Interview meme

Jamie recently participated in an interview meme that is currently making the rounds of the blogosphere. I volunteered to be interviewed by her in turn, in part because I was curious to see whether she would take the opportunity to pin me to the wall on my heterodox theology.

Jamie defends traditional Christian doctrines that I tend to problematize. But in her own way, she wrestles with the same questions that preoccupy me. I guess that’s why she has been a faithful long-term reader, although I’m sure I exasperate her at times. For the record, I have a lot of respect for her intelligence and for her reluctance to settle for pat answers to thorny questions.

As it turned out, she didn’t go for the jugular as I feared she might.

1. If you could go for some other dream career besides the line of work you’re currently in, what would it be?

First, a word on my current career. I work for the Government of Canada: specifically Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. I don’t blog about it because most of the documents that cross my desk are “secret” — confidential documents on their way to Cabinet ministers.

I am a policy analyst, involved in the negotiation of land claim and self-government agreements with Canada’s aboriginal communities. The negotiations are led by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, but I participate in determining the scope of the health component of the agreements. My proudest achievement thus far has been the conclusion of the Labrador Inuit Association agreement, which took effect in December 2005. Last year, we concluded negotiations on three agreements in British Columbia, but they haven’t been ratified yet.

The point is, I’m not eager to change careers. All the work I have done for the past twenty years has had a social justice angle to it. That is my “dream career” in a general sense.

We won’t know the impact of these self-government agreements until some decades have passed, but I can say this much with confidence: the status quo isn’t working, either for aboriginals or non-aboriginal Canadians, and we’re implementing a different approach. Maybe it will constitute a breakthrough, but that’s not within my control.

I’m satisfied that this is a worthy “social justice” initiative, and I’m proud to be part of it. I’m not sure anything else would make more of a practical difference than this initiative has the potential to do.

But I’ll quit dodging the question now. I’ve often thought it would be neat to be a journalist. If I could earn a living by writing, I would be seriously tempted. “Rock star” would tempt me too, but I lack musical talent, a sexy physique, and charisma, dammit! Hence I’m eminently suited for policy analysis.

2. If you were an inventor, what would you invent?

I would invent a new drug which would enable people to see the world from someone else’s perspective temporarily. You would use it in conflict resolution, or when seeking consensus on an intractable, contentious social issue. If you took it, you would understand an issue from within the perspective of the other party to the dialogue, just for an hour or two. Then you would revert to your own perspective, but a little chastened and wiser.

Either that, or I would invent a pill that would turn me into a flashy guitarist with a sexy physique and oodles of charisma. Then who knows, Jamie, my first stop might be your house.

3. Have you ever broken a bone? If so, what’s the story?

An interesting shot in the dark, but I’ve never broken a bone.

I hit myself in the nose with a tennis racquet once when the ball took a funny hop. I made a reflexive, lightning-quick adjustment to get my racquet on the ball, but my nose got in the way. I still have a scar to show for it.

4. Looking back on your life, of what are you most proud?

It would have been easier if you asked me what personal history embarrasses me. I could have written five thousand words on that topic, easily. I regularly flash back to specific moments from my past with acute embarrassment, whatever that says about me.

What am I proudest of? Of demonstrating courage of a particular sort: “courage to change the things I can” (here quoting the prayer of serenity).

When I was in my mid-thirties, I reached a point of personal crisis. I had made a few key decisions in the naivety of my youth that led me to a regrettable place years later. I felt trapped, and I spent four years in what I would describe as a low-grade depression.

The only way out was to make radical changes of a sort that would actually make the crisis worse in the short term. That’s often the way of it: you have to pass through chaos on your way to producing order, per Genesis 1.

But to bite that bullet takes a lot of courage, particularly when you’re depressed. First, you have to find a reason for hope: some end goal that will motivate and sustain you through a season of painful turmoil. Even when there is a little light glimmering at the end of the tunnel, many people lack the courage to act.

Acting necessarily involved wholesale change: a crisis of faith that I am still working through, a divorce, a change of career, the loss of virtually every friend I had at the time. My family supported me, with misgivings: my Dad was afraid I was having a breakdown and he suffered nightmares about it.

It doesn’t sound like something to be proud of, and there’s embarrassment (even shame) in the mix. But the results are in, eleven years later. The nay-sayers (who were legion) have been proven wrong. I’m newly remarried, still in relationship with my children (which was no small struggle for some while) pleased about my new career, with better long term financial prospects, and enjoying my relentless inquiry into questions of faith and philosophy.

Most importantly, I am “at home in my own skin”. That was the fundamental issue eleven years ago: the life I was in was ill-suited to the person I am. I’m proud that I had the courage to do something about it, and fight through to a good result.

Note: Jamie has a fifth question for me, but I’m going to address it in a separate post.

Wedding Stuff… a week late!

So, I’ve been slogging away at improving my hockey blog blog throughout the week, but that’s not to say that life does not go on! A full week ago now (Wow! Time really flies!!!) my father and his long-time partner finally decided to tie the knot. The ceremony took place in Patty’s Pub on Bank street, and the environment was surprisingly suitable to the level of ceremony that they had.

That’s not to say it wasn’t classy, however. It’s just that there was a lack of “uptightness”, which was nice! The casual air of the pub along with the dressy suits was kind of comical at first, but the more everyone settled into their natural roles, and the more it became clear that this truly suited the bride and groom and their entourage!

Below is a Picasa slideshow… it’s a new feature offered by Picasa that lets you embed the actual show instead of just the individual pictures. It’s experimental, and I’m not sure how I’ll like it. It’s certainly different, so let me know your thoughts on whether I should continue using it!

Medieval wedding ceremony

MaryP and I have been thinking about wedding ceremonies recently. I was googling a particular phrase ("all spiritual benediction and grace") when I came across a reconstruction of the medieval wedding ceremony.

medieval wedding gif

If this was my preferred wording, I think MaryP would lose much of her enthusiasm for marriage. I bet she would call the wedding off!

The ceremony is asymmetrical:  the man says one thing, the woman another. First, there are the notorious lines where the woman promises to serve and obey her husband (whereas he pledges to comfort her):

Man’s vows Woman’s vows
Wilt thou have this Woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

OK, everybody’s familiar with that bit. We’ll pass over it in solemn silence. To insert a cheap joke here might be a risky venture, what with the wedding merely hours away.

Then there’s the line, “Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?” I’m not sure how this is supposed to work when it’s a second marriage. But again, it’s best to move along post haste.

I had never heard of the next bit. Get a load of these vows:

Man says Woman says
I, Stephen, take thee MaryP to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth. I, MaryP, take thee Stephen to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

To be bonny and buxom? At bed and at board? I almost want to include it in the ceremony just to see whether MaryP can say it with a straight face. But I suspect the whole event would quickly disintegrate at that point.

All in all, the medieval wedding ceremony is not for us. But I do love the traditional benediction, which is what I was looking for in the first place:

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

When the Reverend pronounces those words over the two of you, you have been blessed!

Diamond anniversary celebration

Blogging will be a little slow this week. I’m fighting off a sinus infection, and other priorities are competing for my attention.

Last weekend, the big event was my parents’ diamond wedding anniversary. Which one is that?, the guys are asking. “Diamond” means my parents were married 60 years ago.


My sister, who is a graphic designer, created the invitations. (I’ve marred the symmetry of her design by painting over my parents’ names.)

The occasion was celebrated with an open house at my parents’ church. We planned for 144 people, and I’d say we reached the goal.

I was the MC, so I didn’t have an opportunity to take many photos. But I did snap this one:

anniversary cake

My parents’ wedding in 1947 was very simple:  there was no cake. Sixty years later, my mom got to pick out something suitably impressive.

Next up, my wedding to MaryP on May 21. But it’ll be hard to top a sixty-year success story.

“Here’s to Death”

Michael (aka Snaars) has asked for the story behind this photo.

Here's to Death

That’s me on the left and Gary, my brother-in-law, on the right. The occasion was Gary’s fiftieth birthday party.

Gary wasn’t expected to live to age 50. The men in his family have serious heart problems: multiple bypasses in one case, and a heart transplant in another.

Gary had a typical history for someone with a wonkety heart. He suffered angina and took some kind of medication when indicated. He had triple bypass surgery and was forced to retire from work. And, by the time this photo was taken, he had outlived his doctor’s gloomy prognosis.

My sister asked me to say a few words at the party, and I decided to share a story. The story is true … but hammed up just a little.

“I used to spend a lot of time with Kathy and Gary at the beach. They taught me how to water ski, and I skiied with them lots of times.

“One occasion stands out from all the others. Gary was skiing; Kathy was driving the boat; I was spotting. Kathy turned the boat around at a narrow point in the lake, and she took the turn too wide.

“Gary was scooting across the waves behind the boat, moving at a fast clip from left to right. He was headed for the shoreline, which was nothing but rocks.

“For a second I was scared. Then I realized that the situation was completely in Gary’s control. All he had to do was let go of the ski rope. If you’ve ever been water skiing, you know that the drag of the water brings you to a stop very quickly, and you sink gently into the waves.

“But not Gary! Oh no! Gary is of the James Dean, ‘Live hard, die young, leave a good looking corpse’ school of thought.

“With his right hand, Gary firmed up his grip on the ski rope. A wicked smile spread across his face. He raised his left arm, extended his middle finger, and over the roar of the outboard engine we heard him cry —

Here’s to Death!

“He held onto the ski rope until the last possible second, then smashed headlong into the rocks. We were sure he was dead.

“Kathy swung the boat toward shore and we jumped out in shallow water. To our great relief, Gary was still alive. (Obviously.)

“In fact, he was virtually unscathed. A few scrapes, a few bruises — and one broken bone.

“Which finger was, it, Gary?” [I turn toward him. He holds up the middle finger on his left hand.]

“That’s what I thought. I remember the splint you wore on that finger for weeks afterward.”


Someone said, “I didn’t get a photo of you when you were telling the story. Can you do that ‘Here’s to Death!’ part again?” So I re-enacted that part of the story, and Gary hurried over to join me in a heartfelt salute to Death.

Gary died only a couple of years later. The irony is, it wasn’t the heart condition that got him. After years of living under the oppressive shadow of an inevitable heart attack, he died in an automobile accident.

In the end, Death always gives the finger to us. In the meantime, as long as the heart keeps ticking, it’s important to keep on living.

Other people’s children

Isaac 1“Hello, Stephen”, says the young man behind the cash register.

I must be giving him a blank look, because he adds, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

“Uh, vaguely.”

“I’m Don and Janice’s son.”

“Oh”, I say, feeling relieved. “You were just a little kid the last time I saw you.”

Feeling relieved, but also old. Nothing ages you like other people’s children.


When you meet an adult you haven’t seen for a few years, they still look basically the same. If anything, you can take perverse delight in the fact that the hair is greyer, or the bald spot or the paunch is bigger.

The passing years have not been kind to you, old chum!

Isaac 2But when you meet other people’s children after a few years have passed, there’s no upside to that moment of startled recognition.

This is Shane? This young man with the deep voice? It can’t be … he just learned to ride his bike last summer. It is Shane.

And that wasn’t last summer! It was, let me see now … never mind, let’s not go there!

He’s not smirking, is he? What does he see when he looks at me? What does that Bible verse say? — oh yeah —

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Shane has grown up. And I have grown …?

(The two photos are of my youngest son, Isaac, who has certainly changed with the passing years, but who hasn’t quite reached that stage where he’s going to make my friends feel old.)

Why I am an evolutionist, part 3

The persistence of traits illustrated

I told you a nice little tale in my previous evolution post but, in doing so, I skipped over a major difficulty. In this post, let’s return to Jenkin’s criticism of Darwin.

Jenkin gave the example of a white man marooned on an island populated by black people. He chose a good illustration, because skin colour appears to be blended and diluted in just the way Jenkin supposed. We’ve all seen the evidence of this:  there is a range of skin colours, from blackest black to palest white.

Here’s the explanation. We now know that skin colour is not determined by any one gene. To be “pure white”, you have to receive a complete set of “white” genes from your parents. When a baby inherits some of the genes for each colour, her skin will be part way between white and black.

But the actual genes are not blended: each gene remains either “white” or “black”.1

Here’s living proof! Meet Kylie Hodgson, Remi Horder, and their twin girls, Kian and Remee (the blonde).

million-to-one twins

The parents are both of mixed race. Both grandmothers are white; both grandfathers are black. Against long odds, Remee inherited a complete set of “white” genes from her parents while Kian inherited “black” genes. The Daily Mail explains:

Skin colour is believed to be determined by up to seven different genes working together.

If a woman is of mixed race, her eggs will usually contain a mixture of genes coding for both black and white skin.

Similarly, a man of mixed race will have a variety of different genes in his sperm. When these eggs and sperm come together, they will create a baby of mixed race.

The article continues, estimating that the odds are a million to one against having a family like the one in the photograph:  where mixed race parents produce twins, one white and the other black. I’m a little suspicious of the tidy 100:1 odds they ascribe to each step, but let’s not quibble — I’m sure a million to one is close enough!

The point is, here’s a marvelous illustration of the persistence of traits.

Let’s return to Jenkin’s illustration one more time. Let’s assume that the hypothetical white man fathered enough children, both male and female, to establish his genes in the gene pool. Potentially, many generations later, one of those black women would give birth to a child as white as Remee.

Wouldn’t that come as a shock!

[This series trailed off after part three, but The Mouse’s Tale is a later follow-up]


1Of course, genes are neither white nor black — I’m speaking in shorthand here. Some genes code for white skin; other genes, for black.

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