Tolkien on Screen

When Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings were released in theatre, I attended each installation multiple times. I knew I wouldn't regret seeing the retelling of Tolkien's magnificent myth of redemption, loss, heroism, immortality, reclamation and friendship on the big screen as many times as I could. When The Return of the King was released, Amber and I called in subs for the afternoon and watched the entire trilogy (extended editions for parts 1 and 2) in the theatre. Every attendee, hardcore fans each one, received a figurine complete with one film frame of each movie in it.

When The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was released last month, I attended the IMAX 3D trilogy of The Hobbit realizing about halfway through how fit one must be to endure a 9 hour film. No souvenir this time though.

The battles, dialogues, locations, and myriad of characters draw me in without fail. I become a child again each time I see the circle door at Bag End. I am smitten by the elven architecture at Rivendell. I'm terrified along with the hobbits at the Dark Riders and along with the Riders of Rohan as they face the oliphants. I'm heartbroken with Pippin as Denethor sends Faramir to sure death. I'm stirred by Theoden's speech to the Rohirrim before sending them into battle and Aragorn's final words at the Black Gate. I giggle at Gollum's jabs at Sam and Gimli's reaction to almost everything. I slow down in Lothlorien and Fangorn Forest. I get excited as the camera plunges into the mountain to find Gandalf facing off with the Balrog again in the opening scene of The Two Towers. I can barely hold it together when Sam laments on the side of Mount Doom "Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I were to marry someone, it would have been her. It would have been her." I could go on and on.

I am watching The Hobbit again this week, this time with the extended scenes. I am thoroughly enjoying everything that is added. There is far more context with the dwarves and their quest and even with the necromancer. I particularly enjoyed seeing a child Bilbo at a party of Old Took's meeting Gandalf for the first time and the added scenes with Beorn, the Goblin King, Bombur sleeping from the enchanted waters of Mirkwood, and the flashback of the burial of the witch king of Angmar are just gems! I found it fascinating how they completely left out the Dwarf rings in the theatrical version and included discussion of them in both extended editions.

I am still disappointed that they never included Gandalf tracking down Gollum and interviewing him. The absence of Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil or the substitution of Arwen for Glorfindel didn't bother me very much as it would have compromised the film narrative, but having rangers catching Gollum and Gandalf prying info out of him would have been dramatic delight.

The complaints I've heard and what I've read in the poor reviews of The Hobbit do not ring true for me. It's an adaptation of a children's book and it's made for fans of The Lord of the Rings. I think of that lovely scene in Finding Neverland at the opening of the play Peter Pan and they have added children to the audience among all the adults. I think that you must have a child's heart to enjoy Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. The one recommendation I would have made would have been to make the fighting a little more believable. Bilbo knocking over a 7 foot, fully armoured Gundabad orc by throwing a rock... That said, I did enjoy all of Legolas's activities for the pure unbelievability of it.

And I have to say, I love these figurines from Weta Workshop. If I had lots of money... and lots of shelf space...


Doll Bed for a Little Mama

My daughter Acadia drew her cousin's name in the Christmas gift draw. We decided that we (I) would build her a little bed for a doll and we could paint it together. I bought and cut the wood necessary for two little cribs and kept one set for Acadia as a gift. We assembled the first one for my niece and immediately Acadia began using it with her doll, Emma. We found her one afternoon curled up next to her doll with just the lights from the Christmas tree.

Acadia chose pink to paint her cousin's bed and she did a great job painting it. We painted some purple stars on the head and foot boards.

Christmas morning, my niece put her doll right into the new bed. Acadia got 5 pieces of cut wood tied together with a bow. I could see she was glad to have her own now that she was giving up the one she used most of December.

Together we assembled, puttied, sanded, then painted hers pink too. Acadia chose a font for the word LOVE and requested a couple hearts for the footboard. I painted the words and hearts with a tiny paintbrush.

This project/gift reminded me of a Christmas gift my father made for me when I was 5 or 6. He made a couple wooden trucks. Sadly, these burned in a house fire a year or two later. They were really quite nice as he is a real craftsman.


Book Review: God and the Gay Christian (Vines)

This is the second book I've read on gay theology, along with countless blog posts and articles. The issue of homosexuality within the Christian sphere has been so hyper-politicized that it is difficult for anyone to have a thoughtful conversation on the topic when it challenges the most conservative prevailing view that homosexuality is explicitly condemned in the Bible and that being gay is a choice (and if it isn't a choice, then gays still don't have a choice as they must remain celibate). This book by Matthew Vines is meant to introduce Christians to alternate readings of Scripture and promote an affirming view of gay marriage and homosexuals in general within the Church.

Vines discusses the mandatory 6 biblical references to homosexuality (Genesis 19:5Leviticus 18:22Leviticus 20:13Romans 1:26-27I Corinthians 6:9I Timothy 1:10) and attempts to place each passage in its historical context - a highly patriarchal society where women had very legal recourse and where the Greeks thought of women as deformed men. Vines also focuses on the relevant issues of mandatory celibacy for gay Christians, how homosexuals have been treated within the Church (a demonstration of the fruit of the spirit?), homosexuals being made in the image of God, marriage as a covenant and grace.

All the statements are footnoted with sources and it is clear that Vines has done his research. What is disappointing is that he does not grant any points to his opposition. The issue from my perspective is very grey and both sides of the debate are able to defend their position either through a literal interpretation of the English Bible and church tradition or through a reinterpretation of the Bible through the lens of modern science, historical context, progressive revelation, and a desire to extend communion to a hurting community of believers.

From my perspective, the way Christians have dealt with homosexuals in their midst has been tragic and indefensible. A conversation is necessary and it must be framed with respect and love for the other - not fear and loathing.

Anger; Control; Pride; Humility; Peace.

Anger is an area of my life where I have always struggled and sensed the Holy Spirit continually with Her finger twisting in my side. As a child I would become enraged at my unfair sisters. As a teacher I have directed my anger at disrespectful students. As a commuter I have fumed at ungracious drivers. As a father I have unleashed my wrath towards my slothful children. As a husband I have been cross with my indifferent wife. As a professional I have expressed my outrage when my coworkers are unprofessional. Etc. . .

I have had many occasions to reflect on this emotion and I have come to several conclusions:
When I was in Guatemala I led the distribution of efficient wood cooking stoves that were donated by some Canadians. These stoves reduced the amount of wood you would need and remove the smoke from homes where people were cooking over open fires. The first distribution was to about 30 families and these families were selected by another member of our team, a Guatemalan. I ensured that the recipients attended the training, I helped with the installation, I collected the money the families contributed to the stoves, and finally I sent thank you notes and photos to the donors. Through out this process I was struck by the fact that half of the recipients were close friends of the person selecting the families and that many of these families were not going to be using the stoves as their primary stove, but rather as an outdoor bbq - in other words, they were families with enough means to have gas stoves in their homes. I was incensed that we were dishonouring the donors and preventing people who really needed a stove from getting one. Unfortunately, once my dismay was expressed, I was told that I was being insubordinate. I wonder if I would have been labelled that if I had been able to contain my anger.
I remember becoming quite enraged at a couple grade 8 boys during my first year teaching. It was one of the last days of class and I was showing a fun movie during a multi-media options class. These boys weren't interested in the movie so they were talking to each other quite loudly making it difficult for their classmates to even hear the film. I asked the nicely several times to stop talking and finally yelled at them and kicked them out of the class... prompting a meeting with their parents where I was the one apologizing.
My children are wonderful, patient, kindhearted and sometimes absentminded kids. When they are sent to bed, they know what to do: brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, get their PJs on and then they are tucked in with a prayer. My daughter has a really hard time focusing on getting her PJs on sometimes. She will go to her room and just sit on her bed for five minutes. This can cast a cloud of ire over me and I have a very hard time asking her pick up the pace, especially when she denies that she isn't going at a fair pace. 
I get angry when I don't have control over a situation or over people. The problem is that in many instances, I don't really have the right to have control over those people. One of my favourite sermons is one by my current pastor on the very subject of anger. He related a story from the previous week where he became very impatient with his wife while he was writing his sermon on anger. Of course he was immediately convicted by the arrogance the he was demonstrating towards his wife - what right did he have to cast judgement on the actions of his wife? This stuck with me.

When I consider how Christ has dealt with our ineptitudes through humility, patience and sacrifice, I am convicted at how slow I am to be humble, patient and inconvenienced by others ineptitudes.

Oh, and my principal's name is Mr. Anger. An ever present reminder of possibility.


30 Months of Co-Living

We are into the middle of our third year at the RobiRoost where we share a 5 bedroom house with another family of 4 (their last name also begins with Robi...). It was meant to be a single year of co-living in transition between our former homes and the anticipated cohousing project we were all a part of. When the project was delayed and then abandoned, both our families were left in a bit of a quandary and so we moved to a different house and continued our home sharing.

Our families live remarkably well together. We share essential tastes in food, drink, activities, movies, beliefs, and lifestyle. There is a mutual care and respect for each other. We trust each other. We play together. Look after each other's children for date nights. We built and then enjoyed a beer advent calendar (more on this soon). This arrangement has given us some relief from the disappointment of losing our cohousing dream as we have built in community.

My children will certainly have a defined memory of these surrogate siblings and parents. They get tucked in once a week by either Jasen or Heather. They play Lego and superhero and house and watch morning cartoons on the weekend with their housemates.

We decided to celebrate our big family Christmas by going out for some food and then walking around Commonwealth Park to see the holiday lights. It was nice to relax together in this way. For me it demonstrated that getting together is not as special as it used to be. We've crossed a familiarity barrier that few people cross beyond the nuclear family. It's uncharted territory. I joke with my work colleagues about having a sister-wife and brother husband because I haven't found an easier way to explain who they are.

This fine family has inspired, encouraged, nourished, shared, commiserated with, challenged and blessed ours. I hope we have been able to do the same for them as they have become very special to us.

Cheers to 30 months together!


Historical Tour of Romance

I asked Amber out just over 17 years ago. She accepted my invitation to go for a hot drink at Kavaccinos in Lacombe and our relationship sprouted, budded and blossomed from that night in September. We decided to take the kids to this coffee shop and share some memories.

I was super nervous to ask her out. So nervous that I had to go to Lakeview Hall twice in the attempt - the first time she was in the lobby with a group of people which completely unnerved me. the second time I phoned the wrong Amber from the dorm lobby (I didn't know her last name) first and then finally got her on the phone. I borrowed my sister's car and took her out. I had no idea then what kind of joy would come from this euphoric date.

The coffee and food were better than I remember. Spending time with Amber gets sweeter everyday though.

We met at CUC which is changing its name from Canadian University College to Burman University (a move I fully endorse). I was on the welcoming team of upperclassmen when Amber arrived as a freshman. She caught my eye when she joined my jellybean group where we played a dumb name game. I emerged from Freshmen Orientation completely smitten. I had to ask her out just to put my mind at ease so I could continue with my studies.

After our initial date, we went on walks around the lakes at CUC. We took the kids down the hill behind the dorm to the path beside Lake Barnett.

Our first kiss was on one of these walks. I ended up kissing Amber's teeth because she was smiling so big. We've managed to improve on that one since.

One of the moments when I have sensed God's presence most profoundly was in the week or two following the beginning of our relationship. I was on my way to early morning classes walking up College Avenue when I was overwhelmed with how God had blessed me with this remarkable companion.

Whitemud Park

Went for a walk in Edmonton's Whitemud Park in mid-December with some good old friends. Lots of up and down on some rather slick hills, but the views were sights were stellar. The low winter sun and low lying fog on Whitemud Creek provided some wonderful visuals.


Analog Prizes

Advent has a lot of meaning. God sent his Son to Earth to take on physical flesh and blood because He loves this Earth. God's love for Earth is in direct contrast to the Greek dualistic disdain of the physical world as they believe it can not be as valued as the heavenly forms.

So, in honour of the Incarnation, I'm going to share some of the things of this world that have meaning and value to me!
Yo-yo - This might be my only toy. I pull it out every few months and give it a few zips to keep up my skills (which are adequate). Again, I like the weight and feel of the wood and that I can replace the string when required. I could use this yo-yo for the rest of my life - no need for replacement. 
My Wisdom Teeth - Amber is super grossed out by them, but I think they are awesome! I had them pulled in '98 I think. My dentist had me in a headlock so he could yank them out and fortunately, they all came out whole (and beautiful!). I keep them in a little leather pouch I made at summer camp when I was 13.  
Commemorative 400th Anniversary Canadian Silver Dollar of the First Acadian Settlement in 1604 - I don't go for much shiny stuff, but this was a must have coin. I picked it up at the post office in Robichaud New Brunswick in 2004. 
Razor - replacing blades in this solid implement costs me a few cents. I like the weight in my hand and that it gets really hot in hot water. Go stuff yourself Gillette!

Lord of the Rings Box Set - I found this 2nd Edition, 9th Printing, 1965 vintage set in a book store in Edmonton and I couldn't resist buying it. Only one of the books still has a sleeve, but the pages are still very crisp and I would be surprised if anyone has ever read this copy. I just checked eBay and there are 18 copies available there from $75-$405.

Wedding Band - I've been wearing this for over 14 years and I still think it's great. We got white gold just to be different. I like the silver look anyway. I have ECCL. 9:9 engraved on the inside. Amber's choice: Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

Beret - My friend Kiki bought me this wool hat in Annecy, France in 1997. I do feel a little strange wearing this in Calgary where no other men wear berets, but it keeps my head warm and I like how it looks. I got it at a hat store where they make hats. They measured my head!

Billfold - One of the real problems with wallets is that they can get so thick. This little gem fits my drivers licence, health card, insurance card, bank card and 2 credit cards. It also has a billfold for cash or receipts. I love its sleek, leather feel and that it has metal in it.

Swiss Army Knife - Who doesn't like these things?! My first one was red and was stolen in Banff, so I replaced it. Then my second one got stolen in Guatemala, so I replaced it in Antigua with this black one. The case is fantastic too - think nylon canvas with a belt loop. I used to carry it on my hip for my Guatemala years. Now, it's frowned upon to be carrying a knife in school... I use it for so much.


Books Reviewed: by Wendell Berry & Lazar Puhalo

Two books by two men from vastly different backgrounds, though still grounded in Christian tradition, tackle the meaning of society and what it means to live side by side with one another through a collection of their essays.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a giant thinker and wildly counter-cultural. He is a farmer in Kentucky, but he is highly regarded by organizations such as Stanford University, Rockefeller  & Guggenheim Foundations, etc. What is lovely about Mr. Berry is that he is living out what he is advocating for in regards to community life, local economies, participating in the restoration of creation, and political activism. Most of all, he is a passionate Christian.

In one chapter, Berry systematically tears down all of the arguments that George Bush Sr. had for attacking Iraq in the early 90s. In another he defends the harvest of tobacco - a coy poke at modern liberalism, though not insincere on the tobacco side either. Another chapter is almost pure satire on the topic of globalization, militarism, and technological progress. Elsewhere he harshly attacks the notion of free trade. These were enjoyable reads, but the real meat in the book were the ones directly addressing the affirmatives in how he believes people made in the image of God ought to live.

Berry is best when he points out nuanced, and sometimes drastically unbalanced, ways we see the world - creation. He points out that a word like environment "is a typical product of old dualism that is at the root of most of our ecological destructiveness." What's the big deal? Well, it removes local responsibility and care. The term "environment" is sterile, like "ecosystem," it is just a scientific concept rather than a reality of the actual ground in our literal back yard or nearby forest or the field that is ploughed in our neighbourhood.

Berry's treatise on heaven and earth is particularly refreshing. Heaven is the New Earth - a fully restored, functioning earth right where we already are. How should this inform a Christian's actions in local economies? He reignites the concept of dualism and how it has destroyed our ability to truly engage restorative actions in our current life since we believe the spiritual soul is certainly of more import than the decrepit body. It isn't
person = body + soul
rather, it is
soul = body + breath of life
Recognizing that the physical realities are indeed spiritually significant changes all paradigms.

Culture, Commonweal and Personhood
by Lazar Puhalo

As I reported earlier, I had the great privilege of meeting Archbishop Puhalo this past summer. To hear him state his qualifications, you would think he is an astrophysics lecturer at the Sorbonne with a part time neurobiology post at UBC. In reality, he is a highly educated, highly respected clergyman who has been able to take part in countless public dialogues with great scientists on the issue of science and faith. He lives at the Monastery of All Saints outside of Abbotsford, BC where he continues in his retirement to serve as a local bishop in the small chapel there as well as the official liaison between the Archdiocese of Canada and the Government of Canada.

This book takes several of its essays from actual talks Puhalo delivered at various conferences in Romania within the last 10 years. He talks through how science is poorly understood and viewed without a patristic understanding of Christian theology. He lays out the pros and cons of ecumenical dialogues. The idea of personalism is analyzed thoroughly in its historical evolution and its contrast with Orthodox principles.

In general though, it is societal, religious, and philosophical paradigms that are defined, shown insufficient, and revealed how they are incompatible with Christian thought. Though the text is very dense, I was able to follow Puhalo's organized stream of consciousness, and learn a few things in the process. I was both affirmed and challenged.


Tool Shed Brewery & Beer for Life

A year ago, I tried my first Tool Shed beers: Star Cheek IPA, Red Rage Ale, and People Skills Cream Ale. I was immediately enamoured with the Star Cheek IPA which was a far more local, affordable, and high quality IPA compared to the west coast American IPAs I have learned to appreciate.

Graham and Jeff started out as home brewers and decided to take the plunge and start a brewery. They had to begin brewing in BC by renting Dead Frog's brewery because of the archaic brewing laws in Alberta. This year, the laws changed and they secured a spot in NE Calgary and have built a magnificent brewery.

To help raise capital and extend their appreciation to their original backers, they offer 100 Golden Growlers: Beer for life for $5,000. If you're interested in the terms of the agreement, you can contact them. Graham responded very quickly to my clarifying questions and invited me to come and meet him to chat about it.

The beer maxes out to 200L each year. They are happy to provide the beer in growlers, cans, kegs, etc. You can have several people attached to a single Golden Growler subscription and each will be able to access the benefits (sharing the 200L - about 600 beer - of course). Another benefit is exclusive access to test batches.

So, on October 23, Amber and I went on a date to visit the new brewery and get a tour by Jeff. He spent 45 minutes with us showing us the new digs and telling us about the plans. They had brewed their first batch that day, but he was happy to take the time. I signed up and handed over the money that would give me and 2 friends the benefit of beer for life.

The 100 Golden Growler members' photos will be featured on a wall. Each will be given a special 1.89 L growler and be invited to exclusive events. I'm excited for the first one where we will get to try the test batch of the Eggnog Milk Stout.

Brew Six-B: In Flanders Fields Red Ale

The second of the two batches I brewed on November 10 was a Flanders Red Ale. The primary flavour profile of this type of beer is the yeast, but the grain selection adds a whole lot to the mouthfeel, colour, and aroma.

I didn't have a heatstick to raise temperatures, so I had to add hot water at different intervals to do the job. I used the very helpful calculators at Brewer's Friend to help with the water volumes and temperatures. I got all my ingredients at The Vineyard.

The recipe I found led me through this:
MASH30 min @ 50˚C; 50 min @ 68˚C; 10 min @ 75.5˚C5.25 lbs Canadian Superior Pilsen (1.4-1.9˚L)
5.25 lbs Vienna Malt (3-5˚L)
1 lb Munich (6-10˚L)
0.5 lb Wheat (1.5-2.5˚L)
0.5 lb CaraRed (15.6-19.3˚L)
0.5 lb Special Aromatic (3.5-5˚L)
0.5 lb Caramel Munich (120˚L)
BOIL90 min
1 oz East Kent Goldings (5.8% alpha) - 60 min
WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast (initial fermentation)
WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix (second fermentation 6 days later)
22 Litres; 24 IBU; Original Gravity 1.050 (potential of 6.4% ABV)

This is a lengthy process. I will let this one ferment for 6 months to allow for the flavour to max out and allow the beautiful mix of bacteria to do its job on the beer. It is supposed to be a sour beer which I think works with the name I've chosen. Even the brew date works!

The reason I chose to make a Flanders Red is because of my enjoyment of the expensive and delicious Duchess of Bourgogne.

Brew Six-A: Czar's Imperial Stout

In preparation for the two brews I did (check out Brew Six-B), I read up on advanced brewing in my handbook: The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I have the 2nd edition (1991); the fourth came out this year. In it I gained a much deeper understanding of what happens during the mash and the boil.

In the mash (the process with hot water and grains), the starches from the malted grains are turned into sugars with the help of enzymes. Not all malted grains have the enzymes required - these are called adjunct grains. It's important not to have too many of these as not much sugar will appear in the wort (sugar water). Various grains bring different flavours and colours to the beer. The flavours often happen via the way the barley, wheat, oats, rice, etc. are malted - this is where all the names for the barley come from (2-row, crystal, chocolate, munich, black, etc.).

Each grain contributes to the colour of the beer. The darkness of the malt is expressed in ˚L or SRM (Standard Reference Method). I was so surprised at how dark my wort came out with only 2.25 lbs of really dark malt of 17.25 lbs of grain.

Hops are way more complicated. Primarily, they are used in bittering the wort - helping to remedy the sweetness of beer. The more malt (sugar), the more hops are needed. In this recipe, I have extracted an enormous amount of malt, so I have to use some hops with high alpha acids. The longer you boil them, the more the acids attach to the malt.

Then there are the hop oils. The oils dissipate very quickly in the boil, but the hops need to be boiled in order to extract them. To get these oils, hops are added at the very end of the boil for 1-5 minutes. The hop oils are what contribute to hoppy aroma and flavour.

The amount of hops used, the amount of acid and the amount of time they are in the boil determines the IBU or International Bitterness Units of the beer. High IBU doesn't necessarily mean the beer will be bitter, but it usually does. In the case of imperial stouts, a high IBU is needed to keep the malt in check.

One of the other new methods I got to try out was the cooling coil. If a brew is not cooled quickly after a boil, it can be infected with wild yeasts and bacteria which can impact the flavour of the beer. The coil is hooked up to a cold water source (ice water bucket with a pump or in my case, an outdoor tap). The water circulates through the wort in the copper pipe and emerges piping hot. It took about 20 minutes to bring the temperature down to 22˚C. It didn't hurt that it was outside in -20˚C weather.

30 min @ 52˚C; 30 min @ 70˚C; 10 min @ 75˚C14 lbs Canadian 2-Row (2˚L)
1 lb Crystal Medium (45˚L)
1 lb Roasted Barley (300˚L)
0.75 lb Black Malt (500˚L)
0.5 lb Chocolate Malt (350˚L)
BOIL 90 min
60 min 1 oz Northern Brewer 8.6% alpha
30 min 1 oz East Kent Goldings 5.8% alpha
30 min 0.5 oz Fuggles 5% alpha
20 min 1 oz Fuggles
2 min 0.5 oz Fuggles
Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale @ 22˚C

23 Litres; 56 IBU; Original Gravity 1.073 (potential of 9.4% ABV)

I am very excited about this brew. It should be packed with flavour and punch. Incidentally, the term imperial is interchangeable with double - so it's a stout that is twice as strong. It's called imperial because the Brits would brew this strong stuff and export it to the czars in Russia.