Sunday, March 25, 2012


"delicado, delicado, please handle with care . . ."
"Vrooom, vrooom . . ."

Here’s what we ought to do . . .” he said, and I knew I was into yet another monologue on the evils, errors and, yes, remedies for the ills of the world. And while he talked, a germ of a thought began to grow and culminated in a centerpiece for this blog: what if our destinies are governed—not by predestination, fate, or even debate, planning and decision—but by the principles of evolution built into our genes.
               “We ought to raise the price of gasoline to $5.00 per litre,” he was saying, “so that people would actually think twice about buying a humungous pickup truck and settle for a smart car, or something.”
I couldn’t agree more, actually, unless that number were to be $10.00 instead of $5.00. Like so many others, I, too, have a head full of ideas for legislated solutions to developing problems: population control, tidal power, carbon tax, etc., etc.
“It’s not going to happen,” I said.
“Why not?” he replied, “it’s a simple matter, increasing the tax on gasoline to whatever figure you want.”
“Because,” I said, “. . . because the opposition party would immediately promise to roll back the tax if elected, which they would be, and we’d be back to exactly where we are now.”
“So what’s your solution,” he said, “you pessimist?”
“We wait,” I replied. “As oil gets scarcer, the price obviously goes up, eventually to the point where it has the same effect as you’re suggesting and no political party can do anything about it.”
“That’s a pretty sad scenario,” he said.
It is. He’s right, but that’s only if we focus on ourselves—individually—as the relative entities, and not on the herd. How do caribou or snow geese decide when to move and when to stay? They certainly don’t debate, vote and then act. More likely, there appears a need which registers with some or many of them who tentatively make a small gesture toward action. Gradually, the gesture registers with more and more of them—the speed depending on the degree of immediacy and drama in the need—until the collective will is in agreement, at which time the herd collectively stampedes, the flock takes off as a unit.
When the earth quakes or the tsunami strikes, the human herd reacts quickly. When the danger is less immediate (as in global warming) the response follows a slow, flat trajectory. Jump up and down and bleat at the edges of the herd as hard as you will; unless the collective mind is swayed, the herd will graze contentedly (I was going to say, ‘until the cows come home’) until the wolves are actually eating the calves.
Well this is probably overly pessimistic and over-simplified, but I predict that unless global warming actually causes the earth to shake under everybody’s feet, our governments will continue to place economic growth at the very top of every agenda.
Baaa . . ..

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hello out there! Is anybody listening?


Pastors' throne from days long gone

“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:23, KJV).
               Well I’m not John the Baptist, but I know why he quotes Isaiah when asked to identify himself. I’ve been involved in numerous discussions in the arts world, in the church world, in the pseudo-political world about communication. What it generally boils down to seems to be this: I HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL YOU? HOW CAN I GET YOUR ATTENTION??
               There are a few assumptions that need to be considered: 1) Is my message critical to the potential hearer who’s not getting it, or to me. 2) Would the hearer change his thinking or acting if only he would attend to my message? 3) Are thoughtful listening, reading and discussing activities of the past, lost unless revived? 4) Is there a trend going on here, or a blip that will pass when Facebook and Twitter no longer fascinate?
               In other words, what’s the nature of today’s wilderness into which so many are crying for attention? Heaven knows there’s a lot of yelling going on: mailboxes full of flyers and appeals for donations, hundreds of TV channels, robocalls and telephone blitzes, billboards and neon signage. Emails, spam, Facebook, You Tube, etc. clawing at the public through their computer screens. (Blogs like this one.) How many voices can one person attend to before his immune system begins to reject them all?
               Eventually, a voice is attended to only by those who choose to attend; only those who want to hear it, hear it. People who long for a good Lenten sermon go to church; those who want to hear Don Cherry’s ranting turn on Hockey Night in Canada.
               So here’s a communication question that’s haunting me, and it illustrates a technique straight out of the annals of the great propaganda and advertising successes in history. The military in the USA (and to some degree, in Canada) has wormed its way into the consciousness of millions by developing an association with sports; every football game in the US seems to include some tribute to the military. What if half-times in football featured ballet, or poetry reading, or a rousing hymn-sing and sermon?
Is this a technique worth considering for those who feel they’re crying in the wilderness? Find out what message most people are already attending to, and tie your wagon to its back bumper?
It’s an uphill battle, this crying in the wilderness business. It brings to mind another Biblical adage: “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).  I’d probably get a lot of protests for quoting this proverb so soon after a sports anecdote . . .
. . . except  that almost nobody reads this.
I’ve never been able to get the attention of hockey fans for some reason.   

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Playbooks and Ipads - not!

Jasper National Park

Grasslands National Park

If the community of traditional North American churches were a corporation; it might well be called RIM—stock values falling, clients defecting to sexier alternatives, management in despair about what to do to halt the bleeding. Obviously it’s not a community and it’s not a corporation, but anxieties about the future are rampant in nearly every Western, traditional denomination: attendance drop off, budget cutbacks, even layoffs of personnel are becoming more and more common.
            Sailing against this tide is a host of non, or semi-denominational churches that have caught a breeze in their sails that established denominations have obviously been missing. Like RIM, older denominatiol's Playbooks have been overtaken by these new churches’ Ipads. A part of the world is hoping for a recovery; a larger part is already writing an epitaph.

            Recently, I downloaded an update to my Blackberry Playbook that makes it—in my opinion—superior to my wife’s Ipad in a number of ways that I won’t go into here. The reality is that RIM—in desperation—reinvented itself in the hope that it would again be competitive. “Too little, too late,” the pundits are saying. They’re probably right.

            So if the traditional churches would remake themselves in the style of the more successful, new wave of churches, would that, too, be too little, too late? It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out what the differences are: send spies to case the new churches' procedures and programs and duplicate what they’re doing? Apple Ipad came out with a user-friendly email program; Blackberry Playbook didn’t. Playbook developed an excellent email program, but will it make a difference to sales? And what should traditional denominations modify in order to raise their stock value, expand their client lists once more? Bands and contemporary music? A return to a simpler, more personal gospel? More aggressive community outreach?

            It’s a conundrum. The basic gospel message is the same in its core; the creeds differ only in minor details. So is it all in the delivery?

            I’m sure there are those who would answer this question quite emphatically. They might point to “old and tired” versus “young and energetic,” or “spirit led” versus “tradition led,” or “outward-looking” versus “inward-focused,” and there might be a grain of truth in all these comparisons. On the other side, I can hear people say that the success of the new churches is based on the willingness to provide a simple, black and white theology that provides great reward while demanding very little. That they, too, will be subjected to tiredness, client loss and dissolution with time. There might be a grain of truth in that as well.

            And then, of course, there is the possibility that Christian churches, like trees in the forest, are inevitably subject to the decay that time and changing climates are bound to bring.

            I’m presently on a train to Winnipeg to a denominational conference that will again visualize its future against the above backdrop. The Assiniboine Valley is slipping away to my right as we speed southeastward. Even in its winter monochromes, it’s very beautiful. It’s a majestic, miraculous creation, this verdant, living planet and us to enjoy it. It makes me wonder if we’re too much missing the forest for the trees, if we’re fiddling with the trivial while the majestic slips by us unappreciated.

            It’s been know to happen.

            Can the Creator be worshipped and creation held in reverence without churches, mosques or temples? Or must an old, old revelation descend on us again, this time in hip-hop dress with a Blackberry and headphones?

            No matter how hard you shake them, clocks refuse to run backwards.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

This is not a ROBOCALL

I’m amazed sometimes at how much I’m asked to put up with.
Or, put more grammatically: How much I am asked to put up with amazes me sometimes.
               For instance: I picked up my mail yesterday and took home about 5 pieces addressed to me and left another 5 or so in the recycling bin at the post office. Of the 5 I took home, only a couple were actually business that I needed to attend to; the others were appeals for donations.
               As I was opening my mail, my phone rang and since I haven’t chosen a musical ring tone, the jangling raked across my nerves. I picked it up and answered, but the delay in the response told me it was another robocall (call placed by a dialing robot) and I slammed the receiver down. In the evening, I decided to watch The Fugitive, a classic action movie starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. It took nearly three hours to watch a two-hour movie because a variety of corporations had paid for the broadcast on my behalf in exchange for the “right” to bombard me with commercial sales propaganda every few minutes.
               (I have to wonder how many Canadians realize what a prize we’ve managed to retain in CBC Radio: informative and commercial-free broadcasting. It ranks with libraries as a last bastion of choices as yet unbastardized by the intrusion of commercial propaganda.)
               And now we have had our attention drawn to the robocall in politics, probably the most cynical intrusion ever into the heart of democracy. It’s message is clear: voters are not the sovereign, informed citizens we used to think they had to be to vote; they are manipulatable consumers, equally fair game to the manufacturers of Tide, or to the Conservative (or NDP, or Liberal) Party of Canada. The debate on Parliament Hill as to who did it properly or who did it fraudulently should cause citizens to throw up in pure disgust. All parties have apparently succumbed to the use of a model pioneered by commercial advertising, a model that tramples on personal autonomy, demeans the human spirit by making of it a commodity.
               Shame on all of you!
               But how do these things ever change? How is bad practice reversed in a democracy? Parties that win elections are unlikely to change the practices that got them into office. Parties seeking election are bound to copy the methods leading to success for the winners. Corporations that have won a profitable niche in the marketplace are unlikely to give up the pressure tactics that got them there in favour of common decency and sensitivity.
               And here’s the real rub; it happens because we allow it. And we allow it because consumerism is eminently easier and more tempting than informed citizenship. What I as a single citizen need to do to help change happen is obvious: boycott what is manipulative and crass and promote in whatever way I can that which has integrity, honesty, dignity. Lean toward media that aren’t driven by advertising; shop where customers are treated with respect and dignity, even if it costs a bit more; take exception to pressure tactics by politicians, even if they represent “my party;” recycle junk mail unread.
               And maybe, hire a robocall company to target every MP and MLA with the following message . . . repeatedly: “We’re all watching you; either shape up or resign.”