Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Life As A Squirtgun Assassin Pt. 1 - Hitman High

For the most part, we tend to eschew censorship and book burning these days. The idea of arcane, heretical or forbidden lore is by and large regarded as superstitious folly in modern times. In my youth, however, I came across a book that had a pronounced effect upon my life for years to come. Its unconventional perspective and arcane aspect affected the way I thought, and let me live out a carefully constructed and dangerous-feeling fantasy life in full view of the mundanes around me. I willingly participated in activities designed to both heighten and justify my sense of paranoia, and viewed my playmates as both predator and prey.

This would have been in grade 11 or 12, and I wish I could remember where I had come across the book in question; it may have been at a local comic and games shop, like Starbase 12 on 101st street, or maybe even The Hobbit Shoppe. Presumably I was looking for some supplementary material for one of the many tabletop role-playing games that had been a primary focus of my leisure time in junior high and high school, common ones like Dungeons & Dragons, but lesser known examples like Villains & Vigilantes or Merc as well.

This rulebook offered something different -  a live role-playing experience. Years before live-action role-play (or LARPing) became a thing, this book offered a gaming experience away from the tabletop, played in the environs of the real world, and promised entertaining sessions that could last for days. I was intrigued and bought the book; Killer, by Steve Jackson. And while it may sound melodramatic, my life was never really the same afterwards.

Killer: The Game of Assassination, was built on the premise of a group of players taking on the roles of ruthless assassins trying to do each other in. Using harmless analogues of lethal weaponry and acts, including but not limited to guns, knives, poison and bombs, players would attempt to eliminate each other from the game.

For instance, a player who takes sip of water and notices too late that a sticker on the bottom of the glass has a skull and crossbones on it or even the word "POISON", would be encouraged to grasp their throat and mime out a dramatic death so that other players in the vicinity would be aware of their demise.  Water pistols and dart guns become the firearms of choice, a balloon rigged to pop when a car starts or a door opens becomes a bomb, et cetera.

The covert nature of the game meant you could make a kill in front of a certain number of witnesses, unless you were wearing a mask. Wearing a mask made you a potential threat to all other players, however, and meant they were all free to target you, regardless of the number of witnesses! Some scenarios had players operating in teams, but most often, it was everyone for themselves.

I explained the premise of the game to my friends, and pretty much everyone agreed, this was something we needed to bring into our lives, and right away. Somehow word got it, but interested parties on the periphery of our circle of friends asked to be brought in, mingling a number of cliques and normally independent social structures.

We set up a simple "Circle of Death" scenario, wherein everyone is given another random player as their personal target, but is structured in such a way that Player A chases Player B, who is after Player C, all the way down to Player Z, who chases A. Everyone knows who is playing, and who their target is, but can't be sure who might be gunning for them.

The designated start-time for the game was the final bell on Friday afternoon on a warm, sunny day in May. A number of safe zones and out-of-bounds areas had been established such as workplaces, classrooms while class was in session or a teacher present, churches ("Holy ground, Highlander!"), police and fire stations, and so on, but once that bell rang, it was open season.

Some players made a casual, early escape from the school grounds, taking cover in crowds full of oblivious would-be witnesses. Others hung back, hiding in washroom stalls and clutching a dart gun in their sweaty hands. and hoping the coast was clear when they made their exfiltration. At least one person had preemptively opened a window next to their seat in class, and as soon as the bell sounded, they swiftly and surreptitiously made their exit a la fenestra and beelined off of school property to the safety of the suburbs.

In the parking lot, drivers tried to subtly check their vehicles for traps while simultaneously keeping their eyes peeled for the possibility of an ambush. Once they were in gear they knew they were safe, as attacks in and from moving vehicles were also forbidden.

To the best of my knowledge, no one was terminated on school grounds, as all the players began with a largely defensive profile, retreating to a place of safety to concoct their plans of attack. The carnage did not take long to begin after that, however.

Kevin F. got careless and accepted an offer of a ride to work that evening, and was shot point-blank through the window as he reached for the door handle. His killer was kind enough to follow through on his promised lift, however.

Dave G. exited his house slowly and with an abundance of caution the next morning, thinking he'd seen his friend Brent G. skulking around the neighbourhood the evening before. With a tight grip on the water pistol in his pocket, he made his way to where his '72 Vega stood by the curb in front. Dave glanced quickly at his wheels to make sure a large balloon wasn't wedged under one of his tires (simulating an anti-vehicular mine) before moving cautiously to the driver's door. He pulled up his windshield wiper to ensure there was no "KABOOM" flag attached to it and reached to the door handle before suddenly jerking his hand back like the handle was hot.

Taking a paper napkin from his pocket, he gingerly wiped under the handle in case Brent's self-admitted predilection for UKD (unusual killing devices) had led him to coat it with contact poison.

The napkin came away without any trace of petroleum jelly, so Dave opened the door. He began to step into the car, thought better of it, and reached his hand under the driver's seat, since Brent was exactly the kind of player to have wedged a balloon under his seat springs and attached a thumbtack somewhere to serve as a pressure sensitive trigger. But the underside of his seat was clear.

Finally Dave dropped into the driver's seat of his warm automobile. He rolled the window down and inserted the key into the ignition, but before turning it, he checked his stereo in case someone had wound his volume up, perhaps inserting a cassette tape of an explosion to complete the effect.

While he was doing that, however, Brent rolled out from underneath Dave's Vega where he had been lurking for who-knows-how long, drew himself up to his full height of 6'2", and casually shot a shocked and sputtering Dave through the open window with his dart gun.

By the time school resumed on Monday, more than half the players had been eliminated. I was still alive, and I believe I had ambushed another player, but had been unable to get a line on the elusive Dave W., my next target. By way of a mutual acquaintance, I discovered that he had not only left town that weekend to visit his grandmother, but was bragging about it as well. Such a tactic was well within the letter of the rules, but far removed from its spirit, as it meant his target was effectively out of the game until he returned. Worse still, since Dave had no job at this time and no real reason to show his face on the streets, he had announced his intentions to bottle up in his house until the ranks thinned out considerably. Because of this unsportsmanlike conduct, I resolved to remove Dave at the earliest opportunity and by admittedly unsavoury means.

After midnight the following night, I parked half a block away from Dave's bungalow, and walked casually but not without purpose into his back lane. Moments later, I was in his backyard, removing a roll of toilet paper and a Sharpie from my pocket. I began to encircle his house with tissue, stopping periodically to write the word "FIRE" on it, and still more times to knot the flimsy paper where it broke. Had I the foresight to buy orange or yellow crepe paper, I could have foregone the labeling and done things far more efficiently, but I derived a runic satisfaction from scribing the inflammatory word.

Three quarters of the way around the house, I carefully made my way past a basement window, noting with interest that Dave was indeed at home, watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on PBS. I recoiled when his head snapped up, losing my balance and falling onto my backside from the crouch I had been in. I retreated behind the corner of the house and gingerly craned my neck for a look from a different window, expecting to see Dave racing up the stairs and ready to make a hasty and undignified retreat.

Instead I saw Dave at the foot of the stairs, talking (I assumed) with his mother on the next floor. After he returned to his belly in front of the television, I carried on with my deadly work, knotted the deadly ring of t.p., then exited the yard and hustled back to my car.

The next day at school, I confirmed with Dave that he had found the 'Ring of Fire' in the morning, and explained to his mum that they hadn't been randomly vandalized. We tallied the results of my arsonistic assassination: 75 points for killing my assigned targets gave me 150, but I lost 50 points apiece for Dave's mother and sister, the innocent bystanders who had perished in my callous attack. Effective but inefficient, however, it had effects that resonated for many games to come.

I don't recall who won the overall game, but from that day on, whenever anyone talked about bottling up or going to the mattresses to wait out the storm, someone else would laugh and say, "It's your barbecue, tough guy."

Leduc Composite High and its surrounding environs saw a few more games of Killer take place over the next couple of years, unbeknownst to most of those residing there. People who would never have dreamed about playing D&D reveled in pretending they were hardened button men or bounty hunters. Calcified social circles overlapped and intermeshed, a lot of fun was had, and despite the many deaths, no one got hurt. And to think, all the stories that came out of these imaginary vendettas were due to a random encounter with an unassuming book in a forgotten shop for nerds.

I was glad I came across Steve Jackson's imaginative rulebook when I did, because high school can be a chore, and it gave a lot of is a much needed opportunity to direct our more nihilistic tendencies in a more creative and potentially constructive fashion.

The book would continue to make an even greater impact on my life and the lives of those around me when this Assassination Game when it came with me to college...

My Life As A Squirtgun Assassin Pt. 2 - Agent of K.A.O.S.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dawn of the (Dance) Dad

I greeted the morning with no small sense of trepidation today, knowing it was my first solo outing as a dance dad. I've been to a few competitions and even more performances in the near-decade that Glory has been involved in Irish dance, but Audrey has been the face of the Fitzpatricks in feis support (and a fairer face by far!). This weekend she and Fenya were away at her folks' place to touch base with a close family friend from Holland, so it fell to me to at last don the mantle of Dance Dad.

Thankfully Glory's age an experience means I have to do very little in the way of coordinating or serving in an intercessionary fashion; my duties as DD relates to three key areas: logistics, transport and support. And they started first thing in the morning.

At 7:00 am I awoke and immediately went to the kitchen to put together a turkey sausage and cheese omelette for Glory. A hearty breakfast is always a good idea on a busy day, and even more so since her nervousness makes it difficult for her to eat once we are on site.  Of course, she had an appetite because she had risen an hour ahead of me in order to sort out her hair and makeup.

I prepared a similar repast for myself while she ate, supplemented by a large cup of coffee from my favourite (and thematically appropriate) mug.

The night before, she had looked at last year's G&G jersey and said, "Y'know, if you wear that tomorrow, we will pretty much be matching..."

So that obviously had to happen.

We made it out the door a bit behind schedule, but still arrived at the Westin hotel before 9:00 and in plenty of time to register. After checking her dance card and determining that all of her morning dances save one were on stage D, we found midrow seats beside it and Glory checked her kit while she waited for her first call to come up.

After about an hour and a half of waiting (the bane of dance competitions, swim meets and hockey tournaments alike), her first soft shoe competition loomed, so she went to warm up, then returned to change into her solo dress.

And wait some more.

The numbers indicating which dance was being performed were slowly removed, and about two-and-a-half hours after arriving, she was finally able to take the stage.

Thus began a series of 8 consecutive dances, without respite. Some sets had as many as 16 other competitors in them, so she could often catch her breath waiting for her turn to perform for the adjudicators.
Judging these young dancers takes both a fine degree and significant amount of finicky-mindedness; it all looks amazing to my layman's eyes (which also suffer from undeniable bias), but they are looking for pointed toes, amount and number of leg crossings, and the bare minimum of upper body movement.

I had Glory's hard shoes ready for her as she finished dance 480 (slip jig) and needed to change from soft shoes for her next dance (treble jig), but as she unlaced her dance slippers, I saw that her sole dance on the other stage (slip jig special) was about to start, and asked if she needed to keep them on. She took a look, and I could see the calculations racing behind her eyes. "Yep," she said, with only the slightest amount of frustration, and she turned her eyes back down to her footwear and began re-lacing her shoes.

Returning a few minutes later, she sat in the dancers row immediately ahead of our seats and began picking at her laces yet again, but ran into a problem, These were new shoes, not yet stretchy enough to allow her to tie the laces into a bow, so she had used a double knot instead, and it was proving reluctant to undo. Breathlessly but without panic, she looked at me and quickly said, "I can't undo my laces; could you come help me?

I pushed the empty seat beside her out of my way and moved through the gap, happy for the opportunity to discharge the support portion of my duties at last, but wary of the ticking clock. Most of the other dancers were changing their shoes as well, but were progressing more quickly, and hold things up would do nothing for Glory's state of mind.

As I struggled with the recalcitrant fastening, I briefly considered asking if she had a spare set of laces, and cutting these ones off instead, but at last I got a thumbnail under an edge of the knot with some give to it, and got the slippers out of the way so she could bring her hard shoes into play. She even had the time and composure to take a sip from her water bottle, as her focus sometimes prevents her from hydrating properly. (Singularity of purpose is a trait that she gets from both of her parents, for better and worse, as it happens.)

There were 5 hard shoe dances to complete, one right after the other, and she was understandably breathless when she was finally finished. I unlimbered some of the lunch Audrey had packed for her while she got out of her solo dress, and she dug into a container of coleslaw while I noshed on a chicken and brie baguette beside her.

Her spirits lifted by food, she went to retrieve her results, coming back with a handful of hardware. Out of seven dances judged, she had earned six medals: two bronzes, three silvers and a gold!

As always she wished she had done better, but admitted it had been a while since she had received any silvers, so this indeed felt like progress.

There does not appear to be much rhyme or reason (or at least, none in Glory's eyes) as to why some dances are for medals while others are for trophies, but they only get announced when all the morning's competitions have finished, and all competitors must be present and in their solo dress in order to receive their prizes.

It turned out she had gotten 7th with her treble reel...

And 2nd for her treble jig!

As happy as she was with that placing, she was even happier that a classmate had won one of the big perpetual trophies

The team dances couldn't begin until all the solo dances were finished, and this ended up taking an astonishing five hours to complete, testing the patience of dancers, parents, teachers and judges alike. We took our leave of the hall for a while, checking the wares of the various vendors, and eventually meeting up with Auntie Tara, who had come in to watch the team dances.

Victory in team dancing continues to be an elusive goal for Scoil Rince Mahoney, but it feels like progress is being made, and Lori, their instructor, is certainly keeping a wary eye on their development.

From my point of view though, it is still amazing to watch the intricate interplay of these young ladies, especially when you know how much effort goes into memorizing it, let alone the execution.

"Five hours for last place?" one of her teammates moaned, and yes, that is certainly a bittersweet ending to a long day. But there are still two more feis's left in the season, so hope springs eternal.

In the meantime, I can express my pride and admiration for the hard work and composure Glory displayed in achieving her results today, and look forward to my next turn as dance dad!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dis, Gehenna, and High School - 13 Reasons Why, Reviewed

On the recommendation of a co-worker, the family and I checked out a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. I couldn't in good faith call it a completely enjoyable experience, but it was some remarkable television that I would highly recommend to just about anyone interested in the medium.

13 Reasons Why is an adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It was executive produced by pop artist Selena Gomez and was originally envisioned as a movie with her as the lead, but was expanded to a 13 episode series with a wholly new cast.

The story opens with 17 year old Clay Jensen receiving a set of cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes!) recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate, co-worker and crush who had committed suicide some time prior. Using 13 sides of 7 cassettes, she outlines the 13 people behind her decision to take her own life. The listener is one of those titular 13 reasons, and after listening to all the tapes, they are asked to give them to the next person in sequence.

So, as you've probably guessed, it ain't exactly a comedy.

Despite being some extremely tough viewing, I cannot say enough good things about this show. It may be the most brutally honest cross-section of the tribulations of teenage life ever committed to the medium, and is extraordinarily compelling viewing.

It's compelling because of the story's refusal to portray anyone involved solely as a high school stereotype. Jocks, introverts, geeks and rich kids all unfold into rich, layered and conflicted characters, none of whom act stupidly, although most act selfishly at one time or another, including Clay and Hannah.

As Clay learns more and more about Hannah's torments and his classmates' roles in them, he becomes more and more disturbed, acting out in larger and larger ways. Meanwhile, those who have already listened to the tapes, a disparate group of individuals linked only by a shared knowledge of a suicidal girl, try to figure out what Clay will do with his newfound knowledge, and work to protect their own interests.

Dylan Minnette's portrayal of shy, insecure, and tortured Clay Jensen is absolutely riveting. He brings a grounded and nuanced performance that runs the spectrum of adolescent emotion from disaffected to furious which never feels forced. Similarly, Katherine Langford's turn as Hannah Baker is amazing; smart, cute, insightful and compassionate, you know she deserves better than the fate that awaited her even before the series begins, and feel helpless watching the events unfold that lead her to commit suicide. It is nothing short of heartbreaking.

Along the way, 13 Reasons Why addresses all the concerns you perhaps remember from your own high school years: fitting in, finding someone special, avoiding those who take pleasure from the discomfort of others. But it also takes an unflinching look at the darker side: bullying, violence, mental illness, rape, and , obviously, suicide. It's a harsh ride in many places but worth undertaking.

Structurally, the show is nothing short of brilliant, weaving in Hannah's backstory and the current consequences of her tapes in a way that keeps you glued to the screen, The transitions between the now and then of the story are handled adroitly, with imaginative transitions that the four of us commented aloud upon more than once.

It is not all gloom, doom and angst; the characters depicted are sharp, smart kids. The dialogue rings true and there are some funny bits, and the soundtrack is fabulous, with lots of deep cuts from the 80s, both covers and originals. There is no denying that the program has an affect, however, which we are still feeling hours after having completed it.

You could make an argument that a show like this should be required viewing by high school student, and it is with mixed emotions that I note how many of the sixth graders in Audrey's school are already watching it. There are some frank depictions of teenage sexuality and a lot of f-bombs in there that will be off-putting to some viewers (and their parents), but if you work with youth, or have children of or close to that age, especially if you are a teacher or a guidance counsellor, I would strongly suggest you watch 13 Reasons Why. I won't lie: watching it with the girls, one of whom will probably be starting a new high school in the fall, was pretty tough sleddin' at times. But I am glad we all did it together, and gladder still we could talk about the points brought up in it.

If you don't fit any of those pigeon-holes, but appreciate a well-told story with imaginative visual chops and a commitment to a realistic depiction of the social and emotional minefield that is high school that pulls absolutely no punches, then give the series a shot. We watched all 13 episodes within about 10 days of starting, which should give you an indication of just how coercive an experience it was.

Be advised that despite being an adaptation of a novel, there is every likelihood of a second season, which I personally found a little disappointing. Not every plotline gets resolved, and if you like your series to have a pretty little bow tying everything up, well, you might just be left high and dry in that regard, sunshine. Having said that though, if a second season should come to pass,  I will be there with bells on.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pulpitations: In The Midst Of Life...

It still makes me as nervous as all get out, but I've actually come to enjoy delivering sermons. Subbing in for our minister a couple of times a year is great public speaking experience and an all too rare opportunity to ponder ancient ideas and try to extract something meaningful that will resonate in modern ears.

Last Sunday's readings were about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and Ezekiel's vision of The Valley of Dry Bones. The gospel tale is familiar to most folks even if they've never set foot in a church, but the Hebrew scriptural tale is known to many of us thanks to the tune of an old spiritual:

(Rain Man is a good movie, I think, but it's an even better soundtrack, and that song is one of the reasons.)

It's fascinating to read what scholars and interpreters have wrung out of these millennia old tales, and they can often provide a context difficult to conjure for most of us 21st century types. For many of us, the idea of a valley filled with skeletal remains will barely make the needle quiver on the ol' Horrorscope, but nearly 3000 years ago, when burial rites were something you wouldn't even deny a hated enemy, one has to assume it would have far greater implications for the listener. So that's a bit of what I went with in my sermon.

In the Midst of Life...

Media vita in morte sumus.
That is to say, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

It’s a sentiment used as an antiphon in church singing and chants going back more than a thousand years, commonly sung during the 3rd to 5th Sundays in Lent, in fact.

It’s an easy sentiment to appreciate, because it’s true, and it’s always been true. Humans have lived under the shadow of their own mortality since pretty much the beginning of humanity, regardless of whether you are looking in the fossil record or the book of Genesis.

Beyond the fear of death, many cultures are fearful as to what happens to our remains afterwards. This is beyond any hopes or fears about life after death, which, sorry folks, I am not even getting into today!

A lot of the ancient peoples, including the Israelites, held that the proper interment of remains was vitally important. In fact, the worst thing you could promise an enemy was to leave their remains on the battlefield instead of being buried or entombed. A curse in Deuteronomy assures covenant breakers that their “corpses will become food for all the birds of the air and for the beasts of the field, with no one to frighten them off.”

The dead were usually interred quickly, within a day, unembalmed, as much for their spiritual well being as for the prevention of ritual impurity among the living.

“In the midst of life, we are in death.”

It’s true, in many ways, we are surrounded by death.

We see reports from conflict zones in Syria, Eastern Ukraine, South Sudan, and see the body counts rise horrifically.

It seems like every other week there is a terrorist attack like the one in London recently.

Even in our community, we read the papers and read about terrible crimes, of passion and dispassion alike, leaving a trail of lost lives and traumatized memories.

Worse yet, you can’t escape into television even if you avoid the news! Death is all pervasive there too. In the past you had Six Feet Under, and Dead Like Me, now you have your choice of any number of vampire soap operas, iZombie or The Walking Dead, possibly the most popular show on television right now.

Beyond literal death, we invoke un-life on a regular basis in our harried, worrisome lives.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night, I’m dead on my feet today.”

“It’s so dead in here today.”

“Poor thing, she is just dead tired.”

“He is dead-set against that guy leading the party.”

“Did you catch that flu bug going around? You look like death warmed over…”

“Stephen is just beating this point to death…”

Death is pervasive, there is no denying it; “in the midst of life, we are in death.”

Death takes center stage in our scriptures today too.

In our Gospel reading, John tells one of the most significant stories of Christ’s workings, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

It is incredibly dramatic, you could easily imagine parts of it depicted in a movie trailer. The disciples warning Jesus to stay out of Bethany, lest he be stoned! “Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died.” (Pack your bags, you’re goin’ on a guilt trip!) And what a shot could be made out of one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “And Jesus wept.”

You can’t show the story’s ending in the trailer, but who isn’t chilled by the thought of Jesus raising his voice and calling with a clear voice into the now open tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” And darned if the dead fella doesn’t do exactly that, still wearing the wrappings they bound him in. But before that happens, Jesus weeps, and this is important, because as we weep, God weeps with us.

In case those of a skeptical nature want to take the position that Lazarus was in fact just a heavy sleeper, or had perhaps fallen into some sort of coma, John takes special care to remind us that Lazarus has been in this cave for 4 days. Without food or water in the tomb, a sickly man would surely have perished, but more importantly, in the Jewish tradition, the body and soul part ways after three days. What Jesus has done isn’t just special, it is miraculous.

It is the high point of Jesus’s ministry in many ways, rife with allegory. It is a key moment in the Gospel narrative, as after this point those in opposition to him quickly move to have him killed. Jesus bringing the dead back amongst the living also echoes the famous passage we heard from Ezekiel.

Ezekiel relates the story of his being taken in spirit by God to a valley filled with bones. Some translations call it “the” Valley of Dry Bones, imbuing it with some significance. Is there a Valley of the Moist Bones? Ick. Maybe this valley is a battlefield, maybe a bunch of cadavers just happened to end up there, who knows. What is important is just how unnatural it is.

It’s an ominous scene to us now, a valley full of bones, but imagine how it must have appeared to Ezekiel, a man who would have felt that even his enemies deserved a proper burial, and whose culture perhaps didn’t trivialize death and body parts the way ours does. I imagine it was pretty horrifying!

To make matter worse, God springs a pop quiz on our boy Zeke, asking him if the bones could live. Ezekiel, being no one’s fool, wisely hedges his bets with the scriptural equivalent of a shrug, saying, in essence, “God only knows”.

God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, telling them that God will restore movement, and flesh and finally breath to them. Ezekiel, being a faithful servant to God, does exactly this, and is probably not surprised when things unfold just as foretold. He describes the rattling heard as the multitude of bones begin coming together, ‘bone to its bone’.

Quick sidebar: how many of you, right now, are thinking of a particular spiritual that outlines the connecting of ‘them bones, dem bones, dem dry bones’? “Ankle bone connected to the leg bone/ leg bone connected to the knee bone/ knee bone connected to the thigh bone”? Just me? No matter, but like the songs says, “now hear the word of the Lord”!

After the bones come together, and Ezekiel preaches the breath into them, God reveals that he is not creating a legion of the undead, but is merely illustrating a metaphor: “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’”

Ezekiel is then commanded to proclaim once again, this time for real, this time to tell the people of Israel, living in exile in Babylon, that God will open their graves, He will bring them out of their graves, and return them to their native soil.

He gives hope to a people in bondage.

Part of me wonders- of the two amazing things we heard from the scriptures, which is the more miraculous; the raising up of a body without life, or the instilling of hope into a people who had none?

In the end, it doesn’t matter much, as they both come from the same source, and in much the same way: a messenger delivering the will of God, the word of God, the very breath of God.

We enjoy tremendous, almost unparalleled freedoms here in 21st century North America, but we still live in bondage, bondage to fear. Fear of chaos, fear of exile, fear of change, fear of the Other, and yes, fear of death.

Worst of all, there are those who propagate these fears, not because they share them, but because there is some political or financial benefit to be wrought from our fear.

A non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia was passed in the House of Commons last week, but not unanimously, and without a lot of popular support as 42% of Canadians were opposed to it.  Those opposed did so for a variety of reasons, semantics, precedent, or catering to bigotry.

As our neighbours to the south struggle to get anything done in government, and as the jibes amongst Conservative leadership candidates get more and more barbed, the level of divisiveness is almost overwhelming. It can leave a person without hope, feeling as one dead. There is a temptation to stop Lazarus on his way out of the cave and say, “You don’t wanna come out here, buddy; in fact - make room in there for one more.”

There are days when I need God’s breath to enter me, as it entered those bones that He raised up in Ezekiel’s vision.

The same breath that reanimated the house of Israel.

The breath in the voice of Jesus, commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb.

Deep in my cave of fear, my valley of hesitancy, my tomb of loneliness, I need to feel that breath, hear that voice.

It takes a bit of bravery, like it did for Thomas when he said to the other disciples, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

And it can be tough, but if I try, if I strain, I can hear it - no, feel it. A compulsion to remain hopeful, to maintain some kind of optimism, to have faith that I am not yet dead, and that others have felt the same stirrings.

And working together, we can accomplish God’s will, and accomplish things that might seem impossible now, but will be called miraculous later.

“In the midst of life, we are in death.” It’s still hard to refute. But what impedes us more as we try to build the world God wants for us: death, or the fear of death?

Think about it, and then consider how many times in the Bible we are told to ‘fear not’.

As the season of Easter draws near its end, with death and resurrection yet to come, let us never forget: with God as our breath, and Jesus as our teacher, we can rise again, out of despair, out of hopelessness, out of the many tombs we find ourselves in.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spring Break 2017 - Return to Radium

So here's the thing: you're feeling like a dip in the hot springs whilst the spawn are out of school, but Miette is closed for the season and Banff is crowded even when Parks Canada isn't giving away free passes for the sesquicentennial, so despite the risk of the adventurous becoming rote we returned like spawning salmon to Radium Hot Springs. Should we come back yet again at this time of year, I am listing the following reminders about the place for myself, and posting them publicly in the hope that others may find them useful, or at least distracting.

The drive from home to Radium is 8 hours via the Icefields Parkway, not 6.
Damned if I know how I got that mixed up, but it meant a speedy peregrination through the passes in order to get to the aquacourt before closing time, let me tell you. Not so much that we couldn't stop for a selfie at a scenic viewpoint though.

A soak in the hot springs with your family is an ideal way to unwind after a long drive.
Seriously, if not for the pruning I would be there still.

Entering into a semiconscious state while floating may result in your facial hair getting braided, unbeknownst to you.
Between the high concentrations of minerals in the spring water and the fact that my body is probably 30% lipids, buoyancy comes easily to me and I have often wondered if it might be possible for me to actually enter an alpha state of light sleep while floating on my back. Attempts to determine this are usually undermined by the aforementioned spawn doing something they find amusing, whether it is turning me over in the water and comparing me to a deep-fried Dutch confection called ollie bollen or attempting to style my chest or facial hair, and then photographing same.

Horsethief Creek Pub And Eatery stops serving minors at 8:30.
Arriving in Radium at about 7:00, we decided to get in a dip before heading out to dinner, and having given up red meat for Lent, I was (surprisingly) really looking forward to their veggie burger, a hearty patty made out of spinach and egg, but when they asked if our girls were of age, we were foolishly honest and ended up getting takeout pizza from across the highway instead. The silver lining? Wildside Pizza was really good, and they had one of those F'real milkshake machines what let you set the thickness of your beverage (which facilitates the adding of potables one may have brought for such an occasion, such as a delightful toffee whiskey), and of which we availed ourselves the following evening.

There's more than one way to dry a swimsuit.

'Nuff said, I suppose.

There is a lovely walking trail alongside Sinclair Creek.
The lady at the liquor store suggested we take walk this way now that it was finally dry enough, and it is lovely. We drove down past the sawmill because I was simply not up to the elevation changes inherent to the other route, and enjoyed about an hour-and-a-half''s worth of creekside stroll full of educational tidbits provided by the guidepost mascot, Alvin the alevin (the larval form of the kokanee salmon.
In addition to the fresh air, exercise and gorgeous scenery, it was worth it just to able to introduce the expression 'yolk sac' into the family lexicon.

I'm still astonished at how well these two girls get along.

I also appreciate how Google artists up my snapshots every once in a while, although it is maybe a little unsettling to boot.

'Escape terrain' is a term used to describe geographical or topographical features used to evade predators.
I've done this for years in video games, and finally have a name for it. In this case however, it refers to the hoodoos used by mountain goats and sheep to stay out of the reach of cougars and coyotes.

Bighorn sheep are impressive despite their ubiquity.
It took us a while to see the first few, but then it seemed like there was a herd to be spotted fairly regularly.

They are gorgeous and inspiring animals, and their bearing is difficult to articulate, never mind duplicate.

Old-timey cutout photos can still be fun.
I shared this one of the girls on Instagram with a caption about "Kids sometimes get your goat."

And although Audrey was purportedly amused about my referring to her as a cougar, it turns out that jokes about underpassing were out of bounds.
She's a good sport though.

For a small town, one can eat damned well in Radium.
There are two German restaurants (one we dined at last year, and other we will try out when we return to the area for camping in August), a Hungarian diner, a first-rate coffee shop, an English pub I have yet to try, and my favourite, the Fired Burgers and Breakfast Place (F'd Up BBP for short). The two best examples from this go-round were Glory's banana-stuffed French toast...

...and my Monte Cristo Eggs Benny.

It's not quite OEB, but that place is just too far from here, and Fired Up has less of a line up, at least this time of year.

Sinclair Canyon is amazing.
It's like this mythical stone gateway to a valley of wonderment; I can only imagine what it must have felt like passing through here in the cowboy days.

The iPad is the second best thing to bring on a road trip, after one's family.
Having driven the whole way out and through the Icefields Parkway during a winter storm on the return leg, I felt entitled to decamp to the back seat with Glory and watch Captain America: Civil War on the iPad during the less-than-riveting Hinton to Edmonton portion of the journey.

There's a lot worse ways to close out a three-day mini-vacay than that, I can assure you.