Thursday, January 05, 2017

Of Energy, and Economics, and Ecology...

Alberta has been, for several decades now, a carbon-based economy. [Actually I would argue that the global economy is pretty much carbon based, but for some of us the base is much more obvious.] The extraction and sale of oil and natural gas has been a major, if not the main, driver of economic activity in the province for my whole lifetime.

Which has meant for some very heady years. There have bee times when money was coming in so quickly governments appeared incapable of managing it well. And then the price of oil would crash and the provincial economy sputtered. Soaring heights to deep crash has been the rule, despite the fact that for the last 30+ years there has been an ongoing discussion about the need to diversify the economy, to get off the oil royalty roller-coaster, to provide a bit more stability to provincial economics and finances. (Though to be honest it always appears to me that the diversification discussion only happens in earnest during the crash when money to support new initiatives is tight and then the price of oil swings back up and people are too busy to do anything but surf the wave.)

And then there is the ecological issue. Carbon-based climate change can be a touchy subject in a carbon-based economy -- especially when said economy is struggling. Anything that seems to place obstacles in the way of such a major piston in the economic engine is portrayed as dangerous, reckless, unfeeling... And yet in a social climate where there is more and ore pressure to address climate change the image of Alberta has not always been positive -- like when the area around the Athabasca Oilsands projects (think Fort McMurray) was compared to Mordor. The more people in Alberta politics and in the oil industry (not all but some) insisted that things had to keep happening "the way they always have" the harder it was for Alberta politicians and business leaders to sell new pipelines to get our key commodity to market (which was self-defeating in the end). Even with ten years of a very oil-friendly Prime Minister in office major pipeline projects were stalled.

18 months ago we had an election. And for the first time in over 40 years elected a new governing party. This happened to be in the midst of one of the biggest slumps in the oilfield in recent decades. The new government has not automatically been doing business as usual (which means they are blamed for the ongoing struggle of the economy although I firmly believe the Alberta economy would be in much the same shape no matter which party was in government, possibly worse if a strongly fiscal party was in power and slashing spending). One of the things they have done was bring in a Carbon Tax (the official term is levy but let us call a spade a spade), which took effect as we took one calendar off the wall and put the new one up for 2017. It is a two step process, this year Carbon emissions are tagged at $20/tonne and effective January 1, 2018 the price will increase to $30/tonne. It is also worth noting that if the province did not do this a carbon price would come into effect next year anyway under the Federal government plan.

The basic premise of carbon pricing is that if we make emitting carbon more expensive then people will emit less. Which is actually very sound in theory (and has been shown to make a difference in British Colombia which has had a carbon price for years and in Newfoundland where they raise the gas tax substantially last year). I am just not sure that we have found the price point which spurs that change. I remember a discussion 10 years ago (or longer) when a group from the congregation watched An Inconvenient Truth followed by some debriefing.  At that time gasoline was climbing above $1/liter, which was seen as a sort of bellwether event. People were commenting on how much more expensive travelling was going to be but when asked if that meant they would travel less the answer was no... The Alberta Carbon Tax/Levy raises the price of gasoline by $0.049/L and diesel by $0.0535/L Will that make people change driving habits in what is, to be honest, a very car-centered culture? Time will well.

As one could have predicted, the new tax/levy is less than popular. (Seriously, when has a new or increased tax been warmly welcomed, even if people agree it is needed?) It does have the potential to raise the cost of living, in a time when large numbers of people are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. But I don't believe it to be the harbinger of doom that the more conservative voices in the province insist it is.

To begin with, low an middle-income Albertans will automatically (assuming they filed their income tax last year) qualify for a rebate that the province estimates will cover the added costs for gasoline and natural gas. True, tying it to income tax returns means that there may be a year lag for some whose income changed drastically over this last year (same thing happened years ago when Alberta has a health care premium and the subsidy was also tied to income tax returns) but at the same time this lag may mean that people will get a payment a year later than when their income falls within the guidelines. And the rebate is just issued, it is not tied to what you actually spend so if you ARE able to cut down on your emissions (and admittedly some/many people will not be able [or will choose not] to do so) you could conceivably make money on the deal. The next step is to provide some money to assist/incentivize folks to install higher efficiency lighting or furnaces and so on to help cut down emissions.

The uncertain part of the cost equation are the indirect costs. The rebate is aimed to cover the direct costs associated with the tax/levy (and some will debate if that does so effectively or if the income cut off is in the right spot). But there will be costs to businesses that will almost inevitably be passed on to the consumer. Calculating those is apparently a real wide field. I have seen numbers that differ by a factor of 3. But in the end I am leaning towards the lower numbers. As one person pointed out is a FB post that was widely shared:
Assume a fully loaded semi uses 1 liter of fuel per kilometer (because this makes the math really easy). That increases the cost to ship that load by $0.0535 per kilometer, or $5.35 per 100 kilometers. Now a fully loaded semi will have cargo worth several thousand dollars. Dividing the extra cost amongst the value of the load means that the per unit cost is pretty darn low.

Then you add in the fact that the  federal government made it clear that the presence of a climate plan in Alberta was a part of what led them to approve two pipeline projects last month and it is really hard to sell the tax/levy as the economy killer some claim it is (want it to be so they can be right?).

But there is a bigger picture question to me.

How do we determine what the "fair/right/proper" price for energy is?

Is it simply the cost of production and distribution (plus a bit of profit)?
OR do you factor in a price for ecological issues? Because there is no sch thing as totally clean energy. In the long run I lean to the latter, though that is a hard thing to calculate. A price on carbon is one way to do that (though there is still the need to figure out a price associated with the changing of a waterway [hydro] or a nuclear plant or the land use of a wind farm or solar array [to be honest a solar array can be piggy backed on many other land uses].

I am not convinced that a price on carbon is the best or only way to address climate change. I am convinced it is a good one. I am not convinced it will do irreparable damage to the economy. I do know that for a variety of reasons (both political and ecological) we can not continue to do things the way we always have (and I am equally convinced that the Official Opposition in this province wants to do exactly that.

So in the end I support the Carbon Tax/Levy. As a start to how we change the world. But there are miles to go before we sleep...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book 28 0f 2016 -- Practicing Presence: Theory and Practice of Pastoral Care

This is one that I had purchased before/for my sabbatical but did not get read in the summer.

It is the sort of piece I was looking for in terms of Pastoral Care, possibly more than any of the other books on the topic I read this summer.

I found the first part of the book the most helpful in this regard, as an introduction to the topic.

Other than the fact that there were signs that a stronger editing/proofreading process was needed it is a well written book. I did find that there was a focus more on the hospital setting rather than the parish setting but that likely speaks to the author's experience.

It seems to me that this would be a helpful book for an introductory course in Pastoral Care, as well as a refresher on the topic

Saturday, December 24, 2016

From our House to Yours

Merry Christmas!
God Bless Us, Every

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book 27 of 2016 Tales of the Alhambra for children

This was a Christmas gift. So I thought I should probably read it before Christmas came around this year,

Apparently Washington Irving (of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) spent some time in Grenada. And out of that came a book full of stories.  This volume takes 7 of his tales, adapts them to be a bit more child-friendly and adds illustrations.

I had no idea what to expect. Were the tales linked to each other? Were they horror-ish like Sleepy Hollow?

No (sort of) and no.

Overall I would classify these stories as romanticism, though usually with a twist at the end. And while there are a couple that refer back to other stories overall they are each independent pieces, at least in this subset.  It is possible that the larger collection does have more linkages.

These are good stories. Now I am really tempted to buy the originals....

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Book 26 of 2016 -- Searching for Sunday

This is the second book by Rachel Held Evans I have read this year.  Like Faith Unraveled it is in the genre of autobiography.

The book is structured around the 7 Sacraments of the faith (well in those traditions which recognize 7 sacraments -- many of us only name 2 as sacraments), which I found a really intriguing way of building it. Many of the stories touched on themes from more than one sacrament, because life is like that, but tying them to a specific part of faith life gives a lens through which to view the story.

My story is very different from the story shared by this author. And yet I find that some of the same questions she wrestles with are my questions (though I come from a faith tradition that always encouraged the questions). The honesty with which she engages and shares is wonderful.  This is a book I would recommend to a young adult trying to figure out if church is right for them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book 25 of 2016-- The Sabbath World

Sometimes when looking for one thing you find something totally different and are so glad you did.  That, often, is the essence of book shopping (for me at least).

I forget what I was looking for when I found this volume but the title intrigued me and I bought it. It then sat in digital limbo for a few months until just after I returned from Sabbatical. In theory it would have made more sense to read a book about Sabbath before Sabbatical leave but who wants to be logical all the time?

In part the book is a history of Sabbath and Sabbatarianism.  In part it is the author's autobiographical account of her struggles with the Sabbath of her Jewish heritage. In part it is a reflection on what Sabbath does/could mean in a world that appears to have left the concept in the dust.

It is a really good read.

Sabbath is a topic I wrestle with a fair bit. I remember a couple of years ago when WalMart was moving to 24/7 hours for the Christmas season I posted in a FB discussion that this was not needed and that it was not healthy to think it was needed.  Suffice to say I was a minority in the discussion (You are really weird was one comment as I recall). It is very anti-cultural to suggest that Sabbath is a good idea these days.

I also remember as a young teen the debate in this province over Sunday shopping (trust me that ship has left port for so long the port has been dismantled).

Near the end of the book Shulevitz raises the question of whether Sabbath time should be legislated again. It is an interesting question.  I really do think that we would be a healthier culture if we turned the taps of commerce off for a day, or even a portion of a day each week. Not just as individuals but communally.

And yet how do you do it? I think that North American culture has gone to a place where it is no longer possible to get back the idea of Sabbath time. The wheel of commerce grinds on inexorably. And how would you choose which day? In a pluralistic culture we can't link it to any faith observance (which makes me also wonder how we still get away with making Statutory holidays of Christian observances).

I will continue to wrestle with Sabbath.  I will continue to wrestle with it on a personal level (because I rarely take a day of Sabbath time) and on a communal cultural level.

This book was a part of that wrestling.

Book 24 of 2016 Wenjack

Fifty years ago this month a 12 year old Ojibway boy named Chanie (Anglicized to Charlie) Wenjack ran away from an Indian Residential School in Kenora. He then died along a railway line a week later.

His death sparked a formal inquiry which condemned the IRS system.  And most of us had never heard of him until this year when this Heritage minute was released:

This book is a fictionalized/imaginative (and greatly compressed--into a couple of days) account of his fatal flight to freedom. It is narrated by the Manitous that accompany and watch Chanie on his trip.

The novella is a simple and quick read (my Kobo told me it took 0.7 hours). Which does not mean that it is an easy read. It is challenging as it forces us to acknowledge that this is based on an actual death. It forces us to ask what sort of a country would create situations where things like this would happen.

I am tempted to read it to my children (at least the older two) as a way to start to talk about this so difficult subject.

I am also tempted to suggest it as a book study for the congregation.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sabbatical report

AKA “How I spent my summer”

Going in to the Sabbatical Period I had three main goals:
1) Do a bunch of reading with two focal points to be Congregational/Community Development and Pastoral Care
2) have some “down time” and some family time
3) be intentional about physical activity
Other possibilities included watching some TED talk videos in conjunction with goal 1 (that did not happen) and getting some stuff done around the house and yard (which largely also did not happen).

Goal 1:
Books Read: 18 (11 in Hardcopy, 7 on KOBO)
Fiction – 4
General Spirituality – 1
Congregational/Community Development – 8
Pastoral Care – 5
Then there were some random articles on various topics that I read, usually as a result of them popping up on my Twitter or Facebook feed.

So I averaged roughly a book a week, which I am pleased with. As I finished each book I wrote a bit of a reflection on it as a way to help refer back to them as time progresses. Over time I need to synthesize the concepts in this reading and discern how best to apply them to congregational ministry. Some of the books I found very applicable and helpful, some of them were not quite what I thought they might be. I did find that in order to focus on reading I needed to go to another place (often Starbucks was where I ended up) where there were less distractions than at home. My book reflections can all be found at:

Goal 2:
There was certainly down time. And there was some extra family time – whether this is a good thing may depend on which members of the family you ask. The interesting thing was that I am still unsure if I ended the summer any more rested than I would in a regular summer. I think I was somewhat more refreshed at any rate. And I did a better job than I thought I would at leaving thoughts about what was happening at the church/with church people behind. The only time I really read and engaged with church e-mails that popped up on my phone was around the flood, the rest I deleted pretty much unread. At the same time I learned that it is likely I should have more contacts in town that are not work-related.

Goal 3:
I am satisfied with how well I did on this one. The weeks we were in town I was able to get over to Eastlink 2-3 times a week quite reliably with some other walks with the dog added in. I had hoped to get one or the other in every day but in reality that was probably overly optimistic. The challenge on a continuing basis is to find a way to continue this level of activity now that life is back to its normal busy-ness.

I went in to the sabbatical not knowing what exactly to expect. Now that I have taken one I am not sure I would do it again unless there was something specific I had to accomplish. I am glad I took it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pastoral Care....some rambling thoughts

From the beginning of my first internship I have found one thing to be true.  The part of ministry that I find the most challenging is Pastoral Care.

There are a variety of reasons for this I suppose, but it remains the truth. The biggest block is the so called "regular" visit. I am never really sure what the purpose of these visits is. For visits with a clearer purpose I am much less uncomfortable.

Further complicating matters is the fact that for many of those who are home-bound it often seems that the biggest need the visit is meeting is that of social companionship.  While that is certainly valued, I am not convinced it is the task of the clergy person to provide social companionship to people (interestingly when I asked one Board Chair that question the answer was a quick "yes" as if it was a strange question) -- particularly when said companionship can be provided better by people who have more of a shared history.

Then this summer I read two articles that were not helpful to someone who tends to do less visiting than he would like. One is called How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches and the other is Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much. Both authors make some sound  arguments, though I believe they may overstate the case. And of course context is key in any of these sorts of discussions, what is a norm in one place may seem odd in another.

And at the same time a very common comment in many congregations is that the minister does not visit enough...

But it brings me back to a key question I have been wrestling with for 20 years now.

What is Pastoral Care? What is it not?  What parts of the broad topic are best taken on by the clergy and what parts are best taken on by the whole congregation?

I think that everything we do as a church has at least a touch of Pastoral Care to it. Worship, Christian Development/Faith Formation, Community Building events, Fundraisers (I always counted the many hours I spent helping make apple pies in my settlement charge as Pastoral Care time), even Council and Committee meetings are part of how we are "church" together and so how we care about each other. But obviously there is a more focused piece as well...

In a Facebook discussion this summer some clergy were discussing who in the congregation gets a monthly visit and why. Some said none except in exceptional circumstances, some (myself included) said that there were some (usually "shut-ins") who it was a priority to try and see monthly.

Whose job is it to maintain contact on behalf of the church?

At the same time there is a little matter of choice.

There are X number of hours in a week. And so a finite number of things that can be done.  How do people know who to go and visit? What responsibility is it of the visitor to know who needs a visit and what is the responsibility of the person wanting a visit to make that need known?

Coming back from Sabbatical it is my hope that I can only be in the office in the mornings and maybe one afternoon a week. This leaves the other afternoons available to visit folk. Mind you I have tried to get that going before and it has yet to be successful.

How do you define Pastoral Care?

What do you think the "Pastoral Care" piece of the ministerial job description should mean?

If you are clergy how do you define it?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Book 23 of 2016 -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As a final book for the Sabbatical period, I decided to by myself this one when at the mall yesterday.

Then I had to read it quickly because the daughter really wants to read it. Well that and once you start reading you are drawn in and want to continue.

It is an interesting extension of the story. And I admit I do like stories that explore alternative histories, the "what if this had gone differently" plot device.

It largely fits well with what we know from the earlier books (unlike for example the Star Wars prequel movies which do not fit with what we learn in the original trilogy). As I was reading the first act I was trying to determine who the cursed child was (thinking of a curse as in a spell).  But I think really there are 3 cursed children in it -- and none of them because a spell was cast upon them. And of course, as with the original books, this play pushes us to think about relationships and choices.

Though I must say it seems like a really expensive script to put on stage....