Holy Disfunction

Today we celebrate the Holy Family. Many love to use it as an metaphor for a “hoo-rah the family is the proper unit of keeping our world together isn’t it wonderful” life.

I do not.

Those of us who come from a broken family or have lived with a toxic relationship with a parent hate hearing these sermons. They celebrate a life that just doesn’t look like anything we’ve ever seen. Intentionally or not, those preaching these sermons are attacking us with guilt over something we had no way to control, guilt that we do not deserve. Calling this an attack is not being thin-skinned or overly sensitive. This is not a rip-a-band-aid-off-to-let-air-at-the-cut type of hurt. This is a deep-muscle-slash-cauterized-wound-requiring-skin-grafts-physiotherapy-and-years-of -treatment type of hurt. We are an unfortunately large part of the church that has been traumatized by a family member. We are not “angry over a spanking.” We are people who have been damaged through repeated acts of assault, of multiple varieties, perpetrated by someone we were supposed to trust.

So why am I celebrating the Holy Family?

Because the Holy Family was made-up.

Now before anyone who made it through that other paragraph without screaming decides to begin doing so I am not saying they are make-believe. I believe in a literal family of three people as they are portrayed in the Gospels. I believe that they made their family. They chose their family.

We have Miriam, a young woman who is inexplicably pregnant and not only didn’t hide that fact but literally wandered around the country visiting her extended family pointing it out while prophesying, a rather male activity, the whole time. We have Yosef, a man who had to be visited by God in a dream to get him to actually go through with the marriage to this rather odd woman who wouldn’t stop talking about how God thought she was special. We have the child, Yeshua, who was so precocious at twelve we can only imagine what he was like as a toddler.

Miriam could have stayed unmarried. She chose to say yes to God. She chose to openly prophesy. She was chose to wander about the countryside on her own while pregnant. She chose to let random strangers walk into a barn and worship her child. She chose to be a part of the Holy Family.

Yusef could have said no. He chose to accept that marrying someone sinful in the eyes of his neighbours, even though she wasn’t sinful in the eyes of God. He chose to accept that his wife, not him, had a holy calling. He chose to not obey the law and let his new son be killed in an act of genocide. He chose to be a part of the Holy Family.

Yeshua could have left. The precocious child chose to stay with this odd couple of who didn’t fit the picture of a ‘typical’ family. He chose to listen to his mother’s requests as an adult even if he thought them different, “make wine? seriously mom?” He chose to be a part of the Holy Family.

We can choose to make up our family. We can choose to leave a life of pain. We can choose to make a new life without pain. We can choose to not listen to someone tell us our made up family isn’t real simply because it doesn’t look like the neighbours. We can choose to follow in the footsteps of a couple of Jewish weirdos with their rather important kid.

Of course I choose the OT Lesson

Today should be easy. The gospel lesson is probably one of the most recognizable passages of scripture spoken by Jesus after the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gives us a parable and then we get a record of how he explained it to the disciples. The seed is the word of God, the soil is people, on it goes. Simple. Easy. So of course I can’t use it.

You see I have a problem. I studied English literature. If you drive a car making an odd noise past a mechanic and they’ll automatically go “huh” and try and diagnose the problem. Stick an engineer in a room with a comment along the lines of “yeah, the toaster doesn’t seem to want to work right” and they’ll have the contraption in pieces before you get turn around. Stick a complex passage in front of an English major and be prepared to not be able to get any sort of reasonable conversation out of them for hours. We can’t help it. We are trained to take language apart and put it back together in the same way an auto mechanic can take apart an engine and reassemble it with no leftover pieces.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to tackle Romans. That book requires a graduate degree workshop level of time and effort. It does mean, however, that we are going to play around with the Old Testament lesson for a change.

One of the catches we have in reading an English translation is that we lose out on understanding the word-play going on and this is especially true in Genesis.

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

The passage of scripture does attempt to tell us there is something going on but it is subtle and requires an Bible with a set of really decent footnotes.

The first set of word-play deals with the name of Esau and the idea that he was the father of the Edomites in the land of Canaan. According to the notes I have read the name Esau in ancient Hebrew is admoni which sounds Edom which in turn sounds like ‘adom which is the word for red. So the father of Edom ate a stew that was ‘adom. Then we come across a mantle of hair which is called se’ar and plays off the fact that the Edomites lived in se’ir.1 The second set of word-play is Jacob’s name which is ya’aqob, which sounds a lot like the words for heel (aqeb) and supplanted (aqab). Those are the ones the Bible mentions explicitly; however, there is also another set lurking in the background. The words are bekor, bekorak, berakah, and rivkah which are translations of firstborn, birthright, blessing, and Rebekah.2 So we see the son of rivkah taking the berakah and bekorak from the bekor.

Why is this important? First, it lets us know that there is something important going on. The complexity of the language choice underpins the complexity of the situation. It foreshadows the subsequent part of the story where Rebekah gets involved with the deathbed blessing of Isaac on what he assumes is his firstborn son. Second, it reinforces the idea that the Kingdom of Edom, which was located just south of Judea, was supposed to be supplanted. Kings Saul and David both had significant battles against the Edomites and both were victorious. By the end of David’s reign it was a vassal state with a ruler in exile. This passage implies that the subjection of the Edomites was a divine action that started hundreds of years before. It is almost a form of spiritual propaganda which brings us to the next point.

Typically when you read through the wisdom books, the gospels, and the epistles you ask “how does this relate to my life.” However when you read the historical parts of the Bible you need to ask yourself a slightly different question: “what was the intent of the passage?” Given the amount of wordplay and the fact that the next section of Genesis deals with Jacob literally wrestling with God we tend to believe that this portion of Genesis belongs in what the call the Yahwist writings. These were typically  collections of older oral histories that were probably compiled during the reign of Solomon and it makes sense that the person or people doing this collecting would make sure to write down the ones that reinforce their own existence.

Eight chapters from now Jacob gets another name. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Jacob became Israel. What better time to point out that Israel, the person, was not the first-born son, than during the time that Israel, the place, was being ruled by a Solomon, a man who was not the first-born son? What better time to remind people of the fact that Esau was the hunter and man of the field while Jacob was a tent-dweller and a thinker than during the time that a thinker had taken the throne of David instead of a warrior son who was second-born and had the army behind him.

The intent of this passage is to point out that divinely inspired inheritance is not necessarily bound by the strictures of society. Abraham tries to fulfill a prophecy on his own but ends up exiling Hagar and Ishmael. Jacob is the second-born son in a set of twins but he is the one chosen to be the starting point this new nation. David’s grandmother Ruth was a Moabite in a land where racial purity held a great deal of importance. Solomon’s mother was initially the wife of another man. David’s first-born son led a rebellion against his rule and was killed. Adonijah was second-born but Solomon became king.3

The writer wants us to remember that it is all well and good to make plans but keep in mind that God has plans as well and when the two do not coincide God has no problems in side-stepping your own.

  1. See notes in The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985. 

  2. Bandstra, Barry. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Second Edition. Table 2.2 “Birthright and Blessing Comlex.”  

  3. Kings 1 

The Good Shepherd, Again

4th Sunday of Easter

The story of Jesus the Good Shepherd is one with which we are very familiar. Every fourth Sunday in the season of Easter we read it. Psalm 23 is one of the first ones we learn as a child. Every now and then it pops up as a recurring theme during the summer months. While it is a very important lesson it is very easy for us to get bored and complacent when we hear it all the time. So it was a nice surprise when casting about for something different that I came across this passage in the Roman Catholic daily office.

When the Anglican church broke away Archbishop Cranmer looked at the various services that monks and the priests recited before most of us wake up and mushed them all up into a single service of morning prayer. If you have ever wondered why it seemed like you were repeating things you already said it is because you were literally starting a second service in the middle of the first one. When all the revisions and fights, both in the English parliament and on the street corners, were done we were left with a service where we recited two or three psalms and read two giant portions of the bible every day. When the Anglican Church decided to update the service we upped the number of readings but reduced their overall length. When Vatican II happened the Roman Catholic church looked at those services that Archbishop Cranmer stole and did their own update. Like us they have morning and evening prayer but their version only recites psalms and says a sequence of prayers. They decided to keep things split apart by creating the Office of Readings which you can say whenever you want instead of forcing it at a specific time of the day. Our services include two or three passages from the Bible, depending on which book you happen to use. They decided to use one passage from the Bible and another, usually related to the Bible passage, from the giant amount of writings that make up the history of the church. There are, as with most fights in Christianity, distinct theological reasons for each method.1 I am going to follow my own theological reasons and ignore the fight entirely2 and read the passage that I found interesting simply because I find it presents a slightly different perspective on the whole matter.

From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, Pope3
I am the good shepherd. I know my own – by which I mean, I love them – and my own know me. In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.

My dear brethren, you have heard the test we pastors have to undergo. Turn now to consider how these words of our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar.

Consequently, the Lord immediately adds: As the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. Clearly he means that laying down his life for his sheep gives evidence of his knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of him. In other words, by the love with which he dies for his sheep he shows how greatly he loves his Father.

Again he says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them; they follow me, and I give them eternal life. Shortly before this he had declared: If anyone enters the sheepfold through me he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.

So our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast. Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.


I think the part of this homily that intrigues me most is the contrasting points of failure it presents. Much in keeping with the epistle lesson we are not to be deterred by the roughness of the road, by the pain and suffering that might come from keeping the faith. Gregory realizes though that there is a portion of the population that doesn’t have that much in the way of pain and suffering on account of the Gospel anymore. We do not live in constant fear for our lives simply by walking through the front doors of the church. We do not stand up and recite the Apostle’s Creed as an act of rebellion. Are there places where these are true? Yes, but right here is not one of them. As such, I find it difficult to relate to the epistle on a personal level. That is why I enjoy this contrasting image. “Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.” We are in the sheepfold. We have listened to the voice of the Shepherd. We have entered through the gate to be saved and exit through the gate to find pastures. We are not supposed to let that be the be all and end all of our existence. We cannot look at the fact that we come to church as a success. We cannot look at being baptized as a success. We cannot take the being able to take the Eucharist as a success. They are steps along the path but they are not the destination.


  1. Sola scriptura, prima scriptura, and the fidei depositum of sacred scripture and sacred tradition is a graduate level course in and of itself. 

  2. In the interests of footnoted honesty, however, I find sola incompatible with an advanced literature degree and history of the first to third centuries CE, the magisterium untrustworthy for various reasons that probably begin with the Peter Abelard/Bernard of Clairvaux fight or lack thereof, and have experienced too much of the destructive nature of Pentecostal Christianity to agree with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I’m a three-legged stool Anglican almost by default.  

  3.  Source: Universalis.com Office of Readings. Sunday May 7, 2017 

Today I discovered the tools diskpart and diskmgt.msc

It’s odd to remember that Windows is actually a full-fledged os and not just some bloatware required to run Word.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost
7 August  2016
Text: Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid little flock.” It is an interesting beginning. The start of this chapter showed Jesus speaking to thousands but in the midst of this larger lesson he seems to have shifted his focus toward his core group, his little flock. It makes me think he is speaking directly to his group of eighty-four, the seventy-two sent out to prepare the way and his twelve disciples. Add in the various women that were never included in the count and we have nearly one hundred people out of this larger mass. I can easily be see Jesus referring to them as a little flock both out of mild sarcasm and genuine affection.

Last week I called this section of Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ rant and this week we find ourselves right in the middle of two of his major points: possessions and preparedness. It begins, as we saw, with Jesus being asked to settle a dispute about a will and he turns that question on its head with the parable of the rich landowner. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” He then goes on to the next section which the lectionary skips over for another time. “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouses nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” Striving after what you should eat and wear is for nations of the world. Focus instead of striving for God’s kingdom.

Then we open up with today’s lesson. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom of God that the seventy-two were sent out to bring to the countryside is given to us. It is not a nation of conquest over others it is a conquest over ourselves. “Sell you possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven …”  The take away from last week was the no so optimistic “don’t plan to enjoy the fruits of life later because you could die” and this week he sums up his statement by giving this directive. We are called on once again to give up our stuff, something that is very difficult and has been so from the moment he spoke this message. We are not the first era of followers to have problems with this message. As we see in the book of Acts we don’t even make it a full year past the ascension before hypocrisy over giving money rears its ugly head. We don’t even make it to the crucifixion before someone takes a look at this message and thinks “he could do better.” Judas Iscariot gave up the location of his teacher not because he disagreed with his message but because he felt Jesus didn’t go far enough. I know it is said that Judas was skimming off the top of the money basket but I can’t see it especially since we don’t even get a consistent statement about his death. Those profiteering off of a leader do not blow the whistle, they keep finding ways to further the movement for their own good. The whistleblowers, the ones who straddle the fence of perception between patriot and traitor do so because they are not convinced that whomever or whatever they are following is not longer being consistent with their own message.

But if we are not supposed to see this as a call to sell our homes and live on the streets then what are we supposed to do? The text continues, “Make purses for yourself that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure house in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How do you build treasures in heaven? The same way you build treasures on earth.

I am a rather proud member of what we call the Nintendo generation. I grew up playing video games. Instead of climbing on a dirt bike, riding around the countryside jumping off cliffs and then pulling out a shotgun and shooting clay targets from the sky like some of the guys I work with, I grew up doing all of that virtually. It was far cheaper and far less likely to see me injure myself. I am, after all, a man who managed to get a concussion while doing laundry and a separate concussion reaching for paperwork in a library. One thing being a gamer has taught me, however, is the value of gold farming. Gold farming, or loot farming depending on the game, is a rather simple task. You load up an area where you know that your character cannot die unless you do something really and truly stupid and then you run around picking up all the gold and treasure that is in the area. Then you leave and go right back in and do it again. Why? Most of the gold and loot is there again. Games, especially early ones, are simply computer programs. Loading up an area in a video game is like loading up a word processor. All of the things the programmers want you to have is there at the beginning and all you have to do is go and get it. It is boring, it is repetitive, and in some cases mind-numbing but it works up until the point where the item you want to purchase is so far past the amount of money you can get in this area that you move along. What does this have to do with anything? Well, Discovery channel just spent a year or two filming people going out to the lands of the Klondike gold rush, bringing in new equipment that miners didn’t have back then, and going over the land once again. They were literally farming for gold. It was boring, repetitive, and mind numbing but it worked until the cost of running the equipment became more expensive than the return they were getting.

How do you build up treasures in heaven? The same way you build up treasures on earth. You do the same task again and again until the reward is no longer worth the effort. It is where we get the rosary. It is where we get the liturgy. We say the same prayers year after year, we say the same introductory psalms and canticles Sunday after Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection and ascension of Christ because it works. Whenever we say the Venite or the Jubilate at the beginning of the day we are farming for spiritual gold. Whenever we close out our day with “Our Father who art in heaven, holy is your name” we are doing a task over and over again because the value it brings is important even if we do not see it in this realm. We are repeating a task that brings us spiritual wealth in heaven.

This brings us to the next question: why should we bother? What is it that inherently makes creating spiritual wealth important? Jesus gives us two reason. The first has been mentioned: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When we focus our existence on our possessions we are directing the majority of our time and effort towards them. Jesus told his followers to sell their possessions and give alms to shock them into recognizing that once you come to grips with the fact that these are unimportant then your effort, your time, your heart can move in a different direction.

But Jesus does not stop there. Why should we bother? For Christians the answer comes back to that same, not so wonderful, viewpoint that we could be using those treasures a lot sooner than we expect. Let’s skip ahead to the end of the lesson. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus does not want us to become complacent about trying to focus our attention on building treasures in heaven especially when we can do so with ease.

Is saying a prayer going to change our life the same way as selling all our goods and moving India to feed the poor like Mother Theresa? Not at all. The goal, however, is not to try and send a one-time giant payment. The goal is the slow, methodical, sometimes boring routine of depositing a small coin in our spiritual treasure house.  It is saying the simple prayers over and over again. Eventually, you may find that your work doesn’t feel like it is quite enough. Then you move on to the next level and if you are uncertain of what that next level is then that question becomes the new prayer you add to your daily routine. Building a spiritual balance is not as hard as we tend to think it is. The amount may not be great in the beginning but the process becomes the important part. Eventually you look back and realize that you have been slowly building a not so insignificant amount of treasure in heaven by doing small, simple repetitive things.


11th Sunday of Pentecost

July 31, 2016 — 11th Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:13-21

I want to be honest, today’s gospel lesson is not one of the easy ones. This is not a happy parable with an explanation written out a few verses later. This is not an uplifting passage. The next few weeks in the lectionary are not going to be showing the sweet smiling Jesus. This is angry Jesus.

The passage we have today starts off a sequence known as “The Sayings of Jesus” and it is written in the form of a giant rant.  Matthew’s gospel has the Sermon on the Mount. John’s gospel is known for the multi-chapter prayer on Maundy Thursday. Luke contains a couple of large sequences and this is one of them. It is a rant of, if you will forgive the pun, biblical proportions. Today’s lesson is the beginning of a series of sayings that remind us of Jesus whipping the money lenders in the temple.

We begin with an incorrect expectation. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Settle this dispute like the judges and prophets did in the days of old. Use your authority as a man of God to bring about a judgment in my favour. Jesus looks at the man. “Friend,” he says, “who set me as a judge or arbitrator over you?” Who gave me a position of bureaucratic importance? Who invested me with the responsibility of dealing with each and every tiny dispute that comes up when people live together?

In Exodus 18 we see Moses getting smacked upside the head by his father-in-law Jethro. The Israelites were bringing all of their petty disputes and issues to Moses and he, in turn, was spending all day and into the night dealing with these issues. Jethro took one look at what was going on and told him to knock it off and appoint men to settle these small problems and only bring the forward the big ones, the complicated ones. Moses took his advice.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus, act as one of the trusted men who deal with the issues and problems I’m having with my brother. Jesus says no. He is not one of these judges. He is not here to tell this guy that he is being put upon by his brother, especially when we don’t even know if the brother is being unreasonable. This guy could simply be yelling out to Jesus asking him to tell his brother off because he won’t share the sixty million dollar lotto max jackpot.

It would be nice if we could end there, end with Jesus acting as another Moses. Instead we are given the beginning of this rant. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” This is the theme for the next few pages in the Bible: possessions are the problem. The prophets used to rant about how worshipping God was more than just throwing a carcass on a fire. We read a few weeks ago in Hosea ” For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” We read Psalm 51 “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Jesus, however, has looked around at his society and decided that there is a new primary problem.

He then tells the parable. It is another rich landowner. Jesus really does not like rich landowners. In the gospel of Luke it is really only one rich person, Zacchaeus (the short guy who climbed the tree), who comes out with Jesus’ blessing and favour. It is a difficult parable because it is hard to see what the land owner has done that is wrong. Your crops are growing so well you have no more room? Build bigger barns. Makes sense to me. Storing up goods so that you can relax, eat, drink, and be merry for many years to come? Sounds good to me. The company automatically throws a chunk of money into my pension every paycheque. Jesus however returns to the original question thrown at him. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

This is not an optimistic gospel lesson. Why are you worrying about the future when you could be dead? Keep in mind, however, a couple of facts. One, Jesus was speaking to an occupied land. Jerusalem was destroyed and Isreal sent into exile not more than forty years later. This was not a spur of the moment decision. Tensions were building. Jesus was executed as a terrorist. This teaching is consistent with what his followers believed for a long time. The return of Jesus was right around the corner. Paul even writes in the epistles not to worry about those who die before Jesus returns. The theology of imminency is prevalent even today. There are those who truly believe that we are in the last of the last days.

Christians have spent the better part of fifteen to seventeen hundred years stuck in a weird state of trying to live our lives with the knowledge that we have to get up in the morning and feed ourselves while at the same time preparing our souls for idea that we will not be getting up in the morning. Over a millennia and a half since Christians moved away from a theology based on martyrdom we still struggle with this dichotomy.

So what do we do? The best we can do is follow in the words of Paul “be in the world but not part of the world.” Don’t make possessions the point of your life. Realize that for some a life of poverty is not a choice, especially in this current era where entry level jobs require a large accumulation of debt and minimum wage is not the minimum to live but the minimum that needs to be paid.

Changing the NHL Playoffs

A few weeks back my @dasbobworld (my erstwhile brother-in-law) and I had one of those sitting around discussions where we fixed the world. The world in question was the NHL. Neither of us like the fact that the East gets one less team into the second season and the potential of Quebec City getting a franchise along with Las Vegas means the unbalanced playoff schedule will continue for a while. This led us to wonder what a league wide playoff would look like and whether it could be considered a feasible option. The WNBA is trying it out this year and the AHL currently uses it as a format so the idea itself is not all that odd.

This is what a league wide playoff format would look like this year:

Rank Rank
1 Washington Boston 16
2 Dallas Detroit 15
3 St. Louis Nashville 14
4 Pittsburgh Philadelphia 13
5 Chicago Tampa 12
6 Anaheim San Jose 11
7 Florida NY Islanders 10
8 Los Angeles NY Rangers 9


Notice anything? I did.


As a Montreal Canadians fan nothing makes me giddier than seeing the Bruins tossed from the playoffs … except when the unbalanced format means they are tossed by a team six points behind them in the standings. Every team in the playoffs has at least 96 points save one: Minnesota with 87. Boston has 93. This discrepancy is abhorrent. Look at the wins: 42 versus 38. The difference is four significant wins (their shootout balance is pretty much the same so at least we don’t have that bucket of worms this year although Boston did win one more). Minnesota ended the season on a five game losing streak and they are in the playoff picture this year simply by virtue of Colorado being even worse. Having a team bounced by someone that far behind is not a good sight to behold and is pretty much the worst-case scenario of the current format.

Start Times

One of the reasons the NHL loves the east/west divide is for start times. Western teams hate playing games early in the day and the league doesn’t want teams to have to change up their routine so that we can watch quality hockey. Unless you happen to be from the East or the Central in which case you can start a couple of hours after waking up. In 2014/15, six games started at 3 p.m. EDT and all but one of those games featured two teams from the Central time zone and the odd team out was Anaheim who lives in the Pacific. If you’re from the Midwest and your game was on the weekend you started at 2 p.m. central for NBC. Think that was harsh? Try the East. There was one game that started at 12 p.m. and two that started at 12:30 p.m. and Washington would have played all of them if it weren’t for those pesky Rangers. In fact, let’s take a look at Washington’s first round series against the Islanders for start times:

Wednesday, April 15 7 p.m.
Friday, April 17 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 19 Noon
Tuesday, April 21 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 23 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 25 3 p.m.
Monday, April 27 7:30 p.m.

Not exactly the picture of consistency the NHL would like you to believe happens. The fact is simple: television, especially NBC, dictates start times more than time zones do.


The major hue and cry against a league wide playoff format would undoubtedly be travel. The organizational requirements plus time zone changes would be difficult to deal with at the best of times. Too bad the AHL does it regularly. The AHL western conference contains Utica and Toronto for crying out loud. This also ignores the fact between the 1974/75 and 1981/82 seasons the NHL used the exact format I am proposing and they did it without private jets.

However, most of the travel complaints from Detroit and Columbus stemmed from regular season play, not playoffs. Most teams don’t seem to mind and if the league was really worried about unfair travel leading to unfair rounds then a simple switch to 2-3-2 solves a lot of the problems, unless you recognize that there are no real problems.

Out of the eight series to be played this year exactly five are in the same time zone, two are separated by one (and yes the Red Wings have to play in CDT once again), and only one would be between cities on separate coasts (Kings/Rangers) and what a doozy it would be. Moreover, one series is exactly the same (Florida/NYI) and three are pretty much a zipcode or two apart from each other (San Jose is facing Anaheim instead of Los Angeles and Pittsburgh/Philadelphia/Washington/NYR are all an amtrack away).

Final Thoughts

Is this idle speculation from a guy who’s primary team didn’t make the playoffs trying to fix something that may or may not need fixing? Sure. But having finally had an opportunity to watch my local baseball team play meaningful games in September and the ever pervasive NFL and it’s national playoff structure got me thinking about what it would be like and the travesty that is the Eastern Conference unbalanced nature infuriated me at the end of the season. Surely the league can do better.

Why is Jesus being an asshat?

Warning: Contains Religion

Note: This is sermon 3 of 3. The other two were written on paper and have yet to be digitally transcribed (in either sense of that word). I’m using the revised common lectionary for the last while as an ongoing narrative (which it is as we’re essentially going through Mark with some add-ins from John). I’m including weeks I’m not preaching in the narrative.

Reading: Mark 7:24–37

The story thus far: Jesus has spent an almost inordinate amount of time trying to escape from people and failing. His cousin John was executed and he tried to take a boat trip to a nearby mountainside to get away but the people found him. He disappeared in the middle of the night, he literally walked away from everybody in the only direction that they could not follow and they still managed to find him when he arrived on shore. He spoke about the requirement to eat his flesh and drink his blood and still people hung about asking for miracles. So he gathers his disciples, his core group, and heads north. The Pharisees see his disciples having a quick snack and he loses his mind and just goes off on them for having the unmitigated gall to completely miss the point of worship and piety. So Jesus says forget it. He heads north. He heads into another country entirely. He goes to Lebanon. The people are not his people, the culture is not his culture. Tyre is a major sea-side port on the Mediterranean sea. This is not the quiet little lakeside town of Bethsaida or Capernaum. This is huge. This is leaving Cobourg and Port Hope and going to Montreal1. He is finally in a place where he is not the center of attention. He is finally in a place where he can be free of the obligations and pressures that come from being the messiah. So of course the only story we have of this adventure is someone asking him to be the messiah.

The gospel relates that Jesus went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there but no matter what he did the people started talking. One translations says that he could not pass unrecognized. Think about that for a moment. We are discussing a completely different country, a country that you have to cross mountains in order to enter. We are also discussing a time without cameras, without pictures, without portable paintings. The fact that these people not only knew who Jesus was, but also knew how to recognize him is astounding.
Then a young lady hears that Jesus is in town. She rushes over. The gospel is quite clear about this: the moment she hears about Jesus she runs to his house and lands at his feet begging and pleading that he cure her daughter. We don’t know what was wrong with her, the story only relates that it was an unclean spirit. Typically that means something fairly complex. This is not a mother with a little girl suffering from the sniffles. This child has some serious problem, enough that her mother is willing to drop everything and beg for help from a strange man from another country.

This is where the story gets a little odd. We are used to the smiling Jesus, the happy Jesus, the “suffer the little children to come unto me” Jesus. What we are shown here is an abrupt, angry, racially insensitive Jesus. ” ‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the little dogs.’ ” You, ma’am, are subhuman and there’s no reason for me to even look at you let alone help your child. This is not exactly the nicest thing one could say. It strikes an even deeper chord with us in Canada this week. The young boy who washed up on shore, who’s family was not allowed to escape to Canada for whatever reason could very well be a descendant of this very woman. It is that ugly of a concept, it is that ugly of a statement and yet here we have a story of our saviour saying such a horrible thing.

Where does this come from? Where is our kind and loving saviour? Where is the Jesus who says love is the answer?

First of all, this is the Gospel of Mark. This was the first gospel, the one written down to get things out there. It does not attempt to be all inclusive with its stories. This is the gospel, after all, that kind of forgot to include anything past the scene in the garden when angels tell Mary that Jesus was risen from the dead. We cannot depend on Mark to tell the whole story. Matthew and Luke pick up where Mark leaves us bewildered. They take the stories told in Mark and add more about what is going on. The story in Matthew adds the disciples, a pedagogical moment, a narrative that makes the blow a little less severe. But we are not reading Matthew right now, we are reading Mark; and, in my view, there is another reason not to worry too much about Jesus being a bad guy.

“You do not deserve to eat the food prepared for the children,” Jesus says, to which she replies, “Yes, but even the dogs get the crumbs.”

It is powerful moment. Instead of running away ashamed or angry or incredulous this random woman from another country goes toe-to-toe with a man who verbally duels with the Pharisees and wins. In the story just before this one, is Jesus freaking out on the men who provide the intellectual foundation for modern Judaism and they cannot figure out a comeback. This Syro-Phonecian woman does.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

To my recollection there is no other place in the gospels where someone else essentially gets the better of Jesus. The Centurion who asked that Jesus heal his servant told Jesus that he didn’t require the Saviour to enter the door because he understood the nature of the command structure and faith. The woman who grabbed Jesus’ cloak only spoke to him after the fact. The Pharisees never get the last word, the Sadducees are mocked if they even get a word in edgewise, and the Herodians barely get more than a single mention about money and paying your taxes. Yet this random woman wins a debate.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

One of the main explanations about this story is that Jesus came to save the Jewish people first and the Gentile world second. There is a theology around primary and secondary directions of salvation and it gets tied into eschatology and what is supposed to happen when the world ends.

There is also another reason. We have to be careful with it because it depends on Jesus’ human nature and if we go too far onto that side we jump into heresies quicker than you can imagine. If you remember the Creed of Saint Athenasius the Jesus’ mix of divine and human nature is complicated.2

To me the reason for his abrupt and very angry response is tied into a single fact: Jesus is tired of being the healer. He’s up in suburbs of a major port city where there really ought to be other things to do. He is trying to escape the crowds of people that are following him everywhere, crowds that are so intent on following him that they don’t think to bring a lunch with them. He is tired of the hyper-religious picking apart every tiny thing that he or his disciples do and using it as the focus for an attack. He is tired of people not getting the fact that he is trying to change their world.

And the first thing that happens when he gets there is someone bursts into the house, literally lands at his feet, and begs him to heal someone.

Jesus says no.

Then someone reminds him that what he is doing is more important than his exhaustion, his frustration. Someone reminds him that he is about God’s work.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

To me it prefigures the moment in the garden when Jesus looks up to heaven and asks his Father if there is any other way. “Do I have to? All right. Your will be done.” There is a level of humanity in Jesus that we tend to ignore because we are afraid of the theological implications. To me it is heartening to have a saviour who gets frustrated with people not getting the point. I understand why it is important that Jesus remain a spotless sacrifice without a blemish of sin; but, I think there is something lost when we don’t get to see him tired and saying something that he knows is wrong the moment it comes out of his mouth.

The woman’s response reminds us that people are human even when, especially when, they need help. The Syrian refugee issue has been going on for around two years but it was a single child’s death that brought into focus the fact that these are people. Groups of people have a boat capsize and a number of newspapers in Europe simply read let them sink.

Yes we have problems of our own in this country. We have poor people living on the streets. We have hungry people. We have malnourished children. We have shelters that need staffing and funding. Our slice of the world is not perfect. But in the words of this random woman “even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.”

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”


  1. I have been using Cobourg and Port Hope as a decent representation for the two biblical cities in terms of size and population. Technically Tyre is probably more like New Orleans but it does not really fit the geographical narrative of my current location 

  2. I led the service on Trinity Sunday and had the congregation read the Creed of St. Athenasius. I’m not sure if they’ve forgiven me yet. 

Sunday May 3, 2015 — Easter V


“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” John 15:4b

I want to start off today by wishing everyone a very Happy Easter. The candy and chocolate bunnies have been eaten and we have begun thinking about how we are going to celebrate Victoria Day but we are nevertheless still in the season of Easter. We have a couple of more weeks before we celebrate Pentecost and move into the next phase of the Christian calendar.

Scripture does not record a great deal about what happened during this time, when Jesus was hanging out with his disciples between the resurrection and the ascension. Luke mentions that he spoke about the opened the scriptures and explained the kingdom of God, Matthew does not mention much past a final declarative statement, Mark just ends, and John has the core group going on a fishing trip. To offset this lack of knowledge the church spends this time focusing on the last major chunk of theology and teachings given in John’s gospel. Last year on this day we focused on Christ as the Shepherd, this year we focus on Christ as the True Vine.

The lesson begins with Jesus issuing the statement “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” This is not the first time Jesus used the vineyard as a metaphor. Those listening, in this case the disciples, understood what he was trying to communicate. Jesus is confirming once again that he is establishing something important. By using the vine as an image Jesus is drawing on the traditions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The vineyard is Israel and by calling himself the vine Jesus is placing himself as the reason the vineyard even exists. He is declaring that he is not just a random offshoot from Judaism but the new face of how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to be worshiped. His message is neither a sucker branch growing in a weird direction nor a weed growing in a garden. He is the true vine, the core essence of faith.

The verse continues, “He [The Father] takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.” Pruned branches, cleansed branches, branches that have had metal blades taken to them and snipped back to their very core. I have not had the opportunity to deal with grape vines but I do understand clematises and rose bushes. Each year you cut them back so that the plant will spend its energy in the most useful areas, that way the plant isn’t spending its time feeding and growing areas that aren’t going to have flowers.

Now this is where I differ in my reading. I know a number of people look at this verse and believe that the troubles and problems that come our way is God’s way of pruning us, shaping us to grow a certain way. I am not entirely convinced of that because of the sentence that follows. “You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. ” We do not need to worry about the pruning process because it has already happened. We have been cleaned. We have been pruned. Through the waters of baptism we were removed from the vine of sin and death and grafted onto the vine of everlasting salvation. When we celebrate communion and receive the Eucharist we are fertilized with the body and blood of Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are given a drink from the waters of life. God’s pruning does not come through the harsh things in life. God’s pruning comes through the changes in the spiritual core of our being at the onset of salvation. The trials and tribulations that come at us in life are the hail storms that try to rip off the fruit that comes about as the result of the pruning process, the fruit that comes by constantly reflecting on Christ and bringing forth a Christ-like nature in our lives.

So how do we go about producing that fruit? Verse four, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. ” Remaining in Christ. Abiding in Christ. This is how the fruit of our life is created. It requires a dedicated focus, a constant returning of our attention from the distractions of this world to Christ.

I was working in Oshawa a couple of weeks ago and stayed in the city after work one night to take care of some things and as a result had an opportunity to attend a service at St. George’s Memorial Church downtown. On Wednesdays they have an evening prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer. Now I like the BCP. I spent six years studying English Literature with a focus on the Elizabethan/Jacobean eras. I understand the what Archbishop Cranmer was trying to accomplish when he picked up his pen and started revising a prayer book until either enough people agreed with him or they were happy about the fact that the other side was annoyed with his decisions. But even knowing the language, understanding how and why the services was structured in that particular way, enjoying the solemnity and decorum of the service I found it remarkably difficult to pay attention. I constantly found myself skipping to different thoughts. How should I deal with this particular issue at work? What should I write in my homily? What is that picture in the stained glass? Why is ahh pay attention! You see even though our core being has been sanctified, we still need to focus our attention on the process of abiding.

“If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.” Yet again, this is not a case of “God will prune us out of the vine and throw us into hell.” If we do not abide in Christ we are like a branch that is separated from the vine. We are like the dead-fall that Kevin and his family picked up off of the lawn this past week. It is just a branch that will not bear fruit because it is no longer attached. We also need to think about the fact that the fire in this case is not a punishment, it is what you do to dead wood that has fallen off a tree, provided you get a permit from the fire department to burn beforehand. You make a fire out of dead wood to make heat. You make a supper. You make sm’ores. The branch is not useless, it just is only useful for acting just like any other piece of carbon-based material. It is only useful for a single purpose where is it ultimately used up. A branch that is still attached is useful for making fruit season after season.

Our reason for trying to remain attached is twofold. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honoured by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” We receive benefit from our attachment to the vine. We can ask things of the Father. We can lift our voices in prayer and supplication. We can spend our morning asking for God’s blessing and favour. We also honour God by living a life that can produce fruit. We show our discipleship by our actions.

We spend our time at Easter learning the importance of Christ’s crucifixion. In a few weeks time our focus will change to learning to live the life of abiding. We spend our time in the season of green vestments and decorations, of growth and life. We learn how it is to live the life of the vine. For now, we get to spend some time reminding ourselves why it is such a special thing to have the opportunity to be connected to the true vine. We get to spend some time reflecting on the importance of the Easter season. So I wish you again, a happy Easter with all its implications.

Checking something out

I’m playing with Amazon affiliate links right now, more so I can stop wondering about whether I should post an image of the books I review.

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