Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bosing Day

Boxing Day, 2007. I took advantage of the commercialism I railed against in my last post and bought a few clothes at The Bay in Edmonton for half price before we left for home.

Weekends at Cynthia and James’s place are wonderful; they’re both excellent cooks and we had the best prime rib and the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. The weather turned balmy for Christmas day and today we drove home on clear, wet highways.

I appreciate your comments on the blog posts. Most of you who do respond choose to do so by email rather than on the blog itself, and that’s OK. Marg in Cambridge Bay is a faithful reader and apropos to my blog on acronyms informs me that the Inuit of Nunavut have more than mastered the art of organizational acronymania, possibly beyond even the UN. She also tells me that Christmas in Cambridge Bay is a relaxing time for them as compared to the troublesome travel arrangements necessary to spend the time “down south.” Friend Allen talks about attending a Protestant wedding in Uruguay on a recent trip and being put-off by the degree to which the wedding mimicked the “commercial” weddings of North America. Thanks for your comments.

Our Thompson “family” got together in Winnipeg a few days before Christmas and via telephone, caroled us across the miles. What a wonderful thing to do. And if you carolers are reading this, thank you so much!

A little tidbit I wanted to share with you all. As you may know, George Bush is a member of the United Methodist faith. On November 9th at a semiannual meeting of United Methodist bishops a resolution urging the immediate and complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq passed almost unanimously. Christian Century says that: “The bishops represent more than 11 million church members in the US and abroad. They urged increased support for war veterans but asked that United Methodists also be ‘peacemakers by word and deed.’” (Christian Century, November 27, 2007. p.15.) It’s heartening when Christians witness to the peaceable kingdom, even when loyalty to a fellow church member might encourage them to be quiet!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone

Merry Christmas everyone!

I decided today that I don’t care for Christmas much. In part, the conclusion came while trying to find appropriate gifts for my wife and daughter. Over the years, I’ve learned that out there in the retail world, there just isn’t anything that does my love for them justice. And even if there were, I probably wouldn’t recognize it.

Adding to the gift shopping blues, of course, is the problem of justifying the frantic activity that precedes the holiday. Simultaneous this year with a Messiah performance, numerous banquets, concerts and parties, etc. we were hosting a virus in our household, a stubborn one that seemed determined to undermine the enjoyment of each event. There just wasn’t time to rest and get well, it seemed.

Why should it be like this? Today I was browsing in the November 27th, 2007 Christian Century. In it, Valerie Weaver-Zercher—in an article entitled Wedding, Inc.—refers to journalist Rebecca Mead[1] as follows: “Although none of the writers [about the commercialization of weddings] is equipped to counsel pastors, all of them detail the way in which commercial interests have stepped into what Mead calls the ‘vacuum of authority’ regarding how people should marry(30).” I think it would be appropriate to surmise that we don’t know how to celebrate Christmas anymore, just like we don’t know how to marry, and that commercial interests have stepped into the “vacuum of authority” and are telling us how it ought to be done. Frankly, I don’t like their agenda for the holidays.

One of the items adding to the busyness of the season was a sermon I promised to deliver on the Sunday before New Year. I’m half done at this point, and will have to work on it while we’re at our daughter’s place in Edmonton over Christmas. What to say that could help people? I’m going to compare our New Year to that of other cultures—briefly—particularly the Jewish Rosh Hashanah, which, according to my sources, is a time of introspection, renewal and celebration, based on the religious notion that God is assessing our individual conduct over the past year and is urging us to evaluate and renew our commitment to him.

Now, suppose we were to scrap—or at least downplay—the Christmas celebration because of it’s ambiguity and its co-option by Santa Clause and his cohorts and replace it with a new New Year. Falling on March 22, it would herald the approach of spring, and would be similar to Rosh Hashanah in that it would be a solemn occasion for introspection, renewal of commitment, and finally, a gigantic day of feasting and celebration, dancing and singing to honour the LORD’s care over the earth and its people and the promise of a good year of sowing and harvest, learning and growing.

How long would it take for the commercial interests to co-opt that? Well, the telling factor would be whether or not we allowed the development of a “vacuum of authority” to invite the secular world to tell us how to celebrate it in a way that would heighten once again the urge to consume with great profligacy.

We’ll get through Christmas again. I sense that there are people around me who don’t feel the disappointment with the season that I do. Perhaps they have filled the vacuum themselves with something meaningful. I hope so.

Meanwhile, we did decide this year to reduce our spending on gifts for one another to a minimum, and instead, we’ve donated what we would tend to spend ordinarily to an MCC Global Family education project in Uganda. I suspect that in the future, we may enlarge on this way of celebrating Christmas, and hopefully fill the vacuum for ourselves that way.

Merry Christmas, everybody. And a Rosh Hashanah New Year

[1] See Mead, Rebecca, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. Penguin Books

Sunday, December 02, 2007


ARRAPEL (A Reflection Regarding Acronymial Proliferation in the English Language)

Acronym: n. word formed from the first initials of several words (e.g. NASA)

I recently read Stephen Lewis’s Race Against Time, (See ) and was highly impressed by the fervour with which he advocates for the Africans suffering from the ravages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping across that continent. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Lewis worked for quite a few years with the United Nations, and the UN with its many departments and sub-departments is a breeding ground for acronyms, those ubiquitous stand-ins for names-of-more-than-one word. He was with UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and then later with UNAIDS (United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). AIDS, of course, is itself an acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Here are some other acronyms that float around the UN and other international circles:

WHOWorld Health Organization. This one has potential for an Abbott and Costello parody, i.e. Abbott: “I work for the World Health Organization.” Costello: “You work for who?” Abbott: “That’s right.”

PEPFAR – President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. This one has the fortunate outcome of exuding energy; both “pep” and “far” are complimentary to the acronym’s original, although the “far” part could be cynically said to suggest that the president would rather fight AIDS abroad than at home.

SAP – Structural Adjustment Program. This is one of those acronyms that has a homonym which is not complimentary to its original.

NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization. Pronounced Naytoe, pretty much everyone knows the acronym while few North Americans know what it actually does. But then, NATO is never sure either what it ought to be and do.

CIDA – Canadian International Development Agency. Lewis says Canada’s record in foreign aid is abysmal. The acronym is nice, though, suggesting “see” as if to say that we are watching the world, or “seed” as if we were growing something. Our aid program is withering on the vine, however, and most Canadians don’t “see” that. Duh.

UNIFEM – United Nations Development Fund for Women. Now where did they get that? The acronym is supposed to be made up of the initials of the organization. Letting “fem” stand in for women, we still have to wonder where the “I” comes from? I suppose UNDFW is simply unpronounceable.

Sometimes the name of an organization includes only consonant initials, as in Prairie Spirit School Division. The rule of thumb in such acronyms is that you supply the vowels where they would logically fit. I live in the PSSD and am not particularly enthused about the acronym resulting from “voweling” that organizational abbreviation. An entity like Dominion Rehabilitation Program would become DRP, but the acronym could be pronounced “DRIP” or “DORP,” neither of which has a classical ring to it.

Sometimes the acronym can speak ironically about its original. United Nations Food Emergency Directorate simply won’t ever exist. UNFED would simply be too appropriate! While I was an MCC (Mennonite Central Committee – See below) administrator in Europe, I was present at the formation of a group that would spearhead joint church building efforts in Portugal. When they decided to call themselves the Portugal Interest Group, I suggested that they rethink that. A colleague who liked irony spoke in favour of keeping it; he thought it would be neat to say—whenever a question arose on the work in that particular sphere—“Just ask the PIG!”

But in that vein, the acronyms that would be created by the Canadian Organization of Women, or Saskatchewan Organization of Women, quite a bit less than helpful, knowing the ribald humour that men in this country seem to prefer.

Of course, many acronyms don’t read like words at all. Saskatchewan Government Telephones has always been “S-G-T.” Even adding a vowel to that combination of consonants doesn’t seem to work: “SGIT?” “SGET?” Likewise, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway will do doubt remain “C-N-R” and “C-P-R.”

Probably the most frequently used acronym in my daily life is MCC (Mennonite Central Committee). In fact, the acronym has become its name, as is the case with, say, CBC or DVD. That is, of course, fortunate. Mennonite Central Committee sounds like a branch of the Communist Party, and I don’t understand how the spin doctors and PR people haven’t cottoned on to that a long time ago and campaigned for a better name. But then, we Mennonites aren’t very creative in that department: Mennonite Disaster Service sounds like we service disaster, when we really purport to mitigate its effects. MDS should really be MDMS, Mennonite Disaster Mitigation Service. Also, we now have MCC—Mennonite Central Committee—and MCC—Mennonite Church Canada. With the two organizations being part of one family of Christian churches, the misconstruing of intent is a daily phenomenon, at least in my world. So, MCC (the relief organization), you are now CCM: Committee of Centrist Mennonites. (Or is a CCM still a bicycle?)

I am in search of the perfect acronym. The “word” derived from the initials of the organization would be so appropriate that were I to come across it in Lewis, I wouldn’t have to flip to the glossary to get the drift of the sentence at all.

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