilisation. He says he wrote this book because his brother wrote a book attacking religion (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). So, this is a fascinating back and forth that very much reflects the whole Atheism vs. Faith debate in its current state.

In this interview he discusses his journey from avowed, militant atheist to believing Christian. Note the important role of art, this painting in particular, on his conversion.

It's a thoughtful and interesting interview. I commend it.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sermon Stealing?!

(The Rev'd) Heather McCance (St. Andrew's, Scarborough) did an interview for the CBC radio show "Spark" recently. She was discussing the impact of posting sermons online, including the increase of plagiarism. I know Heather well, and she comes across well in this interview!

Here is the file below, it's at about 12:37 time mark.


Saturday, March 27, 2010


The Obama family started a tradition of observing a Passover Seder meal back in the Campaign days, now it is an annual tradition at the White House. It's strictly for family and close friends of the Obamas, and has been the occasion for some amusing misunderstandings with security and culinary personnel. You can read about in the NYTimes... The idea of Christians hosting these events is a bit sticky, but the article doesn't comment on that. Personally, I love going to Seders. I think it a wonderful way to celebrate a shared, holy history. We, too, claim Abraham as our forefather.

I hate to be too cynical, but I think the reason that we are only hearing about this annual tradition this Passover is because of the current tensions between the White House and the state of Israel. No doubt the President's people are feeding this charming glimpse of White House life to the press corp to soften his image a bit in relation to the Jewish people.

Because despite Sarah Silverman's persuasive arguments, many Jewish-Americans still distrust President Obama (especially older Jewish-Americans). And the recent tension between the President and the Israeli government doesn't help. But maybe this Seder story will make a few people smile?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sermon - Lent 5 2010

In this sermon I was thinking about what it means to offer something to God.


The Amp Project Goes On...

Some of you may recall that I started a project last summer to build a stereo amplifier, basically from scratch. True, I had a bare-bones kit to start with. The so-called K-12 Tube Amp. I mean it when I say "bare bones"--the fanciest component is probably the un-finished pine board you are supposed to use to mount the components. Needless to say, I've heavily modified the kit based on the work done by several hardcore DIY Audiophiles. I changed/upgraded all the capacitors and transformers and the pentometer and other key components, but then I also substantially modified the circuit itself. (Now that I think about it, pretty much the only components I didn't replace were the resistors and the actual vacuum tubes!) In some cases that meant cutting circuit traces on the circuit board and installing new components.

I made a lot of progress last summer while I was staying at Holy Cross, but it was far from finished. Since then it has been sitting on table in the corner of the living room while the baby fussed or cooed in the back ground. Lately I've been motivated to start again, and I've made good progress. I've started fitting components to the enclosure I fabricated. In the process I discovered that I really need a caliper to measure the diameter of a particular part that I need to fit into a particular hole. Once I get that I also need a drill bit to make the hole!

I really wish I had a buddy with a well-outfitted workshop. I'd build all kinds of stuff if I had access to a nice shop.

The smell of melting solder is gratifying, I must admit. Now that this project is really starting to take shape I'm getting excited again. Betsy is getting a kick out of it too, now that she can see what this project is about. I may just manage to make a descent sounding little amplifier!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Sermon - Lent 4 2010

With texts like the Prodigal Son it was pretty hard to avoid preaching about sin, repentance, and forgiveness. I'm hopefully that I was able to take a new angle on it.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Truth, Advertizing, and the Tim Horton's Way

Over on the Torontoist website there is an article about a tear-jerking Tim Horton's Ad that appeared during the Olympics:

Tim Horton's, for those of your living belong the 49th N Parallel, is a chain of coffee and doughnut shops nearly synonymous with Canadian identity. They are bigger (in Canada) than McDonald's. They even have a location at an airbase in Kandahar! Ironically, Tim Horton's went through a stage where they were owned by an American holding Company, however the have since repartiated to Canada.

Anyway, this ad is typical of the current Tim Horton's campaign: a true story that mixes Canadian nationalism with inexpensive coffee and confectioneries. Sappy, sure, but it's hard not to feel a little pride when you watch these ads. The problem, as the Torontoist Culture Club article points out, is that they are stretching the "based on a real story" tag. Actually, this is an amalgamation of stories. Karen Aagaard, the author, makes a good point. The reason they had the somewhat misleading tag "based on a True Story" is that this makes the narrative more compelling. But as in the case of James Frey's pseudo-memoir A Million Little Pieces, it does leave a bad taste in your mouth.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Conversations with Culture Blog

The Diocese has started a new blog entitled "Conversations with Culture." As the tag line says, it's "about the intersection of faith and contemporary culture." Contributors so far include Michael Calderwood (writing about Avatar), Nancy Truscott (speaking of Divorce and the Holidays), John Hurd (Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the ROM), and Joanne Davies (living in an anxious age). Good stuff. I recommend it.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Interested in the Pope's Generous Offer?

This ad appeared in this month's edition of The Anglican, our Diocesan Newsletter:

Does this mean that Catholic Newspapers will accept ads from us trying to recruit priests to defect? I find this both amusing and troubling. Amusing that they bothered to print it and imply that there is a quite a group of "interested" persons looking to make the jump. And troubling that the Catholic Church is not just making a provision for those who wish to join them, but is actually trying to recruit people. Talk about sheep stealing! I mean, how else are we supposed to interpret them running an advertisement for priests and laity that want to leave the Anglican church?

Sigh. Of course, this ad was probably not authorized by the hierarchy of the church. More than likely it was the idea of some very zealous lay person. I don't mind such a person swimming the Tiber, I just think it's pretty presumptuous to recruit other to join you!

BTW, I love that they are using a "hushmail" account. It's the sort of e-mail address you might use to have an illicit affair. Yikes.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

God's Role in American Lives

A University of Toronto researcher, Scott Schieman, is publishing an article in the journal Sociology of Religion exploring religious attitudes among Americans. Specifically, he wanted to know to what degree Americans believe that God is directly involved in their lives. Here are some of his results:
  • 82 per cent say they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions;
  • 71 per cent believe that when good or bad things happen, these occurrences are simply part of God's plan for them;
  • 61 per cent believe that God has determined the direction and course of their lives;
  • 32 per cent agree with the statement: "There is no sense in planning a lot because ultimately my fate is in God's hands."
  • Overall, people who have more education and higher income are less likely to report beliefs in divine intervention.
  • However, among the well-educated and higher earners, those who are more involved in religious rituals share similar levels of beliefs about divine intervention as their less-educated and less financially well-off peers.

According to Schieman: "Many of us might assume that people of higher social class standing tend to reject beliefs about divine intervention. However, my findings indicate that while this is true among those less committed to religious life, it is not the case for people who are more committed to religious participation and rituals." (Source)

82 Percent say that they depend on God's help and guidance in making decisions! Wow. Now if only 82 percent went to church! Figuring out what percentage of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) regularly attend church in somewhat difficult, but one of the better studies ("Millennium Study," Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, 1999) put the number for "Attend at least weekly" at 43% for Americans and 20% for Canadians. Most studies that rely on self-reporting come out with a number near that 43%, but recent studies have challenged the data. You can read a very good article about the problem of measuring church attendance here. The truth is probably that the number is less than 40% attend weekly, but no one knows the real number (except God and the choirs of angels, of course).

The implication is that the number of people who rely on God to help make important decisions is probably exaggerated, also. But the mere fact that most researches believe there is a "social desirability bias" inflating the numbers shows how powerful theism remains as cultural force. Americans think that God is important. Whether they live out the implications of that believe is another matter!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It Never Gets Old

Those that read this blog regularly know about the Contemplative Eucharists that I do on Wednesday mornings (and now, also on Saturday afternoons). It's basically just a Communion service done in a contemplative style. Lots of silence and meditation. Over time it has evolved. Now I have a regular group of four people who come almost every week. I've also moved away from a set text and now do all the prayers (including the Eucharistic prayers) extemporaneously.

I could write a whole essay (or even a book) about the "how" and "why" of praying the Eucharistic off-the-cuff. Certainly it's not something I would recommend to just anybody, it takes a lot of preparation and discipline to do with the integrity. But there is an ancient precedent for this sort of prayer in the Mozarabic Rite. Also keep in mind that this is not something I do on Sunday mornings and I have the permission of the Bishop. The final ingredient is a community of worshippers who are sophisticated enough in their theology and well formed enough in their spirituality to make this work.

And when it works... it's gorgeous. This morning was one of those mornings when I think we all felt blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. After doing the liturgy we spent some time talking, as is our custom. The topic was the Gospel text for the day--Jesus talking about how he has come to fulfil, not abolish, the law. From that we started talking about the freedom we have in Christ and the discipline of living a holy life. It was beautiful.

It occurred to me, afterwards, that building up this little service for four people has required a lot of discipline from me. I've had to show up every Wednesday for years to make this happen. And the spiritual rewards for that work are beyond value, as far as I am concerned.

It's a classic pattern of ministry, and has taught me an important lesson about priest-craft. Gathering and building up a community of disciples of Jesus takes time and the wilingness to show up, week after week, even when the ground seems dry and unyielding. Forget about quick fixes and rejoice in small blessings.

I'm going to Canterbury Cathedral this summer for a retreat. I'm thinking that I should add a few days to the trip to see if I can find some little groups of Christ-followers that have stories of faithfulness I can bring back to Toronto.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Religious Literacy

It hardly needs saying, but a lot of people think they know more about God, the Bible, Jesus, etc., than they actually do. In fact, Religious Literacy has been on the decline in North America for a long time. I'm not just lamenting the fact that people don't understand the Doctrine of the Trinity, I'm speaking of the kind of basic knowledge that would seem to be part of the common cultural vocabulary.

Doug Cowling pointed me to a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter that points out that people's ignorance of non-Christian religions is just as bad:
“That paradox is this: Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion,” he writes. “They are Protestants who can’t name the four Gospels, Catholics who can’t name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can’t name the five books of Moses. ... One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates.”

Prothero blames the emphasis on emotionalism that began during the Second Great Awakening, which also provided the roots of evangelical Protestantism. In other words, if Jesus is my best friend, it doesn’t matter that I can’t name his 12 apostles. (source)

I remember once having a conversation with someone once who steadfastly held to a belief that was simply not true, historically speaking. The evidence was overwhelmingly on my side, but she kept saying that it was merely my opinion. I realized that it was because the issue had religious implications that she felt free to completely ignore the tools of rational discourse that are the foundations of western knowledge. Somehow, when it comes to faith, people are allowed to think whatever they want, even in those cases where they are simply being ignorant. Sigh.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Ever

This recipe appeared in the New York Times back on July 9, 2008. It went along with a long-ish article about the search for the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie in Manhattan. I've always wanted to try it, so first I baked a batch of the traditional, "Toll House," style cookies. They were good, of course. But then I made this recipe!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

From the NYTimes, July 9, 2008,
Adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

Makes 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Tay's Notes
As with all baking, accuracy in measurement is critical. In particular, it's important to get the mix of wet vs. dry right. When I made this recipe, I made it slightly too dry. The cookies still turned out great, but just be aware that you should check the consistency of the dough and adjust as necessary circa step 2.

I made them in a convection oven, which was a little faster than the recipe called for. About 16 minutes. When you get close to the time, start checking with great frequency as the time frame of peak doneness is very short--like 60 seconds, so you want to hit it just right. I found that the key sign to look for is about half of the surface of the cookie to be browned. Alton Brown would probably use an instant thermometer, but I don't know what the correct internal temp would be.

Vastly superior to the original Toll House recipe. Wow! I agree with the NY Times folks that letting the dough rest for 36 hours is critical. Sprinkling the salt on top is also critical. Salt is a flavour enhancer, and boy does it compliment the chocolate! This is a great recipe. And I know it specifies a lot of detail, but I found it to be very easy. Just measure, mix, and bake!

Do I need to say how great milk is with us? Especially whole milk!


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sermon - Lent 1 2010

This is less of a Sermon, per se, than a State-of-the-Parish Address. Still, I do sneak a little Gospel into it. If you want to read the full Vestry Report for 2009, including the financial statements and reports from various ministries, you can download it from the church website here. In this address I talk about the current state of the church and talk about future directions.


Sermon - Lent 2 2010

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem," Christ's mournful lament over the city that would kill him led me to preach about the cities we know from texts such as Frank Miller's Sin City, Gotham, and the nightly news. We the city, whether it is New York, Los Vegas, or Toronto. It's the "Unreal" city of T.S. Eliot's masterpiece "The Waste Land." I reflected about what it could mean to love the city anyway...


An Engineer's Guide to Cats

"An Engineer's Guide to Cats" is a very funny video made but some guys with a possibly unhealthy love of cats. "Tuna is pretty much like cocaine for kitties." I love that one of the guys has a HP-28 calculator! RPN Rules!


Children's Chapel Mural Carpet--done!

I can hardly describe how pleased I am to have this carpet finally done (and paid for at that)! Thanks to the Baker Fund people for giving us most of the money to do this. The new carpet is composed of carpet "tiles" by InterfaceFLOR. They are made here right here in Canada with 100% Recycled content. They stick to the floor with an adhesive and can be removed if damaged/stained and replaced. The design is basically a field of green with a few purple-ish tiles thrown around semi-randomly to create a little visual interest and dynamism. The colours are designed to compliment the murals, of course!

My experience with these carpet tiles is good so far. Installation was far easier than I expected. It only took one full day for one guy to remove the old carpet, patch the floor, put down the adhesive, and then put the new tiles in place. Sweet.

The next project in that room is a little bit of painting of some trim, just just to freshen it up. As for downstairs.... That's a different story! We need new chairs, new carpet in the lounge, new furniture in the lounge, and a paint job for the whole place. If someone would like to give us a few thousand dollars to make that happen, I'd be pleased to accept! Otherwise, it's probably going to take a few years.

You see, right now the budget priority is mainly around funding mission, and the building, alas, only does that in a secondary way. We'd rather have staff (Kerrie and Eric) than pretty new chairs!

Still... it was and is important to me that we have some bricks-and-mortar renewal around here, too! Hence the mural!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Living Together Before Marriage--not such a good idea?

The conventional wisdom, especially among younger adults, is that couples should live together for a time before getting married. The assumption, I believe, is that people assume that by living together a couple and test out their relationship. If it survives a few years of living together, than maybe it is worthy of a lifetime commitment.

This sounds reasonable, but the data doesn't support it. The NYT reports that a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that adults who live together before getting married about six percent more likely to get divorced within 10 years. Meanwhile, the number of couples who go this round has doubled in the past 15 years. Approximately 61% of women in the late 30's have lived with a sexual partner.

However, couple that were engaged before they started living together are actually more likely to stay together than the average. Other things that increase the likelihood of staying together: marrying after age 26 and having a child 8 months or later into the marriage.

I remember when I was getting ready to be married my therapist, Mary Gates, told me that the mistake couples usually make is to assume that being married is like living together. Actually, she told me, marriage is a whole 'nother beast. Marriage means taking a relationship beyond being about two individuals and brings in the entire clans. "You invite everyone into your bedroom," she said. The living and the dead.

And it's true, in my pastoral and personal experience, that marriage pulls the couple into much larger narratives and dynamics. Often they are simply unprepared for the change that marriage brings. I don't think that this is an issue for engaged couples because they already are living into marriage, and therefore never settle into a pattern of unmarried bliss.

This reforces my conviction that when I'm doing pre-marital counselling of couples that live together I need to talk quite a bit about how things change after marriage.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Breakfast on my Day Off: Chorizo y Huevos con Tay

I've been perfecting this dish all week. Brings me back to Mexico!

Chorizo y Huevos con Tay

3 Flour Tortillas (normal-size, not "Burrito-Style")
1 Tbps. vegetable oil
1/4 Cup diced green onion
1 clove garlic
1 Dried Chili Pepper (your choice)
1/2 Chorizo sausage
salt / pepper
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
hot sauce (optional)

Dinner plate
Tea Towel
small non-stick skillet (6 inch or so)
teflon-safe spatula
2 small mixing bowls


1. Set your oven to very-very low. Drench the tea towel in tap water, then ring it out so that it is merely damp. Put the three tortillas on the plate, place in the oven, then cover loosely with the damp towel.

2. Dice the green onion and set aside. Mince the garlic and add to the green onion. Finely dice the chili pepper and add it to the onion and garlic. (If you want it on the hotter-side, use the seeds as well, otherwise, discard them.)

3. Start the skillet heating up on medium. When it it is hot enough to make a spritz of water sizzle, add the oil. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl combine cayenne pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Take your half-sausage of Chorizo and remove the stuffing from the skin. Discard the skin. Form the meat into little balls smaller than your finger tip. Put them in the bowl of spices and stir to coat.

4. When the oil is up to temperature (it should have a shiny surface and will make a drop of water jump), add the Chorizo balls. stir frequently to brown thoroughly on all sides. While the chorizo is cooking (it will take about 5 to 7 minutes), whisk two eggs in a small bowl. Making them a little frothy is best.

5. When the sausage is browned on all sides, take the pieces out of the oil and set aside. There should be about 2 or even 3 Tablespoons of oily goodness in the skillet. Excellent. Now, add the garlic, onion, and dried chili. Saute for until the onion starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Pour the eggs into the skillet, return the Chorizo, and stir immediately.

6. At this point, you are making scrambled eggs. Retrieve the plate from the oven. As the eggs begin to set, transition from a stirring action to more of a folding action. This next part is important: the biggest mistake people make with scrambled eggs is overcooking. So as soon as the last bit of liquid egg is about to set, take the skillet off the heat. Don't worry, the eggs will continue to cook for a minute or two and thus coast the rest of the way to perfect doneness.

7. Immediately divide the cooked eggs between the three tortillas. You want to make a kind of line with them to help folding the tortillas. Optionally, sprinkle on a little cheese and a couple of dashes of your favourite hot sauce. (I like Frank's).

A word about Salsa. If you have a real salsa, feel free to add a little. But I would warn against using one of those ketchup-like messes that they call "Salsa" in North American grocery stores. The goopy flavour will simply overwhelm the complexity of the dish. The clean heat of a hot sauce like Tabasco or Franks, on the other hand, will stimulate taste buds (making all the flavours more vibrant) and encourage digestion.

8. Serve on the same warm plate you used in the oven. If serving more than one person, be sure to have warmed their plates, too, as cold plates will quickly sap the heat out of these yummy treats.

BTW, I realize that some people reading that recipe might be worried that it is too hot. But, because the dried hot peppers are sauteed, that will break down much of the Capsaicin (the chemical that makes chili hot). So I would say this recipe is about a 2 on a 1 to 10 heat scale--not bad at all.