Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beer at Church

I learned about an Anglican/Episcopalian church somewhere in the States that serves beer after church instead of tea and coffee. Not just serves it: they brew their own. So it's, say, St. Paul's Lager, or something like that. No, I don't have the link.

And here's the big surprise: this church has a really high number of young males in its congregation. We could be very cynical and say it's amazing what free beer will do. Or we could be very liberal-minded and say it's amazing what happens when we acknowledge and accept the culture of mainstream people.

Most young males I know don't stand around nursing a tea and making chit-chat. However, they'll do the same holding a beer.

I wonder, as I have in past blogs, how much church/meeting emphasizes women's culture and excludes men's culture. Does the tea-and-coffee mentality alienate young males? Do they feel that they have to pretend to be someone they aren't when they are at a church/meeting?

The whole idea of excluding alcohol from church is a 19th century idea, a result of the temperance movement, which was also the women's movement. Before that, alcohol and church kind of went together (consider the bread and wine thing). Most abbeys and manses had great wine cellars. And many religions use heavy-duty mind-altering substances as part of religious ritual.

I'm not dissing the temperance movement. There was a need. For example, in Canada between 1840 and 1870, everyone was an alcoholic. Life was hard and dull, and whisky was a half-cent a gallon. So temperance was a good thing, and my Canuck Quaker forebears (especially the women) were actively (if a bit sanctimoniously) involved.

But it bears some thinking that modern-day people living in a culture that includes alcohol and accepts it in small, socially acceptable amounts will have some difficulty crossing over into a church culture. Our whole world has a dividing line between the "secular" and the "sacred," and many people consider it a sacrilege if that line gets crossed. But the line is completely artificial: there is no sacred and no secular. There is just one holy world.

I wonder a bit about notions and silly poor gospels.

Breathe is a little home-based, restaurant-based church out in Burnaby BC that holds martini evenings and pub nights. Zac's Place is a church in Wales that is a real pub.

I find these churches kind of refreshing (so to speak).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Clearness Committee

My clearness committee re starting up a programmed meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 8.

And I'm not quite sure why I feel as if I'm going to an execution.

It's kind of in the way of my thinking right now. And in the way of blogging. I have to not think about it, not plan ahead what I'm going to say, because that's not what you're supposed to do.

Yet at the same time, I can't help cringing at the thought of it.

The committee has set four meetings. The first they will meet alone, without me. But that still leaves six hours available for grilling! Six!

I've been taking a break from meeting. I've given the excuse that it was because my son is having a hard time (he is, but I *could* just leave him at home). The truth is more complex: that since I've acknowledged my restlessness and come up with the idea of experimenting with a programmed meeting, I can't quite make myself go back. No tengo ganas, as they say in Espanol.

So of course, I wasn't at the December MM when my request for a clearness committee came up. I don't know exactly what the reaction was. But I do know there was mention being very careful about process because it could set a precedent within our yearly meeting.




Quaker values? Or Modern values?

Does the Spirit work because of process and caution and slowness? Or in spite of it?

What is the role of the clearness committee in this situation: to make me clear about what I'm doing, or to make the meeting clear about what I'm doing? What if I'm already clear?

I should just stop thinking about it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Flying as a Flag

I didn't see any of the images. I guess in the UK, the tabloids put the pictures on the front page -- neck broken, eyes open, head dangling. Gee, there's something to enjoy your morning coffee over. (Who are these people who buy this trash anyway??)

But despite the media foaming at the mouth at the chance to show off something really grizzly, something fundamental changed in the world with the Hussein hanging. Have pro-capital-punishment governments realized that, I wonder? The newspapers sure did.

Civilized people have now witnessed an execution. They now know what an execution is. Governments can't whitewash it anymore. End point.

Here is what else people have learned from the Hussein hanging (if they didn't know it already):

1. Executions in real life are sick. The whole spectacle of deliberately causing death in the name of the law is enough to send anyone rushing to the loo. There's nothing dignified or stately or honourable about it: it's just sick.

2. Executions are not about justice. The jeering and taunting of Saddam Hussein in the seconds before his head was ripped off revealed the truth: executions are about revenge. We judge, we take revenge. "Judge not," Jesus said. "Vengeance is mine," the old testament says. We do it anyway and call it justice. One problem with revenge: it bounces.

3. Executions don't solve problems. They don't kill crime or violence. The crime and violence are still out there in the unhappy world after the body hangs. In Iraq, violence and injustice rage on. Revenge piles upon revenge. Hussein's death is just one more for the pile. It solved nothing.

5. The self-expression/communication revolution -- cheap camera devices + internet connection -- means the end of the government official line. The prim and tidy Iraqi government television version of the lead-up to the execution was utterly destroyed by the shaky, hand-held phone-camera version. One was whitewashing, self-righteous; the other was stark, cruel, and dishonorable. One was lies; the other was truth.

6. People are angry. If someone hadn't recorded the real execution with a cell-phone camera, then the world would not have known the truth.

7. Cell-phone cameras should be permitted at US state executions. The population would only need to see one execution. One. One bit of truth. Then it would all be over.

Mary Dyer hanged as a flag for others to take example by, and her flag was liberty. Perhaps that's too generous to say about Saddam Hussein. But he hanged as a flag, and his flag was truth.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

I watched the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie on CBC tonight. I'd seen some of the trailers for it, and then all the hype in Toronto (giving away free shawarma and meet the actors), and it seemed kind of overstated or overdone somehow. Maybe they just chose weak snippets to show, I don't know.

But the show was pretty good. I liked the characters and the story. They sort of started out with a hard line, but they pulled it off. It was funny, and I was laughing. Woody Allen is one of Zarqa Nawaz's influences (she's the director), and I could see that in the dialog and timing.

It's definitely Saskatchewan. Kind of puts me in mind of Corner Gas. Funny how I never saw anything about Saskatchewan on TV, and now there are two regular shows about it. (How many bets that Corner Gas gets some cameo appearances from people from Little Mosque? Brent Butt will work it into one of the plots somehow, and probably very soon!)

Anyway, the show works. I think it's going to be pretty good. I'm sure it won't hurt that the cast is very good-looking and that muslim is the "new gay" in Canada, so people will watch it just to prove their not bigoted.

Some US stations are considering buying it, but I think they want to wait and make sure it's safe.

Human behaviour is funny.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sacred Secular

I had a chat with a friend at New Years about the idea of starting a church thingie. It was a good conversation, but things started to get a bit weird when we talked about music. The conversation went kind of like this.

She asked what kind of music we were going to do. I said we'd have an electronic band.

"Oh, then Christian rock," she said.

"No," I said, "it would be music we know. Songs from the radio. Any good song."

She looked puzzled. "You mean songs that say God in them."

"No," I said again, "just any good song."

She frowned slightly. "So then it's not really going to be a church. It's going to be more of a secular thing."

"No," I said, and tried a visual tack so that she might see what I meant. "We might have candles burning while we sing the songs."

"You mean you'll just sing anything?"

"Not quite. They have to be a good songs."

"What do you mean by good? You mean it talks about spiritual things?"

"I just mean it has to be a good song. Good tune, good words, good feeling."

I tried to explain how songs don't become "holy" when they mention God or other religion words. They're holy because they are cries of the human spirit, and that human spirit is intertwined with the Spirit. We need to listen to those songs as much as we need to read nature in a dried leaf on the sidewalk or to take time to hold a friend while she cries. There are sermons everywhere.

But it wasn't my friend's fault that she couldn't understand. She's a product of the Modern culture, and that culture says that what is secular is not sacred, and vice versa.

Sometime around the trials of Galileo, our culture split into the secular and the sacred. Before Galileo, there was only the sacred. But the Modern culture had to invent the secular to rescue many important values (knowledge, truth, fairness, etc.) from the clutches of the doctrinal empire-church of the time. The sacred was pushed to the sidelines, and it became less and less relevant to "real life" as time went on. So the sacred built their own trenches and solidified their sacredness within their walls.

We're left with a strange split in our culture. Something is either sacred or it's secular. It can't be both. Note the odd parallel universe of Christian culture in the States: there are Christian rock bands, Christian romance novels, Christian coffee shops, Christian chocolate makers, etc. As if somehow, the other stuff was tainted. And how many secular people ever venture into these Christian domains?

I think this split may have had something to do with the poor US news coverageof the kidnapping of the four peacemakers in Iraq. (Okay, there might have been just a little political influence on the networks, but just follow the argument...) Both the sacred and the secular camps didn't know how to deal with the story. The secular people appreciated the peace message and the Gandhian nonviolence perspective, but they wanted to distance themselves from the Christian side of the peacemakers' efforts. that churchie talk turned them off. Meanwhile, the dominant churches didn't know how to deal with the peace and Gandhian side of the peacemakers' message. To them, peacemaking and nonviolence issues are secular, not sacred. Moreover, obedience is Christian, so civil disobedience and activism is secular. Neither side could claim these people as their own, so they were treated as anomalies, wingnuts, dangerous eccentrics.

Our culture has compartmentalized life into the pockets of sacred and secular so efficiently that it's difficult to walk in between. Quakers know this well because we try to live in that in-between zone. But many meetings have to deal with newcomers who perceive of Quakerism as a kind of secularism, so they come to meeting to flee the sacred. They don't like ministry or discussion to "drift" into areas that are too spiritual or use too much godtalk; otherwise, things become too much like a church. If the meeting doesn't help these newcomers understand the fusing of sacred and secular in what we do, we end up secularizing our meetings. The sacred gets eliminated, and we end up with a Sunday Morning Tea for Social Activists.

The meetings that are organized as churches likely have the opposite problem: things become churchified and sacredized to the point that the secular gets crowded out.

Churches try to make the sacred look and feel very different from the sacred. They use different words: a seat is a pew, a song is a hymn, a talk is a sermon, and everybody uses ancient words like Alleluiah and amen. And they even have a special word for something secular that sneaks into a sacred setting: sacrilege. In many ways Quakers do this language thing too. It's a way of marking a secular concept as sacred in this particular instance. But really, why are we doing this? Are these concepts not sacred all the time?

At the church thingie I want to develop, I want to have coffee, bread, and a toaster at the back near the entrance. When people arrive, they will serve coffee to and make toast for each other, and especially for newcomers. Most people would consider a toaster very secular, very unsacred, not the sort of thing to have in a church. But in this context, the toaster will be a holy thing, the basis of a ritual of service and ubuntu, a sacrament not unlike the bread-and-wine thing of Christian churches. Afterward, any time someone makes toast, they will think of the holiness of the act.

We need to learn to see the Light in that secular world, without trying to separate it from its secularity.

If we treat everyone (and everything) like the messenger, maybe we'll get the message.