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I celebrate my 33rd year today with the help of dozens of people. Primarily those closest to me who seem to be more excited about making my day special than I am.

We had a little party at my mom's house on Saturday night with my sister's family and mine. Mom made curries. I got some pretty sweet movies too (and underwear and drinking glasses). Blaise gave me his first personally chosen gift: a coffee mug. I tell ya, it's gonna be a special mug for the rest of my life.

My kids made a Guinness Chocolate cake (my wife was the mastermind/supervisor).

I got 70 birthday wishes on Facebook and a cake at work today too.

Amber has made the day the best though. She's awesome - made me a tremendous breakfast and supper and even let me go see Che part 2 tonight as I'm busy the next 3 nights and it might not be in theatres after Thursday. I love her so.

Virtual Protestor

So, Bush II is coming to Calgary tomorrow and sadly I'm working during the event. Otherwise, I would love to attend a protest event downtown. I was thinking up some slogans on my way to work this morning that I could present on a placard:

Learn to Read

91,121+ dead civilians in Iraq

Great job! The wool is still over everyone's eyes!

Enjoy the banquet. The oil producers of Alberta
owe you a debt of gratitude for spiking the
price of oil while you were president.

Cheney, your monkey is in Calgary if you still need him

When Bush visited Guatemala in 2007, a bunch of Mayan priests performed a cleansing ritual to rid the country of the evil spirits after he left. That and the price of corn doubled.


Ginger Brew

I've always been a fan of ginger beer.* Even when I was little, I would pick out the Jamaican ginger beer as my treat if we were in town. It burns. And I like it.

Ginger root is on sale and so I buy some. I tell Amber how I would like to learn how to make ginger beer and she tells me I should look online. Of course! The world is at my fingertips. I find a recipe:
Ginger : Water : Sugar : Yeast : Lemon

Seal it in a bottle for 24-48 hours and voilá!

Notice how it deflated after I opened it. Some serious pressure built up in there.

The kids and Amber really liked it. I think it was too lemony and not gingery enough. I'll be making more batches in the future.

*Not to be confused with its wimpy cousin ginger ale.


Calgary ZOO

We finally went to the zoo last weekend. 4 1/2 hours of the zoo. It was awesome, though we were pretty exhausted at the end.

Acadia has been on a giraffe kick for the past couple months. She continually asks to see the giraffe video we have on an episode of the Rick Mercer Report when he visits the Toronto Zoo. The first destination was then to see the giraffes. They are quite noble/bizarre creatures up close. Those tongues are freakier than the long necks. Acadia seemed more confused than in awe of these beasts, but she liked them in the end.

Blaise was awesome! He picked up the little info phones all the time and listened carefully to the voice at the other end explaining all about the animals.

His favorite animal out of all was the fish. Even after seeing camels and elephants and anteaters and lions, the fish were the best. The pet store has fish.

I liked the lions...

and the giant anteaters... 

and the stork...

and the andean condor...

and the moose.

The kids really liked the ducks. There are ducks everywhere! Maybe I should go to the zoo alone next time.

Some other animals that were super wicked awesome cool were the feathertail glider, the alpine ibex, and the cotton-top tamarin (a real rockstar!).


The Weepies / Jon Foreman

Thought I would highlight two of the albums that have been dominating my playlists over the past couple months. The first is a quadruple e.p. set by Jon Foreman, the frontman for Switchfoot. The 24 song album is almost entirely acoustic and many of them emulate Old Testament prophetic verse. Truly some of the most beautiful music ever written. Thanks to Shine FM's Dean Jones (my bro-in-law) for forcefeeding it to me.

The weepies were introduced to me by Chris, a teacher in Regina I met in Guatemala and maintained close ties with. Again, just beautiful music. It's basically a couple who write and sing folk style music. I guess they hit it big a couple years ago and have been going strong. She has a very distinct voice.
Antarctica, my only living relative
Antarctica, I can't wait anymore

My New Hope Church

It's no secret to many of my friends that I have nursed a discontent with the institution of the Christian church in North America for several years now. There are a variety of reasons for my feelings: use of funds for the local body and their own comfort, lack of identity or vision, political alignment concerning certain issues, disinterest in the rest of the world, poor study and teaching of the Bible, a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible's role, and a general slacker attitude towards Christ's call on each of our lives.

It shouldn't surprise anyone then that it took some time for Amber and I to actually look for a church in our new city. I could always make the excuse that we were out of town every other week visiting family in Red Deer or Edmonton. But really, I wasn't in a hurry to be disappointed. The desire to be part of a church was there, but not any of the ones I have visited in the past (no offense intended).

Finally, at the end of January, after not leaving the city for a few weeks, we decided it was time to check out one of the emergent church listed on a website: New Hope Church. Amber found it online and told me that some recent sermons preached had taken a look at how God's messages could be found in Bob Dylan, Feist, and Coldplay's music.

New Hope has had a strange effect on me. Those weeks I can't attend, I am very disappointed that I have to miss the service. This has never been an issue for me, in fact taking a break from church has been great! Now, I can't wait for each service to come around and missing church is avoided if at all possible - even last weekend when Amber had the car on a sisters' weekend, I secured a ride with a friend from church. If they didn't work out, I was looking at taking a cab ($45 round trip) or public transit (just over 2.5 hours round trip).

So, what is it that's is so bewitching about this church? 
  • They meet in a community centre which means they don't have a lot of the overhead costs or the preoccupation of having their own building. It also doesn't sit empty all week. 
  • Teaching is a serious part of their purpose. I was invited after just a few weeks to attend a 7 week course outlining some of the core teachings of the church and how those teachings influence how church is done at New Hope specifically.
  • The sermons are relevant, poetic, honest, and God seeking (meaning there is some mystery left to Him rather than pure explanation). John van Sloten is the senior pastor there and so far I've been transfixed by the messages on finding God in The Dark Knight (the first service we went to) and Photography (a three week series), on the Seven Deadly Relational Sins, and a service about the church's current mission project in Malawi. All the sermons are available to listen to or watch on their website.
  • It's small. Just 200 or so attendees which makes it easier to get to know the people. A few students from my school attend too.
  • Their focus on missions as a local church is palpable. They are community focused and now through initiatives in the congregation they are sending a group of four people to Malawi to establish a relationship with a village down there that we can cooperate with.
  • The music worship is not overproduced, but it's also very focused on God and well rehearsed. There is also a strong emphasis on art and expression. Because the congregation was born out of a conservative and liturgical denomination, there isn't a lot of hand raising and dancing (very little in fact), let alone swaying to the music. I'm quite fine with that because I don't raise my hands much either. I sway though.
  • The kids programs are great too. For Acadia's class(<3),>
  • Coffee, tea, bagels, and tables at the back of the gym keep it all informal. They also have several efforts for basic environmental responsibility. There are film nights, little cafés where people can play tunes, and a general atmosphere of community and a love of beauty.
I was genuinely surprised that the church espoused a strong Calvinist theology, in fact the denomination (Christian Reformed Church) to which it is aligned is based almost entirely on John Calvin's theology. While I have a deep respect for all reformers, including Calvin, the Calvinist/Augustinian doctrine of predestination* is still very sour to me. What is refreshing however is that this church does not teach this aspect of Calvinism (from what I understand anyhow), but rather the aspect that because God is the creator of all things, goodness can be found in all things, even though they are mere shadows of what they once were intended to be.

Before, I was discontent with several aspects of each church I attended and consequently allowed myself a certain level of inactivity because I judged the church inadequate or misguided. Now that I don't have this excuse, I must accept full participation. I look forward to it.

*The doctrine of predestination teaches that God chooses some to be saved and some not to be saved. While the basis for it is beautiful - that it is the good that God created within us that responds to God's invitation to be saved and therefore all God's doing - the other side is quite ugly that God intends for many to be lost and that it isn't their choice but His. Bring on the comments.

Postulate: If TicketMaster, Then WereSlaves

A short while ago, Sam Roberts was in town and Amber and I decided it was high time for a date. Tickets were only $30.50 each and so we saw this as a great opportunity. I bought the tickets just a couple days in advance and so we got some of the last ones, way up top in the back row. As I paid for them on TicketMaster, I noticed that besides the GST there was a $10 per ticket charge for using TicketMaster. That's 33% more than what the ticket was worth. The Jubilee Auditorium where the concert was held has 2526 seats meaning TM could have grossed over $25,000 from this one concert. I know there are costs related to each event, but this is really quite excessive. I wonder if Sam Roberts himself, the reason for the concert, the writer of all the songs performed, earned as much as that.

What about the gross (or rather disgusting) earnings for a stadium event that can fit 30,000 people? $0.3 million just for selling the tickets? Brutal!

Concerts are just ridiculously priced as far as I'm concerned. Leonard Cohen is coming to Calgary. I've been a fan for almost 20 years. I own all of his albums. But $100 (plus GST and TM fees) for nosebleeders or $250+ for good seats just isn't worth it.

The artists deserve a little slap on the wrists too. Why do they use TicketMaster to begin with when they know their fans are being extorted in such a gruesome way?

Then there are the scalpers... ugh.

Sam rocked the house though. Great show.