Wine Country

Asked if I could help harvest grapes for a family wanting to expand their Bio-wine industry; I agreed, and found that it was more than just grapes that were harvested.

A local family which we have come to know, began a business venture a few years ago producing ecologically friendly wine. Bio-wine, as it is known in Germany, has some tightly controlled standards which involve everything from the growing of the grapes, the maintenance of the vines; to the fermentation process, and end product. When I agreed to help I was simply told when to meet at the house, and the departure time to the Kaiserstuhl area where the vineyard is located.

I arrived at the beautiful rustic farmhouse to find some family members out in the field attending to the horses, and others attaching trailers to vehicles that were brimming full with colourful boxes and further supplies needed for the harvest. A group of about 12 people sat around a dinning table still laden with a hearty breakfast and I was met with the sent of warm bread, strong coffee and a number of different languages: German, French and English. A loud welcome was heard, and it was quickly announced that here we all use ‘Du’ the informal you whilst people poured out of the narrow doorway of the dinning room like sand in an hourglass to find rubber boats, jackets and bags, everyone shaking my hand in greeting.

A number of vehicles transported the group to the Kaiserstuhl region, an old volcanic area now teared with various vineyards, the hill cross-hatched with fencing and vines now heavy with grapes. Today we will be harvesting Spätbegrunder (Pino Noir), a full bodied red grape with compact bunches. After a quick tutorial about watching out for signs of fungus, rot and insects; some small plier-like sisores were placed in my hand and I was paired up with someone to work a row.

A few hired hands had also been brought to the vineyard, and as it seemed everyone had done this before, the people seemed to speed away down the sharply slopped land filling box after colourful box with a load of grapes the only sounds being the snip of scissors and shuffle of boots in the damp grass. The process was really very simple. Cut the bunches, pick out any signs of rotting fruit (easily seen, and smelled with the waft of vinegar) and place the grapes in the box, then repeat until you reached the end of the row, at which time you and your partner found another row to harvest. The work sped by as you quietly discuss things with your helper, getting to know about your individual stories and backgrounds. Every so often, one of the two young men who own the operation would come past to chat and take a look at the progress, often producing their own pruning sheers from pockets and working along side you in conversation, both quality control and encouragement.

At midday the sun has made the grey sky a lighter grey; the call to stop is shouted out, and a ‘table’ has been set using boxes and an old table clothe. Wine is poured into real wine glasses and we all wait until everyone has be served, and ‘Cheers’ is announced by the brothers together to which we echo with raised glasses, the sun appearing briefly to add sparkle to the ruby liquid in our wineglasses. We all begin to eat and drink as soup, sandwiches, chocolate and coffee are served. The two brothers who own and operate the vineyard make sure that everyone is well fed and happy. People sit around on upturned empty crates chatting to one another. For some, they have gathered here every year, and others much like myself, have only just started to work. The sun emerges from behind the high cloud cover and we have a view to the Rhein valley and beyond; all of it making the wine in our glasses taste all the more better.

By mid-afternoon we have cleared out one area of the vineyard and need to move to the next, which as it turns out, is easier said then done, as we are not the only ones on the hill harvesting today. Rains and a shortage of labourers have made it difficult and the window of opportunity will soon be slammed shut so tractors, both large and small, modern and ancient are travelling around the steep hill and the many narrow switchbacked roads. We move everyone and all the equipment down to the ‘crater’ where the village is, and over to the other side of the hill which affords more views. Cliff faces full of holes from nesting swallows and breeding pairs of Bee Eaters remind us of the ecologically sensitive area. Having taken a short 15 minute break as the smallest of all the vehicle present opens and beer has been unloaded for everyone to drink, no sooner is has the bottle been finished that we are back to work with another partner, and the snip of scissors and shuffle of feet is matched with the fall of grapes and rise of conversations.

A micro-climate change has happened from one location to the next so that despite only a short ‘hop’ from one location to the next, here the grapes are larger, less tightly compact and very fresh, making the boxes fill quickly. A short rain shower passes and everyone is told to look out for a rainbow; a full one is found stretching across the whole valley, some take out mobile phones to photograph the scene, others talk in amazement.

As the sun prepares to set, the final preparations are made for departure. I am in one of the vehicles assigned to get some of the Romanian workers back to their lodgings, but we find ourselves all a bit frustrated, in that the lead car with the navigation and address has made it down the hillside quickly and left us behind as we slowly reverse down the narrow lanes with the sound of our tires slipping underneath. The driver I am with turns out to be from out of town, Berlin, and has no idea of the surrounding villages and we discover once he has pulled over in the village streets, his phone has no signal. My mobile alerts me quickly, that I am apparently in France and Roaming, just before the screen goes dark as the battery has run out of power. We turn to ask the Romanians where they live. They don’t know and they cannot answer even with using German and English we try to piece together were they are staying. The man who does the only speaking says it is near the ‘Rewe,’ a grocery store chain which is about as frequently seen as an Aldi, or Lidl in every village. He pronounces a name of a place which sounds like a garbled version of a village listed on a directional sign so we take a chance and head out.

Eventually we find ourselves pulled to the side of the road with me leaning out the window asking people for directions to this mysterious place where the farm labourers reside and to my astonishment a woman remarks, “Down the road, over the train tracks, then left.” We drive with renewed vigour having only to brake suddenly for a passing tractor hauling three wagons full of grapes. We find the road closed for construction and our led out several kilometres in the now dark valley. A large REWE sign illuminates our path ahead, and the man in the backseat starts looking around keenly with a hidden instinct of recognition.

“Not here!” The fellow shouts out. “Go.” he says and points straight ahead. After a few kilometres more, he says, “Slow,” and then he seems to have found his way more clearly by memory and he gives us a steady stream of directions as he yells out, “Left” while he points to his right, and “Right” as he points to his left. In the beginning of all this our van does a quick swerve at each instruction as the driver responds to the vocal response, and I have to reinterpret, glancing back to hand gestures pointing in the opposite directions. Soon the driver and I are speaking about the “other left” and the “other right” and our van remains steady on course. As the darkness surrounds us in the countryside the labourers are safely back at a large barn where they are housed.

A car waits for us in the dark and everything is explained about how we got lost and had the perfect combination of people in the van to get even more confused and disoriented. Now for the remainder of the the journey the driver and I have a more lighthearted conversation. We get to know each others backgrounds and he jokes in saying that for the last ten days he has been helping with the harvest and maybe knows a little more about what it is like to be a priest. He explains the routine of eating and work, but that each day is a different vineyard, often with different helpers. You are well fed, not paid well, and have to listen to people at what he called, “the vineyard confessional.” I laughed as he explained how the vines often obstruct the ‘co-worker’ on the other side of the trellis as does the screen in a confessional box. The conversation, he remarks, is also rather confessional, as people end up telling you their life-story. The driver also said that at the end of the day he is simply so exhausted that he has no energy left for himself, he cannot even make it through reading a newspaper article before falling asleep. Then he is woken by an alarm and a new day has dawned.

While I am now tired, and I am sure my muscles will let me know more about it tomorrow, I believe that the whole experience will be like a fine wine, better as it ages. Maybe, in due season, I will be asked again to help out with another harvest and my appreciation for those who labour and toil will make the food and drink taste all the more richer, and that while listening to the life stories of others mixed in with the snip of scissors and the swish of dew moistened grass, we may all be encouraged to pause glance upward and await a rainbow.

Happy Shinny People

I have been debating what to say on my blog after a long pause. Even finding the right words feels out of practice. Certainly, the blog is a creative outlet, but recently I have been enjoying painting and sketching. Rather than an online blog, I’ve filled a couple sketchbooks with pen and ink drawings and watercolour paintings. Even the format of the blog post seems to have changed in the few months of my absence, but I hope I can make go of it.

Part of my absence has been due to some health concerns. Making frequent visits to doctors and specialists; being tested, poked, prodded. I had been training for a marathon, and signed up for some more half marathons. I love running. I found that as I ran longer distances I was consuming more food. (Duh) This makes perfect sense. Then for a few months, no matter what I ate, or how much I ate, I was loosing weight. Apparently, this makes some people very jealous and people were asking how I did it. I was starting to wondering myself. I began to cut down on my weekly millage, and still eat a healthy diet, but strangely I could not put weight on.

Then the pain started. Sure there is pain in running, but pain in my gut was becoming steadily stronger. Off to the doctors office I went and with some tests and results there was enough concern to send me off to specialists with even more special tests. I am fortunate to live in Germany were there is a good healthcare system, and relatively low wait times to see specialists.

What was probably the most difficult part of this journey though illness is the waiting. Something about a doctor in a white coat telling you we are looking for this disease or this type of cancer, certainly sharpens the mind. The unknowing and the sense of helplessness as you go through tests is exhausting.

I was also curious as to how people perceive image. As a priest I have had plenty of experience with various people in and outside of church-land giving me their perceptions of what a priest/pastor/minister should and should not look like. I think female clergy get this treatment to a greater degree. Wearing a white alb, and a clergy collar is like walking around with a huge screen where everyone projects something onto you.

You haven’t shaved.

Your hair is getting too long.

Your hair cut is too short.

Your eyes are bloodshot.

You’re wearing brown / black / blue / no shoes!

Did you cut yourself shaving?

Is that a tattoo?!

You’ve been in the sun.

You look tired / wired / excited / sad / etc.

The best comments are often the ones that are left unsaid and there is only the look of shock or horror that appears on the persons face when I don’t make the grade.

However, there is a public dimension to clergy, and people expect a lot of us, and how we are to behave and act. Getting thinner and thinner with less and less energy doesn’t seem to go over well with people. It doesn’t go over well with me either. Maybe it is like having an overweight, smoking, and drinking doctor. “Physician heal thyself!”

I’m feeling pretty good at the moment, running more, seeing how things work as a vegetarian in Germany (the Vegan movement is only just beginning here), gaining a little more weight, regaining strength and energy. I’m happy being myself and know that suffering and illness are just part of life.

I have finished reading “In Search of the Lost: The death and life of seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood” by Richard Anthony Carter. I have had this book for over ten years and have never been able to pass the first chapter. Not that it is poorly written, or that the narrative is terrible – it certainly isn’t either of these. I’ve not been able to read it as it is too close to home, as it describes people I know and times which were chaotic. My wife bought be a copy not realizing that I have had one on the shelf for ages. I guess it was now time to read it. It has been a healing read to make it through the book and remember some of the great sadness of life in Solomon Islands. There are times I could barely read because it describes so perfectly some of the tragedy. The book has brought back both painful memories and many joyous ones. Brother Richard Carter, as I knew him, was somewhat of a legend and I only got to briefly meet him as our two Toyota Hilux trucks past each other in a bit of a lull as we drove through a river heading to the brothers main house. However, Richard’s presence was larger than life, as tremendous stories of love and friendship, wisdom and teaching seemed to follow him around the region – and still do. He has done a fine job of writing about the great trauma and even great sacrifice made by many of the Melanesian Brothers, and other religious in the country during a time of great uncertainty and horror.

One aspect of the book is the ability to convey that suffering is everywhere. Death doesn’t just come close, it comes and waits in your home. The wails of birth, and the gasps of death are all part of life. It seems that in a developing country it is a lot closer then what we try to sterilize in our great civilizations. You quickly realize that suffering is all around us, and in many ways, unites us to each other. To suffer alone is something nobody should try, but many do. We cannot all be shinny happy people choosing our best side, our favourite moment, and our clan of friends as we seem to do with our online presence only to agonize in our day-to-day lives.

Bigger than a shoebox with much more inside

For the most part, homes in Germany are smaller by comparison to North American homes. Obviously, with a larger population, and a smaller landmass you get roughly 230 people per square kilometre in Germany, whereas in Canada you have 2.3 people per square kilometre. Consequently, living arrangements are on the whole different, but I have often wondered about all the stuff that people supposedly amass.

I realize that family homes can quickly fill up with items in a short period of time – I arrived with two suitcases and a dog – and now have a house brimming with items. A new fad is of Spring cleaning is making headlines, and changing lives. For odd reasons people have even shown me personal photos of their closets where very little is left after a big purge, but what remains somehow fills the owners heart with joy, and things appear more accessible due to colour coding.

There was a growing market for storage facilities. People seemed too attached to all there stuff, realized that they needed some room to live, and instead of clearing out, an expensive heated secure storage room is rented to accommodate all the extra stuff. I haven’t seen anything like this in Germany, but perhaps I am just ignorant. I’ve noticed fields that fill up with caravans and camping vans for the winter, and now that the Spring sun is brighter and some flower petals are emerging, some of the tattered tarpaulins have been folded up, wheels inflated and caravans hitched up to the backs of cars, ready for a new season of European holiday making.

Where do they put all the stuff? Do they even have that much? Do people just buy less, or do they secretly throw it out?

It is now the season of the ‘Spurrmüll’ where people purchase a certain amount of cubic metres of disposal. Wood, metal, and plastic get placed upon the curb ready for a large truck to come along and a team of burly men to start hauling it away. If your neighbours are friendly with you, they will say that they still have some space and you are welcome to add a cubic metre or two. Sofas, dinning tables, beds, cupboards etc. all sits out on the side of the road and it is this time of year that you see the garage doors opening to reveal, ‘one mans treasure, and another mans garbage’.

In our neighbourhood I find people to be rather inquisitive, and at times nosy, about what is actually in a garage. If, on a sunny afternoon, I have our garage door open, and sit in the garden I observe the pedestrians walking past the house a little more slowly. Head turn, necks bend, but they keep on walking past, taking in the view of whatever it is that might be in the garage. I find myself doing the same thing, as most of the homes will, come evening, clatter with the rolled shutters which hang over the majority of windows. Only pinhole light emerges from the lighted interior of the homes, and your guess is as good as mine as to what is inside. Perhaps it is this inability to really see into other peoples homes that makes an open garage door so much more attractive. In Vancouver, with multi-million dollar homes and properties often making the news the reverse happens, as wide windows, and bright interiors gleam out like signals of wealth and great opulence onto the night sky. In fact, I recall one home/mansion which I frequently passed on the way to university being in the news for a number of reasons. One reason for the newsworthiness was that the amount of money that was estimated to have been spent on the renovations; the other was that the owner was the owner of Lululemon, the Yoga fashion label. In a tongue in cheek comment passersby could enjoy the beachfront as you could look right through the home from one end to the other. It just so happened that this took place around the unfortunate time that the Yoga leggings were making the headlines due to some error in design and quality of material, as the tightly stretched fabric became remarkably thin when stretched. This caused both the design of the house and the flaw in the leggings to be similarly transparent.

I have to admit that while I was out walking the dog I walked past one apartment block which has a series of squat garages lined up in front, and saw that one young fellow who has a hobby, or business, of fixing up old cars had his garage opened up and one of his new projects parked in front of the garage door. It is magnificent to see the transformation of the cars, that usually arrive on a flatbed truck in some major state of disrepair; only to see them several months later looking like they have come from the movie set of one of the Fast and Furious films. I completely expected to see a miniaturized auto detailing set-up with a garage lined with tools and specialized equipment. As I slowed my pace and turned my head to see what was in the garage I was astonished to see boxes and boxes of shoes and a small rack of clothes. Some of the shoes seemed to be out on display, more so than any of the cars I had ever noticed in passing. Blue Adidas shoe boxes seemed alternately stacked with orange Nike shoeboxes. Trainers of all sorts of designs and colours lined the walls of the garage so tightly I can only think that once a small car is parked inside, the driver would have no choice but to exit the vehicle through the rear hatch-back.

Returning back to my own home I realize with more interest that ‘stuff’ has pilled up far beyond a meagre two suitcases. A neighbour comes over and offers a couple cubic metres of space on his large pile of rubbish. My neck feels a bit cramped from looking sideways at the neighbouring garage whilst being pulled along by an ever excited dog. The buds are forming. The birds are arriving from distant lands. The garage doors are opening to disgorge the amassed collections.

Surely, this must be Spring in Germany.

Posting about Post

There are a couple differences to the postal services of Germany and Canada, as well as some similarities. Now that Spring feels like it is budding forth more and more each day with still chilled mornings met with afternoon temperatures, at times, in the balmy double digits, the window in my office is opened and the sound of birdsong fills the air. Along with the metallic squawking of the pair of Magpies constructing a nest of twigs in the neighbours tree there is the familiar hum and squeak of the Deutsche Post’s uniquely made yellow cube-like postal vehicle. With electric motor and (maybe purposely) noisy brakes, the postman makes his rounds.

The dog, from a dead sleep, can hear the garage door opening, the foot falls of children returning from school and a cheese wrapper being opened in the kitchen at 2 in the morning. Yet, day-by-day the dog has yet to realize, as I do, the faithful sound of the postal truck and so he is rudely awakened most mornings by the ringing door buzzer like a hound stung by a hornet.

I have to admit that I have long held a great respect for the postal service, as in Canada they were people, which for the most part, were fit, friendly, and got to drive around in little right-hand drive jeeps that parked on the sidewalks. Perhaps the postal service was also idealized in my Richard Scarey books growing up, or that they always seemed invincible wearing shorts in any weather. As such, the tradition has long been that, come Christmas time, we usually left a small present out for the ‘postie’.

Now in Germany, I would hazard a guess and say that 98 percent of the time the arrival of a package is not for anyone in our home, rather for one of the other two apartments as our neighbours seem to do the majority of their shopping online so the parcels with grinning Amazon logos sit at our respective doorways after being signed for by yours truly.

I have, due only to the frequency of meeting, become more acquainted with the postal worker who, day after day, pounds the pavement (after parking his little yellow electric van) in our neighbourhood. There is usually a polite request over the intercom at the door asking if I would be so kind as to sign for the parcels that have arrived for my neighbours. I’m referred to by name — Herr Parsons — and told that “it is very nice of you to always do this!”. Recently, just after signing my signature on an mobile phone like device, and already being handed a few small packages and envelopes, I was asked to wait at the door for an extra package that was large. Looking from our front steps out onto the street the postman walked up to the bright yellow cube on four wheels, and after rolling up the rear door, proceeded to struggle with a cardboard box which looked incredibly heavy. Seeing the scarf-clad postman hauling and sliding a large box to the edge of the vehicle door it was like watching a mid-wife helping the postal van give birth to another little cube. I ran out in my bare feet and surprised the postman as I stood next to him so as to take one end of the crate. Taking hold of the package: it took the two of us a great deal of effort to manhandle it through the narrow doorway of the house. I’m still not sure what was in the heavy box, but in the past I have received everything from a set of winter tires to a plate-full of steamed broccoli in a Styrofoam box which was forgotten as part of a meal delivery, so your guess is as good as mine. With a glistening of sweat on our brows there was a polite thank you (we are on ‘Sie’ terms) and a handshake. The electric hum of the postal van as it drove down the street seemed to be less strained, less burdened, its yellow a bit more shiny, as if it was now a proud parent handing out cigars.

There are also some postal mishaps that can be frustrating either in Canada; like striking under-appreciated postal workers, or in Germany, as with postal agent who sent an important parcel to Edmonton via Hong Kong and Australia by surface.

Recently it felt like Christmas in February as a batch of Christmas cards were delivered, allaying my fears that I had unknowingly annoyed a great many people and had been struck from the list. As my oldest prepares for Confirmation, the letters of invitation and announcement were sent out weeks ago. We had one letter returned with a pencilled apology from a Canadian postal worker which said, “Sorry! I tried very hard to find this address but couldn’t in the end.”. We had, in our rush, forgotten to put most of the address on the envelope, but a valiant effort was seemingly made to find the recipient.

For a time I lived and worked in a neighbourhood which had an noticeably ugly house. A colleague said that he had devised a test for the postal workers, sending a stamped postcard addressed to something similar as, “TO: the Ugly Eggplant Purple bungalow with Bile Green trim on the corner of Arbutus Street and Broadway”. No numeric address and no postal code. A week later, passing the ugly house on the way into work he knocked on the front door and inquired if his postcard had arrived – it had! Soon afterwards we noticed that the house had been freshly painted with new colours.

The Job Fair

A couple of weeks ago I attended a job fair which was held at a local school. The premise was that students nearing the end of their school year would come and look at the many local and international job opportunities. It has been many-a-year since I attended my own high school job fair, and I found myself in a reflective mood. If I was a bit wiser, and could now go back to those pre-graduation days, I would certainly give myself a forceful shake and tell myself to take things more seriously.

Like most grade 12 students I had to endure the career and aptitude test, which consisted of a school councillor leading the class to the library where we sat for 45 minutes in front of yellow computer monitors plunking responses to questions. The dot-matrix printer would scream and grind out our results: I was either going to be a priest of a biologist. I kid you not. A neighbouring student asked the from the front of the room as he held his paper up, “what’s a backhoe operator?”. Apparently, he is still a backhoe operator; seems very happy with his life, and probably makes a lot more money than I do on any particular job site.

Of the German job fair there were the usual types of companies; however, there were a few differences. One being that there were no ‘resource industries’ represented. Nobody is going to grow up to be a logger, or fisherman here! Instead, the University was present with a sign saying that they ‘invest in people’ which is very much what the German work environment does. There’s not a lot of nature, but there sure is a lot of people.

Another interesting difference was that I was on the market; meaning, a few people from the job stands came up to chat with me. One was a company which focuses on retraining people – say from Coal Miner to become an Electrical Engineer. At my own high school job fair I remember feeling that I was the one trying to sell myself to the employers, not vice versa. I may have seen one or two young people handing out resumés the entire evening, but on the whole, it was the companies which were trying to sell themselves to the students.

My job, that evening, was to walk around with a sausage and bun lathered in mustard, slowly enjoying my food so that people would find themselves hungry and head to the class shop selling food, drinks and cake — all to raise funds for my daughters school trip. I was a walking advertisement.

Many of the employers at the school job fair struggle to find workers, and there is nowhere near the same level of flexibility in your career pick, but you do end up with some very highly trained and highly dedicated employees. In Germany, employers will train people for sometimes 2-3 years, often with the assurance of a career at the end of it all. The catch is that while a company invests in your training, they really don’t pay well during that period. In a way, both parties, the employee and the employer are banking on the future. One problem is that you better be darn sure you are going to like being a florist (which are in short supply apparently), as I have heard horror stories of people training for years in a specialized career only to find that in the real job situation they actually (finally) find that they have no desire whatsoever to do the job. (Who new I was so allergic to flowers!) And there’s the trap. Either you are going to get a heavily invested, highly trained workforce; or you get people who hate every moment of their jobs and they know that they will be doing this for the rest of their working career. Welcome the passive aggressive customer service representative who robotically makes a habit of making my life in the store a tedious experience. (Maybe that is what they are really trained to do in the first place?) The system seems to produce the very best, or possibly the very worst.

On the other hand, it reminded me of being a student handing out resumé after resumé being asked if I have experience in — fill-in-the-blank — job as they only hire people with experience. How can I have experience if I’ve never had a job? Just how difficult is it to wash dishes anyway?

Nearing the end of high school I can remember job hunting with a friend. We both went to a restaurant as a number of positions were advertised as available. We were both told that we might be able to work as dishwashers, because we were not good looking enough to be serving staff. I left the interview then and there, whilst my friend got the job…and left after a week because he hated it so much.

For this particular evening at the German school job fair my role was to be the supportive husband and loving father. I taxied people back and forth from the school and came late to pick up the left over racks from the bakery and my wife who had done the bulk of the organization. I ‘modelled’ the Wurst waving the scent around so that people would become moved with hunger and finance my daughters school trip. I consoled groups of students who felt too nervous to go and talk with the technical employer as they didn’t really know what to ask. I asked the strange unexpected questions to some of the kiosk members (like, why do you have a beard if you are working in the Army? I had to explain, as the smile on the large man in camouflage disappeared that this isn’t really done in Canada unless you are Navy). I held bags of ‘swag’ that students had collected (we have more pens, sticky-notes, and key chains than we know what to do with). I met and spoke to a few teachers, parents and some job fair headhunters and tried to explain my own job as the Anglican priest in Freiburg.

Maybe we just land in the right job, big or small, after all is said and done.

The Ways We Talk

This Advent I have begun an educational series on morality based upon several podcast episodes from the BBC titled, ‘Morality in the 21st Century‘ which is hosted by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  What I admire about the series is the ability to learn from each other, whilst asking difficult questions.  While there are points in each of the conversations that some might describe as ‘more heated’ than others, the general consensus is that using language in a dignified and edifying way certainly helps to debate issues which are challenging.  Many of the deeply rooted ethical conundrums we find ourselves in are about choosing between two ‘goods’, or ‘the lesser of two evils.’  Given the seriousness of the theological, moral and ethical issues which the church faces (or refuses to face) to meet together with some decorum goes a long way.  

Watching debates in German politics feels to me a very intellectual matter, not only for me to consciously translate, but in the way that serious issues are looked at and scrutinized.  To flip over to the Parliamentary broadcasts of the UK House of Commons, is to some extent, like changing channels on the television from the scenic Christmas-log-burning-on-the-fire, to a wrestling match between thespians.  Recent political manoeuvres around the Brexit debate, the challenges made within and beyond the Conservative government and party leadership has made for fascinating late night viewing.  The quick witted remarks, the scathing insults, the show and shout of the backbenches, and the cries from the Speaker — ‘Order! Order!’ — are all a little bit addictive.  The form and function of parliamentary debate have always fascinated me, as much of the Church governance operates on a similar system…without the yelling (usually).  There is some niceties to all of it that being the address of the individual to another member of the house, such as: ‘I would like to thank the Honourable Member across from me…,’ and other small, but important, acknowledgements of world affairs like that of the recent events in Strasbourg’s Christmas Market.  

When I show my children the proceedings of the Canadian House of Parliament, the biggest surprise came from one of my daughters, “Daddy, why does that man have a woman’s voice?!”  As we were watching the proceedings in English the various simultaneous translators, either male or female, work hard to get the messages out in either French or English, so the message can come across with a disembodied feel.  The Canadian House of Commons has a different feel and indeed, a different atmosphere of debate as Members and staff flip back and forth in either one of the two official languages.  While there is nothing on the scale of Brexit in Canada, there remains other national issues that cause debate, and still, the thanks continue to go back and forth across the chamber before arguments and points of order are fired off.  

The Church of England has regular General Synod meetings, which you can also view online, and which also has a parliamentary structure.  Difficult topics can be raised, debated and voted upon.  While these systems in the UK, Canada and Germany slightly differ, they are the models of governance we have to work with, and they do work.  

I think that as Church, canons and regulations are debated, and in Parliamentary systems, country laws and state bills are argued about it.  In every place it is important to remember how we speak to people who may hold differing views.  There may be something that we can learn from another point of view if we risk listening.  

The News

Lately I have been wondering how best to keep up with world affairs.  For what feels like over a dozen years I have subscribed to the Guardian Weekly.  Many attempts at reformatting the paper have taken place over those years, and I remember receiving the different formats, if you are a familiar reader, you will know that stories from other dedicated readers who describe the thin onion-skin-like quality of the paper for delivery via Air Mail.  The shape and size of the paper has changed and now is a brightly coloured magazine.  The price has also changed.  While I like the various points of view my subscription has lapsed and I feel reluctant to renew.  Maybe I will, but for now I am shopping around for other options.  

Many people don’t realize this, but I am a Doctor.  Well, that is at least what comes every so often in the post.  Letters addressed not as Mr. or even Rev. but Dr., due to, as far as I can discern, a typo in my school address list which may have either been sold, or picked up by other junk mail providers.  It was the easiest PhD, and it did come with some benefits.  At one time I took out a subscription to The Economist which I also enjoyed, more so because of the ‘professional rate’ given to me which made each issue about 25 cents a copy.  This was all due to being a ‘Doctor’ as I received a special advertisement to help stock my waiting room with important magazines for all my patients.  The Economist, was a mighty challenge to read from cover to cover each week.  I feel badly if I don’t read the whole issue.  Yes, this may be strange, but it is true.  

Now living in Germany the added challenge is to find something to read in English.  Occasionally we buy a issue of Der Spiegel (and I thought that the Economist was difficult to finish in a weeks time!).  Inevitably, it is only the newsstands at the main translations that have the largest selection of daily and weekly publications.  This means either a subscription, with home delivery as I still don’t really like reading off of a screen, or a dedicated effort to get to the Newsstands before the other 5 people who buy the same English newspaper get there.  Sorry if you have a standing order and find that your copy is mysteriously gone from the stands.  

There are some news magazines which I might have an interest in reading, but frankly I can’t put my head around spending 13 Euros for a copy of the New Yorker.  Then of course, there are plenty of newspapers and magazines which, even if they were given away I probably wouldn’t have any interest reading.  Now passing the newsstands I spin the carousel of newspapers and glance at Le Monde Diplomatique which only shows up in French or German given where we live.  My French is rust, but I can still read a fair amount, but it can be a strain.  

Flights which take me through the UK usually mean that I have creative pockets and ways of sneaking onboard a pile of magazines and books despite the weight restrictions of Ryan Air or Easy Jet.  Necessity is the mother of all invention I say, as I stuff my jacket full of reading material.  However, even some of the UK publications can seem to be an entirely different beast.  Take the Spectator for example, even when recognizing one contributing writer as a Canadian who has adopted London as a new home, the Spectator has a rather narrow focus.  If I wanted to read more about thoughts on Brexit then certainly it would be a magazine to look through.  For a time I had a generous gift of the Church Times, which kept me abreast of what was going on in the C of E, and a tad with the rest of the Anglican Communion.  

For my birthday I wished for an internet radio, which I was pleased to receive, and now I can tune into radio stations from all over the world.  What this basically means, in the short time that I have had the radio, is that it is like getting your news from Facebook posts.  The ten spots to remember stations have been filled with what I want to hear.  Either that or they are stations which we enjoyed while living in Victoria and we feel like night owls listening to shows playing in what would be the dead of night on the west coast of Canada.  So, the search continues for something to read, in English.  While I still keep my Guardian Weekly addiction through the kindness of those who pass along copies, I do want to find something else.  I’m still looking to devour a newspaper, or news magazine that is something other than the likes of chicken soup – tasty, but never really satisfying.