Live from Starbucks, Peterborough, Ontario

I haven’t blogged much recently, which is unusual for me — even at Christmas time. I figured it was time to check in with y’all.

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Peterborough, Ontario. That’s my home town. Population of approximately 65,000, when I left here in 1986. It has grown some since then. As of 2006,

the census metropolitan area (CMA) had a population of 116,570. It presently ranks as the 33rd and smallest CMA in Canada.

Metropolitan Peterborough. Hah!

Benjamin (nebcanuck) is living in Peterborough these days, studying at Trent University. My parents and one of my sisters live here, too. So I still visit Metropolitan Peterborough several times per year.

Which brings me to Starbucks. I found out that if you have a Starbucks card, you can get two hours of wireless high-speed internet access each day — free! This is convenient, since my parents don’t have internet access, and I usually stay with them when I’m in town.

The Starbucks internet access also comes in handy when I travel to Winnipeg, as I frequently do for work. (I’m part of a team negotiating a self-government agreement with a First Nation in Manitoba.)

Yesterday, Ilona and I celebrated Christmas with one of my sisters in Port Perry, Ontario. Port Perry is about 45 minutes southwest of Metropolitan Peterborough.

Not all the news from home is happy. My Dad’s brother died on Christmas Eve at 9:20 p.m. We won’t be staying in Peterborough for the funeral, which is Monday. But we’ll stay for the “visitation” at the funeral home Sunday afternoon.

Uncle Bill was in his seventies and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He was a lively fellow up until he got ill:  an amateur photography enthusiast (in the pre-computer days when cameras used actual film, and were operated manually) who also taught square dancing classes. He had a degree in music and he sang in the church choir for fifty years.

Uncle Bill also used to build chairs with wire frames, which was extremely labour intensive — so my Dad tells me — because all the upholstering for the back of the chair had to be hand-stitched to the wire frame. (No wood to staple upholstery to.)

In short, Uncle Bill lived large in the way that he found stimulating and meaningful. Which sets a good example for the rest of us.

Anyway, that’s the news, up-to-the-minute from Starbucks in Metropolitan Peterborough.

Hey! This is an authentic blog post, chatty and stream-of-consciousness like. What do you know about that?!

p.s. Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all my regulars!

White Christmas everywhere in Canada

A white Christmas in Canada? What are the odds of that?!

The odds are lower than you might suppose! In fact, this will be the first one since 1971. But the standard we’re describing is a white Christmas in every region of Canada. From today’s Globe and Mail:

Winter walloped Vancouver on the official start of the snowy season Sunday — and it was the same story across the country as Canada approaches its first coast-to-coast white Christmas in almost four decades.

Snow piled up in Vancouver, slowing down traffic and pedestrians.

Snow in Vancouver, November 2006. Photo by Flickr user Ms. Melch; all rights reserved.

Vancouver is certain to have its first white Christmas since 1998, when there was 20 centimetres on the ground. The temperature is predicted at or below zero through the week.

A white Christmas in Vancouver happens about once a decade and John McIntyre, an Environment Canada meteorologist in the city, said British Columbia’s Lower Mainland could have a “perfect Christmas,” which the government weather agency defines as snow on the ground and snow falling.

It also looks like Canada will have its first coast-to-coast white Christmas since 1971. Vancouver is generally without snow and on the years it has it, other areas such as Southern Ontario aren’t under the cold blanket.

“It’s a white Christmas, everywhere,” said André Cantin, an Environment Canada meteorologist in Quebec City.

Two wise men and a wise guy

Who could this Christmas greeting card be from? — it’s a mystery!
 
gold-frankincense-rubber-chicken.jpg
 
The source is just possibly the same sister who gave us a rubber chicken as a wedding present.
 
rubber-chicken1.jpg
 
(The apron says, “… and they lived happily ever after.” Which is more than you can say for the apparently-dead chicken.)

And now, a prophetic word from Simon and Garfunkel

Hat tip, Bridgett, who embedded Simon and Garfunkel’s recording of Silent Night on her blog earlier this week. Looking back at her twelve-year-old self, she comments,

Didn’t know who Lenny Bruce was, didn’t know much about Martin Luther King, Jr, either. But I understood the juxtaposition of a news report filled with bad news up against that perfect little Christmas carol.

I can’t embed the recording on WordPress.com — one of the drawbacks of the site is, it is very restrictive about what you can embed. But I have embedded it on Emerging From Babel, with relevant commentary.

Bean Inspiration

I haven’t been thinking about much beyond each day of late, since ’tis the season to be busy!!! But Christmas is fast approaching, and I note that my father has been reeling out the posts about all things Christmas.

And I just can’t compare. Or at least, I couldn’t. Until I had a stroke of genius.

It’s simple, and short.

Enjoy the best Christmas ever, courtesy Rowan Atkinson.

Actually, as a brief aside, I always found it interesting how the episode’s ending (not in this clip) is so depressing, with him having disappointed his girlfriend by not realizing she wanted a ring for Christmas. One of the best parts of Bean is the fact that it combines physical comedy with darker humour, which tends to smart a little. And I don’t think you get much better an example than this episode, with his forlorn “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean” accompanied by the exploding Christmas cracker. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, though you want to laugh your head off, as well.

And that’s kind of how the season is, in many respects. “Spread the joy”, we’re told — and then unprecendented pressure is put upon our shoulders to meet the world’s material desires. I wish I could say I was above it, but I’m not; and to an extent, I really do love giving gifts. Still, the fact that you have to re-mortgage your house to do  so is not a positive, and the fact that it so easily becomes about the things is a pity.

Mr. Bean may have a situation unlike any you or I will encounter; Still, the black humour of Christmas is present. I hope to beat it  at least in part by keeping things in perspective… although, I’m sure for some there is a far more practical and direct way of dealing with holiday angst!

God, vulnerable

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt. …

Then Herod … sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

(Mt. 2:13-16)1

Human babies are imperfectly developed at birth. Whereas a calf, for example, struggles to its feet almost immediately, human babies remain dependent and vulnerable for a worryingly long time.

We see this illustrated in child abuse cases. If parents are inclined to be cruel, their baby is utterly defenseless.

Christmas is about the incarnation of God as a wee baby. The doctrine is a stumbling block for non-Christians. But without it, the deity we worship would remain invulnerable:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed. …

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.

(Ps. 2:1-4)

Psalm 2 can be read as a commentary on Herod’s machinations. King Herod sets himself against the Lord and against his Anointed One. But God is always one step ahead of Herod, diverting the Magi ("being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way") and then warning Joseph.

Other babies are slaughtered, but the Anointed One emerges unscathed. He who sits in the heavens — i.e., beyond the reach of impotent potentates — laughs.

Maybe. Or maybe God weeps with the inconsolable mothers of Bethlehem, whose babies were snatched from their arms and dashed against the rocks. Maybe God’s heart is in his throat, as Joseph races to Egypt with Herod’s hot breath on the back of his neck.

For God knows that Jesus’ first escape is not a final escape. The rulers will continue to conspire against the Lord’s Anointed One. Ultimately Jesus will be delivered into the rulers’ hands and they will have their way with him.

God, by definition invulnerable — vulnerable. He who sits in the heavens weeps. The rulers hold him in derision.

The God of Psalm 2 is a source of great comfort. When we suffer, we do not despair. We know, ultimately God is in control.

Likewise, the Gospels are a source of great comfort. Matthew’s Gospel begins with an account of Jesus’ providential escape from Herod. It ends with an account of Jesus’ miraculous escape from death.

But I don’t know how anyone could worship a God who is impervious to loss and suffering — a God who is untouched by our pain. In a perverse way, God’s vulnerability is also part of the good news.

Matthew emphasises the vulnerability of this dependent human baby, Jesus.

The Anointed One is also the Vulnerable One. And this is not some clever tale, fabricated by a manipulative evangelist. It is a fact of history, understood only in retrospect, as the first Christians contemplated the broken body of their Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

A glimpse of Christmas yet to come

Isaiah 11:1-10, English Standard Version; except the middle section is my paraphrase.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
   and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. …

With righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. …

            The sexual predator will be completely rehabilitated,
               she who once cowered will look him straight in the eye,
            Violence against women and children will be a distant memory;
               powerful men will use as little force as that of a small child.

            Palestinians and Israelis will break bread together,
               their children will intermarry to the great joy of their families;
               he who planted landmines will sow grain instead.

            The nursing child will not ingest chemicals with her mother’s milk,
               nor will the schoolyard be overrun by drug dealers.
            Multinational corporations no longer will ravage
               and degrade mother earth;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples
   — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
lion with lamb

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