Saturday, November 25, 2006


It's crunch time.

I have a three-page paper due on Monday, a 15 page paper due on Thursday, a five page paper due the next Tuesday, and another 15 page paper due the Wednesday. Plus a few quizzes, and once that's all done exams begin. Add to that the various youth events of December, plus teaching Sunday School, plus the several Christmas parties I have been invited to and want to attend if I can.

No blogging for a bit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Soup II

My soup turned out absolutely delicious, if I say so myself.

It turns out we didn't actually have any vegetable broth, so I made my own, by frying carrots, onion, celery and garlic in the bacon fat, then boiling the whole thing with some sage until it was tasty. Add the squash, and it's done. Simple and delicious.

We finished off all my rye bread already, so I ate it with corn chips instead (leftover from a party we went to). Bread would have been better.

Johnny Cash—God's Gonna Cut You Down

Via Chris (via Youtube).

I wonder whether the various celebrities who appear in this video were actually listening to the lyrics.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Morning Confusion

Our apartment is heated by hot water radiators. As anyone who has ever lived in a radiator-heated dwelling will know, sometimes they make strange noises.

Our radiators are not as bad as the radiators at CMU, but they do sometimes sound like running water.

A few days ago, our cat Perelandra peed on our floor. It was mostly our own fault—we hadn't cleaned her litter box in a few days, and there were some clothes on our floor which were obviously more appealing for her purposes. Needless to say, we now clean her litter box at least once a day, and we no longer leave any clothes on our floor. Talk about learning the hard way.

Anyway, I woke up recently to what sounded to me like someone or something peeing on the floor. Bleary-eyed and fluffy-headed, I rose, caught the cat where she was standing in our (empty) laundry hamper, and carried her out of the bedroom. Then I inspected the hamper. Dry. I smelled the floor. Nothing. I listened, and heard the peeing sound continuing, coming from our heater. I looked at the clock (5:47). I looked at the still-sleeping Jan. I went back to bed.


Supper tonight will be Bacon-Squash Soup. I'm planning to basically cook a bunch of bacon, add onion, carrot, butternut squash, sage, and vegetable broth, blend and serve. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I admit it

I judge celebrities based on the charity they endorse on Celebrity Jeopardy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Those of you who aren't from Winnipeg may possibly are unfamiliar with Winnipeg-style rye, but trust me when I say that Winnipeg-style is the best rye bread in the world.

Foolishly, I took my expedition to buy rye flour without first looking at a recipe for rye bread. My hope had been to make Winnipeg-style rye bread, but apparently Winnipeg rye is not made with rye flour but with white flour and rye meal. So I was forced to make a different kind of light rye bread.

It was pretty good. Next time I will do better though.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No YOU'RE a luddite.

As those of you who also use it will no doubt be aware, blogger has released a new version, and really wants us all to switch over.

The new improvements include drag-and-drop templates and labels for each blog post, the necessity of signing in with a gmail account (Jan and I share a gmail account but not blogs. What do we do?), the annoying way that clicking on "comments" now leads you to the bottom of the comments instead of the top, security "improvements", so that now everytime I read blog comments, explorer tells me that the site includes both secure and unsecure items, and am I sure I really want to proceed?

Bah. Humbug. It worked fine before.

[edit to add] One of the big theoretical improvements of the new blogger is "it's a lot more reliable". Right after I made this post, all the blogs I check which were updated to the new version were inaccessable. The non-updated blogs were still accessable. Hah.


Braided poppyseed egg loaf was a great success.

I made a dough that was essentially white bread plus eggs, formed it into ropes, braided the ropes and let the whole thing rise in a bread pan, so that the result fits easily into a toaster, but still has the pretty, bubbled top of a braided loaf. I brushed the loaves with more egg, then sprinkled generously with poppyseeds.

The finished product is heavier than regular white bread—but still quite fluffy and light—slightly yellow from the eggs, and tastes like poppyseeds. Good for sandwiches.

Next, an expedition to get rye flour.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's Not Fair!

The Helsinki Complaints Choir, via Neil Gaiman's blog.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Fiction of Pastoral Care

Care is a complicated thing.

Idiomatically, we talk about taking care of people—and it means meeting their particular needs. Taking care of someone physically means doing for them the things that they cannot do for themselves—whether that means bringing them chicken soup, changing their diapers, or anything in between. Emotionally or spiritually taking care of people is a little more complicated, but in general it's the same concept.

But by the definition of the word, care implies attitude as well as action. Even with physical care, it's worth asking whether care is really always the right word to use. Changing someone's bed dressings if you aren't fond of and/or concerned about them might not actually be care. Spiritually, the question seems to me even more pointed.

I don't know if you can care for someone just because it's your job. Is it actually possible to care for someone you don't know? Is it possible to provide pastoral care for someone you don't actually care about? It seems to me that genuine care requires trust that can only be built up over time—and that the attempt in many churches of institutionalising care is, in practice, a denial of care.

I have been on both the giving and the receiving end of pastoral care. In the 15 months I have worked with youth ministry, I have attempted to care for people I'd never met before. I have felt their distrust in the face of past abandonment. One former member of our youth group no longer attends because he is frustrated with getting to know new leaders every year—with new leaders who claim to care about him but who don't actually know him, didn't care for him before they were on the payroll and stop caring for him when the payroll stops. He feels that this care is insincere—that it is false. And he is right.

I don't say this to impugn the work of my predecessors. I am sure that each of them did truly try to care for the youth while they were working with them. But I know from my own experience that it isn't easy and it isn't automatic. I've often said—because I believe it is true—that last year with St. Margaret's youth was mostly prep-work, that now I'm ready to actually begin, because now I actually know them well enough that I can genuinely care about them.

And now the challenge for me is not to let them down, not to disappoint the trust I've built. Now that I can care about them, I need act out that care.

And care is a complicated thing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hauerwas and Do No Harm

The medical concept of Do No Harm is clearly false. Doctors do harm all the time, and if they were really obligated to hold to "do no harm" they would not do anything. Even something as seemingly benign as giving someone aspirin has the potential to cause harm. Everything doctors do might harm us, and in the end it's mostly a matter of playing the odds.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Drinking from the Fire Hose

In his introduction of Hauerwas on Monday night, David Widdicombe (the rector of St. Margaret's) quoted somebody I can't find now who said that listening to Hauerwas is like taking a drink from a fire hose.

It's true. Trying to summarize his lecture, I found myself writing a longer and longer post, until I finally decided to just write about one point.

In addition to stem cell research and abortion, during his two days with St. Margaret's Hauerwas also touched on the ethics of research posing as therapy, on "mercy killing", on the theological basis of excommunication, on heretical communities, on the problem of modernity, on plastic surgery, on the concept of do no harm, on the problem of medical ethics as a concept, on medical schools as ethical training grounds, on aging, on the five stages of coping with death, on "the quiet atheism of our lives", on being held responsible for what we do when we do not know what we are doing, and I'm sure on many other subjects I've forgotten.

My pal Stanley

As you can read in a few other places, Stanley Hauerwas gave the annual Slater-Maguire lecture at St. Margaret's this year (last year's lecture was given by CBC musicologist Howard Dyck, and next year it will be Ian Hutchinson, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT).

I heard Hauerwas speak at CMU a few years ago, and was excited to hear him again. I wasn't disappointed. He's nothing if not an interesting speaker. He has a heavy Texas accent and a surprisingly high and nasal voice. In conversation, his speech is peppered with profanities and enthusiastic, contageous guffaws.

He spoke a few times—once on Sunday evening, preaching on the lectionary texts (the Gospel was the resurrection of Lazurus), then there was a reception of sorts, where he answered questions, then on Monday evening he delivered a lecture entitled "Why Nobody in North America Wants to Die", followed by a question period.

He argued that in our modern world we have forgotten how to die. Medical science tries to convince us that we will get out of this alive—but it's not true. We're all going to die. It's just a matter of time. So the question is: how do you want to die?

We are taught that there is nothing worse than death. We fear death more than anything else. If we may but live another month, it is worth anything to us. And when we finally do die, we typically want to die suddenly. In our sleep. With no pain. We want to die without ever knowing that we are dead. In the Middle Ages, they prayed God to save them from a sudden death. They wanted to prepare for death—prepare their souls, say goodbye to their loved ones.

His lecture ranged over a variety of subjects connected to death, and I may summarise some of them in future posts, but one of the most controversial and interesting things he said was a response to a question about stem-cell research.

For Hauerwas, the issue of stem-cell research is directly connected to abortion and adoption issues. Stem-cell research is justified on the grounds that the embryos being destroyed for the research are extra and would be destroyed anyway. But the only reason there are extra embryos floating around is that fertility clinics produce them. But Hauerwas thinks that fertility clinics have no moral reason to exist. In a world where abortion clinics exist, why do fertility clinics also exist? In a world where fertility clinics exist, why do abortion clinics also exist? Fertility clinics exist because people want THEIR child, not someone else's. But that is pagan bullshit. Christians know that even biological children are adopted. So there shouldn't BE extra embryos whose destruction nobody cares about. Fertility clinics are already a moral issue.

And stem-cell research has been seriously oversold. We get told that if they are allowed to do stem-cell research then Parkinson's (for example) will be cured. But the truth is firstly that we (they) have absolutlely no idea what problems will arise. It is possible that a year of concentrated stem-cell research will lead to a cure for Parkinson's. But it is also possible that twenty years of sustained research will lead to no breakthrough. It is possibly that there is no cure. Secondly, the argument is based on a flawed conception of death—as if all doctors have to do is solve all of the diseases, and no one will die anymore. What do you want to die from? Because you will die. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to care for people, but it does mean that every single one of us is terminally ill, and there is no cure. The ends can never justify the means—because ultimately the ends are always the same. Thirdly, the principal reason medical researchers want to use embryonic stem cells instead of adult stem cells is that embryonic stem cells grow faster. But adult stem cells offer the same potential research benefits, without the same moral issues. Stem cell research is a moral perversion based on a moral perversion based on a moral perversion (based on a moral perversion?).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


My bread in general has never been as bad as my pizza dough once was, and I've had successes in the past, but still. It could definitely be better.

The last few times especially I've been making overly dense bread, and I've been tending toward undercooking it. I think my problem is that most seminal of cooking problems. I'm rushing it.

So, in the tradition of my attempt to perfect pizza dough, I'm going to try to learn to make good bread.

Today was my first attempt in my new culinary undertaking. I made two loaves of plain homestyle white bread for sandwiches. In spite of all temptation, I refused to bake it until it was properly risen, and the result is unquestionably the best bread I've made in years.

Next—Braided poppyseed egg loaf.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Something from the Comments

In a comment on this post, an anonymous person asks: "Have you ever read a book by someone who is NOT a white European man?? (just wondering). "

I answered that comment, but I think it's a good enough question that I should answer it as a real blog post.

My formal education has certainly been disproportionately heavy on the white European (or North American) male writers. One part explanation of this is that I study English literature, (not world literature) which has all been written in English—which accounts for the mostly European and North American part of that. But that really isn't any excuse. Plenty has been written in English in India and throughout Africa and the Carribean, and there are notable examples in Asia and South America. And there there are translations. And I've studied some of it, but only some.

I'm taking a course this year on Hybridity in Literary Imagination designed to partly fill the gaps in my formal education, but it is a pretty thin start. My English prof from CMU once told me that when he finished his Master's degree he felt like his education in literature had just begun. He felt like his BA and his MA were both just the necessary groundwork for actual study. I'm getting something of the same feeling, but not only has my education so far not been deep enough, it hasn't been broad enough either.

And maybe one defense is that I can't study everything. The choice between depth and breadth (in literature studies) is an excruciatingly difficult one. I could spend the next 50 years reading nothing but Beowulf and I would still miss something. Or I could spend the next 50 years and never re-read anything I've read already—and still only read white European men who are worth reading. Or I could spend the next 50 years and never read anything by another white person or another European or another man.

Fortunately, I don't have to choose between those options. But I am sure that in my life—no matter how long it ends up being—I will miss out on great literature that I either didn't read, didn't understand, or didn't give a fair chance to because I was too busy with something I already knew and loved. I'm sure it's happened already.

Outside of school I have read and enjoyed a handful of non-Europeans (incidentally, does Russian literature count as European? Neither Tolstoy nor Dostoyovsky seem to have thought of themselves as European), a handful of non-white writers (Maya Angelou, Booker T. Washington and Sojourner Truth are three who come to mind), and definitely more than a handful of woman writers (Connie Willis, J.K. Rowling, The Brontes, Jane Austin, Mary Shelley, Mary Wolstonecraft, Virginia Wolfe, H.D., Edith Warton being the first few that come to my head).

I would ask for suggestions to broaden my horizons, but honestly I won't read them at least until the summer—unless they happen to be assigned texts for one of my classes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Most Christians know that in Sunday School the answer to any question is either Jesus, God or The Bible.

Q: What's a small furry animal that likes to hide nuts?
A: I know the answer is Jesus... but I think it's a squirrel!

In Victorian Literature, the same general principal applies, except that in Vic Lit the answer is always sex.

Q: What is this passage about?
A: Sex

Q: True. But what is symbolised by the...
A. Sex

Q: Okay... but what is the subtle subtext of...
A: SEX!!!