Church Crawl – Special Edition

Something slightly different today.  I’m posting this under ‘Barrie Church Crawl’ but the place I visited today was neither a church, nor in Barrie.  In fact, I got to visit the Gurdwara Jot Parkash Sahib in Brampton.

The occasion was a friend’s wedding, so this was a chance to experience a very different environment and see how another culture conducts its marriages.  So, in no particular order, some of my observations.

The bride looked stunning.  Compared with her striking redsalwar kameez, bracelets all the way up both arms, intricate make up and hennaed hands and feet, the standard western white dress looks a bit boring.

When we arrived at the Gurdwara we definitely felt like outsiders.  The folks who greeted us spoke very little English, and seemed a bit nonplussed at the idea of non Punjabi speakers visiting.  We ended up getting ‘parked’ in a small side room for an hour while we waited for the bride and groom to arrive.

Things improved when they did, however.  The celebrations were kicked off with a buffet featuring excellent samosas and other vegetarian finger food.  A Gurdwara has no chairs, so this was eaten sitting cross-legged on the floor in a basement dining area.

After a while we were ushered upstairs to the hall that the wedding ceremony would be held in.  Once again, we would be sitting on the floor.  Being a Sikh must mean that you develop strong back muscles – mine were pretty sore by the end of the day!  The ceremony started with twenty minutes of music played on two harmoniums and a tabla drum.

Interestingly, the bride and groom didn’t say anything during the ceremony.  There were a number of speeches or prayers by the leaders, and the couple processed slowly several times around the table holding the Sikh holy book. At one point, a small lump of sweet pudding was placed in each  hands of each guests to eat.

After the ceremony, we processed downstairs again for yet more food.

I’ve found a very good description of the structure and significance of a Sikh wedding at  I really should have printed it out beforehand, as there was very little guidance for non Punjabi speakers as to what was happening or why.

That said, I was very glad to have been able to experience this, both to be part of my friend’s wedding and to have a truly new cultural experience.

And finally, it’s nice to see that in an era of religious tensions, there is one symbol that young people of all different cultures and creeds have accepted as being truly valuable and meaningful.  I refer, of course, to the sacred and holy Apple iPhone.    Texting teenagers are just as prevalent in a Gurdwara as in any church that I’ve attended.


Gimp Paint Studio

How did I not know about Gimp Paint Studio before today?  This is a stunning collection of brushes, textures and most importantly, tool presets.

This takes GIMP from merely being an incredibly powerful image editor to being an incredibly powerful painting tool, as well.  I’ve played around with it for an hour, and I’m loving it already.

Lots of Intriguinging Scheme Parentheses.

The venerable image manipulation package GIMP still continues to surprise me.

Version 2.8 was released recently, and it can now run seamlessly on OSX, without the need for XServer.

One feature I hadn’t explored until yesterday is the built in scripting facilities.  Pretty much anything you can do in GIMP can be scripted and programmed.  This being open source software, there is of course more than one scripting language available.  Python is available via the Python-Fu menu, but the default scripting language is Scheme, a variant of LISP.

This is my first real adventure into the world of LISP dialects.  It fascinates me how so many language constructs can be made available using only one syntactic structure – the bracket.

LISP has sometimes been said to stand for ‘Lots of Irritating Silly Parentheses.’

But I find this fascinating.

We use brackets for function calls:

(myfunction arg1 arg2)

We use brackets to define functions

(define (AddXY inX inY) (+ inX inY) )

and we even use brackets to manage the scope of variables

(let* ( (a 1) (b 2) ) (AddXY a b))

Which evaluates to ‘3’.

In any other language I’ve used, such as C, or Python, or Javascript, those three different semantic constructs would use three different syntactic structures – curly brackets, keywords, indentation etc.

I can see why people find LISP and Scheme hard to fathom, but it has a certain elegance that appeals to me.


The Unpleasant Story of Samson.

A Bible study group I attended last night touched on some emotional nerves, as we talked through the end of Samson’s life.

I think that I react to what I perceive as glibness in the face of human suffering. If we’re talking about the story of Samson, we cannot ignore the fact that it ends with an act of terrorism, with profoundly disturbing similarities to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Here is a guy whose last act is one of religious vengeance: he knocks down two towers, killing himself and 3,000 other people.

I do not believe, I cannot believe, that Samson is to be in anyway respected or emulated.

And I guess I do find it worrying when we happily sit around splitting theological hairs about predestination and ignoring the horror of the passage that we are encountering. Maybe it’s because familiarity has dulled the human tragedy of the story? Maybe we say ‘it’s in the Bible, so it must be OK?’ Maybe we think that the point of the story is to give us a nice cozy life application for the week?

Or maybe we realise that if we looked too deeply, we’d have to acknowledge that the author of this story portrays God as being complicit in this massacre? And that’s not something that any of us are comfortable with, least of all me.

Some of our theologians deal with this by saying ‘yes, sure God can kill anyone he wants whenever he wants, and that’s fine.’

The first part of that sentence makes sense – if God is omnipotent, then of course he can.

The second implication in the sentence horrifies me. Because it tends to include the implication that we shouldn’t let this bother us. That to react emotionally to human death and suffering is somehow a sign of a weak faith.

If this is truly the case, then I don’t want that faith. I’d rather hold on to my humanity.

There are parallels with this and the unfortunate responses to grief that we’ve experienced occasionally. Some people think that if we can explain suffering, then we don’t need to console the grieving. That what the person suffering bereavement most needs is a helpful book explaining how their loss is all part of some bigger picture that they are unable to see.

This is, of course, callous in the extreme. A mourner doesn’t need an explanation. They need compassion. And they need someone to share their burden, not someone to tell them that it doesn’t exist.

Likewise on a larger scale. Faced with the horrors of genocide, of war, of sickness, of death, I don’t actually need or want someone to come along and say ‘yes, well, this is all perfectly OK because it fits neatly into my theological schema.’ I want someone to acknowledge the horror of what we are witnessing. I want a mourner, not a theologian.

I guess this is an easy trap to fall into. Preachers are taught that their job is to explain the passage. Here is a story of a man called Samson. Here is what happened in his life. Here is the background. Here is what other theologians have said about it. Here is what we can learn from the passage. Now we can go and have coffee.

But maybe that’s not the point? Maybe that’s not needed from the preacher? Maybe that’s not even the point of the story?

The art that we remember that comes out of atrocities is not abstract, clinical and structured. We remember Dulce et Decorum Est not because it gives a high level view of the political causes of the First World War or military strategy, but because it viscerally reveals to us the real experience of one individual caught up in the terror of a gas attack.

At that point the author, Wilfred Owen,  is not telling us about the grand meaning of the conflict. He is telling us what it is like to see his companion fail to get his gas mask on before the poison chokes his lungs.

We rush to explanation too fast. We want to say that we have mastered the passage.  What would happen if we were willing to say “huh. This is tough. This represents an ugly side of humanity. And maybe it even represents an ugly side of humanity’s concept of God.”

Public Speaking

I got to give a little presentation at Ignite Barrie this evening.  I found it surprisingly good fun to stand in front of a room full of people and share a little about my experiences running triathlons and some of the life lessons that I’ve learned in becoming a triathlete.

We also got to hear from a beekeeper, a poet, a science-fiction fan and many other unique and wonderful individuals from the community.  I’m learning that Barrie truly is a diverse and fascinating city!

I’ll put a link up to the videos of the evening once they are posted.


Paul Godfrey Doesn’t Understand Markets

Apparently, you can be the CEO of a major Canadian company, even if you don’t understand the first thing about free markets.

Paul Godfrey is the President and CEO of Postmedia Network, the owners of the National Post.  He’s also the chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and previously has been both a politician and the CEO of the Blue Jays.

Despite that impressive resume, he demonstrated during his interview today on ‘Ontario Today’ a quite startling lack of understanding of the way that free market capitalism works.  He was asked whether, as the National Post and other newspapers try to move to a more restrictive online model, whether readers who are used to free content would be willing to now start paying for it.

In one of the most impressive displays of wishful thinking that I’ve seen in a long time, Mr. Godfrey replied that they would, because they should. He didn’t base this argument on an analysis of market forces, but rather an appeal to to necessity.

Namely, that newspapers would not turn a profit unless people pay them more.

Clearly Mr. Godfrey did not pay attention as Blockbuster saw its business model destroyed by online movies.  Nor did he notice that the classified ads sector lost billions of dollars from its market value when Craigslist appeared.

Tell me.  When you want to buy or sell something, do you post it on Craigslist or Kijiji?

Or do you say to yourself “No no, the poor starving newspaper industry deserves my hard earned cash.  I will pay to post this item in tiny, unsearchable print in the back-end of my local newspaper.  I’m sure it will get noticed sitting in the bottom of a recycling bin.”

Paul Godfrey said that “newspapers are going to have to return a profit to their shareholders.”  He said that “the consumers must pay.”  He said that “the public has to remember that the greatest provider of content is newspapers.”

He even said that if you want opinions, you will have to pay newspaper sites.  Who knew that opinions were in such short supply?

The National Post costs money to produce; therefore, in Mr. Godfrey’s fantasy land, loyal citizens of this country will take it upon themselves to re-imburse his expenses.

Except, of course, we won’t.  We’re children of the digital age.  We will continue to learn about our world from The Guardian, from Reddit, from Twitter, from AlJazeera, from BBC, from CBC, from Google News, from Wikipedia and Wikinews and from countless other online sources.

And if we’re smart, we’ll divest ourselves of any equity we own in companies run by Mr. Godfrey.  Anyone who thinks that they have a moral right to paying customers should not be a CEO.


The ‘Busy’ Trap

Very good article at the New York Times on the ‘Busy’ Trap.

I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day.

Tim Kreider at the New York Times.