December 26, 2008

The Spiral Staircase

I used to joke with my sister and some of my friends that I might open the world's first Baptist convent. That is easy to say when you are bemoaning your lack of dates as a sixteen year-old. Now, I do not know that I could handle the sort of structured, monotonous life that being a nun seems to entail.

I am still, however, somewhat envious of the contemplative life.

The Spiral Staircase chronicles the life of an ex-nun, Karen Armstrong, who joined the convent at 17 and left it in 1969, at the age of 24. This is where the story picks up (apparently a prequel gives insight to her years of vows). I was fascinated for most of the book. I love autobiographies - people have such interesting lives and thoughts. Even those who are not particularly "famous."

I find it especially thought provoking to read the struggles and questions of a woman who is highly committed to academia and acclimatized to faith. We are similar in many ways (epilepsy is not one of them), yet where spiritual questions take her is drastically different than where I hope to see myself ending up.

For at least a decade, she walked away from any faith in God. As she has returned to some form of spirituality/religion, she embraces what I would call a fairly post-modern faith. What I mean by this is that the 'facts' and 'doctrines' of a particular religion are irrelevant. What matters most is that a person's beliefs make them more generous. Truth, in the spiritual realm, is not about reason and historicity, but goodness and kindness.

In no way do I deny the vital importance of generosity and goodness. But I cannot agree that spiritual truth is not separate from what we might call 'factual' truth. This is a too sweeping embrace of postmodernism for my liking. It is, in fact, quite tied to what I contemplated exploring in my potential post-grad studies, which have yet to come to fruition...

Conclusion: It is the meeting place of 'factual truth' concerning spiritual matters and Goodness that I seek in my own life. Reading someone else's journey has confirmed that. I greatly enjoyed Karen's story, though. Just because I disagree on this doesn't mean I don't admire her in many ways. I would love to sit down with the author and have a cup of tea and talk about life & writing & faith.

Thus I come to The End of my vacation reading.*

*for the first time in I don't know how long, I didn't get a book for Christmas! Sadness.

Today's Theme Song

I heard this carol earlier today, and the second-to-last verse caught my attention. I thought of posting it but decided against it...then, while half-listening to the King's College Christmas Choir, someone read the poem, written by Longfellow, interestingly enough. Again, I found myself struck by the same stanza. So this time, I decided to share, in its entirety.

Christmas Bells

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

December 25, 2008

Just Like Bridget

It's 8pm on Christmas Day, and my family is gone. I miss them already. And now I'm feeling a bit like Bridget...

Minus the booze and smokes. And the fact that it is Christmas, not New Year's. I did, however, just finish watching an episode of Frasier.

December 23, 2008

Have a Happy PC Holiday

It seems to me that the need to be careful with our words is increasing: not offending people whose cultures, religions, and beliefs differ from our own. And there's nothing wrong with that, although I do believe it can be taken to extremes. As for me, I like Christmas. And I like Christmas songs. But I am baffled by the popularity of this song by BandAid. It seems to be the most...ethnically arrogant and stereotype-reinforcing song possible. I understand that it is intended to help raise awareness and funds for those who are suffering. It still sits ill with me.

Maybe someone else can fight for all the radio play this song gets. Maybe some of you have been thinking the same thing?

It's Christmastime
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging
chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Feed the world

Let them know it's Christmastime again


I picked up Baroque-a-nova because it is Canadian content set in Vancouver, and had a mild literary theme to it.

It had great potential. Plot elements of Canadian folk music from the seventies, literary protest in a high school, a longtime friend turned love interest. A German reporter, and a quebecoise VJ.

But it didn't come together. I finished it, only because I can't not finish books, especially when I hope that they pull it off in the end. Unfortunately, the author ends up painting the main character as a self-centred apathetic child instead of fleshing out the complexities of his personality.

My only consolation is that if this can get published, then someday I can too.

December 21, 2008

The Kite Runner

I have waited awhile to read this. I tend to resist the big frenzies around books, especially when they are made into movies. But I wanted to read it before the movie came out, so I finally have.

The Kite Runner is tragic, insightful, and beautiful. One of the things I enjoyed most about my university degree is that through the lens of literature, we are exposed to many other things. In The Kite Runner, we see politics, history, psychology, anthropology, and so much more!

The only thing that left me a bit sad was actually a pivotal moment in the book. Essentially, the story is about making things right, atoning for sins and the mistakes of adolescence. In a letter written to our now-adult hero, his father's best friend writes

And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father's remorse. Sometimes, I think everything he did, feeding the poor on the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan, when guilt leads to good. (emphasis mine)
No. That is not what true redemption is. That is atonement - trying to make right your wrongs. Redemption is when you are freed from the burden of being unable to atone for sins.

I haven't read Atonement (by Ian McEwan), but I have a feeling that the main difference between the two books is that in Kite Runner, Amir suffers greatly and is able to make reasonable restitution, but in Atonement, Briony is haunted by her inability to ever do enough good to balance the bad.

I think this would be a fascinating comparison for a book club, because it is decidedly relevant to each one of our lives. We all do wrong. We all make mistakes. And then we choose: do we attempt to atone ourselves? Or do we admit defeat and take the offer of redemption? Personally, this choice is not as easy as it seems. Although redemption seems the obvious choice, atoning certainly has its appeal - the idea of earning, making things right by my own efforts...being able to rely on myself. Allowing someone else to redeem me means admitting my utter defeat. And that is never something I like to do.

Under the Banner of Heaven

This is the first of my Christmas reading, and I actually started it before my holidays began. Under the Banner of Heaven is disturbing and heartbreaking. This book traces the history of the Morman church and then a couple of its Fundamental offshoots, focusing on a 1984 murder of a twenty-four year-old woman and her fifteen month-old daughter.

I was fascinated by the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints (LDS), including the trek across to Utah and the longstanding antipathy between the church and the government, which really only ended after the LDS leaders renounced polygamy as a tenet of their faith and agreed to allow the US government to rule them.

Those who continue to hold to the idea of "celestial marriage" still exist - within Utah, of course, as well as its bordering states, not to mention Mexico and Canada. They are not sanctioned as a part of the mainstream Mormon church, but are nonetheless alive and well.

Two of the more interesting statistics that stand out in my mind: Utah County, the seat of both mainstream and fundamental Mormonism, has a birth rate higher than that of Bangladesh. In another county, this one almost entirely fundamentalist, the average taxpayer is receiving $8 of benefits for every $1 they pay in taxes.

According to Krakauer, welfare/tax fraud, abuse, and minimal education are the norm among the fundamental sects. He shares, in depth, the story of Dan and Ron Lafferty, who, in the summer of 1984, brutally murdered their sister-in-law and niece, believing it to be the will of God. This is not to say that all fundamentalist sects go to the extremes that they did, but rather showing how their actions were rooted in both their extreme faith and their mainstream Mormon upbringing. (The LDS church is doing its best to separate itself from some of its earlier teachings and the more socially unacceptable fundamentalist groups, and LDS members have established a reputation of being hard-working and family-minded.)

I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but I think the biggest thing I'm pondering are the borders of my faith. I'm not sure how to put this, and it's kind of blurry in my mind. So bear with me as I chatter for a bit...

I don't believe that the Mormon faith is the same as the Christian faith. A few summers ago, I remember walking downtown and being stopped by a couple of LDS missionaries. We spoke briefly, and when I identified myself as someone who follows Jesus, they said, "Oh, we do too." and then proceeded to suggest I should read The Book of Mormon. I declined. I remember thinking, as I walked away, They say we believe the same thing...but I don't believe we do. It seems obvious to me - I don't believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God or that The Book of Mormon contains God's revelation regarding the history of the USA or God's will for the world. I don't believe that there was such a thing as "The Great Apostasy."

But we all have false beliefs. No one who believes in who Jesus is has it all right. No one has perfect theology or doctrine, none of us has fully grasped the reality of what grace is and how it applies to our lives. But how much is too much? How many false beliefs, how many additions to a gospel of grace alone before you don't actually believe in grace? How many of the wrong things we believe and do matter (okay, they all matter - but how many affect my salvation)? How much space is there for human error, deception and misunderstanding before there are more lies than truth?

It's a tricky business.


I think that if I tried hard enough, I could reduce pretty much all of my blog entries to my Twitter feed. Sometimes, I am tempted to do that. Like tonight.

I would write:
  1. Q of the night: What do you become if you are lonely, but dislike animals too much to become a cat lady?
  2. I shouldn't be allowed to access Wikipedia. It's information goes beyond helpful to dangerous.
  3. Reading = good times.
  4. Snow + Vancouver = Lovely & Treacherous
  5. Shopping makes me happy when I know what I want to buy for others.

But this sort of reduction is exactly what I want to fight...well, it gets my back up. We are all about the little sound bytes, the little blips of information that we can skim, get the basics, and draw our conclusions.

None of these personal headlines really tells the whole story though. They probably don't even tell enough for me to remember what I was talking about in six months. So I will expand myself slightly:

1. I went for dinner with a friend I haven't seen in eight months. It was great. Over the course of dinner, we talked about aging and how we will age as a generation. This was a great fit because her dream job is to open a retirement home (or something along those lines...) and my grandpa is visiting. She suggested that our generation will be very lonely. We live on our own. We have independent lives...and when work no longer provides a natural social grouping, who will we really have in our closest circles? I suggested she become a cat lady, but she dislikes cats. Canaries? No, no what do you do? Have a house full of plants? I really don't want to be alone when I am old.

2. I have self-diagnosed myself with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Thanks to the almost all-knowing Wikipedia, and the very small bit of knowledge I have from the doctor, this is my guess. Perhaps January will prove me right. Perhaps it will prove me a hypochondriac.

3. I am working on a fuller post here. So I'll save the reviews for then.

4. It looks beautiful out the window, but we may have travel difficulties in the next few days. There aren't enough snowploughs and able-bodied snow drivers here.

5. Christmas shopping is almost done. There are just 3 people left to buy for. Men are difficult, but when I get a good idea, I really do get excited. I hope the receivers are excited too! I currently have a favourite store in Vancouver: The Regional Assembly of Text. I wanted to buy EVERYONE'S gifts there. But I didn't.

December 17, 2008

Today's Haiku

Snow! Quick clean, Parents.
More Snow and Grampa.
Cinnamon-scented candles.

December 14, 2008

Backless Gowns & Diets

Last night, we watched White Christmas. In a true Christmas miracle, it started snowing here in Vancouver while we were watching. Amazing!

On top of the singing, the dancing and the romance, I especially love the dresses. In the fifties, women got to wear truly splendid outfits for dress-up occasions. They flounced. They fit, but they didn't slink. They showed back without being scandalous, and shoulders without being skanky.

Today, I wore a backless gown. But it was not in the least bit flattering. It was a hospital gown.

Now before you all start panicking, I am okay! I am not in the hospital; I just made a brief visit this afternoon (during which I got to start a truly fascinating book which I will blog about at its conclusion).

Anyway, I have been having these pains in my side and have seen the doctor and am going back in January...but this weekend was more consistently painful, and it was starting to impinge (this is my current favourite word) on my eating habits. Since the doctor had given me the "If this gets worse, go to emerge..." spiel, I decided to take her up on it.

So I got to wear a backless gown. And have blood taken. Which came back clean. This is good, as it indicates that the likely problem is my gallbladder (Laura, take pride in your pre-diagnosis diagnosis!).

So now my ultrasound has been moved up from mid-January to this week. And until I'm fixed, I am to be on an "ultra-low fat diet."

Which is exactly what everyone wants to hear two weeks before Christmas.

December 12, 2008

Psychics & INFJs

I am an INFJ, according to the various free Myers-Briggs personality tests that I have taken. According to Wikipedia, this is the rarest personality type (of the 16 options), which is fine by me. I like being different.

I just listed some of the more surprising truths about me (& INFJs). Less surprising INFJ qualities include good communication skills and affinity for language, creativity, valuing orderliness...and so forth.

I read a whole bunch of info about INFJs. A couple pages mentioned that their intuitive side is strong enough that they sometimes report "psychic phenomena" occurring.

I have had that. I have known things, in my heart, that I had no way of knowing. To tell the stories would be a whole other blog entry, or maybe more...

But it is fascinating to me that that is associated with a specific personality type. And it opens up some fascinating thoughts about our minds and relationships and the limits of human knowledge...

Now that I've got you all curious about your own selves, do this test or that test and tell me what your "personality type" is! Maybe do them both to see if you get the same results...

*the more I think about this personality test, the more I like it, not because I think it is a perfect box that I fit in, but because it validates parts of my personality that I otherwise might not give treat as "legitimate" aspects of who I am - kind of like why I love the Birkman, which I had done through work.

December 11, 2008

Awake or Asleep?

It felt like I had fallen asleep hugging my cell phone, and now it was ringing on vibrate. My torso and my arms were silently shaking, and I woke up.

But I couldn't move. My arms were stuck across my chest, my head immobile. I remembered that I had put my cell phone beside my pillow, alarmed and ready for the morning. As I thought about it, I couldn't feel anything except my own self and the sheets. There was no phone touching me, no reason for me to be vibrating softly.

I tried calling out, but no sounds came. In my mind, I rolled onto my side. Nothing. I tried wiggling my fingers. I thought of the fact that my roommate lay sleeping less than 20 feet away but was entirely unaware that I was trapped in my own body.

I forced myself to calm down, to breathe deeply. As I did, I found myself dreaming I was in my childhood home. This time, I called for my mother.


I could feel my vocal chords straining. But I don't think my lips even formed the necessary "M" to make the sound. I kept calling out. For Mom, for God, for pretty much anyone.

In a split second, it broke. In my dream, I was suddenly in the kitchen. I said to my mom, who was standing at the counter, "I called you...but I couldn't make a sound."

I think I cried.

Then I woke up.

I was back in my house.

I could move.

The clock read 12:35am. I had been asleep for less than an hour.

December 8, 2008

Silent Night, Lovers in Japan, & Beyonce

I blame it entirely on my biological make-up and things that I cannot control.

This commercial makes me tear up and ooh and ahhh like a child watching fireworks. Only with more inner-emotional angst.

Also, I just found out about this site - but apparently I can no longer download Coldplay mixed with Jay-Z (could there be anything cooler than that!?).

Waking Up

I finally finished Wide Awake by Erwin McManus. I read three chapters today (previously, I have only been reading one at a time). My two favourite quotes from this last chunk are:

One of the evidences that you're living the life God designed you to live is you begin to enjoy your life even when your environment doesn't seem to dictate that.

Have you ever considered the possibility that how we pray and how we engage God is pretty much senseless? Do we really think God is saying, "Oh, thanks; I don't know how I missed that. Oh, you need a job? I thought you should be unemployed all your life. Oh, you want a wife? I was going to give you a poodle for Christmas. I'm so glad you're clearing everything up for me"?
When we pray, we act as if God has been missing the point the entire time. "This is what I need, so pay attention, God. Amen." That's not really what prayer is supposed to be about. God invites us to connect on a much more profound level. "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know."

Political Satire

CBC makes this whole Canadian political kurfuffle easy for Americans to understand.

So our Conservatives are a bit different from yours. Down here, you'd probably call them Democrats. And fairly liberal ones at that...

But, as I said, they won our last election, which is a pretty low-key affair compared to yours. The campaign lasted a few weeks instead of two years...

I'm not quite sure how to explain the NDP. The other parties like to call them socialists...

Now, the Conservatives aren't taking this state of affairs lying down...They've been talking about shutting down Parliament for a while until they can think of some way to prevent the opposition parties from throwing them out.

Thanks for clarifying, Neil MacDonald. Maybe some day, we'll make you Governor-General as a reward.

December 6, 2008

Foreman at the Forefront

I've been thinking a lot about Switchfoot today, mostly because I'm loving Jon Foreman's solo album: Limbs & Branches. Here are three videos for your viewing pleasure:

Video #1: Switchfoot's first ever music video. I remember watching it.

Video #2: Jon Foreman performs In My Arms. Not the greatest quality, but it'll do.

Video #3: Switchfoot covers Beyonce. Priceless.

December 5, 2008

Warning: Sweeping Generalizations Below

A British immigrant told me recently that shortly after he moved here, he asked someone, "What are Canadians like?"

Some sort of joke was told, which I can't remember...but then the friend answered, "Canadians want to be as successful as Americans, but without the risk."

This is profound to me. I've never thought of that as something particularly Canadian, but as I mull it over, it seems to fit. And this has implications in many different areas of life. We don't like to risk in relationships, we don't risk making commitments (not even to make plans for a Friday night...), and we definitely don't like financial risk. Yet we expect our lives to mirror those south of the border, where the rewards are great but so are the risks.

The Brit went on to say that for the first several years he lived here (he's been here nearly 30, I believe), his prayer was, "Lord, don't let me be an arrogant British immigrant, where everything was better at home. And Lord, don't let me be a passive Canadian."

Hm. I am so afraid of risk. And loss. Yet I have a strong distaste for passivity, and desperately long to be more than mediocre.

Those Times.

You know those times when you're about to blog about something that is maybe a bit borderline too personal (either about yourself or someone else), but you think, No, it'll be fine! which is maybe a bit of a lie, but sometimes you want to anyway, because you know people will want to read it and know more - and then you're too tired to write, so you go to bed, and the next day you forgot about it?

And then the day after THAT, something happens or you have a conversation and you say Woah, I am glad I didn't blog about that...

Yeah. This blog is about one of those times.

December 4, 2008

Say That 10 Times Fast!

"Three weeks ago, the Liberals were trying to force Stephane to step down. And now they want him to run the country?" (Thank you, Sarah, for this quotable quote!)

We're an international news item, finally. This has never happened in the history of the Commonwealth.

The proroguing of Parliament has reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock, mostly because it is difficult to say. I shall share it with you here:

December 2, 2008

Who Would Win in a Cage Match...

Stephen Harper?
Stephane Dion?
or Michaƫlle Jean?

With all this upheaval in Canadian politics, I am feeling all in a tizzy.

When does Canada ever have exciting political stories to tell?

Apparently, we do right now.


This is the one time in her life she will have to do more than just smile, wave, and shake hands. Oops, was that harsh? No offense to Michaƫlle, but for the most part, the Governor General seems like a pretty sweet job to have. I suppose though, that she exists for such a time as this.

The role exists, not the person.

Anyway, I'm curious. I voted in the election, so it's interesting to see how my elected representatives actually represent me (although the candidate I voted for didn't get elected in my riding, I don't think...).

Who knew politics could be so exciting in our own backyard?

Phew. I think it's time for bed.