My brain gangs up on me sometimes.  I was trying to add some entries to iCal yesterday, and found out that you can’t have a Reminder List that has the same name as a Calendar.  A normal person would have accepted this and moved on.

I have to spend twenty minutes trying to mentally reverse engineer the data model in my head, figure out the design process the engineers at Apple used to come up with this system, and then start delving through .plist files in my /Library directory to see if I’m right.

This is why productivity software doesn’t make me more productive.

Representing citizens, or representing party whips?

I’m continuing work on my ‘vote visualisation’ tool, because I believe that anything that brings greater transparency to our democratic process is a good idea.  Take it for a spin, and let me know what you think, and what features should be added.

I know I could speed it up by caching the data rather than retrieving it from the government data feed on every request.  But already I think it’s enough to show how obsessively ALL our MPs follow party lines. I still find this disturbing; I’d much rather a representative who cares about what Barrie citizens think more than he cares about what the party whips think.

An Unfortunate Poem

I was shown this poem earlier today, and disliked it immediately.

In part, because it stands in such stark contrast to the grace-filled message of welcome in the Easter sermon of John Chrysotom that I just posted.

Chrysotom reassures all that there is a place at the table.  A place for those who are committed in their religious devotions, and a place for those who are negligent.  A place for those who a rich, and those who are poor.  A place for those who are weary of doing good, and a place for those who are weary of failing again and again.

poemIn contrast, ‘Odd Thomas’ begins his poem by attacking those who don’t share his beliefs.  The only reasons someone might not agree with him, he says, is because they are a ‘rationalist, a relativist, a religious, or a reservationist.’

I see this too often.  Christians find it hard to believe that others might have deep reasons for their own religious convictions, and so assume that they must be rejecting Christianity out of stupidity or spite.

But how would it feel to be on the receiving end of this? How would I feel if, say, a member of the Jainist faith started threatening me with punishment and death because I didn’t believe the same things that he did?  What if he accused me of being stupid, of being inconsistent, of deliberately choosing to ignore the plain truths revealed in their doctrines?

The frustrating thing about this is that it’s not even hard to find out why some folks reject Christianity in North America.  Thanks to books like ‘unChristian‘, we know that a majority of young people consider the church to be homophobic, judgemental, hypocritical, overly political and exclusionary.

Poems like this one that accuse sceptics of Christianity of being ignorant and stubborn do not help at all.

Rich or poor, observant or negligent, first or last, rejoice today!

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Living next to a killer

In a windowless office near Las Vegas, Nevada, an American Air Force operator controls one of the deadly Predator drones that fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.    He hunches over his keyboard and joystick, squints at his computer monitors.  He presses some buttons, and on the other side of the world, a few lives are quietly erased.

Then at the end of his shift, he gets into his minivan and drives home to his house in the suburbs.  Perhaps he takes his dog for walk.  Maybe he plays catch with his kids, or has a few friends over for a barbecue.  He waves politely at his neighbour.  On Sunday he goes to church.

What would it feel like to be that guys neighbour?  The thought fills me with a profound disquiet.  I live on a street populated with accountants and software developers and police officers and teachers.  In general they are quiet, friendly people.  I like them.  But I never have to look at them and wonder how many mothers and fathers and children they have killed today.  Would I want such a person living next to me?  Would I let my kids visit their house, knowing that they are capable of taking another human life with little more effort than filling in an Excel spreadsheet?  How would I feel standing next to him in the pew at church at Christmas, singing together about the Prince of Peace, and goodwill to all mankind?

The more I think about our society’s quiet acceptance of death dealing flying robots, the more it worries me, but I worry most of all about the type of person who apply for and perform a job controlling one.

Church 35 – Barrie Kingdom Hall

Another first for me; I’ve never visited a Kingdom Hall before.  I received a flyer through my door for a special service to be held on Tuesday night, so I jumped at the chance to add another checkmark to my church crawl.

It’s probably impossible for me to be truly objective about my visit, given the lectures that I’ve sat through on ‘Debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses’, and the strong antagonism between Evangelicals and JWs that I’ve observed.  But I’ll do my best.

First, my initial impressions.  Like most Kingdom Halls, this one was a squat, windowless building, definitely built for function rather than for decoration.  It was full to capacity, but I got the feeling that this was the JW equivalent of the ‘Christmas and Easter’ crowd. I estimated around 150 to 200 people present, but we were informed at the end of the service that there were 181 in attendance.

So, lesson one about Jehovah’s Witnesses: they really like accurate headcounts.

In general, the folks there were very friendly, and I was taken aback by how many knew my name. I would also guess that this was the most demographically diverse congregation I’ve visited so far; a wide range of ages and ethnicities were represented.

In many ways the service felt like a conservative Baptist or Brethren church. There was an opening song, a prayer, and then a talky bit of around 45 minutes.  Because this service was one of the highlights of the JW year, the talk was designed to give an overview of their theological distinctives.  To me, it felt like the first two thirds of the sermon would not be out of place in a church in the Reformed tradition.  We needed to have our Bibles on hair-trigger responses, as the speaker jumped from reference to reference.  I’d say at least once every minute I heard ‘friends, let’s open our Bibles to…

I’m beginning to think of this approach as ‘Lego Hermeneutics’ – dip into a big bucket of bible verses, pull out a selection,  stick them together end to end, and call the resulting contraption a formal theology.  I sometimes wonder what would happen if we took this approach to other forms of literature.  What would the underlying message of, say, War and Peace, be if we took 10 random sentences from it and strung it together?

Be that as it may, the first two thirds of the sermon would be familiar territory for anyone in a Reformed6a00e54fd89cec88340147e155b94d970b-800wi tradition, with lots of talk about sin, sacrifice and ransom.  But around the 30-minute mark, we got the JW theological distinctives.   In this system, ‘heaven’ is a reward for only 144000 specially chosen individuals, and is seen as very distinct from an ‘earthly paradise’ available to a greater number.

What fascinated me most about this unique reading of Revelation 7 was how it affected the manner in which the congregation took Communion.  When it came time, a plate with bread on it was passed solemnly along the pews, and then returned to the front.  Likewise, glasses of wine were passed around the congregation and then returned.


Seriously, four glasses went out, and four glasses came back, without a sip having been taken.

This is the only time that I have ever been invited to a meal, had the food laid out in front of me, and then watched as the host and all the guests carefully refused to eat.

Also, this is one of the few places I’ve attended that didn’t have coffee available after the service, too.

I’m a passionate believer in the value of eating together.  Tonight, 40 of my friends will be invading my kitchen to eat and to to talk and to remember the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.  And I can assure you that when bread or wine arrives at my table, I’ll enjoy it, not pass it back silently to the kitchen.



Visualizing Votes

Politicians do not spend a lot of time thinking about the issues they vote on, as I noted yesterday.

I just wrote a little tool to demonstrate this.  Have a look at this visual representation of recent votes in the House of Commons?

Vote Visualisation.

And then ask yourself this – are our representatives carefully considering all the facts before them, and then voting on each issue in a manner that best represents their constituents?

Or are they mindlessly following party orders?votes



My faith in democracy is being challenged

The good news is I’ve discovered that the Canadian government has a very good web interface for tracking recent votes in parliament.  Seriously, go check it out here, see how your MP has been voting recently.

The bad news is it gives a clear demonstration that our politician vote purely along party lines.

Take vote 631, for example.  Every single Conservative voted to close down the Experimental Lakes Facility.  Every single Liberal, NDP and BQ member voted to keep it open.

We could read these results in two ways.  Perhaps, by a strange coincidence, every single Conservative member reflected on the views of his or her constituents, the value of performing fundamental ecological research, and the role that basic research should play in evidence based policy making, and came to the eventual conclusion that it was not in Canada’s best interests to keep the facility open.

That would be, I grant you, a rather strange coincidence.  But the alternative explanation is that none of our representatives paid careful attention to this issue, and all simply voted the way their parties told them to.

I’m a firm believer in representative democracy, but that word representative is important.  Are we to believe that the residents of every single Conservative riding are against publicly funded research, and the residents of every single NDP, Green and Liberal riding are in favour of it?  Or are our politicians paying more attention to their party whips than their constituents?

If they are, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Democracy works when people make their voices heard.  We need to be paying more attention to how our MPs are voting; congratulate them when they get it right, and reprimand them when they get it wrong.  They are, after all, working on our behalf.

And at least thanks to the internet we can easily watch their activities now.

Desmond Tutu – Pencil and Paper

“”My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life.”




Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop, humanitarian, fearless opposer of apartheid and all social injustice, and devoted sports fan.