A New Tomorrow for Today

You know, sometimes things are more clever than they have any right to be. Like last night’s episode of the medieval musical comedy Galavant, featuring a chorus of enfranchised peasants declaring “A New Tomorrow for Today.”

This time last year, I wrote about my unashamed love for the critically-acclaimed, if popularly ignored, wackiness that is the ABC series Galavant. My point then, as it is now, that we all need a little silliness from time to time, especially with cable TV’s obsession with moral ambiguities and complicated anti-heroes. Maybe it’s ok just to enjoy some unapologetic wackiness.


Introducing Amanda to my silly obsessions. She seems to be into it. 

But then, who’s to say that unapologetic wackiness can never open itself up to deeper meanings? Just because a show might be a bizarre cross between The Princess Bride and Monty Python with a dose of Disney — does that necessarily dictate it can offer no commentary on the world? As one staunch defender of the value of silliness, I say of course whimsy need not be at odds with social commentary.

Let us return to the aforementioned “Build a New Tomorrow for Today.” Our hero Galavant and his erstwhile nemesis/BFF King Richard to the later’s Kingdom, where they discover his subjects have embraced democracy in the absence of their monarch. This being a music, the peasants naturally break out into a delightful production number about their newfound egalitarian mode of governance. Well … egalitarian for some people. The song includes great lines such as:

Peasants: So we all would march together towards the future
Peasant John: Well not all per se
Just the ones who look like me
Peasants: It’s called democracy!
Peasant #8: The landed!
Peasant #3: …and the wealthy!
Peasant #5: …and the pious!
Peasant #7: …and the healthy!
Peasant #1: …and the straight ones!
Peasant #2: …and the pale ones!
Peasant #1: …and we only mean the male ones!
Peasant John: If you’re all of the above, then you’re ok!
Peasant John + Peasants: As we build a new tomorrow here today!

It is, without question, a silly little song. And it naturally pokes fun at how those great individuals who were able to envision a democratic mode of government were, shall we say, fairly limited in scope regarding just who might benefit from their endeavors. It is easy to laugh at a TV show. And it is easy to laugh at those people in generations before us who were trapped in quite a limited way of thinking about who qualified as fully a person for the purposes of the law. As Galavant notes to Richard, the peasants’ way of thinking is “quite progressive for the middle ages.”

Whether intended on the part of the writers or not (and I rather imagine the answer is “not”), there is a bit more of an edge to this song about “building a new tomorrow” while being trapped in the same inequalities and prejudices that define our world today. How many times do even those of us who would love to embrace new attitudes or new ideas still find ourselves trapped in conventional ways of thinking (perhaps without even being aware of it)? It seems to me the only way our world ever truly changes — the only way we are able to make real steps toward a more egalitarian and just world — is thanks to those people who are able to see beyond what we take as inevitable facts about the way the world simply is to what the world could potentially be. People who truly do look to a new tomorrow and not just at the way things have to be today.

For my part, I’m just happy someone somewhere had enough of a creative vision to give a silly show like Galavant one more season. Sometimes, it’s just the little things you need in life.


On “Sisters” and casual racism

It must be said that 2015 was a good year for women in movies. I have to hope that the multiple record-breaking Star Wars: Episode VII will go a long way to convincing studio executives that audiences actually want to see women at the helm of major sci-fi franchises. Not to mention all the gains made recently by women in comedy, thanks in no small part to two of my favorite women: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. When Leeman and I had a chance to enjoy that greatest of parental luxuries–seeing a movie in theater!–while visiting my family least week, of course I jumped at the latest Fey-Poehler offering, the delightful comedy Sisters.

I have so much respect for both of these extraordinary women — what they have done for women in comedy and what they have done for women in general. Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock is a personal hero, assuring me that a smart, geeky woman might actually have something to offer the world. And, though I discovered her more recently, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope has become my new feminist icon. Which is why I was so frustrated and disappointed that the otherwise hilarious Sisters several times relied on cheap jokes that were pretty darn racists and homophobic.

As hollywood comedies go, Sisters doesn’t have so much a “plot” as it does a set up for its comedic exploits. Two adult sisters find out their parents have sold their childhood home so they throw one more big party to relive/redeem who they were as teenagers. Along the way, secrets get aired. Fights are had. Property damage is acquired. Everything works out in the end and a good time is had by all.

But a few jokes had Leeman and me looking at eachother awkwardly asking “Is this racist?” (Random thought: If you have to ask, the answer is probably “yes”) At one point, Amy Poehler’s character tries to strike up a friendship with a Korean nail stylist named “Hae-Wan,” whose name Poehler fails to be able to pronounce). Hae-Wan and her friends eventually show up at the main events, and become agents of party chaos. Hae-Wan (played by Greta Lee, who does a great job with what she’s given) eventually marries would-be class clown Alex and goes into business with Tina Fey’s character. That would all be well and good, but the character exists to be nothing … except Korean. She has no function but to be ethnically and culturally “other”.

A similar discomfort struck me in the depiction of a group of lesbian characters who exist to be … lesbians, basically. They all look stereotypically masculine, dressing in plaid and denim. And they come to a party armed with workman’s tools. It just seemed a bit … odd.

The film certainly does not suggest there is anything “wrong” with being a lesbian. No more than it suggests there is anything “wrong” with being Korean. Both groups of characters are, however, unambiguously defined exclusively by the features that distinguish them from “normal” (read: white, heterosexual) women. At its core — this is what amounts to discrimination. When a privileged group fails to see others as fully human. Someone like Tina Fey (who shares a producer’s credit on the film) should understand this. Someone who has worked hard to allow women to be depicted not just as woman but as fully fleshed out and complicated human beings should understand the importance of not defaulting to ethnic or sexual stereotypes to earn a cheap laugh.

Tina Fey recently declared that she will no longer apologize for jokes that her audience finds offensive. Which is legitimate, I suppose. Flat, formulaic apologies don’t do much for anyone. But I would hope she might spend some time considering why she and Poehler have gotten some flack for their problematic punchlines, whether in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtthe Golden Globes, or (one of my admitted favorites) Parks and Recreation.

There has been pushback from people like Tina Fey to what they see as an easily offended internet culture that wants to destroy comedy out of a desire to be “politically correct.” However, the fact is Sisters was a genuinely funny movie. I dare say I gafawed more than once or twice. But those borderline racist and homophobic moments just weren’t funny. They came across as cheap shots. Some people as well question why we need to pick apart every perceived problematic element of popular culture. Does it really matter? But I would argue that when we are reminded every day of how deeply our society is entrenched in systemic, toxic racism — yes, it actually matters quite a bit. Whenever we see a group of people, whether people of color or sexual minorities treated as less than fully human for not being whatever we consider the default to be (in this case a white heterosexual woman) we need to call it out. And we need to push those people we respect–for me that means Tina Fey and Amy Poehler–to do better, because we know they are (or should be) capable of it.

May the Girl Power be with you

Hi everyone! I’m still figuring out my new blogging schedule in my new job. When? How? Where can I reference Farscape? (Answer: There is always a way to reference Farscape.)

I may have Christmas sermons to write and new liturgies to figure out. But, goshdarnit people, there is a new Star Wars movie. A new Star Wars movie that does not involve Gungans and makes no mention of midichlorians (Yes, I am sure I misspelled that. Such narrative blights do not deserve the correct spelling.)

More importantly … this was a Star Wars movie with a woman at the forefront. I cannot begin to tell you how moving it was for me to see Daisy Ridley’s fully-realized “Rey” up on screen driving the action of this major science fiction franchise that defined so much of my childhood.


Amanda gets her first taste of Episode IV. No girls allowed in the trench run. 

Now, I can hear you asking — what about Princess Leia? Didn’t she have spunk? She stood up to Darth Vader! She was one of the most important leaders of the Rebellion! She rescued Han Solo! Wasn’t she someone you could aspire to be as a kid? Of course, Princess (now General) Leia is supremely awesome–not to mention Carrie Fisher, and her dog, just *winning* all the press tours for Episode VII. (Never change Carrie Fisher!)

I have and always will love Leia. Yet there was something about her that never quite fulfilled that desire in me to see a girl as the hero of a story. Leia maybe occasionally gets some good moments (and is overall quite a strong character). But I can never quite get over the feeling that she doesn’t get to participate in the action on exactly the same level as the guys. Luke and Han get to save the day in the epic trench run to destroy the original death star. Against Luke’s advice, Leia jumps on a speeder when fleeing storm troopers on Endor … and almost gets blown up.  Leia was … the classic “exceptional” woman. She was allowed to play with the boys because, well, she was supremely awesome. But the original trilogy never lets you forget that Leia is playing on their terms. Let us also take a moment to note the absolutely absence of any other ancillary female characters, outside of “Aunt Beru” and “Mon Mothma” (she of the “many Bothans died to bring us this information).

Rey’s story made me want to cry tears of joy thinking of my little 9-year-old self obsessing over the Star Wars movies but never really feeling like I could be the hero of the story. Rey was everything that I wanted to be as a kid — she was smart, strong, and the heir to some mysterious but undoubtedly amazing destiny. All while being a fully realized human being with faults–as impulsive as Luke is in a New Hope, Rey is afraid to step out of the only life she has ever known–and vulnerabilities. Being a “strong woman” does not mean eschewing any those weaknesses that make us human.  Seeing her fly the Millenium Falcon and wield a lightsaber filled me with so much hope for my own daughter how much more empowering her relationship with these films might be as she grows up. I am thrilled not just for Amanda but for all the girls who will grow up seeing Star Wars as rightfully theirs, an ownership encouraged not just by Rey but by the number of female X-wing pilots and bridge officers who make up the background of the film. (And I didn’t even get to Captain Phasma … If I have one wish for Episode VIII is it more Gwendoline Christie).

Yet even as I celebrate deep in my heart for the ground-breaking presence of women in a major geek franchise — I am aware that there are still those who struggle to find representation in media, particularly women of colour. Why cast a beautiful actress like Lupita Nyong’o and hide her behind CGI performance capture? Even as we express out excitement at greater representation for one group, we must remain mindful of the work that remains to be done to ensure true equal representation of all stories in mainstream media. I give The Force Awakens tremendous credit in the white male dominated world of Hollywood for pushing boundaries of diversity in film. But it is still an uphill battle.

In the meantime, as we near the end of this Advent season, we pray: Come Lord Jesus. And May the Force be With You.

Of Faith and Faeries

Well, as Samwise Gamgee might say, “I’m back.” Back to my Alma Mater Kenyon College where I am now settled as Episcopal Chaplain and Priest-in-Charge of the local Harcourt Parish. And back to blogging, which fell to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of moving and starting a new position.

This being my first post in some time, I cannot help but feel some sense of pressure regarding what might be an appropriate topic for reflection. I will confess that part of me feels compelled to address the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically the experience of being newly resident in a state whose governors and other elected representatives have declared their intention to shut the doors on those desperately seeking shelter from our mutual enemy. But then it occurred to me … No. I will not reflect on this situation as if it were a mere political issue on which reasonable people can disagree. It is not. We may bar our doors to refugees in the name of security, but we do so out of weakness, not our strength as a nation. Either we stand with Germany, Canada, FRANCE, and so many other countries throughout the world in extending the hand of welcome to those in desperate need, or we admit that “American Exceptionalism” stands for little more than cowardice.


Amanda has her very own Faerie circle. She is, after all, a bit of a goblin. 

So I’m not going to legitimize that topic as a valid point for discussion. Rather, I will share my thoughts on my most recent geeky obsession — BBC’s miniseries based on Susanna Clark’s delightful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The novel itself is a peculiar piece of work — one part historical fiction, one part faerie story, all of it liberally accented by whimsical footnotes. Somewhere in the midst of its sprawling, rambling pages is a story of two magicians — the dour, bookish Mr Norrell and the charismatic Jonathan Strange. One fears the uncontrollable powers of the Faerie realm and wishes to keep English magic “modern” and “respectable.” The other longs with wonder to behold other worlds.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to draw a neat moral lesson from the story of Strange & Norrell. Nothing so simple as the trite idea that opposites must learn to work together. The story ends inconclusively with the two friends/rivals/partners posing magical quandaries to one another in perpetuity. If there is anything for us to take away from Clark’s novel, perhaps it is this. That both Strange and Norrell are correct in their tendencies, if not their excesses. Norrell is right to fear the powers of the Faerie world as he does. But Strange is right to want to behold them. We are right to yearn for something beyond this world, but we cannot expect such things to play by our rules. Wonder and Reverence go hand in hand.

I have written on this blog many times about the deep connection I feel between my faith and my love of faerie stories. I stand by what I have written. But it might be fair to say that sometimes my reflections on opening out faith up to the wondrous are perhaps too light, too easy. It is worth holding on to the darker elements of a Faerie story like Strange and Norrell, remembering the danger of those worlds that extend outside of our comprehension. The people of Jonathan Strange’s world are quite open to his “restoration of English magic”, until such restoration begins to threaten them and their traditional hold on political and social authority. When magic begins to spark a hint of revolution it is not nearly so welcome.

We are about to embark on the Christian season of Advent, when we call for the coming of Christ into our world, singing “O Come, O Come Emmanual.” But it might be worth remembering that, though we may long for a world in which no one is hungry, where children do not flee their homes and where there is true peace — such a world is not likely to be come a reality without truly overturning the powers and principalities we know now. We cannot truly call for the coming of God’s presence into our world if we are mostly concerned with safety, security and stability.

Hmm… maybe I did bring it back to refugees after all.

Guest post!

We’re coming up on just a few short days before we say our final farewell to the great city of Toronto. I have too many feelings about that to process at the moment. As it happens, though, Leeman put together some thoughts on the subject, so after many years of this blog, I’ll pass my platform to him. Enjoy:


For the better part of the last decade, I have been referring to myself as a Geographical Anglican as a tongue in cheek jab at how I’ve been attending Anglican churches that entire time but still have never completely drunk the metaphorical and sacramentally complex kool-aid. As I stand on the verge of moving from Ontario to Ohio as Rachel begins a new career as priest and chaplain at Harcourt Parish and Kenyon College where we both went to school and attended church, notions of geography and identity slosh about in my head.

Growing up a Baptist missionary kid had a profound effect on me to put it mildly and it’s no surprise that for a long time, I would jokingly refer to myself as a Baptist-In-Recovery. While the emphasis on scriptural literacy and drilling notions of personal salvation again and again certainly built up an ability to talk about faith in more than vague notions and have a grounding in the rich poetry and literary tradition of the Bible prior to puberty, it also set up some giant roadblocks that took a long time to maneuver around. Being a roiling teenager and having it communicated to you that you are personally responsible for any unsaved friends and acquaintances being tortured for an eternity by not sharing the Word with them will do that. While the church was my home and I certainly felt I belonged there, it was a rocky and discomforting place at times.

And so it was that by the time I left my parents’ church in Nashville and found myself walking towards Harcourt Parish with the young woman who would one day walk down the aisle of a different church with me, I was very much eager to see what else was out there. At Harcourt and at Kenyon, I was able to debate with Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, and at least one Jehovah’s Witness and in that seething if collegial environment, some sort of notion of just how I experienced my faith began to form. On that pew that held half a dozen or more different faith backgrounds, I had found a new home.

When I eventually joined Rachel in Toronto where she had been going on her own spiritual journey until it led to the warm and hazy St Thomas’s, I was confronted with what would be my spiritual home for a number of years despite looking very different from any sort of church I would have chosen to walk into. This was far from the Baptist world where I had grown up and despite being of a similar tradition to Harcourt Parish, was stranger still. Robes, incense, sung confessions, and even a statue of Mary over on one side all spoke of an alien tradition and yet over time, that sense of home began to suffuse through me.

Home is a curious notion and a church home is an even harder thing to pin down. As distasteful a notion as Shopping For a Church is, in a world where we can choose where we pray if we choose to pray at all, it is a reality with which those on both sides of the altar have to contend and perhaps the hardest part of it is how to deal with that worry that we could have something more, that we are missing out on something better. While we don’t want to reduce spirituality to flipping through an Ikea catalogue, it can feel unavoidable even when a church theoretically checks all of our boxes and still leaves us cold. However and in spite of all this, home has a strange way of finding us even when we don’t know we are looking for it.

Now as I prepare to return to an old home, a place laden with memories but also with infinite possibilities of what may come, and as I prepare to hold my wife and daughter’s hands as we walk through the doors and into that warm church, I trust that we will find that sense of home. It is going to be very easy for us to compare it to what else might be out there and to where all we’ve been, indeed to what Harcourt was like when we sat there a dozen years ago. No doubt, we will occasionally wonder if we gave up something better, something more for this church but I am very hopeful that home will find us just as it has found me throughout the years wherever I’ve decided to sit and pray and regardless of what I have called myself.

May home find you where you are and where you are going.

-Leeman Kessler, Geographical Anglican

Fear Itself

Today I want to talk about fear. But first I want to talk about Farscape, despite having just allowed myself a rather self-indulgent birthday post on the subject.

As an antidote to the mind-numbing stress of orchestrating an international move, I allowed myself a brief break Thanksgiving afternoon to watch a light-hearted first season episode of my all-time favourite series. Part of why I love Farscape is that (particularly if one happens to be an overly analytical type like myself) the show lends itself well to repeated viewing and obsessive attention to seemingly indifferent details. This is particularly true of protagonist John Crichton’s development over the course of the first season, as he gradually shifts from an optimistic all-American hero to a psychologically tormented wreck of a human being (good times!). And for all that Farscape features its share of battles and explosions, it’s worth noting that John does not touch a weapon for much of the first season. Not until the episode I watched Monday afternoon — an episode that comes about 3/4 of the way through the season. It’s the first time we see John with a pistol strapped to his thigh, and for the rest of the series he pretty much never takes it off (he even gives it a name at one point). So what changed?

I don’t want to delve too far into the details of a TV series most people reading this post have never seen. Suffice it to say that in the episode immediately preceding the one I watched, John undergoes some series trauma. He realizes not only that he is in physical danger (he has known that since the series premiere), but that he is in psychological danger as well. He cannot trust his own mind. He is not safe. You do not have to be a science fiction nerd to get where I am going with this: John’s attachment to his weapon is rooted in deep psychological fear and distrust of both himself and the world in which he has found himself. Admittedly, as a die-hard fan, I can say John has good reason to be afraid. All the same, in his attempt to preserve his life and his sanity, he leaves a lot of destruction in his wake. The series never presents him as a “hero” in the traditional sense. He is just a crazy man desperately trying to survive.

We have been talking a lot about guns in recent weeks (and months, and years…). I think of issues around gun control and gun safety on a daily basis as I prepare for a move to a college campus in the U.S.A. I think about Amanda having to go through drills for an active shooter situation when she goes to school in a few short years.

I am afraid. And I also know that I do not have as much to fear as other parents–parents of black children who are more likely to be killed by police officers than they are by a random mass shooter (who is almost certainly going to be a young white man).

But that recently re-watched episode of Farscape reminds me that fear cannot be the answer. Fear is what convinces so many people that they must old on to their military grade weapons. Fear compels us to protect ourselves and our own at the expense of others. Fear leads to more guns. More violence. Fear cannot be the answer.

What is the antidote to fear? Well, according to our own tradition “perfect love casts out fear.” That may sound a bit trite or overly simplistic, but it also happens to be true. Faith and hope call us to move forward in hope, not be held back in fear. Whether that is fear of violence to ourselves that makes us want to protect ourselves at any cost or fear of the unknown that causes us to view those unlike ourselves with suspicion–the answer must be to love others more than ourselves. Fear looks to our own interests. Love looks to our neighbour. I think I have a sense which is the Christian virtue…

Revisited Reflections

There are many things for which I am thankful lately. I am thankful for new opportunities. I am thankful for old friends and the promise of new friends. I am thankful to have loved a place so much that it will hurt to leave in a few short weeks when we finally leave Toronto.

I am also thankful that I have learned how to take care of myself — like when I am completely stressed out at the prospect of pulling off an international move! So, in that spirit, I offer you once again my reflections from this time last year. Because Bilbo is just as much Bilbo as ever — and I am still thankful that he will be joining us on our new adventure in Ohio. So, enjoy some revisited reflections:

For those of you who have never met him, I have a ridiculous dog named Bilbo. Bilbo wants to be friends with everyone he meets, but he chooses to express this by howling at them as if they were a violent intruder. He needs to work on his social skills. When I took Amanda over to meet Sam the self-assured cat, our intrepid baby intrepidly approached her potential feline friend with delight and determination. Fifty-five pound Bilbo, on the other hand, leapt into my lap in fear and did not stop trembling until we were well on our way back home. He looks at the gate we have half-heartedly leaned up against the doorway between the living room and the dining room as if it were an impenetrable fortress. I am not sure if his border collie genes failed to bestow proper intelligence upon him, or if he just is so obedient that he never tries to knock it over.

Bilbo is very stylish.

At any rate, as I sit here on a beautiful fall afternoon, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of Starbucks with a coffee and a pumpkin scone it occurs to me that we are almost exactly half-way between two not unrelated celebrations: St Francis Day and Thanksgiving. (Even if the American in me can’t quite bring myself to justify the legitimacy of Thanksgiving celebrated in October.)

If you think about it, thanksgiving and the Feast of St. Francis do have rather a lot in common. It is rather unfortunate that we all too easily fall into the practice of treating Thanksgiving as if the spiritual impetus for the holiday were merely sitting down and enumerating the various things we are thankful for: I am thankful for a happy, healthy daughter, for a husband who’s willing to be an awesome stay at home dad, and for Farscape. Never forget Farscape. But lets be honest. We can never really, fully articulate all those things that we are (or ought to be) thankful for. For many of us, the scope of God’s blessing is just too vast for our comprehension. Not only that, but that attitude of treating thanksgiving as a time merely to “count our blessings” is also troublingly self-focused. Thanksgiving becomes a celebration about what God has done for ME, not what God has done for the whole world. Perhaps we are better off if our sense of Thanksgiving is less about trying to count all the specific things God we believe that God has given US and more about the goodness and bounty in all of God’s creation.

Thus the connection between this autumnal celebration of gratitude and the Feast of St. Francis. What more do we celebrate when we commemorate St Francis than the goodness of God which is made manifest in the whole of creation? Francis reminds us, in a way, that God’s creation is something glorious and wonderful in its own right, not just in terms of what it bestows upon us. We hold services of blessing for our pets because we recognize that God loves all his creation—including our fuzzy, furry, scaly, or slimy critters. And we are reminded that in caring for them, we care for one of God’s believed creatures.

And so we return to my peculiar pup. I am thankful for Bilbo. Some days, I’m not sure why. He doesn’t really do anything for me. He barks at all the wrong times, and he has a tendency to lick the baby far more often than I’d like. When I want to get something done, he insists on getting all up in my personal space. But when I’m home alone and just want to cuddle on the couch, he will have nothing to do with me. He is, in other words, weird and wonderful, just like God’s delightful creation. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Angels, Archangels and the Mystery of God

When the young Lucy Pevensie first learns about the great lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she hesitantly enquires as to whether Aslan is “safe.” Her host, Mr. Beaver replies: “Safe … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

That has always been one of my favourite exchanges in the Chronicles of Narnia. It evokes such a powerful image of God as so far surpassing human categories like “safe.” Aslan is a lion–an untamed lion. He is not safe. We cannot control him. We cannot pretend to understand everything about him. And yet he is good.

michaelI wonder if the absolute incomprehensibility of God lies at the heart of the feast of St. Michael and All Angles, which we celebrated in the church earlier this week (September 29). I love Michaelmas (as the feast is traditionally called), but I have to admit that it can be harder and harder to find a place for celebration in a religious context that places more and more emphasis on relevance and accessibility of our traditions. What are we supposed to do with that a Christian festival where we read about Jacob wrestling with an angle or the story of the Archangel Michael defeating the great dragon in the book of Revelation.

Admittedly, I am a fantasy and science fiction geek. So the part of my spirit that is drawn to fantastical stories of mystical beings loves Michaelmas. Is is a Christian celebration that delights the imagination. How do you not love reading about the great dragon Satan and all his Angels fighting back against the armies of heaven before finally being defeated and cast down into the sea? (Admittedly, this blog post is being written by someone who once dressed up as Jesus from the book of Revelation for Halloween. I may have issues). But the question remains — what is the point of such a reading. What relevance does it have? What is its usefulness to life in a busy, complicated modern world to anyone other than a church nerd and a fantasy geek?

I wonder if maybe the “point” of Michaelmas is that it has no obvious point for us. The readings hang there — confronting us and confounding us with their seemingly inaccessible strangeness. We confess faith in God who is the maker of all things visible … and invisible. There is more to God and there is more to our world than we can ever possible hope to imagine, even in our wildest fantasy stories. Michaelmas challenges our desire to make God “safe.” Our tendency to assume that we can somehow claim to fully comprehend God’s divine nature or the spiritual world around us.

We (rightly) seek to make our faith more relevant in addressing the complicated issues of the world around us and we (rightly) seek to remove any barriers to entry for those who might be hungry to explore deeper spiritual questions. But I cannot help but feel we do a disservice both to our traditions and to the world if we are wary (or perhaps even embarrassed) of letting God be mysterious. God is not safe, as the great war of Michael and all the angels in heaven reminds us.

And yet God is still good. As we wrestle with the ineffable nature of God and the mysterious spiritual world around us, maybe there is a practical point for us in the celebration of Michael and all the Angels. One day the evil powers of this world — the systemic oppression of marginalized people, the rampant inequality that privileges the powerful over the powerless, the innocent suffering — will be defeated. Even if we do not understand how that can be.

The Wonders I’ve Seen

Today is my birthday, which I think means I get to be a little self-indulgent. Also, I only have a few weeks left here with the wonderful people of Grace Church on-the-Hill. I have resisted as long as I could, but my friends the time has come for me to share with you my love of Farscape

You know you have good friends when they make you baby clothes featuring the spaceship from your favourite TV show.

You know you have good friends when they make you baby clothes featuring the spaceship from your favourite TV show.

Farscape was a quirky little sci-fi show produced by the Jim Henson company in the late 90s/early 2000s. It tells the story of the All-American Astronaut John Crichton who gets sucked through a wormhole into a distant part of the galaxy. He comes to travel on a living spaceship also inhabited by a strange assortment of alien creatures who would eventually become his friends. Along the way, Crichton makes many enemies, finds himself a fiercely hunted fugitive, and searches for a way back to earth — before ultimately forging a life for himself in his strange new world. There is much that I love about the series. The appearance of products from the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Aeryn Sun, arguably the greatest female science fiction character of all time. Liberal use of scatalogical hunour.

At the end of the day, Farscape is a show about wonder. Predating slightly grittier science fiction shows like Battlestar Galactica, Farscape billed itself as the “anti-Star Trek.” The writers wanted to allow space for the darker, messier parts of human life into the sometimes too-pristine world of space opera. Through the course of the series, John Crichton encounters some truly horrific experiences. It is not going too far to say that by the end of the series’ run, it is a story about a man struggling with PTSD (it doesn’t hurt when your lead actor has a BA in psychology). Crichton is not a hero, in the traditional sense of the word. He is a crazy man in space, just trying to stay alive. While that may not sound particularly uplifting, what keeps him alive is his sense of wonder and, above all, hope. Crichton never loses his sense of AWE at being in another world. Although it is hardly a transition that happens instantaneously, by the conclusion of the series he has basically given up on his attempt to return home to his “normal” life and family. Partially because he is too damaged (“you can’t go home again”, after all). But also because he has found a new life and a sense of belonging in strange, frightening, but still wonderful world on the other end of the galaxy.

Over the course of the years on this blog I have written much on the intersection of faith and science fiction. I think wonderful, fantastical tales challenge us to see wonderful, fantastical things in the world. A show like Farscape captures that sentiment better than most. If a man who is hunted, cut off from his family, and doing his best to maintain a semblance of his sanity can still see the gift of the wondrous creatures and events around him — can we not rise to the challenge of seeing the wondrous in our own lives.

More specifically, stories that fall into the category of “portal fantasy”–whether that means the Pevensie children walking into the doorway to Narnia or John Crichton getting sucked into a wormhole–teach us about what happens when we encounter the transcendent. We cannot step away from such experiences without being changed and transformed in some way. I hardly think it is a coincidence that C.S. Lewis used the story of children setting foot in Narnia as a way of imaginatively framing religious experience. And while I am not making the argument that my bizarre little sci-fi obsession is somehow a metaphor for the spiritual life — it is fair to say Farscape appeals to my love for the wonderful, the quirky, the “something more” that I desire in life. And such longing certainly resonated in my own understanding of God and how I find God’s presence in the world.

So, all I can do is share the words of John Crichton to his own audience: “Look upwards, and share the wonders I’ve seen.”

On moving and microaggressions

Moving is the worst. A truth universally acknowledged, indeed.

And yet my family is about to embark on that most enjoyable of tasks–packing up and relocating all our worldly possessions. As I contemplate with trepidation in my heart the enormity of this whole enterprise, I am always intrigued by what I find most daunting about moving. Friends and acquaintances are always eager to comment on our number of books (not to mention our DVDs and board games). We are a media-rich family, no doubt about it. Packing books really isn’t that big a deal though, Sure, they are heavy. We may end up with a lot of boxes. But that’s manageable. It’s a single, fairly straight-forward task. Put on some audio commentaries to episodes of Farscape I’ve seen a few dozen times and you end up with a not unpleasant evening of book-boxing. (Protip: Ideally, one gets boxes from the liquor store–ideal size and shape for heavy books). Even furniture doesn’t scare me that much — hire movers and they get things in and out in a highly efficient manner. Nothing too much to worry about there.

No, what I find gets most demoralizing in a move are the little things. Bits of papers and documents I should have sorted through months or years previously to figure out what needs to be kept and what needs to be thrown away. Sorting through clothes to figure out what’s worth taking with us. Finally dissembling all the boxes in the basement from two years’ worth of baby gadgets that we just never bothered to cast out to the recycling. What is trash? What’s worth passing on to be sold at the church attic sale.

In other words–it is all the myriad of little things that make moving house such a nightmare experience. The heavy lifting itself is really more like ripping off a band-aid. Sure, it’s not fun, but at least it’s over with quite quickly. Going through all the odds and ends that seem to multiply miraculously the further one gets to the end of the packing process, is another thing altogether. In other words, sometimes those things that seem like the biggest obstacles to accomplish may take a lot of work, but the truly challenging work can be less obvious on the surface.

I have been thinking quite a lot about this analogy as it relates to the status of various marginalized groups in our North American society. Apparently, it is very tempting for many people to assume that racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. are relics of the past because we live in a world where significant legislation exists to address such issues. Women can vote and hold property. Businesses and employers can no longer discriminate against someone based on the colour of their skin. Marriage equality has finally been deemed the law in both Canada and America. I do not want to diminish the magnitude of any of those policies.

At the same time, the reality is that system racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. remain powerful forces in our world. Often these attitudes manifest themselves in the form of “microagressions.” Just this week, for example, the internet was abuzz with the story of Matt Damon blatantly talking down to Effie Brown, a woman of colour and successful producer, who had been expressing concern about how a sensitive character would be handled by an exclusively white production team. Damon’s comments, while perhaps not damaging to racial equality on a “macro” level, represent how small-scale transgressions reflect the systemic challenges still faced by people of colour. Namely, a successful white male producer does not take into account the complexity of handling a character who happens to be black, and female, and a sex worker with dignity.

It is easy to write people off as being “too sensitive,” especially when they belong to a marginalized group whose experiences we do not share. But these daily “microaggressions” actually reflect that addressing systemic oppression and discrimination of marginalized groups goes much deeper that simply saying “well, we have the Civil Rights Act so racism is no longer an issue.” Creating a truly just and equal society isn’t just about packing up books and moving furniture. It is about doing that truly hard work of sorting through our collective basement filled with junk to figure out what deeply intrenched attitudes need to be cast off into the societal trash heap.

I see far too many people sharing posts of Facebook questioning the wisdom of welcoming refugees because we are afraid of welcoming the other. This week a gifted young boy was arrested because he had the audacity to bring a clock he made to school while having the audacity to not be white. The leading Republican presidential candidate repeatedly make disgusting and disparaging comments against women. LGBT individuals can still be fired without cause in most states, despite the recent ruling of the Supreme Court.

We have done some heavy lifting when it comes to justice and equality for all people in our society. But if we are really going to move this house into a new world that reflects the believe that ALL people are truly made in the image of God — there is much harder work to be done.