Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reflection - Shanna She-Devil

Getting gift certificates for your birthday is a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it's always fun to go on a shopping spree on someone else's dime. A curse, because I always feel I need to live up to the gift-giver's generosity by picking the absolutely most perfect thing. It can't be junk. It's gotta be great. I can buy crap with my own money, but effectively, gift certificates are still someone else's money. So when I went to Happy Harbor Comics, the best comic book store on earth, to spend two rounds of gift certificates (Christmas and birthday), I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

A good comic shop is one of my favorite places to be. And Happy Harbor isn't just a good comic shop, it's a great one. The guy who owns the place understands the hobby and the people who indulge in it. He'll watch you to make sure you aren't stealing any of the merchandise, but otherwise, he lets you browse for lengthy periods of time, a practice which is essential to the hobby. We comic geeks just like soaking up the ambience of a comic shop, looking at the covers, flipping through the pages. If a comic shop has a sign about not flipping through the comics, it's owned by some paranoid wanker who doesn't understand that if I like a comic, I'll still buy it AFTER I've looked inside. But I need to look inside to make sure that the artist who painted the amazing cover is the same guy who illustrates the whole book. Because I'm not buying comics for how much they're going to be worth someday. I'm busying them because I like reading them.

That's why I only get trade paperbacks anymore. I don't buy single issues, save on rare occasions, like when I order the collected Atland books. I want to support the artist in that situation, and he might not ever get the chance to release a trade paperback (TPB) if I don't support him in the single issue stage. Never mind that taking a TPB off the shelf and reading it is a hell of a lot easier than taking the single issue out of the collector's bag I have it hidden away in.

But deciding on the right TPB is a difficult thing, especially at Happy Harbor, because the selection is phenomenal. However, I'd been eyeing one book in particular since I first started scouting out my possible choices for spending my gift certificates shortly after Christmas. I was Shanna, She-Devil by Frank Cho.

Artists like Frank Cho are why teenage boys start reading comics. Frank Cho draws the best women in comic books, with anatomy which, however buxom his women become, still obeys gravity. And they all look a bit like Linda Carter, which isn't a bad thing. He also draws great dinosaurs. And he does both in Shanna, She-Devil.

If you ask me why I picked up a trade paperback of a scantily clad jungle girl who kicks the ever living shit out of dinosaurs with birthday gift certificates for my favorite comic shop, I'll tell you "I like to read the articles...I mean story!" In all honesty, you can look down your nose at me all you like.So maybe this is my mid-life crisis...the scantily clad jungle babe for my inner adolescent, and the dinosaurs for my inner child. It takes me back to being 12 years old reading my first Conan comics.

The plot is simple. A military unit crash lands on a mysterious island filled with dinosaurs. There they discover a secret Nazi research facility. Inside said facility, clones of hot blonde Aryan women who were going to be super soldiers! How proto-feminist of the Nazis to choose women as their super soldiers! Only one is still alive, and when she is freed from her stasis tank, she joins with our group of soldiers in trying to survive on the island...until a deadly virus is unleashed! Only a serum back at the Nazi research facility can save them, but there are a lot of dinosaurs between Shanna and the serum, and then even more between her and the camp!

Yep. Plot is dumb as hell. But Cho rises to the occasion, both as visual artist and writer, to make Shanna, She-Devil not only fun, but somewhat engaging as a character as well.

Say what you will. It's got dinosaurs and a hot blonde heroine. I've been studying high-falootin' literatooor for the past 5 years. I needed some junk in my reading diet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Doing it For the Lord

The end of April is the end of income for me, from all sources. My scholarship will be done, the T.A. work I do at the University will be finished, and my semester as a sessional instructor at King's will have come to an end. So I've been hunting high and low for a summer job.

Finding a summer job when you're 37 with a nearly-completed M.A. degree is no small task. You're overqualified for nearly everything that constitutes summer work (and doesn't involve working in the oil patch) and the average income from these jobs is a $12-16/hr range. Lucky for me, I landed an administrative position with the Alberta government for the summer. The pay range is from $18-22/hr, and when I did the calculations on what that works out to monthly, I realized with a slightly sick feeling that, while this is not the most I've ever made hourly, it will be the most I've ever made monthly, given that the majority of my work since I hit 30 has been part time.

Think about that. I was a pastor with over 10 years experience and 6 years of applied education under my belt, and I never made more than an entry level admin position.

Churches talk a lot about fighting injustice, but one of the greatest injustices within the church walls is how much the pastor is paid given the expectations placed upon him/her. I ranted about this in regards to youth pastor positions and pay scales a while back, but I think it's high time for another rant, now that I can no longer be accused of having a vested interest in the conversation.

There are a number of problems with the income vs. expectation issue for pastors. The first is that churches rarely have a standardized method of determining salary. A number is arrived at based upon what the church budget can afford, rather than by having some sort of schedule which all churches within a denomination will adhere to. The only exception to this rule which I have encountered has been Mennonite Church Canada. I invite others to inform me of more denominations which are being forward thinking enough to do this. As a result, when I first began working for MCC, I made more on an hourly basis than the senior pastor did, simply because I had more experience and education. This is a fair policy. Each year, so long as I didn't sacrifice any of the teens to one of the Elder Gods or sell crack as a fundraiser, I was given a raise. There was no lengthy meeting about whether or not I deserved a raise. The MCC pay schedule stated I would get one each year I was employed. It was something I could count on, a little job security to keep me working hard.

One of the other problems facing pastoral pay is the expectation of education. Many churches now expect that their pastoral staff will have a Master's degree in theology or some related field. This is ridiculous, not only because the income one makes at such jobs is not commensurate with the average amount made by other professionals with the same education, but also because the tuition at Bible colleges and seminaries is more expensive than the tuition at secular colleges and universities, leaving a Master's trained pastor with a greater debt load than a Master's trained...well, anything else. As I already noted, the $18-22/hr range of my upcoming summer work is more than many church positions offer, and only marginally less than I was making with my experience and education.

Pastors will inevitably also put up with more bullshit than nearly any other job on the planet. When I tell people why I left the ministry, I often cite all the politics. People reply that "all jobs have politics."

"Yes," I say, "but none which rely upon beliefs related to ultimate destiny." Tie religious belief to anything and your arguments will be more passionate. Heaven and hell are ostensibly on the line. So when you come home at the end of the day, you can never really leave your work at the office. You can't compartmentalize prayer and passion, as John Piper argued in his book Brothers we are not Professionals. So the hazard of your work is that you agonize over souls and salvation, and you get paid less than the people who shuffle paperwork for the government.

And the church wonders why pastors are leaving the pulpit in droves. They wonder why there's a crisis of leadership.

"You shouldn't be doing it for the money," the pious will say. "You should be doing it for the Lord."

Bite me. All Christians are supposed to be 'doing it for the Lord' according to Colossians 3:23. It's just that everyone else gets the added perk of an income which matches their training or experience. And don't bring up the clergy tax breaks, because a) they don't make up for the lack and b) the government keeps thinking about taking them away. Pastors are underpaid, underappreciated, and it's why the position will gravitate towards mediocrity. There will be the rare heroes of the faith who will persevere despite the economic shortcomings, but all too often I was sharing my seminary classes with people who had failed at some other career and had been accordingly "called by God" to become a pastor. The position seemed to have become the dumping ground of failed attempts at more lucrative careers. And the sermons on Sunday morning in many churches display this level of mediocrity.

Want a great pastor? Pay them well. It's not a guarantee, but if you have a great pastor and you feed him peanuts, expect his wife to work a second job while raising kids and volunteering in your Sunday School, don't be surprised when he up and leaves you to go work on the railroad. And don't laugh. I know two pastors who did just that.