Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday Posting Lull

So I haven't posted in quite some time - I'm blaming the holidays. Lame excuse maybe, but we did drive to Alberta for a week to visit my parents and celebrate Christmas. I got to see a bunch of my friends in Calgary, and Awaken's new home. I'm happy to report that there were no issues transporting the energy-efficient light bulbs across the border (or the cat) - and Awaken members were able to pass them out in their neighborhood when they went caroling. As Scott the negligent blogger said, it was net-zero energy usage - energy lost from having the door open to listen to caroling could be recouped over the next few years using the light bulbs. During our time in Red Deer I learned that a Skateboard company my friends and I started, Salvation, now has a new website (I've been out of the loop). If your wondering what I have to do with skateboarding, they needed someone to deal with the Government, you know "taxes", "accounting", and so on. I'm looking forward to getting my own profile page, complete with pictures of me in my "I got mad spreadsheets, Yo!" T-shirt and a video of me making journal entries. Michelle and I had a great trip, and it worked out really well - we got to see everyone, and it still felt relaxing. For Christmas Day Michelle and I hosted breakfast for the Ferndale regiment of the Erhard family tree before heading South to Seattle. I had a blast watching everyone exchange presents (Michelle's family can be just as funny and crazy as mine), and there was even snow falling, a bit of a rarity for Seattle. Oh, and the coffee was fantastic. I'm sure plenty more has happened that I'm leaving out, but my plan is to distract you with a bunch of links to keep you busy. Happy surfing!

PS I might post some pictures from the trip in a little while. Oh, and the links are in grey - they're kind of hard to see.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Meet the Robinsons

Michelle and I have seen this movie twice now in the last week. It's a lot of fun and here's why:

1) Goob - the funniest, best animated, best voiced character in animation history. He's stinking hilarious - and very cute. But best of all he's really kid-like.

2) Bowler Hat Guy - my kind of villain.

3) Wilbur's family - they are all totally nuts and totally accepting of one another. Happiness despite obvious and outright dysfunction. Kind of reminds me of my family.

4) Legacy - I like that this movie, or rather the people who made it, acknowledge and appreciate the legacy left to them by the man who started their company. This movie includes recognition of where it came from and it is true to Walt Disney's values and ideals. I like that a lot.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

The best way I can describe Kurt Vonnegut's writing is viciously satirical. Vonnegut is considered a black comedy writer, but it's stronger than that. I admit, I certainly laughed on a few occasions (maybe 4), particularly when the continents were described as "floating on molten slurp". I also really enjoyed the hero, Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer and a character from another of Vonnegut's novels. His method of coping with the world is to make up science fiction stories about the absurdity he finds all around him. These mini novellas are absolute gems. Finally, and most importantly, there were many occasions throughout the course of this book where I got the distinct sense that there was some connection, some symbolism, some message I hadn't quite grasped. It was these little hints amidst the chaos that made me think, hard at times, and also made me wish it wasn't over when it was. On the other hand, it would be like Vonnegut try to fool me into thinking the chaos had some deeper meaning.

At a few points in this book I considered putting it down altogether due to the extremely vulgar adult content (not to mention language). What allowed me to continue reading was the sense that Vonnegut was being blatantly honest and that the issues he raised were rooted in many people's very real life experiences. Ultimately, I was disappointed and saddened by the distinct lack of hope throughout much of the book; one bright spot was Eddie Key, a character who had the responsibility of memorizing the exploits of every member of his family for many generations into the past. All in all though, Vonnegut doesn't come across as a particularly cheerful individual; Breakfast of Champions left me thankful that I have hope.

One last comment: throughout the book Vonnegut ends paragraphs with the words "And so on." He often begins with "And..." Instead of the standard "The End" conclusion, Vonnegut's last word is "ETC". He explains that human lives don't fit the initial incident-rising action-climax-conclusion model so often used in novels - it's a big humble jumble of accidents, mistakes and chance encounters. And so on.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Certified Fair Labor

So I was listening to NPR on Black Friday and the topic of consumerism was being discussed. The host was interviewing a pollster from the LA Times and a journalist who wrote a book called "A Year Without Made in China". The pollster said that overwhelmingly people would be willing to pay a few cents more for products if it guaranteed they were manufactured under fair labor practices. However, manufacturers say that they are simply giving consumers what they want with ever decreasing prices, which puts incredible pressure on the manufacturing process to cut costs. Like labor costs. It got me thinking about coffee. There are at least three common seals placed on coffee - Fair Trade, Certified Organic, and Shade Grown. Why isn't there a "Fair Labor Practices" seal that can be put on products? Has anyone heard of anything like this? I realize that it would be tough to monitor, but why couldn't it work? I'm pretty sure that products with a seal like that would command a premium well worth the cost of getting certified.

The Holiday

Michelle and I watched The Holiday last night. Overall, it was a fun movie, especially thanks to Jack Black and Kate Winslet. Unfortunately, Jude Law could have been fun to watch as well if Cameron Diaz had been even close to believable. I don't know what it was, but she seemed awkward and out of place the whole time. Her character is generally impulsive, irresponsible and spazy - which was supposed to be against her nature. It was a tough sell. Basically, Cameron Diaz as a professional, responsible grown-up wasn't the best "fit". However, I would recommend it if only for the chemistry between Jack Black and Kate Winslet. Let me know what you thought.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mercy, Compassion and Justice

Yesterday Michelle and I spent some time with Jeff G, the new-ish youth pastor at our church. We were having dinner and got onto the topic of short-term missions and particularly the role of relief efforts in mission. Jeff shared with us that the Covenant denomination has recently set up a new department of Mercy, Compassion, and Justice. The department head, Debbie Blue, explained that suffering in the world is like a river, and compassion and mercy are our efforts to pull people and communities out of that river; justice on the other hand is heading upriver to find out who or what is pushing these people in the river in the first place. That analogy really hit home with me, and along with discussions I've been having with Eric on his blog, inspired me to loan some money to a women in Sierra Leone through KIVA. You should consider checking it out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

City of God

I have been sitting on this movie for several months now. A friend of mine gave it to me, with high praise and recommendation. I have been kind of putting off watching it for the same reason Michelle didn't watch it - it looked way too intense. And it was. Sometimes I don't want to be reminded of how easy my life has been - sometimes I feel guilty for having two parents, plenty of friends, and not knowing anyone who has been shot. I feel guilty for not having experienced the depth of fear those kids felt. Some scenes were difficult for me to watch. The best part of this movie was that it was based on a true story - and my favorite scene was the real footage of Knockout Ned during the credits. I was impressed at how well the director had duplicated the interview. Despite the fact that it was based on a true story, I was a little disappointed that this movie felt so much like other gangster movies I've tried to watch. Most of all though, I am left feeling overwhelmed at the pain and suffering and evil in the world. I can't understand how people can be so cruel to one another - and yet I can in some ways. Last week at our monthly Missions Committee meeting a woman told us about the 60 days she had just returned from in the slums of South Africa. She had gone to try to form an idea of how our congregation can best alleviate some of the pain and suffering on that continent. Her story, and City of God, have me thinking about the importance of entering into the pain of others. It's scary and hard, and it's for fear of entering into the pain of others that I didn't want to watch this movie. I don't want to know the horrible things people are capable of doing to one another. It's incredible to me that God enters into the pain of each person on this planet, day in and day out, simply by virtue of knowing them so well. He never turns away from people in their darkest moments the way I wanted to so badly during some parts of this movie. The pain and anguish he must feel... I can't imagine.

By the way, this film is in Portuguese with English subtitles. I kind of forgot about that, but it does add an interesting rhythm and sound to the movie.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Future and Self-Actualization

This morning I had a nice discussion with a gentleman from my church about life and christianity and pacifism and living in tension. We also discussed the plans Michelle and I have for the future. I shared about my degree in Finance, my enjoyment of history and philosophy, and my appetite for achievement. I also shared my desire to work at something significant to my savior, not something that would be impressive at my 10 year high school reunion. I shared a lot, but ended up by saying that I haven't got any real practical plans. I have been thinking lately about self-actualization and I am suspicious that it's a myth, or as Solomon would say, a "chasing after the wind" - a waste of time. My culture (or perhaps my pride) has been subtly, but powerfully, telling me that my life's work should involve something significant, impressive, important, and noteworthy. Anyhow, I'm pretty sure that almost every generation before mine has been happy fulfilling the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy (and much more thankful for their fulfillment) - should I really be spending so much time contemplating what it is that I want to do, what will make me feel fulfilled? Or should I just decide to take the life challenges which come to me and are in alignment with Jesus' heart and consider them the will of God? I am leaning in that direction, but that's a scary way to live my life. It's so... out of my hands. I'm afraid - I could wind up with any old measly life. Not a very high view of the sovereignty of God is it?

I'm not very good a letting go - I'm a sucker for control and safety and knowing where I'm going. Which I don't anyway...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

I was worried after reading the first two chapters of this book. It begins with an avalanche of statistics revealing how hypocritical the behavior of North American Christians is – divorce rate is the same or worse as the general population, the co-habitation rate is the same, etc. The second chapter contrasts this with the New Testament scriptures, book by book. I was worried – the tone had me thinking an angry football-coach-Jesus was about to show up with a patented feel-guilty-and-try-harder pep talk. Luckily, I was wrong. The third chapter points to our modern, reductionist, incomplete understanding of the gospel, and three other doctrines, as the root cause of western evangelicals’ disobedience.

Chapter 3 identifies 4 doctrines which have lost their whole-ness through the influence of reductionist thinking – the gospel, salvation, sin, and persons. I won’t go into great detail, but I agree in each case that recovering a full understanding of these doctrines is a step in the right direction.

In chapter 4 the author identifies six points to “recovering the New Testament understanding and practice of the church”. Of the six, three are given the most thorough treatment: the church must return to being a community, the church must be countercultural, and we must reestablish mutual accountability and responsibility in the church. I appreciated the first two – nothing new there – but the piece on accountability, and specifically church discipline, got me thinking. I hadn’t thought about church discipline in the context of a postmodern christian community – what should it look like?

Where this book disappointed me was the section on how to practically implement the steps to recovery above. After diagnosing a major problem in christendom – a huge problem – the solution according to the author is more of the same. Apparently, we need strong small groups. Needless to say, I believe the solution needs to match the depth and severity of the problem – I believe we need a much more radical shift in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the western world.

I will also say that I disagreed with the method of quoting scripture in this book. It is very common in modern Christian writing to pull verses out of the books to which they belong, inserting them as proof or evidence of general points discussed. I think that scripture was intended to be read and interpreted thematically – that is to say that the basic unit of the bible is the book rather than the chapter or verse (because the chapters and verses were added later, and are therefore not inspired). So the correct way to read and understand scripture is to read an entire book and understand its themes and the way they fit with the themes of other books. When people support they’re arguments by quoting individual verses we must make the assumption that they are taking the verse in the correct context and in alignment with the themes of the book from which the quoted verses come. As has been well documented, single verses taken out of their context can be used to support all kinds of ludicrous and heretical arguments.

All in all, this book was worth my time and energy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Community (PMC - Part 3)

As a postmodern christian I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven, residing on earth, is the "institution" that individual christians ought to belong to. Modern christianity has assumed that local churches are the appropriate institutions for the infiltration of God's loving redemption throughout the world. This is not to say that I don't believe in local communities of believers; far from it, I think we have strayed to far from this model. Modern churches often have thousands of members from miles and miles away who all come together once a week, and then return to spend the other six days of the week in isolation from one another. Evangelism is essentially the effort to coerce not-yet-christian neighbors to attend the big church gathering on Sunday morning. Contrast this with a true community in which individual members live close to one another, see each other on a day-to-day basis, and interact with not-yet-christian neighbors who are exposed to the authentic day-in-day-out life of the christian community and it's individual members. This would provide for an environment of accountability and encouragement for daily life. In many ways this more neighborhood-focused community of believers would allow not-yet-christians to be part of the community, enveloped in Christ's love, all the while respecting their right to take their time and investigate Christ and his claims at their own pace. A true daily community of believers and non-believers is an integral part of my view of post-moder christianity.

By the way, this is not to say that there shouldn't be worship gatherings or bible studies or prayer groups; just that they would be more evident and transparent to the broader community in which the christians live.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Dan in Real Life

I really enjoyed this movie. It was fun and sad and funny and real. I really liked the use of visual symbolism to convey mood and feeling. There were several scenes that were just right - which probably means they were far too obvious - but I liked them none the less. The characters were excellent, which I suppose means the acting was decent. Steve Carell's a bit hard to picture as an everyman, but everyone else was perfect. The music was good too - although I didn't know any of the bands, it fit really well. And me not knowing who the musicians were is probably a testament to their popularity amongst "everyone who knows anyone". Perhaps most importantly, it made me excited and happy to be a part of a family. My only complaint would probably be deemed a "spoiler", so you should just go see it and let me know what you think via email.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ronald Reagan in Private

The more I read of Jim Kuhn's memoirs, the more I realize why it was at the dollar store. The title sounds weird if you think about it too much, and a critical analysis it's not, but it does provide an interesting look into the day to day life of a President of the United States. Unfortunately, Mr. Kuhn manages at some points to sound as if the job of Executive Assistant to the President were rather like babysitting. There are also some annoyingly repetitive themes: Reagan was polite to everyone no matter who they were; Reagan was stubborn; Reagan didn't hold grudges; blah, blah, blah. The book in general wasn't well thought out - it awkwardly attempts to juggle both chronological and topical organization, doing neither well and often leaving me a bit confused. On the other hand, I've learned some interesting things about politics. Most of the President's interactions with others are choreographed, and every action, every movement is carefully planned to control the impressions created. But in many cases this is due to the incredible ramifications his or her actions have - a small slip up can be really bad when you're always representing the entire US! It has also been refreshing to get a window into a politician's life who (in Kuhn's eyes, at least) pursued the presidency out of a desire to serve and improve the lives of others. Sometimes I really think presidential candidates are all arrogant egotists seeking self-fulfillment. Please show me otherwise.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Corporate Christianity (PMC - Part 2)

Recently I attended a fund-raising campaign at our church. The speaker (a consultant from out of the area) spoke about the McDonalds story, and drew some of the following conclusions:

Like McDonalds, we have a product to sell. We need to feed a hungry world, and Jesus is our product. And, just like McDonalds, we need a marketing strategy.

Let me first say that I completely disagree with this statement - I was actually kind of shocked that he said it. However, I think I understand why many churches mimic corporations, using business strategies, business leadership principles, even business organization structures. I think the reasoning goes something like this: If we really believe all this - which is a funny question for christians to ask; does it seem to anyone else like we need to convince ourselves? -
anyway, the thinking goes if we really believe all this gospel stuff, then shouldn't we be doing our best to be excellent? And actually I believe we should - the non sequitur is that we need to be excellent at the same things as the business world - sales, marketing, leadership, etc - when in reality we need to be excellent at the same things that were at the center of the person and ministry of Jesus - graciousness, forgiveness, inclusiveness, justice, and ultimately love. That, I think, is what postmodern christianity is about - finding ways to recapture the heart of Jesus' life and live it out now, in our time and place.

The unfortunate thing about churches mimicking corporate excellence is that it leads to an in-authentic sales pitch type presentation - everything seems "slick" and polished. That undertone doesn't jive at all with the authentic desire of our Lord to see each of his children return to him, no matter what their social or economic situation. The other unfortunate thing is that most churchgoers buying into this misguided corporate philosophy are doing so with earnest hearts and good intentions - they just haven't really thought about it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Postmodern Christian - Part 1

I consider myself a postmodern christian, but I've been struggling with how to explain what that means. One of the things it means is that I'm going to strive to remain as open and gracious as possible to new variations, ideas, and interpretations of the christian faith. I'm convinced that one of the mistakes we've made over and over again in church history is passionately embracing a new, revolutionary, reactionary (and very good) version of our faith - only to become as entrenched and rigid as the version we replaced. I'm going to try to understand that interpretations of our faith for different contexts cannot be evaluated or compared to one another - they are neither more or less right, so long as the pillars of the faith that make it what it is remain. Post-modernism and more specifically the Emergent Church are a reaction to modern, seeker sensitive, sunday-centric, uninvolved christianity - but the emergent church will itself be replaced someday (maybe soon!), and I want to be gracious enough to let go of the principles and ideas I'm embracing now to learn and grow from whatever might be coming next...


I am interested in politics. I've been watching the early primary races, as well as reading biographies of Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill. In particular the account of Reagan's presidency contrasts with the current political race. It seems like the candidates in both parties for the 2008 race are molding their views and appealing to the majority - essentially doing whatever they can to get elected. And in the process, none seem to have a clear, articulate, passionate vision of the future. Accurately or not, (I suspect Kuhn's portrayal of Reagan is a bit rosy) Reagan comes across as an individual with a vision of what America could be, and a personal dedication to that philosophy - the fact that it resonated with voters was because he was the right man at the right time - not because he changed to fit the voters. He had authenticity. I don't see a lot of that in the 2008 candidates.

I wonder if the 2008 candidates aren't struggling a bit because they're trying to be what the voters want, but maybe the voters don't know what they want. Here's my appeal: this vote is yours if you can present me with a vision of the future I can believe in, some strong, sensible strategies for the problems we're facing (immigration, nuclear war/weapons, economic development and ecological protection, foreign affairs, etc). Give me something I can hold onto, something I can invest myself in. Otherwise, I'm not sure I'll be able to find a candidate worth my vote at all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Yesterday Michelle and I went to Stoney Ridge Farm with a group of our friends. It was one of several experiences I’ve had since moving to Washington State that have been quintessentially American. Born of American parents but growing up in Canada I’ve never really been able to relate to Norman Rockwell paintings or Readers Digest articles. Yesterday, all I knew was we were going to pick a pumpkin right out of the field and then come back and carve it. I asked Michelle how long we’d be gone, thinking it would probably take me 15 minutes tops to pick and harvest a pumpkin. Little did I know, it was all about the experience. The farm has all kinds of things to do. We took a hay wagon out to the pumpkin field right away – after all that’s why we came. As advertised, we found a field full of pumpkins, an apple orchard full of fruit, and a corn maze. We wound our way first through the corn maze, then picked out a bag of right-off-the-tree apples (I ate one right then and there – they’re free if you eat them in the orchard), and finally we scoured the pumpkin patch for the perfect pumpkin (Michelle had spotted it from the wagon). Later, after paying for our farm fresh produce, we proceeded to the ranch house-turned cafĂ© for fresh caramel apple pie and fresh pumpkin pie. So good! By this time I was reveling in my all American Saturday, and suggested we get the apple cider donuts to top it off – after all, what’s more American than being stuffed full of great food? Later we previewed the Christmas trees and checked out the farm animals. It was a cool day, and I really felt like I was experiencing an American tradition – the harvest.

Earlier this summer for Memorial Day the town of Ferndale, where Michelle’s parents live, lined main street with American Flags. Ferndale IS the American town. Main street crosses a little river and then intersects 1st, 2nd, and 3rd avenues, and that’s about it – my Brother-in-law lives in a little house just past 3rd avenue. When I’m out on Saturday mornings at garage sales in Ferndale I can’t help thinking the very same thing is happening in literally thousands of small towns across the US. Americana also came to me when I spent a Saturday morning repairing Michelle’s rear drum brakes. I stopped at the Ferndale auto parts store to pick them up, then headed up to my father-in-law’s place. We spent several hours taking apart and then rebuilding the brakes in the driveway. Again, I felt the warm feeling that I was participating in a great tradition – that millions have had this experience, many were having it that very day, and many would have it in the future. There’s something about these activities that unites Americans in the city and in the country, in the east, west, north, and south, on the coast, in the mountains and on the plains. It’s a neat feeling to be a part of something bigger than myself and to share a heritage with so many…

If you’ll excuse me I need to peel and slice some freshly picked apples for an apple pie – what could be more American?

Friday, October 12, 2007


I've been reading "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom and a few things strike me. First, for all the author's quasi-humble first-person bashing of ambition, the book was carefully crafted to appeal to the broadest masses. Plenty of the heart warming inspirational stuff we can all feel good about with no religious or political affiliations to offend or put people off.

Moving past my cynicism with regard to Oprah-culture, some really good things were said in this book. Morrie's comments on the value of family when facing sickness and death really struck a chord with me. A friend and I used to visit a man named Bill who was also facing sickness and death, only he had no family at all. No children, no wife, no brothers or sisters that I knew of. He did have friends, including myself, but it wasn't the same. There was nothing ultimate or permanent holding us there, guaranteeing that we'd be there through the whole ordeal. As a result, Bill dealt with his struggle by denying and ignoring it. Morrie's love and enjoyment of physical touch also stuck out as strange to me - just reading about how he longed for it and needed it made me uncomfortable. Human touch must communicate something more than can be communicated audibly.

I haven't finished the book yet, but it's been worth my time so far.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What’s in a name?

Tension – Magellan – Philosophy: all names I considered for this blog (and, consequently, all taken). One of my distinct characteristics is the flight from one excitement to the next – if I were to compare myself to combustion, my life would be a series of fireworks rather than a slow-burning hardwood fire. Given this, I should probably just pick a name and get on with it – I’m liable to forget why I was so excited about blogging in a week or so. Even so, names are very important to me. They are permanent and I can’t help feeling they play a role in determining the fate of they're owners. I'm pretty sure choosing the correct name may contribute to the success or failure of this blog. On the other hand, since I tried all the wonderful, succinct, symbolic names above and none of them had been updated since 2002, maybe I should just get on with it. Well, it looks like “get on with it” wins it, 2-1.

OK, I lied – my idealism, as it so often does, won out. I couldn’t just name it anything, so I came up with It comes from a philosophy class I took at the U of C. A strict logical interpretation of identity would not allow me to say that I am the same person I was a year ago, nor will I be the same person in a year’s time. I will have changed maybe learned, maybe grown but definitely changed. Don’t tell my wife – I’ve been doing the dishes a lot lately.