Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon: Good Friday 2013

Good Friday is an incredibly intense service. The focus is entirely on the cross of Jesus, and it can be hard to sit there very long. But like the faithful few who stayed to the bitter end with Jesus, his modern disciples do well to sit vigil at his death, as well. This is far, far away from the kind of consumer-oriented or market-driven Christianity that might put bums in seats. This is the real stuff--spiritually compelling because it is true, but difficult to stomach if all you want is to feel good.

The liturgy for the day includes a beautiful sung version of the Gospel of John's account of the crucifixion, and a long "Solemn Intercession" portion in which we pray for everything under the sun, including those of other faiths and of no faith at all. We also apologize for every wrong the church has ever done. While is this part, the prayers, were being sung, John (who was the Presider at this service) and I were prostrate on the floor in front of a big, rough wood cross. Being flat on the ground like is pretty powerful, and I highly recommend it as a private devotional practice, as well as a public one on Good Friday and at Ordinations.

With so much powerful worship happening, I decided to keep my sermon as brief as possible (it turned out to be only four minutes). I was feeling the emotions so strongly that I could have easily brought myself to tears, but I managed to hold off and stay focused on the sermon.

An audio-only version can be found here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hawai'i (and my Dad's farm) in a Ferrari FF

My Dad and Mary Lou's farm was one of the stops on this tour of the Big Island in a $350,000 Ferrari FF. You can fast-forward to about 6 minutes in to see his farm. My dad said the hosts and crew for the show were nice and very professional. Later in this video they summit Mauna Kea, which brought back some memories for sure!

As awesome as this car is and fun it would be on the Big Island, I think I would still prefer something like the Jeep we rented the last time we were there. So much of Hawai'i is still a bit rough and having a real 4WD vehicle simply means that you can visit more places, which is surely the point of a vacation in paradise! (Click on either of the links in this last paragraph to see some of our Jeep adventures.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sermon: Funeral for Eleanor Farmer

As promised: here is the remembrance and sermon given at the Funeral of Eleanor Farmer.

Here is the leaflet created for the liturgy.

Betsy noted that although I didn't say anything "new" in this sermon, I had said "what needed to be said." I think that pretty much encapsulates virtually all preaching. We aren't actually burdened with creating something new so much as with re-telling a story that we carry deep in our bones. Personally, I think any preacher worth his or her salt ought to be able to preach a descent funeral sermon at all times. Not because we do it particularly often, but because an Funeral sermon is really just a version of the Easter sermon, which is itself simply an account of the "hope that is within us." If you don't have a firm grasp of that hope than I suggest you spend some more time praying to the Holy Spirit! (I mean that literally--I think all preachers probably go through periods where they fall out-of-touch with the wellspring. This is a natural part of the spiritual life. My advice is: pray, pray, pray--especially to the Holy Spirit. She hasn't let me down, yet.)

Facebook Ads Part # 3

We are getting to the end of the three-day ad I ran on Facebook to promote the church's Palm Sunday service. At this point more than 25,000 people have seen the ad, usually in the context of their newsfeed. Out of that I've got 128 "clicks" on the ad, which would have taken them to the church's Facebook page. Out of that I've gotten about 30 "likes" of the page that weren't following before. If they continued the follow the funnel flow they would have landed on a page I designed on the church's website to specifically promote Holy Week. That's gotten approximately 25 views specifically from the Facebook Link (and it doesn't count people who might have found their way to that page some other way). Overall the traffic to the website has almost doubled since I started running the FB ad. And it only cost us $50. What I really can't wait to see is if all this translates into even ONE visitor tomorrow. If we do get one, will have been totally worth it. I can't wait to meet that person, by the way, and introduce them to our community.

The second observation I would make is that 41% of our traffic comes from referrals and the vast majority of them are from Facebook (though we do get a few from this blog and from the Diocese of Toronto's website). 29% comes from search traffic (mostly people Googling "Messiah Church Toronto") and 31% is people directly typing it "" into their browser or clicking on a bookmark. This is fascinating, since if you had asked me before I started measuring I would have told you that most people come to our website through Google... not true. Facebook is having a huge impact.

Here's another interesting thing 26% of the people viewing the site are doing so on a mobile device (either a phone or a tablet). I think I would have guessed a bit low on that one, too. But it makes me thankful that I used a template that displays beautifully on mobile devices. You can even swipe the image slider on your mobile device and it works correctly.

So all of this has reconfirmed, for me, the importance of "feeding the beast" of content. Because drawing traffic to your site does no good if you don't have compelling content. And, what's even more important--that content needs to be developed more-or-less organically. It is misguided to do bait-and-switch. The content of the website needs to reflect accurately the life and character of the community. The low hanging fruit on the content tree is sermons. So I'm trying to get better about posting my sermons, regardless of how I felt about them when I preached them. I'm also trying not to get too crazy about doing nice production on them. Timeliness is very, very important. There is a quality threshold that stuff needs to meet, naturally, but then you just have to post, post, post.

As I write this I'm rendering a video of the sermon from Eleanor's funeral. I'll post it on the church's website and also cross-post it here when it's done.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expectations of the Church

It saddens me that people expect so little of the church. I got a phone call regarding Eleanor's funeral this week. The caller, who described themselves as Anglican, wanted to know what our church's fee would be for doing the funeral. I explained that Eleanor was a parishioner, and my church doesn't charge a fee for parishioners who want to have their funerals here. Access to the rites of the church is just part of the deal of belonging to Christian Community. "Well, there won't be an organist, will there?" So I went on to explain that of course there will be an organist. In fact, it actually never occurred to me that we might do this funeral without Fiona playing. Perhaps that was unfair to Fiona, but when I asked her she said, "yes," and that was that.

Eleanor was "one of ours." She was extremely faithful to the church. She showed up week after week despite her disabilities and the physical pain of moving on her old knees. Every Sunday that we offered laying on of hands she would hobble, slowly, toward the altar rail until I would walk down and anoint her however far she had managed to come. She came every week to the Saturday healing prayer service, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to be there for her now. Fee?! Sigh.

This illustrates the way consumerism has invaded the church. Even people that are in the church think of it as a set of services given in exchange for money. This makes sense. I've got to eat and pay off the loans I took in seminary. The heating and electric bills have to be paid. And this is one way in which people make ministry happen--sure. No doubt they pay gratefully and with the knowledge that they are helping God work (and they are right). But it saddens me that one of the major things people think about when it comes to the sacraments of marriage and baptism, or when it comes to funerals, is "how much is this going to cost." We need to give people some alternative ways of thinking about the "pastoral rites" and also about the nature of giving to the church. It's not an exchange! it's a gift! Both ways!

And we have no one to blame but ourselves. We, as church, have perpetuated these attitudes in a million little and not-so-little ways. And it bugs the hell out of me.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Quick Tutorial on Using a Vectorscope to Do Colour Correction

All you amateur videographers out there might appreciate this quick introduction to how to use a vectorscope to do color correction. A vectorscope is visual display of the information in a video image. It displays as a colour wheel where one part is red, another green, and another blue and thus around the circle (hue). Intensity (saturation or chrominance) of the signal for each of those colours is then shown by how far from the centre the little dots appear. Here's an example that will make it fairly clear what I'm talking about:

This is what the vectorscope looks like in Final Cut, but pretty much all the video editing software such as Premiere Pro and Avid have the same thing. Notice that besides the patches of red (11.30 on the clock), blue (4 o'clock), and white (in the centre) data being represented, there is another patch extending out in the 11 o'clock position. That's the skin tone. Now, notice how there is a little reference line in "built in" to the scope near that point? That's the standard reference for what will appear as "skin tone." So if your patch of skin data falls on or at least close to that line, it will look like a "natural" skin tone.

Now for the mind blowing part--this reference line is the same for any colour of skin. Any race, black, white, whatever, will fall along the same line. Why? Because what the vectorscope is really picking up in the colour of the blood in the skin! Hidden from our eyes by all the other information our eyes perceive is a big glob of red, and the vectorscope can separate that out easy as kiss-my-hand. This has been observed for a long, long time, which is why virtually all vectorscopes have a reference line in this position. You can quickly correct skin tone just by using this handy tool. Here is a four minute tutorial that shows you exactly how to use a color correction wheel coupled with a vectorscope to quickly do colour correction in Premiere Pro.

See how easy that was? And it goes beyond skin tone. I also have a set of colour reference cards. So if I hold those up in front of someone before video taping them, in post-production I can then look at the vectorscope image and make sure that the "blue" on the card matches the "blue" position on the vectorscope. Easy peasy primary colour correction.

Archbishop Justin's Enthronement Sermon

Regular readers will know I am very fond of Canterbury Cathedral and that I have been there several times for retreats and pilgrimage. One of the neat things about watching the new Archbishop of Canterbury's "Enthronement" was seeing some faces in the background that I know from my time there. The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, of course, but also some of the vergers with their cassocks and cool ear-bud-radio setups. The best video I've been able to find that is streamable is this one:

It includes his short sermon, which I thought was quite nice. He talks about how God's Grace liberates our courage to get out of the boat and attempt to walk on the waves. There is a lot of talk like that in Christian circles on both sides of the pond. The rest of the ceremony was a beautiful example of English Cathedral Worship at its best, and it makes me long for it. I could swear I could feel the coolness of those stones (and oh, if they could talk!). So much beauty and gravitas, and yet it was all so human. Sigh.

But I couldn't help but have my impressions of the moment tempered by the gut-wrenching posts of the MadPriest blogger (Reverend Jonathan Hagger):

I was ordained nearly eighteen years ago. In all that time I have broken no canon laws and I have not been subject to any disciplinary proceedings. I have not even broken those laws that morally perhaps I should break. All I want is permission to officiate. I cannot understand how the church authorities can get away with punishing me without there being a crime or any due process. I am in pain. My wife is in pain. My marriage is in pain because of all the pain. To stop this pain I need one man to sign a piece of paper giving me permission to officiate. After that I can begin, with the help of women, to return to my vocation in life. I simply do not understand why this cannot happen in a blink of an eye and the frustrating ridiculousness of it all is driving me mad. This is just theatre. They are going to open the door for him whatever because his face fits. All his life doors have been opened for him. I asked him to open a door for me and he said he "no".(Source)

And there you have it--the double nature of the church as both blessed and broken. And for every inspiring bishop who rises to the "throne" you find scattered about plenty of broken and scarred people who did their best. I'm not saying anything negative about Archbishop Justin or about whether or not Jonathan is right to be so hurt by him. I know very, very little about that particular situation. Understanding the details wouldn't change the fact, however, that Jonathan is in pain. He was called to serve God, got ordained, and now feels abandoned by the institutional church. And when I hear a story like that I take it as a solemn warning that the same thing could very well happen to me in the blink of the eye. Read the Psalms if you don't believe me.

So this business about "stepping out onto the waves" gets real right quick when your job or something else you love is on the line. And I think that we need to stare death in the face if we are going to swing our legs over the gunwale. For every majestic enthronement I think we need to listen to at least one story like Jonathan's to keep us honest about what we are about when we follow Christ. We are about dying in order to live. We are supposed to pick up our cross daily and follow Him, and that entails stumbling, often.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Facebook Ads--the first 12 hours

Just an update from yesterday. So far I've had a Facebook Campaign going for about 12 hours. The ads have been shown to 6,111 people in Toronto. Of those, we got 16 click-throughs to see further information. The total cost to the church, in the first 12 hours, has been $9.30. Not bad. Not bad at all, especially for my first attempt!



For many years I've been creating posters and postcards and even vinyl banners to advertize for Holy Week at Messiah (and at St. Mary Magdalene's when I was there). Usually they get a few people to come, so I think they are totally worth doing. I've been more hesitant to do real Facebook campaigns, partly because I simply haven't felt like I've had the time. But this year I'm full of energy and enthusiasm, so I'm giving it a shot (and it doesn't hurt that I saw my friends at Church of the Transfiguration are trying a Facebook campaign!). Time for to give it a try. Target: Palm Sunday.

Step one: Create a "landing page" for the campaign. Since I'm targeting the "Open de-Churched" for this campaign, I wrote an article on the church's blog explaining what Palm Sunday is all about. This is purely an attractional approach, of course, and had in mind the sort of people who might remember going to church, but don't quite remember what Palm Sunday about or why it's different from the usual week. It's a bit "teachy," maybe, but this is just my first attempt at a Facebook campaign, so, it is what it is!

Step two: create a tracking tag for Google Analytics. Using this tool I created a custom tag to append to URL links that are part of the campaign. That way I can tell, later, how much of the traffic that lands on this page did so specifically because of the campaign (rather than simply because they Googled "What is Palm Sunday").

Step three: create a post on Facebook on the Church's page. (Not strictly necessary, of course, but helpful.) Now that post is only two sentences, but it has a link to the article I wrote in step one, along with a thumbnail image from that article. I set this post to go live at 10am. Scheduling is a good idea for two reasons: 1) having it publish during a high-traffic time on Facebook means that it will appear current in people's timelines, rather than hours old, and 2) I can make changes and make sure everything is solid before it goes live.

Step four: set up the Facebook ad. I won't walk you through this except to say that's very simple. You can set a "budget" for the campaign, but in the end they only charge you for the actual click-throughs of your ad. I'll also mention that I used the tracking tag created in step two, so this campaign will show up in Google Analytics and I'll be able to see how it compares to other efforts to bring traffic to the website. I also scheduled this to run from this morning (after the Facebook post goes public, naturally) until the service starts Palm Sunday morning. I also targeted it specifically to the GTA. I could have narrowed it down even further, say to people in certain age ranges, but this campaign is not that highly targeted. However, it probably won't be very long before you can create ads targeted toward people who like certain things that might lead me to think they would be open to attending a certain kind of church event, for example. That's coming.

This first attempt is a short run (three days) and not very expensive ($50). So I'll be curious to see the results. I'll be able to see how many people clicked through the ad and how many people stumbled onto the landing page from other sources. And if there are any visitors on Sunday I will simply ask them, as well, how they found us. A lot of time it's simply from walking or driving by the building, so I'm already thinking of ways we could maximize that.

Is there a difference between this advertizing work and evangelism? Not really. You'll see that I'm not pulling some kind of bait of switch, the post on the church website is quite confessional. I'm clearly inviting people to hear more about Jesus and His story. If that's not Evangelism I'm not sure what is!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Weird Space

This moment--right now--is an example of the kind of weird space I'm in these last few weeks (or months). It's about 1.30 a.m.--I should be in bed, but I can't sleep, the thoughts are too thick in my head. So instead I'm eating cold spaghetti with meat sauce with sriracha sauce on top and blogging. Yes, blogging. Why blogging? I really don't know, something about a vague commitment I made to average one post a day.

The scene wasn't much better at 12:30a.m. I was in bed. Lights off. Spouse and two cats in bed with me. But with my phone I read a PDF a friend (Brian Bukowski) linked on "The Community" about church marketing. It was short but dense. Most it was content I already knew, but the form was novel and I think it's the sort of thing that could be a good seed for the church to do a better job of reaching people. So (with my phone) I saved the PDF to Dropbox and then sent the link to Meredith Gould via DM on Twitter. She had already announced that she was offline for the night, but she'll see the link in the morning. Meredith is a Church Marketing maven, so I expect she'll have strong opinions about the piece one way or another. Reading it gave me a few ideas of things I should do differently, and made me long for the Environics Data we are ordering for Messiah. Should've done this years ago.

Then I tossed and turned thinking about all the stuff I have to do to develop the "Messiah Commons" project. Lots and lots of leadership development work. That means meeting with people and getting them to talk to each other, basically, to discover their unique gifts and calls. It takes time, and I don't have a lot of that at the moment. Thursday's annual Wycliffe Institute of Evangelism Dinner will be an important opportunity for me to introduce a few key personalities to each other, and I was fretting over some additional work I should do before these members of the "crew" meet. So much of the project is undefined, at the moment, and definition only seems to come in the context of conversation.

Luckily, I think I'll be seeing one of those conversation partners tomorrow, so from my bed using my phone I sent him a Facebook message asking whether he would, indeed, be at our mutual event tomorrow and whether I could bend his ear for 20 minutes to talk some more about the Messiah Commons project. He's also probably asleep--hence no immediate response. The beauty of Twitter and Facebook messaging is that I won't be waking them up (unlike a phone call or text message). They'll find these messages in the morning and reply in due course.

Then I thought some more about my other major project in the works. It involves a lot of creative work, so I puzzled through some thinking about that, and even used a calculator on my phone to do some back-of-the-envelope style projections to assess the feasibility of some scenarios in my head. I must have spent 5 minutes then questioning my premises. The problem with grant proposals is that everything has to be future tense, it seems, and it is nearly impossible to predict people's future behavior. Yet ignorance is no excuse for inaction.

I remember one time reading a short article written for people considering becoming doctors. One piece of advice I remember was that to be a Doctor you have to be okay making life and death decisions based on partial, incomplete, or even contradictory information. The stakes are much lower (usually) in ministry, but it's still the case that you often have to make decisions (or at least representations) based on partial, incomplete, or even contradictory information. Do I know how much coffee people will buy in the next three years if Messiah starts selling it on the sidewalk? Of course not! But I can make an educated guess. I can tell you (really) which coffee shops in our area sell a shot of espresso for $3.35 and which sell it for $2.71. And at 12.45am I can calculate how many espressos we would have sell each year to support a full-time Batista-pioneer-minister. I even made the calculation using Reverse Polish Notation, just to get my geek on even more. Then I wish my friend with an MBA lived in town, because I would seriously put him to work on this puppy.

I don't think everyone in church-land thinks this kind of thinking is awesome. I got some push-back recently after talking about it that sounded to me like, "It is presumptuous to plan for mission; God will provide for us; we just need to surrender to His will." Ahh, hmm. In my head I thought of the flood-roof-top-rescue-Peter's-gate joke, but resisted telling it (kind of a cheesy and predictable joke, anyway). I also thought of the Arabic Proverb, "Trust In Allah But Tie Up Your Camel," but I didn't think that would be well received, either. So I said something about how God's unprecedented grace elicits a response in us--that we are invited to cooperate in God's work in the world.

To put in another way, we might throw ourselves down at the foot of the Throne and push our noses into the hard stone and pledge our eternal obedience to the God of all creation and hear his holy command echo through the Temple. Why would we scoff at "Count my sheep" or "Put up my sign" or "Make coffee and put out a few scones"? Would it be better if the Lord were asking us something really vague/koan-like: "Love your neighbour" or "If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out?"

I had a parishioner challenge me after worship recently: "I don't understand what counting cars has to do with evangelism." It's a good question. Before I could answer she started talking about how she thought we needed a better sign on the street. "Ah," I asked, "What kind of sign? Should it be designed to be most readable on foot or in a car? How big do the letters need to be? How long can the message be?" She immediately grasped by point and nodded.

A pastor's prayer: "Lord, send me an accountant." Imagine the havoc one could unleash with a few deeply analytical thinkers puzzling through the problems of the church today... I don't think many of us would like their conclusions very much. But, then, we don't particularly care for prophets of any base methodology when they tell us to change.

So I'm just descending deeper in my rabbit hole of church-nerd weirdness. Studying my Google Analytics and Environics reports--confident that there is a Deus Machina somewhere down here. If you want to help, feel free to toss a few batteries down.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sermon: Lent 5 2013: Ann Stocker

Ann Stocker, who is a therapist and social worker. She works for the Institute of Family Living as well as Youth Unlimited. At Messiah she runs at outreach programme that helps young mothers with life challenges, including the practical aspects of parenting but also spiritual and emotional concerns. This is a joint programme with a nearby Pentecostal Church (Stone Church). I ask Ann to come by a couple of times a year to update the congregation about her ministry and solicit donations to support it (Ann has to raise all the money to run her programme). I often ask her to preach, as well. In my book she is triple qualified to do so: a mature Christian Disciple, a holder of an M.Div., and someone who occupies a pastoring role in her community. I've said before that I think most Anglican Churches are far too restrictive in their notions about who ought to preach. I think that the Rector of a Church ought to be the chief preacher, of course, but there is nothing wrong with asking folks like Ann and even members of the congregation to "give us a word."

I especially appreciated that Ann manage to explicitly touch on all four lessons that were read that day (Hebrew Bible, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel). I would say that my preaching is always informed by all four texts, but I rarely mention them all in a single sermon. So good on her!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Philip Bloom

Lately I've been on a binge of watching videos by Philip Bloom. He's a videographer from England who has created a number of videos discussing various pieces of video gear and how to get the most out of them. He goes beyond mere product reviews to give really helpful advice about how to produce excellent content. He's known for his work with relatively inexpensive DSLR-style cameras. So much so, in fact, that he was invited to the Lucas Ranch and then hired to be part of the film crew for the movie "Red Tails." It's very unusual to see a DSLR camera being used in a big-budget Hollywood film, but a surprising amount of his footage ended up in the final film, and you really can't tell the difference. (Mind you, in some situations he was using a $1000 camera but with a $60,000 lens attached to it!)

Here is an example of him showing off what you can do with a Sony FS700 in slow-motion mode. The black and white footage of his Dad about half-through is particularly impressive.

Here is an example of some of his "real" work:

He's kinda my hero when it comes to video-making.

Leaflet: Lent 5 2013

Here is the leaflet for the 5th Sunday of Lent, 2013.

Usually I cut and paste (with attribution) the margin notes on the biblical passages. This time, however, I did write my own one-paragraph commentary on Psalm 126. That has always been one of my favourite Psalms--perhaps because it's one of the Psalms including in the American BCP version of Noonday Prayer. I find it very poignant and think it resonates with many people's longings to return. Return to a better time, return to themselves, a return home. For a while I actually had these words posted in my office when I did social work in Los Angeles, until my boss removed them. She said, understandably, that a secular social service agency couldn't be hanging bible quotes on the walls. Oops.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Movie Review: Undercity

This video made the viral-Internet rounds about two years ago, but I'm only just now getting around to seeing it since it was recommended by the videographer Philip Bloom as an example of how even a one-man show used to do weddings can still shoot/produce a breakout piece of work. So here is the movie, all riveting 40 minutes of it.

In this video filmmaker Andrew Wonder followed around urban explorer Steve Duncan as they illegally ventured into subway tunnels, sewers, bridges in Manhattan. It's suspenseful and thrilling and informative at the same time. I particularly appreciate the interviews they got with various street folks. We've all heard about the "mole" people living underground, here is your chance to learn a little more about what that might be like.

Also, this is a good example of how the form factor of the Video-enabled DSLR's really let you get into tight, tight places and shoot without being to conspicuous, even in low light, without too much loss of quality.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Episcopal Election Time!

The Diocese of Toronto is really big--some say the biggest in the world: 237 congregations spread across 26,000 square kilometres. It would be utterly impossible for one bishop to cover such a vast area, so the "Diocesan" Bishop (Colin Johnson) is assisted by four "Suffragan" bishops. In Toronto we also call these "Area Bishops" because they are each responsible for a particular geographic chunk.

One of these, George Elliott, is retiring, so an election has been called to replace him. Each active clergy person gets a vote, as do representatives of the non-ordained from each congregation. The number of "lay delegates" for the election depends on the number of parishioners on an average Sunday. Messiah gets one. They are elected an the Annual Vestry Meeting of each parish.

This will be my third episcopal election since moving into this Diocese seven years ago (the last two elected Linda Nicholls and Patrick Yu). With each election I find myself more and more invested in the process for several reasons. First, I actually know most of the people running--some of them quite well and some only by reputation. Second, I've become more engaged with Diocesan level projects that will be greatly impacted by the election. Third, I see how my particular parish will also be impacted by the decisions that this person makes (not so much directly, since we are currently in Patrick Yu's area and it seems unlikely that the Archbishop will shuffle the areas around, but indirectly as they collaborate with the other Bishops in a council known as the "College of Bishops"). And fourth, because I'm more connected than ever with my clerical colleagues, this is something we like to talk a lot about.

Incidentally, I was honoured to be asked to be an official nominator for one of the candidates: The Rev. Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa. I know Isaac from when he worked as part of the Congregational Development Department of the Diocese. He came to Messiah a couple of times when I first arrived to facilitate some group discernment processes.

To help people decide their vote, the Diocese decided to produce a video interview which I will post below. I was not directly part of the team that produced this video, except that I provided some technical advice to Tim Harry (the Diocesan Videographer) as my church provides the space for his production office. (I'm hoping to expand this production capacity in the future, BTW, but that's another blog post). I've been working with Tim as a Producer, Executive Producer, video-geek, or dude-about-church for some time now, and it's been gratifying to see how his skills have been quickly increasing. He was under a lot of time pressure to produce this video quickly and at very little expense, and I think he did a fantastic job. I should also mention that he was assisted by Ian Ford on the shoot.

It's really neat to me to see how the production quality and turn around time of these video projects for the Diocese are getting better and better. But even more significantly, the culture around the use of media in the Diocese has shifted to the point that I think everyone just assumed that such a video would be created. It has become one of the many tools we use to communicate. There is also a facebook page specifically set up for people to ask their questions and for candidates to respond in a free-form social media dialogue. It's not much a step from this to honest-to-God evangelism with content intended for those outside the church family. I'm certainly advocating and working to make that a reality in various ways.

Anyway, back to the election! Here are the candidates:
  • The Rev. Canon Andrew Asbil
  • The Rev. Canon Allan Budzin
  • The Ven. Peter Fenty
  • The Ven. Gordon Finney
  • The Rev. Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa
  • The Rev. Mark Kinghan
  • The Rev. Warren Leibovitch
  • The Rev. Canon Stephen Peake
  • The Rev. Canon Jennifer Reid
  • The Rev. Nicola Skinner
  • Major The Rev. David Warren
As I said, I know many of these candidates well, but part of the nature of church election, versus a straight-up civil one, is that it is not considered polite to be too forthright about your support. One is always supposed to couch their opinions about who would make a good leader in various pious nods to humility or God's will or something like that. But buy me a drink and I'll tell you what I think (as, indeed, I think most people involved in this process will). There are substantial differences between these candidates, more so than the video would even suggest since it was difficult to get into depth with 11 candidates, three questions, and 40 minutes!

I find this process fun. Major aspects of how we live out God's call are at stake--and that's fun to discuss and debate. No smoke coming out chimney's, perhaps, but it's still an eccentric and foible-filled way to choose a leader!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Many consider the finest Sushi Restaurant in the world, indeed the first to earn three out of three Michelin Stars, is Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. It's an assuming location in the basement of a building near a subway stop. But you must reserve at least a month in advance, and they don't take reservations any longer than that. Recently a wonderful documentary was made about this place and it's famous master Sushi Chef, Jiro: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

This documentary explores several themes: sushi, vocation, family, art, and the very essence of creativity as the soul of our humanity. Well worth watching. One subtle theme that deserves a few words, however, is love. Love is evident in the film in very subtle ways. Jiro is the sort of father who believes in tough love and admits being very hard on his sons, who hardly knew him when they were young because he worked so hard. So you you to look around the edges of his toughness to discover the great love and affection he has for his two sons and his restaurant crew. The highest compliment that he can pay of them is to say "He is ready." Ready to run the restaurant. Ready to make sushi. Ready to be alive.

Now I've got to try making sushi again--which is so very much harder than it looks. But the effort to master these techniques, which is the effort of a lifetime, is part of what makes it so beautiful.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review: Shop Class as Soul Craft

I recently finished the book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. It has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me for months, and it was well worth the time it took me to pick it up and read it. The book has some things in common with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, to which it is often compared, but is a much more focused and polemical book. I don't mean "polemical" in a negative way, but it is true that Crawford has a point to make: manual trades are just as important as "knowledge work." Further, denigrating trades as though they were for those who are less smart or couldn't hack it in the new "knowledge economy" is seriously flawed from pyschological, economic, and philosophical points of view. We are poorer in every way when we misunderstand the nature of physical work. This seems like common sense, and yet the trend in education and other social fields has been a pernicious erosion of the value of manual work.

All I can say about this book is "yes, yes, yes." I agree with virtually every point Crawford makes that I can possibly critique, and I found much of his rich historic analysis (he does have a PhD in Political Philosophy) fascinating. Like many good books, he often finds a way of naming things that I only intuitively perceived. For example, he does a great differentiation between a "crew" and a "team." For the sake of his argument he was talking about "teams" as they commonly form in the office environment. He picks apart the vague and unmeasurable goals, the petty politics of power and influence, and all the other common pathologies of office work. Then he defines "crews" as groups of people focused on accomplishing a concrete task (such as building a house). There is a transparency to the work--you either hang a door correctly or you failed, and everyone who encounters the door knows it. In a crew, there is instant and obvious accountability to all the other people on the crew. Influence and power accrue by default to those with the most skill and expertise. You can't bluff your through as part of a crew.

Maybe this is why I like being a part of a crew that races sailboats, or a crew that builds canoes. There isn't much political nonsense in those endeavours. You shape a rib correctly or you don't. You hammer in a tack correctly or it must be redone. You call a lay-line right on the skipper has to tack and tack at the pin (wasting precious time and distance). Meanwhile, the vast majority of my work in church land is impossible to evaluate in a meaningful way. Sometimes I get an "attaboy" when it's a particularly visible or successful project or event. When I preach a particularly good sermon or something like that. But the vast majority of what I do can't be evaluated. This is just the nature of the kind of work I do, and I learned long ago that I would have to rely on self-validation, or perhaps the consolations of the Holy Spirit, rather than rely on exterior sources. So when I get a nice letter from a parishioner I file it away. When a colleague compliments me I enjoy the warm feeling, but I don't rely on either.

So how does the Holy Spirit give me feedback? That's a great question (and is far beyond what Crawford would be comfortable exploring). I'd say it starts in prayer. When I'm praying, really praying, by myself and according to my own tastes, I often feel that God is present and that I am aligned with God's purposes (at least for those minutes of prayer). That's very comforting to me. Occasionally I'll receive a stronger "showing"--perhaps a VERY strong feeling or a vision/impression of some sort. Maybe a dream. Just as often, the feedback will come in the form of a seemingly random event that confirms an impulse. Often these involve other people. For instance, one particularly dark time many years ago I was very unhappy. Then, out of the blue, I received a sextant that my father sent me. It was a WW II vintage aviation sextant of the sort my grandfather once used to fly back and forth across the pacific. The imagery of "The Navigator" is one of the metaphors I use to think of myself, so the sextant has always been a powerful symbol of my identity and calling. At the time I was praying heavily, and that helped, but receiving this sextant seemed like a wonderful answer to those prayers.

A more recent example would be how I've been praying that God would send me guidance about where lead Church of The Messiah. I believe those prayers have been answered by a very strong "leading" and some new people coming into the extended life of our church. When God sends me people like DS and BS (I don't want to embarrass them), I take it is as a celestial pat on the back.

Matthew Crawford
Anyway, back to the book! Crawford argues (successfully, IMHO) that we have come to emphasize, in our school system, one career track. The notion that everyone should go to to college (and perhaps graduate school) and work with their mind in just nonsense. Good plumbers are essential to making civilization flourish, and the work they do requires just as much excellence and intellectual engagement as anything done in front of a computer. So we need to advocate for including the manual arts in all levels of education, otherwise we're going to raise a generation that can't even assemble Ikea furniture on their own!

The ministry analogue, btw, would be people who start in a parish and I have no idea how lead a group in any kind of brainstorming process, who can't manage conflict, and who have no idea how to hire a person, update a website, or do any of the other hundreds of tasks necessary to make a church run. I'm surprised by the number of seminaries I've met who haven't even heard of Family Systems Theory, the Alban Institute Church Size Topology, or many other practical bits of knowledge that I use constantly.

If you are involved at all in education, especially of young people, read this book. If you care about your stuff and where it comes from, read this book. If you want to know more about knowing, read this book!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Fourth Commandment

Mondays are supposed to be my sabbath day--but I'm pretty bad at observing it these days--thus breaking the Fourth Commandment. Today I met with two colleagues to talk about a big project that is brewing. One bought me lunch and we had a very pleasant conversation about all sorts of issues relevant to Anglican Pastors in Toronto. Funny how whether we are in a small church or a big one we often have the same exact challenges. Having lots of staff and resources doesn't seem to make a difference.

This quality to the problems we were discussing means that we stumbled onto the very challenges that define this generation of ministry--things beyond a quick fix or even the diligent application of superior technique or resources. Because these things seem out of our control it would be easy to try to ignore them, but in truth I think we have no choice but to engage them.

I wish I could be more specific, but it would impolitic. And it doesn't really matter, anyway, because what I'm trying to describe is how when people come together they discover something in their common experience which exposes the universality of the human struggle against the forces of darkness: ignorance, hopelessness, and anger. You really don't have to probe very hand to encounter deep stuff in anyone's life.

The other day I heard a sermon in which someone spoke very passionately about how what we need today are preachers who will tell this wicked and depraved generation just how sinful they are. Because only when they know how depraved they are can they know their need for God and thus submit to His gracious will. As a pragmatic matter, telling people they are sinful probably isn't going to get you very far. People are certainly broken enough without us heaping on our own judgment thinly disguised as God's. Better to simply ask people how they are hurting and explore that for a while. That's the real sinfulness that forms the motivation for seeking Grace.

Anyway, so I had those two meetings and then came home and worked on my super double secret Henry project, which I won't reveal on this blog until it is completed. I talk way too much about projects that I've only begun and or have in process--this one I'm going to wait on before I show you all.

So the last thing I did on my sabbath day was work on my canoe. This beauty has been in process for more than a year, and the "Backyard Boatbuilder's Collective" kind of took a sabbatical for a while because of the racing season last summer and then the cold weather and people's general busyness. But now we are engaged in earnest again, and made good progress this evening on my boat. We just have one more night of sanding and wood working to do on the hull and then she is ready for varnish. I'll do that in my own garage, perhaps next week.

I have to build another set of canoe seats--that's in process--and then all we'll need to do is skin the boat and enjoy!

The smell of wet cedar--the curls made by the block plane--that made today feel like a sabbath!



I spent some time with my Uncle Chris, Aunt Tay (yes, she has the same name as me), and my cousin Kate today. This is a rare treat as I drifted quite far from that part of my family until recently. As a kid I always loved my scientist-aunt/uncle and had many long talks about explosives and others boyhood wonders of Chemistry. Kate was here in town for an Art History conference (yep, same discipline as my wife, but different subject area), so Tay and Chris came up as well. They wanted a real Toronto Chinatown experience--so we ended up at Mother's Dumplings, which is a well-known place for homemade dumplings. They had no less that eight staff members just stuffing dumplings the whole time we were there! I remember when Mother's was in the basement of a place on Huron Street--the new digs (2010) on Spadina are amazing. Yummy food and a long, meandering talk. Since all five grown ups are teachers in one capacity or another, where was a lot of talk about those realities. I particularly enjoyed my cousin's critique of Wikipedia, which was highly nuanced and researched--she has obviously thought a lot about the issue. It's true, now, that students are constantly trying to use Wikipedia has a source, which in limited circumstances it can be.

My uncle, a chemist who has made most of his career studying issues related to art conservation, is also very interested in questions of craft and material culture. I remember as a kid that their house was filled with antique clocks and looms that he had restored or were works in progress. He has a fantastic collection of traditional hand tools, he tells me. We see eye-to-eye on these issues (like how shameful it is that many high schools have dismantled their shop programs). As we were talking about teaching he asked whether priests in training go through any kind of mentorship programme. So I explained how the field-education system works in Toronto (which is virtually the same from New Haven where I went to seminary).

Basically, to get a Master of Divinity you have to satisfy a field education requirement. The most common way to do this is to spend one academic year as a student in a church placement. The student and the Field Ed. Supervisor (I know two of them: Andrew Sheldon for Wycliffe/Trinity and Natalie Wigg-Stevenson for Emmanuel) decide on possible placements that look like a good match for what the student needs to learn and the priest at that parish is asked whether they are willing to take on that particular student. If student and priest are agreed that it is a good match, the student develops a series of learning goals and we are off to the races.

To be honest, I was never a fan of the whole student-developed learning goal system--especially when I was a student myself. The problem is that you don't know what you don't know. In other words, I think it is problematic to expect a student to be able to identify their own blindspots. The better approach, in my humble opinion, is at least to have them shadow a priest for a few weeks and then ask them where they feel they want to focus their learning.

I suppose that part of the problem is that one year is not much time. At my seminary it was expected that you would do two academic years of field ed. plus a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) unit one summer. CPE is usually done in a hospital setting--it's a very particular pedagogical paradigm but it has much merit. If you want to learn pastoral care skills in a hurry, CPE is a good place to start. It's kind of like boot camp for pastors--you might hate it, but it could save your life someday.

I love having students. I try to give them all the time, attention, and opportunities that I didn't get when I was a seminarian. If a student were to come to asking to learn how to preach, I would probably put them on the preaching rota (schedule) every other week. If they say they want to learn liturgy I was involve them in the nitty gritty details of planning the Easter Vigil. When it comes to students I say "Bring it on!" Often students come wanting to know about liturgy, which is, indeed, a fundamental skill. We (as Pastors) are asked again and again to plan and preside over meaningful moments in the life of the communities we serve, and that means doing good worship.

Two years ago a student came to me from Wycliffe that wanted to learn liturgy and general priest-craft. So I asked her to show up the next Sunday with a borrow cassock and shadow me through the service. I took mental notes. Even though she didn't actually do anything, I noticed a lot of problems right away that needed correcting. For example, her manner of walking through the space was entirely wrong. Arms waving by her side, constantly shifting this way and that, it was all wrong for worship. I told her afterwards: "you must move like ninja ghost-walker samurai priest." In one of our first "real" one-on-one sessions I asked her to walk with me up and down the liturgical space. I told her to keep her hands together in front of her as she walked (not stiffly, but naturally). I taught her to walk with simple, intentional direction. As little noise as possible. Think of the angels in heaven. Think of the attendants to the Queen. Never walk backwards. Always know where you will be going before you go there.

Any craft can go very deep. I could write many paragraphs about the proper shoes and how to wear them (seriously), but I'm aware that any carpenter would say the same about hammers or screwdrivers. An accountant could wax eloquent about Reverse Polish Notation and spread sheet programmes. But the young ones never listen to us. Interestingly, advice about material culture (like what shoes to wear, how to choose a cassock, etc.) is usually received much more readily than something like preaching advice. Which is weird, because preaching is much more difficult than selecting shoes. Many of my students have resisted my advice or even downright instruction when it comes to preaching. I'm very gentle with newbie preachers, but most aren't ready to take my softest hint, anyway.

Funny, because I would say that I still have a tonne to learn about preaching myself. The general feeling I get, preaching, is that I'm a bone in the mouth of a dog. The dog is the Holy Spirit and She just shakes, shakes, shakes. I envy preachers that get to spend hours and hours preparing. On a really good week I get to spend maybe four or five hours preparing to preach. Meanwhile, a magazine article I read recently simply said that one should spend about 10 hours on their sermon. Really? That must be nice. And, in truth, there are some weeks like that for me still. But the reality of preaching is that the number of hours spent preparing has very little to do with the outcome. Many of of best sermons came from the least preparation--and many of my worst came from the most. The truth is, there is definitely a diminishing return on sermon research--after a while you are just distracting yourself from making up your own mind about what the text has to say that week. For many people that's a disappointing reality to discover. Focusing on "delivery" has a similar limitation. So once you know enough and have a descent delivery, what's left?

That's the kind of deep mystery that one encounters in a craft that is difficult to teach in only one academic year. I love students. I long for students, because when I'm teaching them these mysteries I feel like I'm relearning something myself.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Easter 2013 Postcards

My awesome wife, Betsy, took some time to create to great postcards to promote the upcoming Holy Week services. I'm particularly impressed that she created this map (which I will use in other publications, for sure). Take a look!

Creating these kinds of cards is much harder than it looks. It's easy to make something simple and boring, of course, but to make something original and attractive takes some thinking. I'm surprised more churches don't do this kind of advertizing, it's not very expensive. Printing 5,000 of these only costs about $100. Distribution (by hand, not through the post office) costs another $200 or so. And I know from experience that it does actually bring in a few extra people every year that we do it. The challenge, for me, is finding the time to create something like this two or three times a year.

It's been gratifying to get so much positive feedback about the new church website. I've been making an effort to continue to add content through the "blog" functionality. At some point I will need to hand that responsibility on to others, but for now I want to build up some content and a style before I leave it.

One of the hardest and most important tasks on a site like this is not just the copy (written words), but the images. Many of the images on the new site are several years old. Getting new ones is difficult because I'm usually not in a position to do much photography when I'm leading services (obviously) or attending events. I know that St. John's, West Toronto, used to have a designated photographer every Sunday, which meant that they always had tons of fresh images on the bulletin boards. Putting pictures of people and events from the community's life on bulletin boards in the church itself has a wonderful way of extending that spirit of fellowship throughout the week when far fewer will be gathered.

I might institute a similar practice someday--but at the moment I have other fish-to-fry, including the development work to bring three major proposals to table (two related to Messiah and another that I've been asked to shepherd as a PEMG rep.). So I'm going to be a busy boy in the next few weeks!

Friday, March 8, 2013


This morning started off with a "Missional Summit." This is a day-long event that the Diocese of Toronto sponsors every few months to support people doing Fresh Expressions and other innovative ministries. It's an invite-only sort of thing, but the main criteria is having a Fresh Expression or Church Plant that is being funded by the Diocese. I think one of the reasons I get invited is because I'm on the "Project Enabling and Monitoring Group" (PEMG), which oversees and shepherds the funding proposals for these sorts of projects. In fact, I was just asked to help develop a new project which is just beginning to cross from the horizon of the unknown into a feasible reality.

The morning started with some structured networking designed to give us a chance to hear about as many little projects as possible, then we had a lecture, a case study, and some reflections by the Archbishop. Marion Taylor provided the lecture. She is a popular Old Testament Professor at Wyliffe Seminary and I can see why. Her subject was Josephine Butler, a 19th Century reformer/activist who championed women's rights. In particular, Marion wanted to highlight Butler's exegetical and rhetorical genius. She showed how Butler took one of the most problematic passages in all of Scripture--Judges 19--and found the Grace in it.

If you are interested at all in Feminist Theology or Biblical Exegesis or social advocacy on behalf of prostitutes, you should take a few minutes and treat yourself to this. Start by reading Judges 19. It's an ugly passage, and my first impression was that it arroused some righteous anger in me, but I didn't actually see myself in the story, much less Jesus in the story, until Butler gets a hold of it...

There are many tragical histories recorded in the Old Testament, that true mirror of the faith and the righteousness, but also of the depravity of man. Few are more tragical than that story, in the book of Judges, of the wayfaring Levite, who halted at Gibeah of Benjamin, and lodged there with the woman, his companion. We read with a shudder the ghastly details, — the clamoring of the sons of Belial round the door, the suspense, the parley, till, in the cowardice of self-defence, the man brings out that helpless woman, and casts her among the hellish terrors of that awful night. ' All night until them morning,' she endured, ' until the day began to spring; then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light. And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way; and, behold, the woman was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold. And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going! But none answered.' She was dead.

Christian friends, there is a weak and prostrate figure lying at our door ; to this door she turns for help, though it be but in her dying fall. Her hands are upon the threshold — dead hands flung forward in mute and terrible appeal to the God above, who, looking down from heaven, sees not that prostrate form alone, but on the one side the powers of hell, on the other, in their safe dwelling- place, the selfish sleepers to whom the pale, cold hands appeal in vain. The night is far spent ; throughout the world's long night the fate of the Levite's concubine has been outcast woman's fate; cast forth in answer to the clamorous cries of insatiable human lusts, and then left to perish in the outer darkness; while 'her lord,' ordained her protector by nature and by the law of God, slumbers unheeding. Her voice is too weak to be heard, the door is too heavily barred for her to open, that she might cross the threshold again; her only appeal is her heavy corpse-like fall beside the door, her silence when invoked, and her cold, dead hands stretched forth. It might well make our morning slumbers uneasy, and cause us to murmur, in our dreams, of the coming judgment, to know that there lies a corpse at our door, crushed with the heaped and pitiless weight of the sins of others and her own.

But the day is at hand. Wc have slept long and soundly, while that woman bore the hell without. Shall we sleep still? What if the Judge should come and find us scarcely risen from our torpor, our door scarcely opened, our morning salutation scarcely uttered to the victim whose voice is stilled in death — should come, and should require of us an account of our protectorship, and show to us such mercy as we have shown to her?

There are, thank God, signs at last, and in certain parts of the earth, of a movement among the sleepers, a haunting consciousness of somewhat leaning heavily against our door, a gradual awakening to a sense of pain and fear and duty unfulfilled — nay, of partnership in guilt, with a present immunity from its penalties, which presses heavier than all else upon a conscience lit with the fires of coming wrath, or on a heart capable of a generous sorrow. Some, thank God, have started from their beds and gone forth in the morning twilight to find the prostrate body, wherein yet perchance is life, and have uttered, not ineffectually, the words, " Up, let us be going;" and have gathered in their arms, and have sustained and comforted, and when healing was not too late, have healed.

Yet those who, waking late, are working now, work ever with the sad and humbling memory of past centuries of injury and neglect in this matter. They who have themselves been guiltless of actual wrong towards the fallen, feel the most acutely in the tenderness of their souls the wrong done by their forefathers, who, since the foundation of the world till now, have dedicated by millions these weaker vessels to profanest service — sacrificing them with impious rites to a so-called necessity — a Moloch to whom all the kingdoms of the earth have caused armies of their daughters to pass through the fire, generation after generation. These vessels, once defiled, were, as our fathers judged, incapable of cleansing, never again to be restored to sweet and honourable household use, too vile for hand of just man or pure woman to touch; albeit One, the ever blessed, the only pure, had not disdained to raise such a vessel to His sacred lips, and with richest draughts from thence to alluy the thirst of His Divine soul for his creature's love. Nay, He complains of the strong uninjured vessels that they give not as the broken give: to the honoured of men, firmly holding his position in society, "Thou gavest me no kiss," He said; " but this woman hath not ceased to kiss my feet."

We cannot know how many of "this woman's" character and kin may not have kissed secretly those blessed feet, even in the darkness outside the door; more perhaps than we, who pity, dare to hope — more certainly than Simon thinks, while he sits eating and drinking there, and shuddering at the thought that any guest of his should suffer the approach of so vile a thing; for He who gives his feet to be kissed, have we not His voice to the end of the Dispensation — "Behold, I stand at the door and knock"? His head is filled with the dew and His locks with the drops of the night, and it may be that at that same closed door these two, the slain woman and the Saviour, have met many a time while we slept and knew it not; it may be that those cold faint hands, falling upon the threshold, groping hopelessly, have stolen in the darkness some virtue from His garment's hem; and though the fount of weeping, which despair has dried, may have given no more tears to "distil like amber on the royal feet of the Anointed," yet may they have been pressed instead with the cold death-dews of a forehead branded with shame and hiding itself in the dust.

Every act of our Lord's, emphatically recorded by the Evangelists, has a deep and an everlasting significance. A single act of His towards a single individual was designed to be the type, for all ages, of the acts required of every Christian in every similar case — a seed intended to bring forth fruit a thousandfold; on each is plainly written the command, "Go thou and do likewise." The Lord manifested a peculiar compassion for lepers, and from that time forth the Gentile Christians ceased to treat the leper as he had been treated among the Jews, and the saints of the early Church vied with each other in acts of charity towards the victims of this loathsome disease, that thus in the persons of his afflicted members they might do honour to their Lord. Jesus Christ blessed little children, and this has been recognised by Christendom as significant of the part to be acted by and towards the Christian child. The Lord especially honoured the poor; so likewise has the Church ever considered the poor her especial charge, and the care of the poor one of the first of social obligations. But how has it been in the matter of our Lord's treatment of fallen women ? Was ever act of His more marked, or more prominent, or more designedly typical, than His conduct towards these? As if to enforce the duty of society towards them with a special recommendation, He is seen, not once, but again and again, by His marked reception of these women, to give as it were to the world a key-note upon which to time its voice to the Magdalene to the end of time. " (From Josephine butler, "The Lovers of the Lost," Contemporary Review 13 (1870) 16-19)

Wow. Are we the sleepers? Is Christ outside with the dying prostitute? Chew on that for a while. Then consider that this was preached by a woman in the 19th century. She couldn't even vote, let alone get ordained, and yet she successfully campaigned to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts. She might not be a household name, now, but this is a Christian whose prophetic witness changed the course of history and improved the lives of thousands and thousands of people (especially women).

After that we had a great lunch, more networking, and a case study of a skater church run out of St. James the Apostle Church in Perth, ON. Here's a video to show you what that's about:

This video is several years old, so it was interesting to have Christine Piper (the Priest) come and tell us how things have evolved over the last few years. Good stuff.

Then we heard from the Archbishop. Among other things he wanted to encourage us to be hopeful.

After that we had some prayer time in small groups and that was it. (I should mention that I spent virtually every second of every break talking to one person or another about a project I am working on. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity, as it saves me a lot of coffee dates and e-mail exchanges in the next few weeks).

Shortly after the event wrapped up I got a call that one of my parishioners had died: Eleanor Farmer. Eleanor was a dear, sweet woman who came faithfully not just on Sundays but on Saturdays to my Healing Prayer Group. She was hard of hearing and had trouble walking, but she came to everything she could. Her friend and Power of Attorney found her this afternoon. I went straight there from the Summit and was glad that I still had a stole and BAS in my car from the Communion Service I had done at Hazelton Lanes earlier in the week. (Funny, BTW, how I hadn't bothered to remove those things even though I had taken my Alb back into my office.)

When I entered the house my Parish Doctor/Lay Anointer was there with the PoA and a friend of the PoA. Eleanor had apparently gotten up in the morning or night to go to the bathroom and was going back to her bed when she passed away. She was crumpled over her walker in a kneeling position in her nightgown--head bowed. It struck me immediately this this was a holy posture: the supplicant at prayer. Eleanor hasn't been able to kneel to pray in many, many years, and she had issues with her sense of unworthiness before God. So it struck me as appropriate that her humility is somehow made perfect in death, as she is finally able to submit to the joy and freedom of God's perfect love. We surrounded her and I led the small group in the BAS's version of prayers at the time of death. They are beautiful, ancient prayers. I made the sign of the cross on her head (as I have done probably hundreds of times before--she loved being anointed for healing). I also touched her shoulder as I often did when I greeted her on Sundays (her hearing was terrible).

I went from there straight to Henry's daycare to pick him up. He ran over to me and I touched him, too. On the car ride back I pondered the connection between touching poor Eleanor's body (still and cool and yielding) and touching Henry's (so full of life and warmth and squirminess). It made me feel blessed to do both today.

When I was in College I often went to the campus chapel to pray at night. Often I would end my prayers by solemnly putting my palms on the smooth, polished wood altar and pray that God would bless my hands to make them instruments of healing. It used to give me a real thrill to do this--hair raising mysticism in an old Southern Church. It was a child's prayer, in some ways, but perhaps prophetic when I consider what I do with these hands. I don't just mean the touching and anointing the living and the death, or holding Henry. I mean also typing into my computer, cooking, and building things out of wood. I love working with my hands in every way, so I think those childish prayers came true.

So.... That was my day. I skipped over the part where I did e-mail and did the leaflet layout, I wrote about that enough yesterday! Tomorrow I can sleep in a little bit, but then I have to go to church to print out the leaflet. While I'm at it I'll also send the post cards for promoting Holy Week to the printers. And sermon prep, I'm behind in sermon prep. It's the story of the Prodigal Son this week!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

More Networking

If you are one of the few people that bother to follow this blog you will have noticed that the activity has picked up recently. I'm making an effort. However, I must admit that I am not able to do the sort of well polished and crafted posts that used to be common here. Back in the day, when I first started at Messiah, I had a half-time Administrative Assistant and a half-time Lay Pastoral Associate. As a result I was able to spend a lot more time in my office at my computer thinking and reading and writing. These days I spend less time in my office and more time out and about either running errands for the church or attending meetings or simply working from home. The leaflet, alone, represents about a full-day's work, but I mostly do it at night (usually Thursday night) because that's one of the best times for me to get uninterrupted time at my computer. Here is the leaflet from Lent 3, to give you a sense of the sort of thing I'm creating in my basement at 1 AM.

I'm sure that a professional designer would have lots of improvements to suggest to increase readability and to be attractive, but it's not bad for the work of a amateur who is totally self-taught when it comes to InDesign. This leaflet is obviously designed to be much more than a crutch to bridge the gap between Prayer Book, Bible, and Hymnal. I'm actually trying to do some teaching through this thing, as you can tell from the exegetical margin notes next to the scripture readings. When I have more time I'll often add material about the origins of well-known hymns and other things.

Quick aside: far too few churches use InDesign or other professional layout programmes to design their leaflets. Sure, the software is expensive and you need people able to learn it, but it's well worth the investment in both to have nice looking publications. Also, it can save a lot of time to make the equivalent layout versus Word or Publisher or something like that where you constantly have to fight the programme to get it to obey.

Anyway, back to my day. I spent a sizable chuck of it having coffee with a guy with a lot of great ideas (and some experience) with Missional Church. He has been a part of number of different Christian Communities and has a lot of insight to offer. He has recently gotten pulled into the orbit of Anglican-land Fresh Expressions, NCD, Natural Church Development, and the "Crazies in the basement." I'm still in the "Initial Networking" phase of the Café Messiah, Road Map. Everything is still in flux. In fact, in my mind I'm switching the name from "Café Messiah" to "The Commons." As we threw ideas around and brainstormed I realized that the problem with "Café Messiah" is that it is a little too narrow and a little too business-focused. I played around with something like "The Free Place" to try to see if the anti-consumerism vibe would strike a chord, but not quite. "The Commons" is the best name we've come up with so far. The bones are still the same: a third-space/community centre that would have a light concession to support itself and would run some programmes designed to help people with life issues from a light-touch Christian perspective. It was a very useful talk to help me clarify some of my thinking as well as lay the ground work for future collaboration with this individual.

After the coffee I had time to go home and change and kiss the wife before dashing off to to do a Communion Service at Hazelton Place--a local retirement home. I do these sorts of services in retirement homes about once or twice a month on average. I could do more, but they are time consuming. (Actually, there is another retirement residence not too far from my church whom I'm planning to approach about starting a monthly Communion Service for the Anglicans.) The folks at Hazelton Place were gracious and lovely, as they often are in retirement homes. We sang some hymns to music played on a CD and I preached a better-than-average sermon about the Isaiah 55 passage from last Sunday. When it was said and done I felt that particular professional satisfaction of having done a good job. I have impossibly high standards for myself, so high that I rarely achieve them on a Sunday, but for some reason I am still able to pass the mark sometimes when I do I weddings, funerals, and nursing home services.

I suppose the problem there is that I freight Sundays down with an impossible burden. We simply can't accomplish all the things we want to in one short morning. I've tried to create events and services during the week with mixed success. For the people that attend the Wednesday morning Contemplative Eucharist and the Saturday Healing Prayer service, for example, are terrific, but it's often people who don't come on Sunday mornings who have found their way into that other groups. Funny how that works!

I've been tempted to start something in a local pub. But, again, it takes more time and energy to do such a thing than the casual observer would suspect. I've been trying to find and develop a volunteer base, but most of the folks in my congregation simply don't have the extra time to give. Like many congregations I have a handful of key volunteers who move heaven and earth to do God's ministry, and I am loath to ask them to take on yet another project when they do so much. So that means going to people on the periphery of our community to find the enthusiasm and gumption to try new things.

Often when people are training to be Priests the focus is on things like theology, biblical interpretation, history, and liturgy. That still makes sense to me--these things are fundamental and even a three-year degree barely has time to scratch the surface in the scheme of things. But 95% of the challenges that I face have to do with working with people. I constantly find myself asking some version of this question, "Where is John encountering God?" Straight out asking people usually leads to a certain amount of awkward squirming. People are embarrassed when they don't have an immediate answer. So I try to ask other ways. "What gets you most excited in life?" is a good one. But, still, it's often hard to get to the root of things.

Anyway, enough rambling for tonight. The main point I wanted to make is that church work is complex, and that I'm making progress.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


One of the best ways to learn about Church and Social Media is to use Social Media to engage in conversations about Church and Social Media. There lots of people to follow on Twitter, Facebook, and other channels who share practical tips and inspire with examples of their work. There are also certain hash tags that are useful to keep tabs on. "Hash Tags" are those little bits of texts that start with a # key. People use them on Twitter to "tag" a tweet as belonging to certain subject. This is very useful, as it gives you a way to look up a subject and see what others are saying about, even if they aren't people you normally "follow."

One such hashtag is #CHSOCM which stands for "Church and Social Media." I can create a link that just searches for that term like this. Now that link is generated dynamically, meaning that what appeared when I wrote it just now is different what will appear when you click on it. And ten minutes later it might be different as more and more people add to the #CHSOCM tweets. Indeed, as I write this there are lots of tweets being added to that hashtag because there is a "Chat" happening right now that is using that hashtag.

That is, there are about two dozen or more people currently talking about Church and Social Media, as they do every Tuesday night at 9PM EST. This discussion is moderated, meaning that someone volunteers to lead the discussion with structured questions. Usually they announce the subject ahead of time, and sometimes even suggest people read certain things in order to discuss them. After the chat is over (which takes about an hour), the transcript is later uploaded as a kind of archive.

The nice thing about a chat like this is that it's somewhere between a phone call and an e-mail. Things are written down so you can always go back, but it's also very immediate and conversational. Topics ebb and flow as people make suggestions, share observations, and generally do the sort of things people do when talking.

Another thing I appreciate is that one can have one window open on their computer with the chat running, and use another for a task like creating blog posts!

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I made a Japanese Feast for some friends this evening. The first course was Miso Soup. The I served a main course of tempura, beef teriyaki, wakame salad, and rice noodles. Dessert was a cheese and fruit plate. Sourcing the ingredients was pretty easy in Toronto. What I couldn't find at No-Frills, I got at Sanko. Sanko is our local Japanese grocery. It's not a big store, but he carries a surprising amount of stock, including all the basics of Japanese cuisine. The manager on duty when I was there was quite pleased to see my selections--he said that the Dashi I had selected to make Miso with was particularly authentic. Then he proceeded to tell me about how most Japanese restaurants in Toronto get miso wrong. "It makes me sad... It used to make me angry, but I've pushed through that and now I just feel sad." I told him my basic recipes that I was planning and he approved of them, making a few minor suggestions to maximize authenticity.

I'm particularly proud of the tempura, the batter came out nice and light this time. Here's the recipe:
by Alton Brown (my notes in parenthesis)

5 ounces unbleached cake flour
5 ounces white rice flour
1 1/2 quarts vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups cold seltzer water
1/2 cup vodka
5 to 6 ounces sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Kosher salt
1/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
8 stems flat-leaf parsley
1/2 pound shrimp, 31 to 35 count, head and tail-on, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces

Whisk the cake flour and rice flour together in a medium glass bowl and divide it in half. Set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over high heat until it reaches 375 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. (I use a super-accurate digital device designed for lab use--but it works for me!)

Once the temperature reaches 365 degrees F, whisk the egg, seltzer water and vodka, in a medium mixing bowl and divide it in half. Put half of the mixture in the refrigerator to reserve. Pour half of the liquid mixture into half of the dry mixture and whisk to combine, about 10 to 15 seconds. Some lumps may remain. Set the glass bowl in a larger bowl lined with ice.

(I found that the batter was far two thick at first. I added more liquid to get it right, and found that I had plenty of batter without having to mix another batch--but your mileage may vary.)

Dip the sweet potatoes into the batter using tongs, drain for 2 to 3 seconds over the bowl, and then add to the hot oil. Adjust the heat to maintain between 375 and 400 degrees F. Fry 6 to 8 pieces, at a time, until puffy and very light golden, about 1 to 2 minutes Remove to a cooling rack lined with 3 layers of paper towels set over a half sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Repeat the same dipping and frying procedure with the green beans and parsley leaves. Put the fried vegetables on a serving platter and serve the as an appetizer while preparing the seafood.

Whisk together the remaining halves of dry and liquid batter ingredients as above and repeat dipping and frying with the shrimp and fish fillets. Sprinkle with salt, if desired, transfer the fish to a serving platter and serve immediately. (source)

So that was good. Here is the recipe I used to make the teriyaki beef. Super easy, and not too sweet or thick.

BTW, I've made miso using all-in-one packets in the past. No more. Making it from scratch takes hardly any more effort, and the result is far superior. The same thing goes for the teriki sauce. It's just soy sauce, sake, mirin, ginger juice, and brown sugar: and yet the real thing tastes ten times better than what you get out of a jar.


Friday, March 1, 2013

The White Board

I love white boards. Here is what mine looked like today.


Meetings, meetings, meetings

I had back-to-back meetings today. They were productive, good meetings. The sort where like-minded people get together and share creative ideas and insights and build on each others' gifts. I wish I could be more specific, but I'm afraid it wouldn't be prudent at this juncture to share, other than to note that they were all mostly related to the two big projects I am working on at the moment for Messiah. One of those projects is already public: the Café Messiah idea. The other idea is still being kept secret for the time being. Look for an announcement in a few weeks.

It occurs to me that a really important part of my own home-grown methodology to get anything interesting done is to network with a lot of like minded people and get their input and assistance. Most of the time that's about all people are prepared to contribute in our busy age, but I've learned to appreciate good will and good ideas. Even more importantly, I've come to appreciate the kind of creativity that comes out of an essentially social or transactional creative process. I thrive in the context of social exchange, I'm an extrovert, and so I need to talk my ideas through or else they whither from lack of nourishment.

I'm certain that not everyone is like that. I'm sure there are people that just work through ideas in the privacy of their own minds, and communicate them once they are fully thought through. There are many advantages to that approach, as well, but I'm not wired that way. So, as part of my process for developing these two parallel projects for Messiah I've scheduled a lot of meetings with people who I think can help. Some of these people may be able to help very directly, others will be offering moral support or just companionship along the way. One must scatter seed, however, if they expect to find a harvest come spring.

If one or (God willing) both of the projects succeed, it will be interesting at some point to look back at my appointment book and see which conversations moved the direction of things one way or another. Certainly my own thinking is evolving I hope the people I've talked with today realize how much influence they are having on future events. Conversation, even of the blue-sky day dreaming variety, is a sacred trust.

Spending all day talking and planning for the future of my church is not an extra part of my responsibilities as the Rector. I actually think it's probably my most important responsibility. It may mean sacrifices in other areas (a classic example is pastoral care), but I was struck at VCP this year by how many leaders whom I respect made a strong case for such sacrifice. Judy Paulsen, for example, spoke powerfully about how she simply doesn't visit people unless they are basically dying. I often feel guilty about not doing more visiting and one-on-one care of that sort, but then I hear people like Judy and others who talk about how developing the Mission of the Church is going to mean that the congregation, itself, is going to have to take on some of the functions that used to be the responsibility of the pastor. In other words, you can have a priest who simply takes care of everybody, or you can have a church where the priest is working to transform the parish into an instrument of God's mission, but being focused on both is pretty much impossible. Thus, the parish must take responsibility for one or the other of these functions.

I realize this is a controversial claim. I'm not saying we should abandon pastoral care at all. I'm just saying that the George Herbert model of priestly ministry is long dead and buried. Those of us that went to conventional seminaries or who grew up in the inherited church have a hard time letting go of the fantasy of the priest spending his days going from home to home in the village. These days pastoral care needs to be the responsibility of the whole congregation. In my case I have two volunteers in particular who provide great care and attention to several members of the congregation who need to be looked-in-on. I really don't need to visit them, and I should probably let go of the guilt of not being "a better priest" in that regard.

Funny, even as I write this I feel awful. One part of me certainly feels a strong obligation to visit some of these folks. Then another part of me feels overburdened as it is trying to manage the day-to-day operations plus take on two major strategic initiatives plus other duties like teaching Fresh Start to my colleagues and producing videos for the Diocese. I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to describe one of the tensions inherent in parish ministry. Sometimes it is referred to as the tension between the prophetic and pastoral aspects of priesthood. Those of that minister as ordained clergy occupy a strange place that mediates between two worlds. We are constantly asked to translate back and forth between universes. I'm not just talking about the human-divine, but also the parish-community and parish-wider-church divides.

Part of the way I maintain those balances is to cultivate relationships that pluck those chords and thus create some kind of harmony. That is, the more fully I develop the prophetic vision and the fully I engage the Saturday Afternoon Healing Service, then the richer the chord that sounds. I worry some people might not see the balance as important. Certainly I know parishioners who are more Congregationalist than Anglican, and would gladly chuck the Diocese and bishops if they could. Yet for me, one of the essential (and, indeed, classical) "marks of the churh" is that it must be "catholic." That is, local parishes do not exist in isolation, but enjoy a certain unity and common mission.

I guess that's a long way of saying that I had a lot of meetings away from the church to talk about the church, and that's okay!