Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Daniel Day Lewis as Obama

If you haven't seen it yet, the spoof trailer for Steven Spielberg's "Obama" is out. Amusing, but his stand up routine was actually funnier.

The Annual White House Correspondents Dinner has been catching more and more flack, actually, with some prominent journalists (Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters) criticizing the event. The event has become increasingly focused on celebrities even while the white house press core seems to be becoming less and less relevant.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Throw Up in Space

ISS commander Chris Hadfield, everybody's favorite Canadian Astronaut, explains how to vomit in space.

You're welcome.

BTW, Hadfield is described as being the most social-media savvy astronaut ever, which explains why he has been appearing all over the place on TV and the Internet. We could learn a lot from him in church land about how to make a complex and esoteric subject fun and even entertaining to a wide audience.


For the past three Saturdays I've taken Henry to a programme called "Sportball." Their tag line is "Non-competitive sports instruction for children 16 months - 12 years old." We did it because Henry is a very active little guy who needs more opportunities to run around in a slightly more purposefully way. I've played catch and soccer and even football with him in the past, and he always enjoys it, so Sportball seemed like a logical next step.

At Henry's age level parents participate with their preschooler. There are two coaches and about dozen parent/kid pairs. The format is always the same, we start off by lining up against the wall on one end of the gym (in the basement of a Baptist Church near the beaches). The coaches play a quick little game to remind the kids of the coaches' names and then play a game meant to build listening/following direction skills called "Sportsball says." Next they reintroduce the whistle and the concept that when the whistle blows everybody stops.

Like almost everything else in Sportball, this involves a game, we run down the gym until a coach blows the whistle and everbody stops. We do some quick stretches in place and then the "train" starts around the track. Really this is just a clever way to get the kids running in the same direction around an oval. I have a hard time getting Henry to do the stretches, but boy does he love running in the oval! The next activity involves the kids practicing really basic ball handling skills (like, pick up a ball in each hand and then try to pick up a third ball between them). I'm not sure, but I think the point of this exercise is to get the kids practicing their concentration.

After that the programme varries depending on which sport we are practicing. In the "basketball" class, for example, the kids learned to dribble by knocking the ball downward out of their grownups hands (who were holding in on both sides). Later in the same module the grownups held hoops and the kids would try throwing the ball through them. All this is done in a non-competitive atmosphere. The focus of the kids (at least of Henry) tends to come and go, and is surprisingly helpful to have a coach come around and say to the little guy, "Henry, can you show me how you throw the ball through the hoop?!"

Part of the point of Sportball is to teach the parents how to teach, and I think it's pretty successful in that regard. Some of the really basic skill exercises are simply not things I would have thought of on my own, and their way of talking to the kids is pretty effective. Kicking the ball, for example, becomes "launching the spaceship off the launch pad."

At the end we sit in a circle, do the "Sportball cheer," and receive stickers as a reward. Sometimes if it seems like the kids have excess energy to burn the coaches will do an activity like chasing bubbles.

I see several benefits to all this. First, it actually is a good workout for Henry both mentally and physically. It stretches his ability to focus and follow direction as well as his physical stamina. Second, it's good for me. Few things will get your blood pumping better than literally chasing after your preschooler for 45 minutes. And then there is just the pleasure of playing with your kid. But perhaps the best benefit is the fact that he and I are engaged together in task that takes us outside of ourselves. Sure, he "helps" me with projects sometimes and I certainly play with him, but this interaction has a very different character as we work together to develop skills like catching, kicking, and throwing.

One of the real validations is the fact that Henry enjoys Sportball and looks forward to it. After it's over he usually falls asleep in the car before we get home. So for any of you parents of little kids, I commend Sportball to you--definitely worth giving up your Saturday morning.

It's interesting that sports is a bigger part of Henry's life than it was for me when I was his age. I remember going with my dad to local high school football games a few times, but rarely did he watch sports of TV. Later, when I was in Junior High, our whole family was very into Indoor Soccer, and had season tickets to watch the local team. That became a big part of our family routine. Ah, yes, the Wichita Wings! But these days I'm tend to follow Football, Basketball, and (less religiously) Hockey. Henry recognizes all these sports. (Being a true Canadian, his favorite to play is probably Hockey).

In a couple of weeks we are going to replace Sportball with Henry's first swimming lessons, and I'll report back on how that goes when it happens!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Men Build Boats Because They Can't Have Babies"

This fantastic short (seven minute) documentary by Kat Gardiner about wooden boat building ought to explain why some of us compelled to take up this occult art.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The "Importance of Aesthetics"

One of the many things the Environics report is giving me to think about is that in our part of the city the second highest social value is "Importance of Aesthetics" (second only to "Consumptivity." (A word I've never heard before, which will have to wait for its own post). This ties to a nagging issue that has bothered me for many years--the interior of our church.

Our building was gutted by a fire which also destroyed the parish hall next door. I understand that the architects were trying to solve a complex problem--fitting the the functions of two buildings into one. I think they did an admirable job, but one of the trade-offs was a space with a lot of "noise." For example, the square north-south lines of the floor tiles clash with the radial arches of the ceiling lights. The space between the magnificent stained glass window and the chancel area is visually "messy," and yet resides at one of the most natural resting places for the eye. The columns in the room are two completely different styles (some are ornate clement and the others are plain columns). As one architect put it to me, "The place lacks a central conviction about worship." Precisely so, in solving the practical problems the architects abandoned the effort to say anything about worship, God, or church. Or, more accurately, they a few things, but in a confused and unorganized way.

Most visitors don't mind, but a few do. I've certainly seen people walk into our church, see that it doesn't "look like a church," and walk out again. And the parishioners like the quirky but straightforward character of it, but like some of my predecessors I dream of "fixing" it. Interestingly, a blogger who reviewed our church said the interior was one of the "low lights" of his visit. Sigh.

In my years here I have collected a variety of opinions about how to do that. Some have been brilliant, others seem to try to recreate a past that was destroyed by the fire in 1976. Cost is obviously a factor in any plan, but some of the ideas have involved nothing more expensive than paint, which certainly seems do-able.

So now that we know that the people around us care about Aesthetics, how to respond? What sort of architectural expression will mediate the Gospel to such folks? Hmmm.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Environics - First Glance

As part of the "Messiah Commons" project our church been engaged in "missional listening," that is, trying to figure out ways in which God is already active in the areas around us. Part of that, in turn, is basic data gathering. Virtually nothing is more basic than a demographic analysis of precisely who lives near the church in the first place. So we commissioned a company called Environics Analytics to do a study for us. This goes way beyond the kind of census data that is available to anyone with an internet connection and some time to collate data. This is an in-depth analysis using proprietary databases that you have to pay to look at. The main market for these studies is the business world, naturally, but a number of churches have used them, too. In fact, Environics was recommended to me by several churches as the place to go for study of this kind. The result is 12 pages of analysis followed by 50 pages of charts, tables, and maps.

On my first read through a couple of things struck me. One was this:

Strongest Social Values:
  • Consumptivity
  • Importance of Aesthetics
  • New Social Responsibility
  • Rejection of Authority
  • Adaptive Navigation
  • Pursuit of Originality
  • Ecological Lifestyle
  • Sexual Permissiveness
  • Personal Creativity

Weakest Social Values:
  • Regional Identity
  • Religiosity
  • Primacy of the Family
  • Attraction to Natur.
  • Pursuit of Happiness to the Detriment of Duty
  • Heterarchy
  • Aversion to Complexity in Life
  • Ethnic Intolerance

Doesn't that just cut it down to the bone? Or how about this, the concluding paragraph?
The local market area around The Church of the Messiah is made up of younger singles and couples, with some families who have older children or are empty nesters. Many residents are in the early stages of starting their careers and while they may have few family commitments, lead full and active lives. Perhaps because of their high education levels, they tend to be interested in gaining more knowledge of the world around them and in exploring new situations. There tends to be some affiliation with the Anglican Church in the market area, but residents often do not exhibit a strong desire for a richer spiritual life. Instead, residents are continually looking to connect with people in their communities and to help them out whenever they can. A third space, such as a coffee shop, could provide a valuable meeting place for residents to converse with others allowing them to learn what is happening in their neighbourhood and how they can be a part of it. Any space created should be an organizations’ best foot forward and provide these detail-oriented residents with only the best experience, aesthetics and products. With their willingness to participate in community organizations and their enthusiasm to adopt new practices learned from others, residents might be open to the expanded presence of The Church of the Messiah, especially if it helps bring people together, deepens community bonds and creates a comfortable place where residents can strike up an engaging conversation with their neighbours.

There are many other gems in here as well. For example, check out this one:

Religious Affiliation in the Parish of the Messiah

That means that we've got 5,179 people in our neighbourhood who, when asked, report being "Anglican." Where the heck are they on Sundays?! Lol. Sleeping in, apparently. There an additional 12,235 who claim no religious affiliation at all. So you can see how useful this kind of information is.

I have a lot more work to do with it, natually, but this is going to feed our planning for years to come. I'm very pleased that invested in this study.

Boating Updates

Besides being up to my eye-balls in church and family stuff the past few weeks, I've also been busy with the rest of the Dragonfly Racing/Backyard Boatbuilder Collective crews getting our boats ready for the water. So a quick update is in order.

The Cedar Canvas Canoe that I started more than a year ago is sitting in the rafters of my garage waiting for the daytime temperature to be above 15C. At that point, I'll kick the car out of the garage and start varnishing. One coat every day or three for about a week and half ought to do the trick. All the wood working on the basic boat is complete, though I have more seats to build. After the varnish is done we will install the seats and yoke. After that comes a day of skinning the exterior with vinyl impregnated canvas (yeah, it's not quite traditional, but it means I'll be able to get the boat in the water much faster). Then we install the outwales and we are pretty much done. So, as I said, right now I'm just waiting for warmer weather to make progress on the varnishing.

"Redemption Song," the 23' Kirby we bought last fall spent the winter in the boat yard where she had been abandoned for the last several years. We had done some work to get her winterized before we threw a tarp over her last fall. Now the tarp is gone and we are busy doing things like replacing all the running rigging and fareing the hull. This week we had two work nights and managed to replace the bulkheads with new ones that one of the guys fabricated over the summer. I picked up some material to fabricate a new Companionway hatch. We managed to paint the bottom with a special paint that resists algae build-up. We still have to install the motor mount and rewire the electrical, but we expect to launch her into the water and put up the mast in mid-May. Her maiden journey will take her to the Queen City Yacht Club, where she will spend the summer tucked into the slip normally reserved for "Dragonfly," the 30' Ericson we raced last summer. Dragonfly and her family are going on a sabbatical cruise for much of the summer, hence the need for us all to pool our resources and get a second boat to race.

Lots to do before the race season starts. Not least of which is figuring out which regattas we want to try to race this year. Lots of crew organization work to do. And, of course, we are going to have to figure out how to actually sail a completely new boat. But I think we may have a wicked fast boat when all is said and done. We want flags!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Messiah Media Proposal

For the past several weeks (months?) I've been hinting about a secret proposal I've been developing for the Our Faith-Our Hope Campaign. This was a big Diocesan-wide capital campaign that raised about $50 Million for these purposes:
  • 1. Strengthening Local Parishes $17,000,000
  • 2. Building the Church for Tomorrow $14,000,000
  • 3. Revitalizing Our Inheritance $14,000,000
  • 4. Giving to Others $5,000,000
Under the "Building the Church for tomorrow" catagory we find these sub-areas:
  • A) Leadership Development $6,000,000
  • B) Pioneering Ministry $4,000,000
  • C) Communicating in a Wireless World $4,000,000
What I developed is a project that tackles all three of those areas of "Building the Church for Tomorrow." “Messiah Media” is an organization proposed to equip members of our churches throughout the Diocese with the training and tools they need to communicate the Gospel in a wireless world. This parish-level initiative would supply resources, training, and equipment in Toronto and beyond. We are requesting an investment of $517,758 over a three-year period in order to establish training events, hire teachers, and create a production facility capable of producing professional quality studio and live-streamed events to benefit the entire Diocese.

The actual application is only about twelve pages long, but it also has a 30-minute companion video that features further explanations, me diagramming it out on a white board, and testimonials from a bunch of priests in the Diocese talking about how this would impact their ministries. That might not seem like a lot of material, but I know from being involved in similar scale projects in the past through FEWG/PEMG (the Committee that shepherds new church plants) that this is enough for now. Indeed, any more content than that would be mostly speculative since many details will only be worked out once a Board of Trustees is established and we get underway.

I have to say that it is the finest grant proposal I've ever written (and certainly the largest that I have taken the leading role to create). I give the credit for that to my excellent team of people giving advice and feedback. I don't want to name them now, but they know who they are. They really pushed me to develop certain key aspects of the proposal that I never would have thought of on my own. The fact that I was able to get so many people to help me with the proposal is evidence of how needed this is. I wish I could share both right now, but I'm afraid there is some information in there that needs to be embargoed until mid-June or so. However, if you ask nicely and I know you I'll probably send it to you! It exists in that weird gray zone between public and private.

The plan currently calls for hiring two full time staff members--one primarily to produce content and the other primarily to teach others how to use the new media technologies in various ways. The board will have the task of hammering out the job descriptions and actually recruiting the talent. We've got benchmarks sketched out for how many live events to stream, videos to produce, and education events to run. There are also plans sketched out for the long-term sustainability of the project.

My role? I expect that as "Father Founder" I will probably be the first Chair of the Board, but I would disappointed if I were the last. I imagine being involved for a few years to get this going, but I sincerely hope that we get enough people involved and passionate about leadership that there are plenty of people happy to take over once the training wheels are removed.

Part of me actually feels that $517k isn't enough for everything we want to do. But then I remind myself that this is just a start. This becomes a platform from which we can launch various side projects that could apply for funding on their own. For example, if someone wanted to produce a feature length documentary about homelessness in Toronto, I can imagine them using Messiah Media equipment and contacts and then applying for a grant to pay for the stuff that costs money. This gives us a foot in the door of media production, and that's critical.

The training events will cover virtually any and all new media and social media related topics. They will be driven by whatever people want to learn about.

So... exciting times ahead for Messiah!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lamb Burgers

It was Good Shepherd Sunday this past weekend, which had me thinking about sheep, lambs, and other delicious domestic critters. My favourite place for Lamb in the GTA is Vince Gasparro's on Bloor West (near Ossington). Vince, the dad, raises the lamb on a farm outside the city. His sons, Pat and Nick, run the butcher shop. The lamb they sell is gorgeous stuff (but they also carry chicken, beef, pork, etc.). While I was out and about running errands and doing church stuff I drove by and decided to pick up some ground lamb to make lamb burgers for supper. Nick ground a chunk fresh for me, and at home I improvised the recipe below. The buns, I should say, came from another full-service butcher shop that people like to talk about, Nortown Foods. Nortown is nice, but a little far away from me. And I appreciate the very down-to-earth character of Gasparro's. I was in my collar, so the guys had a good time with that, joking about how I needed to hear their brothers' confessions. I've heard that before, and used my standard response ("well, I only have a few hours, so we may need to do this in parts"). I've adjusted the recipe for 4 people, but the amounts are very approximate, anyway. This was quick to fix up and is a real crowd pleaser:

Lamb Burgers
by Tay

For the patties
2 Lbs. fresh ground lamb
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. powdered onion
1 tsp. powdered garlic
1 tsp. salt
3 grinds black pepper

Preheat your grill to medium-high. Remember to put a little oil on the grill shortly before putting the patties on to help with sticking.

Mix this all up in a bowl with your hands. Don't over-knead, just combine. Then make 8oz balls (yes, actually weigh it, precision counts in this case), flatten into patties but create a dimple in the middle with your thumb. Depending on how fatty your ground lamb is, these may barely stick together, so be ginger with them.

Put the patties on the grill, turn down the heat to medium. Watch the flair ups. You may need to move the patties if it's getting particularly bad. It's a minor sin to move burgers while they are cooking, so be careful if you do so. Under no circumstances should you ever puncture or squeeze a burger--we want to maintain those juices!

They will take approximately 5 minutes a side. Check for doneness in the usual ways.

For the sauce
1 Cup Greek Yogurt (UNSWEETENED/flavored!)
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. dill
2 tsp thyme (fresh is best, dried ok)
2 tsp. powdered onion
2 tsp. powdered garlic
1 tsp. salt
6 grinds black pepper

Combine in a bowl, serve with with the burgers as a spread. Feel free to monkey with the spice proportions or add stuff like rosemary.

Toast some kaiser rolls to use as buns. Serve with sliced tomato, lettuce, grilled or fresh red onion, bacon, etc., etc. I would probably not put out ketchup or mustard, in this case.

* And yes, this recipe would work very well without a grill, as well. Just use a cast iron pan on your stove.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fresh Start

"Fresh Start" is a two-year programme that all priests in the Diocese of Toronto are required to attend monthly for their first two years in a new position. Research has shown that this is a critical time of transition for priest and parish and that doing professional development work in collegial community can have a big impact in the success of ministries. The Diocese of Toronto takes it so seriously that it is actually stipulated as a condition of employment in the "Appointment Letter" that a cleric gets from their Bishop officially assigning them to a parish. You even have the get the Bishop's permission to miss a day.

A few years ago I was asked to be a facilitator and sent to a training event to be certified. I've been assigned to the York-Scarborough Area ever since. I have to say that over time the programme has just gotten better and better, and that the chemistry of my particular group is just terrific.

The format is pretty simple. We gather. A volunteer provides a basic breakfast/snack spread. The church where we meet (St. Andrew's, Scarborough for my group) provides coffee. We say morning prayer (led by a volunteer) and do a quick check in. I usually ask people to go around the circle giving name, parish, and answering some question I come up with to make them smile. Today's question was "Share a happy story about your Easter celebrations this year." After that we spend about 1.5 hours doing a "Module" and then spend another hour on a "Critical Incident."

There are three facilitators for the York-Scarborough (for about 24 participants). Usually only two of us attend, which means none us facilitators are on the hook month-after-month for years on end. We take turns in our resposibilities, and this month it was mine to present the "Power, Authority, and Influence" Module.

Each "Module" of Fresh Start is a self-contained lesson that we run in a cycle. They reference each other, but are not intended to build on each other in a linear way. That's good because people can enter or leave the group at any time. They are arranged topically, and as you can guess from the title this one was about leadership dynamics in parish life. Examples of other modules would be "Wellness," "Strategic Planning," "Family Systems Theory," and so on.

The Fresh Start curriculum comes nicely pre-packaged with powerpoint slides, handouts, and talking points for the facilitator. These days I run the powerpoint off of my iPad hooked up to a projector, with my talking points on paper notes so that I can easily scan ahead or back. The module is designed to be interactive, so there is a lot of asking the group to chime in with suggestions and comments. For example, at one point today we were talking about strategies to deal with people who hang our around the church a lot and seem to use the information they glean as a source of power or influence over others in the congregation. Obviously, you don't want to alienate committed volunteers, but there are ways to use their curiosity and interest for good.

In today's session the part that really got everybody going was when one member questioned how appropriate it was to use a tool called the "Credibility Grid" by Peter Block. The Grid is simply a two-axis graph in which you locate people according to relative scales of mutual trust and mutual agreement. Someone with whom you have high agreement and high trust would be an Alley. Low trust and low agreement would be an adversary. Where it gets really interesting is when you talk about "bedfellows" (high agreement but low trust) or opponents (high trust, low agreement--think "loyal opposition"). This model was developed by Peter Block in his book The Empowered Manager. The challenge raised by a member of the group was whether the underlying assumptions about leadership in this model are appropriate for Christian leadership. For one thing, it seems to assume an adversarial relationship to some degree no matter which quadrant a person lands in (after all, "allies" are fighting against something). The other problem is that it seems to assume that the primary talk of leadership is get people to do what you want. Servant-leadership is perhaps requires a totally different mindset.

This got everybody going. There were some wonderfully poignant examples shared and insights offered. We were getting deep into some extremely important material and I was sorry to cut it off when the time came to move on.

My partner took over to facilitate the "Critical Incident" part of the session. Critical Incidents are basically just case-studies. Volunteers take turns presenting them. They must be ongoing (unresolved) issues, which raises the emotional stakes quite a lot. Naturally, we observe total secrecy about the stuff that gets shared. Typically everyone can identify with whatever scenario is on offer. The conversation is structured to steer the focus away from offering suggestions or fixes, and instead to focus on process and what the presented material raises in those that hear it. It reminds me a lot of my old CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) days, but with with a lot less crying! And that's Fresh Start.

Like a lot of professional development courses of this sort, the didactic material is helpful, but nearly as useful as the relational stuff that comes from sitting down your peers and talking through problems. It's a group of people that have far more in common than different, and our experiences overlap to a large degree. At least as long as I have been part of it, you don't see a lot of petty rivalries or falsity. This is the sort of group where nobody is under any delusions that we have parish ministry figured out! Nor is it the sort of group where the discussion devolves into mere bitching about this or that person or this or that organization. People vent, sure, but usually in a way that leads things forward neatly.

This is hard work. Complex and demanding on every level. I am thankful that we have something like Fresh Start to help. I find it delightful to be a part of it, and on mornings like this one I am thankful that my skills as a facilitator seem to be increasing. It's nice to be of service.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jenny's Induction

Sunday was a beautiful day. Besides the weather, which was gorgeous (at least, relatively), Church was really great. We had some visitors and I took the sermon to introduce my "Messiah Media" proposal. We went into Special Vestry right during the sermon to have a discussion and vote on it--people were enthusiastic and it passed unanimously.

I biked home (Betsy usually takes the car on Sundays) and had some lunch and relaxed for a few minutes, then I took a cab to St. Clement's for the Induction Service of Jenny Andison as the new Rector (chief Pastor). Induction services like this one are a really nice event in the life of a parish, and I should really make the effort to attend every one that I possibly can. In this case, I was extra eager to attend because Jenny is a friend of mine with whom I have often collaborated on projects and committees. Plus her husband, Tim, sometimes sails on the Dragonfly Syndicate.

Tony Bassett, the Associate Priest at St. Clement's, was the designated MC (Master of Ceremonies) for this service, and had asked me to the Bishop's Chaplain. Big Anglican Services like this typically have a designated MC to plan and execute the liturgy. It would be pretty hard for Jenny to have coordinated any of this just as she manages moving into the new parish. Being the "Bishop's Chaplain" is a nice honour, basically it just means that you follow the Bishop around and give him his shepherd's staff (called a Crosier) and his pointy hat (called a Mitre). That's the bare minimum, but it's nice when you are also able to assist the bishop prepare to preside by making sure the right books are in the right places, that he has a glass of water around, a copy of the leaflet, etc. Bishop Yu had a few specific requests for me, such as assembling his crozier (the one he brought breaks down into three pieces that fit into a custom-made bag for easy transport).

The really nice part about the Bishop's Chaplain is that it gives you a chance to hang out with the Bishop and be right in the middle of the action. During parts of the service I was sitting right between Jenny and Bishop Yu--I had the best seat in the house. You also get some moments alone with the Bishop to chat and catch up a bit. Bishops are very busy people, and time to talk with them is precious. I'm not sure exactly how many priests Bishop Yu supervises, but it's probably around 60 or more. I was able to take advantage of the time to talk a bit about some of the things happening at Messiah (including the "Messiah Media" project).

We ran through the service in a rehearsal, and then spent the rest of the time before the service getting all the fussy little details of liturgical worship in place. For example, the bishop wanted to sing the Eucharistic Preface. There wasn't time to photocopy it and put it in his special binder prepared for the service, so instead I suggested just putting the book that contains it (called a Missal) on the "Desk" that sits on the altar and place his special binder on top of that. During the service Jenny, who was on his immediate left, right in front of the book, simply handed me the binder when it was time for him to sing the prayer. Then I handed it back to her when it was done. Simple solutions are usually the best.

Overall the service was executed quite nicely--beautiful and not anxious or fussy. The choir was magnificent, and they were mere feet from my good ear. But what what stands out the most to me about worship at St. Clement's the beauty of the building itself. They did a renovation a few years ago. They did not go as far as I would have pushed in terms of incorporating flexibility, technology, or new liturgical thinking, but they did come up with a very elegant expression of traditional Anglican architecture. The eastward-facing high altar is still there (though I think they usually use the portable altar at the top of the chancel steps) and so are the pews, but they have a lovely lighting design. Actually, I think they have the best lighting design in the entire Diocese. The hanging lamps in the Nave are gorgeous. The only thing that could possibly beat them is the hanging oil lamps at St. Gregory of Nyssa. The effect is photogenic, and I was glad to see a member of St. Clement's with photography skills and good camera taking shots from the side aisles. After the service there was a reception for Jenny, which was quite nice.

And that's how it's done!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grace Video

Fifty Shades of Grace "is an inspiring collection of stories about experiencing God's grace in the midst of both tragedy and everyday life" publishing by our Mennonite friends at MennoMedia. I have a lot of respect for Mennonites, and know a lot more since I married a girl with roots in that tradition! They created a little trailer to advertize the book, take a look:

It's a nice little video--certainly gentle and non-violent and non-pushy in ways that strike me as very Monnonite. It's a video designed to present something of the feeling of reading the book: we are privileged observers seeing normally domestic conversations converted into black and white (literally). If it was my project (and it wasn't, of course), I probably would have shot in a slightly more stylized way, probably utilizing slow motion and really mining the scene for interesting visual details. The way one woman holds a cup and sips. The way another gestures with her hand. Panning across the pattern of the table cloth. I think there were too many shots with all three characters in them, which became a little repetitive in a one-minute piece. We needed more micro-moments. I also probably would have used some lighting to create more three-dimensional space, right now it appears very "flat" in terms of lighting.

But probably the biggest improvement I could suggest would be to switch to a shallow depth of field. Because the entire scene is in focus and the women aren't moving around much except for their hands and faces, our eye has a harder time picking them out of the background. The shot is "noisy" from a visual story telling point of view. The fact that is in black and white only exacerbates this effect since it makes the lines in the background that much starker and more prominent versus the softer curves and gradations of the human face.

This could have been resolved on the day of the shoot by using a wide-open f-stop and thus a faster shutter speed. Even then, it would be hard to get that shallow depth of field look from a camera like the XH-1AS Camcorder that I use most often, but would come naturally to a large-sensor camera such as a DSLR in video mode. Of course, it would be possible to get a similar feel in post-production (aka "editing") by using a subtle vignette effect or by simply using a matte with a blur effect to gently blur the background.

It is a great little video, but I just thought I would use it as an example of how one could develop a concept like this even further. I'm still a rookie at video production, to be honest, but it's only by doing the mental exercise of "What would I have done" that I can improve. Alas, it does make watching TV kind of annoying sometimes because I keep noticing the artistic choices made around grading and so on. For example, I thought the use of color grading in this season's "Mad Men" Premiere was too heavy-handed to me. Notice how all the shots in the offices have had the color saturation pushed up? How about the yellow-shift in Roger's mother's home? It's quite normal to have a "look" established for different scenes in a show, but I found it distracting in this case. These are are the sorts of things I think too much about right now!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Port Towsend Wooden Boat Festival

This is the time of year when young men's fancy turns to boating... "Dragonfly" the boat I raced on as Tactician last year is now floating in the water again, and she will have a stick up (mast) shortly. This year, however, the Skipper is taking her on a sabbatical leave with his wife, teenager, and various pets. Those of us left behind formed a "Syndicate" and bought a cheap boat with great racing potential (a Kirby 23') and have been bringing her back to life. We call her "Redemption Song." In the next few weeks we'll be putting in some more time at Bluffers Park Marina where she is stored getting her ready for launch. It's going to be an exciting season, and I'm really looking forward to having part-ownership of a day-sailer suitable for quick trips around the Toronto Harbour with family and friends.

In the mean time, check out this five minute video from the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival!

Gosh, I love boating culture.


Ricky Jay

I love Ricky Jay--and have since I first learned about him. He's probably the greatest living sleight of hand practitioner in the world, and his card-tricks are particularly impressive. He' also a pretty good actor. And he could kill you with a thrown playing card (well... maybe... certainly if you were a piece of fruit).

Wanna see some of his tricks? Imagine playing Poker with this guy....

I'm really looking forward to the documentary.


Monday, April 8, 2013

But What are You Inviting Them To?

Over the past few weeks I've had several conversations with colleagues about my efforts at marketing over Holy Week that seem to go kind of like this:

Me: (In my passionate, crazy-Tay voice) You would not believe how easy it was to set up a Facebook marketing Campaign... blah blah blah
Expert: (Cautiously) Yeah, but you can't advertize unless you have something to invite people, to. We need to make our churches more (Holy/Welcoming/Understandable/Word-focused/Sacrament-focused/Jesus-focused/Holy-Spirit-focused/Good-for-Kids/Loving etc.)

That last part depends entirely on the biases of the person I'm talking to, but it always causes me to do a mental check about whether my church is, indeed, the place I say it is. And like many parish clergy I'm probably pretty brutal in my assessment, or perhaps I'm impossibly optimistic. It's actually really hard to tell how many trees are in this forest when you are in it. The point of view of outsiders thus becomes very important for those of us seeking to draw people to a faithful-following of Jesus in our particular communities.

One such perspective comes from NCD (Natural Church Development). It has it's quirks, but is generally a good tool for measuring congregational health along multiple-axis. I know from that my congregation is generally pretty healthy. I know that we are really good at the "Loving Relationships" piece and need the most improvement in "Passionate Spirituality." That is, to what degree do people find that what we do on Sunday connects with their everyday life. Are they excited about God? And over the past year I've done a lot of work on this area, so I'll be curious to see whether our results haven't risen some.

Another is the perspective of church "experts" who encounter our community in their professional lives. An example of this sort of person would be our NCD coach, whom I ran into at the Episcopal Election on Saturday. She was very excited to hear about what I've learned about digital evangelism this Easter and wants to know more. I told her about the Messiah Commons project and that made her even more excited. She then told me about how perfectly that fits into the style and gifts of the Messiah community. She talked about how our community is so open to experimenting and trying new things and I thought to myself, "Yes. That's us." Sure, I've discerned that before, but to hear someone with a bit of distance and experienced-based-perspective is incredibly validating.

Another example of how you can assess what you are inviting people to is the experience of random visitors on any given Sunday. A few weeks ago a visitor, who has since become a member, was deeply impressed at the work I've done to make our church visible in the digital realms. He loved the fact that he got our service times right away from googling, and that our website renders beautifully on his smart phone. That just made my day in a HUGE way.

Today we had a family visiting that I know only from Facebook. The dad said to me when he shook my hand before the service, "This is monumental--I've never come to church just because of Facebook before!" They live outside of the city and belong to a church there, they only attend downtown occasionally. After the service he told me several things that made me glow with pride. First, he talked about our coffee hour: "Yours in a truly welcoming community." I pushed him to clarify and say more and he ended up telling me about how his predominate experience of Anglican Church coffee hours is one of cliquishness and that he was impressed with how open and friendly we all were. Second, he said that "Although you guys are a small church, you are remarkably complete." I asked him what he meant about this, as well, as he talked about how we seem to be doing everything. We have a beautiful worship service, good preaching (!), good community feel, a nice children's programme, and so on. It's the whole package. As he said this, his daughter was playing joyfully with some of the other kids running around the nave. Seeing our parish through his eyes, I just beamed. Yeah, we're small, but we have a really awesome thing going on here, and I'm quite pleased to invite people into it.

So the next time some well-meaning colleague tries to tell me that I need "get my house in order" before my church dare invite people, I'm gonna smack 'em with a rolled up leaflet!

Notes on Rotisserie Duck

So, I made that Rotisserie Duck with Honey Glaze and Drip Pan New Potatoes recipe I mentioned last post. It was shockingly simple, and pretty tasty. A couple of notes:
  • If at all possible, dry brine for longer than just overnight. Next time I would go for 24-36 hours.
  • When dry-brining, it's good to have a "project fridge" like I do in my garage so you have lots of room for this beast. Plus, it enhances the WAF ("Wife Acceptance Factor") of the dish.
  • Make sure your dry-brine pan in slightly tilted so the juices extracted by the salt have a place to go.
  • Heat management inside the grill is critical. I ended up cooking this bird a little faster than ideal.
  • The potatoes may need a little finishing in a 350F oven, mine did.
  • Also, consider adding some spices to the potatoes as you finish them (I added some thyme and pepper.
I'm definitely sold on a Rotisserie cooking. Can't wait to do my next bird!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rotisserie Duck?

Betsy's sister is in town, and I have a frozen duck in the freezer I bought when it was on sale. I've made duck a few different ways, and they've mostly all turned out well. But I'm thinking of trying the rotisserie attachment of my BBQ if it isn't absolutely freezing. So check out this amazing recipe I found for "Rotisserie Duck with Honey Glaze and Drip Pan New Potatoes" on the DadCooksDinner blog. Normally I usually only post recipes of things I've actually made, but this one is too awesome looking to pass up. Look at that thing! Wow! So hopefully we'll have some passable grilling weather on Sunday afternoon! Pray for me!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A nice little poem shared by the folks over at St. Lydia's Place, a Dinner Church in Manhattan founded by a friend of mine.

Let Evening Come
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Here's a little video that gives you a taste of what they are like. You'll see Emily Scott as part of that--one of many amazing people I went to seminary with.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Holy Week 2013 - Tears

Holy Week was intense for me this year, and I think at one point I had just about every emotional experience in the human range. There were moments when I was profoundly happy and elated and full of joy. There were other moments when I was depressed or even angry. In some ways it was the "easiest" Holy Week yet at Messiah from a logistics point of view. After some years of practice, the Messiah folks and myself have pretty well figured out how to execute the extremely ambitious programme we do with limited resources of people and money. I'm extremely proud of my people and was pleased to see everything go so incredibly well. There was just so much less "drama" this year! So why did I go through some dark times, too? Probably because it's a very hard thing that we are trying to do.

For instance, after the Palm Sunday Service I came home and broke down crying. I was crying for my parish and for my ministries, and I realized that much of it was delayed grief from Eleanor's death. The last time I had a good cry about Messiah was a few months after another parishioner had passed away--Daphne Archer. The worship Palm Sunday had been lovely, but I was disappointed that we didn't get a single visitor despite blanketing the neigbourhood with post cards and doing some very intentional on-line marketing (via Facebook and the church's website). So I spent a lot of time second guessing myself about those decisions I had made to spend so much time (and a couple hundred bucks--modest but not zero) on that advertising.

Now, I know from some previous years that when I do nothing to advertise, the results are even worse, so that's not really an option either. But maybe I made a big mistake targeting the Open-Dechurched in this year's campaign. Maybe I should have gone for the Unchurched. The problem with us going for that demographic with our evangelism efforts, however, is that we really don't have much of a "conversion pipeline" in place. We aren't like the churches that are constantly running education and formation programmes of the "Alpha" and "Christianity 101" sort. I wish we did, but it's tough for a solo priest to establish those kinds of programmes. In fact, the parish has not been hugely responsive to the adult education events I've put on in the past, even when I brought in fantastic guest speakers. So I realize that what I should do is not even think about it like a traditional adult ed course, but instead create a learning "event," perhaps at a local coffee shop or bar. A place where people can come with questions and share their experiences and insights. Great idea, but I just don't see how I can find the time to start that right now.

So, back to the tears. What else was upsetting me? How about the death of Jesus? The emotional impact of the Palm Sunday liturgy is intense. We read through the story of the execution of Christ in a dramatic fashion but stop short of his resurrection. It's dark and harsh, and that was probably affecting me, too.

Reflecting on the tears, I wondered how many of my clergy colleagues have cried in a similar way for their parishes at one time or another--probably a lot! It's not something most of would probably be willing to share unless we were having one of those deep conversations among colleagues that sometimes happens in places like the Convent's meeting room or the lounge at the Manresa Retreat Centre. Sipping Single Malt and passing around a bag of chips and talking about the life, the universe, and everything is enormously refreshing. Those kinds of encounters happen far less frequently for me, now. That last time it happened I wish a monk and a bishop's wife in a very old tavern in Canterbury. Our three ministries had been very, very different and yet remarkably the same. That's one of the neat things about pouring your life into doing something hard, anyone who joins you in that work can usually relate!

I'm sure it's similar in other occupations. Just this evening we had two of Betsy's school colleagues over, and they, too, have a clutch of common troubles that keep them up at night. Something about the human condition compels us to do difficult things and to find solidarity in that struggle. That's kind of neat!