Friday, November 30, 2007

Life imitating art

I recently had the pleasure of reading Keith Clemons latest book Angel in the Alley. I found myself looking forward to picking it up every night before bed. This is Keith's fourth book, and I think it's going to be his breakthrough novel. All the usual you can expect from Keith--engaging characters, wonderful sense-laden descriptions, and a great read.

But what has remained with me the the longest is the dystopia he created, a future North America where it is illegal to preach the Gospel.

Keith did an amazing job of speculating about new technology, future squalor for a growing segment of have-nots addicted to instant gratification and violence, a huge police state apparatus to crush religious freedom and the heroic efforts of small groups of Christians to keep the faith alive.

Of course, Keith's vision did not spring from his imagination alone. That's the most disturbing part of the book. The prophetic nature of Keith's vision was confirmed when, yesterday, while visiting some of my favorite blogs, I discovered that a human rights complaint has been leveled against Macleans Magazine for running an excerpt of Mark Steyn's book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.

Mark Steyn is one of my favorite columnists. He excels as a satirist, though apparently some people don't like being satirized. He also happens to be a Christian.

There has also been a human rights complaint against a popular conservative message board Free Dominion, run by a couple of Kingston-based evangelicals. Yes, sometimes some of the posters on this message board can be a little over-exuberant or immoderate. Even the hosts of the board don't agree with what they say, but they support their right to say it.

Now various groups and individuals have found they can use the levers of the state--provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions---to lob complaints that don't cost them a thing, but cost the defendant thousands of dollars in legal fees even if the complaint is eventually dropped as it was in the case of Calgary Bishop Henry who faced two complaints for a pastoral letter defending traditional marriage.

I know I cringe sometimes at the language used by some Christians on some issues. I wish sometimes they would be more charitable, or more nuanced, or more wise in a tactical sense.

But I also know that even the most charitable and nuanced and wise Christians can be lied about and demonized in the news media.

Our religious freedom is in danger, my friends. So is our freedom of speech. Keith Clemons does a great job of showing us this as a compelling backdrop to a gripping adventure story. I hope this book gets a wide audience. Buy several copies as Christmas presents. You'll be doing the future a favor.

Now I'm reading Nancy's Glitter of Diamonds and thoroughly enjoying it too!

Way to go! Canadian authors who are Christian!!!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Longing for Greatness - M. Laycock

Some time ago I watched a video that I’d heard a lot about. People said it was inspiring. They said I just had to watch it. Sometimes I ignore these kinds of messages, but eventually I gave in and clicked into UTube to see what all the fuss was about.

The small screen showed a rather plumb, unassuming middle aged man with crooked teeth. He stood at a microphone looking decidedly unsure of himself. Then the camera panned to four judges watching him. Their expression seemed to say, “okay, let’s just get this over with.” Finally one of them asked why he was there. “To sing opera,” he said simply. The judges smirked. I think one of them rolled his eyes. But they let him go ahead.

Then the man opened his mouth. The judges’ jaws dropped. The man’s voice boomed out as he sang from his heart and soul. Some in the audience began to weep. So did one of the judges. When he was done the audience was on its feet cheering for the cell phone salesman who had just demonstrated that you can’t always tell a book by its cover.

The man’s name was Paul Potts and he went on to win the competition called Britain’s Got Talent. He’s a star now, singing around the world and recording cd’s. His is a fairytale success story that has captured the imagination of millions around the world. It made me wonder why.

Why have so many, and I count myself among them, responded so strongly to Mr. Potts’ performance? I think it’s because all of us have a part in us that says, “there’s something great in me, if I can just find a way to let it out.” Some might call that ‘delusions of grandeur.’ I think it’s something more. I think it’s a deep belief that we are more than we seem to be.

And we are. When God created the first man he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). He also created him “in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). Man is much more than just a bunch of bones, tissue and blood. We were created to house the very spirit of God himself, to be a temple and in a sense a representative of God. And we were created to express that greatness, to the glory of God. I think we all feel that, even long for it to be fulfilled – it’s a longing for the nobility, the beauty, even the glory we were intended to have.

Perhaps that’s why, when we writers finish an article or a book or a poem, we have doubts. We know it can be better. We long for it to be better. Our hope lies in the reality that some day it will be.

Heaven, you say? Well, not exactly. I believe there is a Heaven and we will be there one day, but I also believe, as the scripture tells us, we will return to the earth to “reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6)

I don’t think we’ll be floating around with harps in our hands. I think God has a lot in store for us during that time and it will include using the gifts he has given us. I think writers will be diligently sitting at their work, writing. But it won’t be a struggle - it will be the best it can be, no doubts, no longings, no regrets. It will continue to be our method of praise and worship, our “acceptable service.” It will be full of the nobility, beauty and yes glory that God intends us all to exhibit. All to His glory.

That short video of Paul Potts made me weep. Until Jesus returns I will always have that longing in my heart, because I am a child of God yet separated from Him. My encouragement comes from walking the path He has laid out for me now and feeling His presence with me. My hope lies in the reality that one day we will be reunited.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rider Pride, Prairie Oysters, and Canadian Authors Day - Lindquist

Not feeling particularly passionate about any one things, so I thought I’d mention 3 things that are on my mind today:

1. Rider Pride

I grew up in Souris, Manitoba, so in theory, I should be a diehard Winnipeg Blue Bomber fan, but the fact is I also cheered for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in those days. However, after I got married and moved to Regina, I succumbed to the tendency to become a life-long fan of the Roughriders. And so, even after 26 years in Ontario, and having met Mike (Pinball) Clemons and been to some Argo games, my number one team in the CFL is still the Saskatchewan Roughriders!

There’s just something about the little town that could making it big. Yes, I know that most of the players and staff aren’t from Saskatchewan – aren’t even Canadian. But it’s a community-owned team and you just know the whole province is behind them, so you have to have a soft spot for them.

So, no, it wasn’t the greatest game ever, and it’s a shame that Winnipeg quarterback Kevin Glenn (and runner-up to the Saskatchewan quarterback Kerry Joseph for the Outstanding Player Award for the league) was sidelined with a broken arm, but you take them as they come, them’s the breaks (groan), and this time Saskatchewan ended up on top. Go Riders! (BTW, 8,000 people turned up to see them – in -35 snow and ice.

2. Prairie Oysters

We had tickets last night to see Prairie Oyster at the Markham Theatre. The whole time I was there , I was thinking, “Why aren’t they performing in a venue three times this size?” I mean, come on, these people are so good! They are very talented musicians, songwriters, singers, and performers. Why aren’t they household names?

I saw a top US country music talent last fall in a venue more than 10 times as big, and he wasn’t nearly as entertaining. His program had maybe half the content; and I left feeling that I really hadn’t got my money’s worth. Yes, it was more high tech, but it had absolutely nothing over this local group. If they’d stopped at the intermission, I’d have still felt I got my money’s worth!They did a full 2 hour+ program packed with their songs.

If you like some country mixed with blues/folk and a bunch of other things, check out Prairie Oyster. The core of the group has now been together 23 years. They must be doing something right! And yes, I own every one of their CDs and I've gone to see them in person nearly every time they've come to my area.

3. Canadian Author Day

I don’t think anyone else here has mentioned this, so I will. Mitchell Family Books in Ontario has a Canadian Author Day happening on Wednesday, December 12th. They will have two authors at each of their eight locations (Kingston, Oshawa, Whitby, Pickering, Toronto, Etobicoke, St Catherines, and Kitchener) from 1:00 PM until 4:00) PM . There will also be 2 authors at the Willowdale (Toronto) location from 6:00 until 8:30 in the evening of the 12th.

We’d appreciate it if people would come out (and bring their friends) to buy Christmas gifts and support fellow-Canadians who write. This is the first such day Mitchell Family Books has ever had.

And yes, I’m one of the authors. 8 of my books will be available at all Mitchell stores and I’ll be signing with Denyse O’Leary at Pickering in the afternoon and Willowdale in the evening.

For a full list of locations and information about which authors are going to be at each location, please go to the Maranatha News and click on upcoming events. Locations for the Mitchell Family Stores can be found at their website.

Till next time...


Monday, November 26, 2007

Giving Old Stories new Life - Mann

A bereaved family will often call me to plan a funeral service for a beloved member of their circle. As is more common lately, they might not have a connection with the church and I may not know the people. As time goes on and they become comfortable with me, the stories begin to flow. I’ll ask, “Tell me about your mother. What was she like?” They tell me about her wonderful garden soup, the quilts she made for grandchildren or maybe how many years she drove for Meals on Wheels. If I don’t hear any connection to church, prayer or God, I ask, “Was your mother a woman of faith?” Often times they will describe the plaque that hangs in her bedroom or a prayer she taught them when they were young. On another occasion, a family member might list church activities, the years she sang in the choir or headed up a prayer ministry. Sometimes, when I ask the family to write a remembrance or eulogy, they are too emotional to do it. As a result, they often leave me to interpret their mother’s story to others.

Giving an old story new life happened several years ago when many boxes of old magazines, 1900 school records, English journals, dress patterns and bits of yarn and cloth fell through the ceiling of my brother’s driving shed — thanks to some curious raccoons. Obviously, my mother couldn’t bring herself to throw out these treasures and had stored them away. As I sorted through the mess, I began to discover that many of the books were clean and untouched. Now, over the last three years, I have read and reread the accounts that lead me to interpret my mother’s life in an era she didn’t talk much about, but defined it as valuable by her actions.

I wrote my memoirs in 1996 and delighted in the discoveries I made. My brother read it and said, “No, no. it didn’t happen that way.” And as we struggled with our individual perspectives of the same family event, we often began exploring the ‘what if’ question. It’s refreshing to write about one’s own life giving opportunity for new questions and making life-giving discoveries.

According to Collins-Gage Canadian Dictionary, interpretation means (1) to explain the meanings of; (2) bring out the meaning of; (3) understand according to one’s own judgment. This brings me to my thoughts about the Creative Non-Fiction genre. By not exercising my call to write about real people, I could have been free to write works of fiction and poetry, which I did some. However, people’s lives intrigue me. How do they make choices, set priorities in their life and live out goals? What makes them angry, sad or passionate? What is life-giving to them and what robs their emotional energies? And maybe the most intriguing mystery is to see adult lives and wonder what seeds of hope and faith were planted in their hearts as children.

There is much debate around the Creative Nonfiction genre. Some reject it, while others say it has the power to reveal what is already there. Wikipedia, online encyclopedia defines Creative nonfiction “(sometimes known as literary nonfiction) as a type of writing which uses literary skills in the writing of nonfiction. A work of creative nonfiction, if well-written, is factually true and artistically elegant.” The challenge is to set plot, dialogue and setting into nonfiction work through interpretation and perspective, and give the old story new life in ways that it will read like fiction.

This genre gives its writer many gifts and the main ones for me have been humility and gratitude.

Donna Mann

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Knowing When to Say No - Fawcett

It’s so easy these days to get caught up in good causes. With technology to aid us, we are able to accomplish far more in a shorter span of time than we would have done just twenty years ago. Because of this advance in do-ability, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with a multitude of tasks. While human beings have the capacity to multi-task, it isn’t always in our best interests to do so. Too often, the important things in life get shuffled aside by the good but not so important things. Two examples come to mind.

My youngest daughter is single and living on her own but she works with my husband. Every morning like clockwork she arrives at my door for a cheery greeting, a hug and a “have a good day”. Too often, I have found myself so embroiled in updating various websites, checking emails and writing skeleton outlines for articles and books that I have almost missed her daily greetings. All of those things aren’t bad things for me to be doing. But they are dangerous when they interfere with the important relationships in my life.

My second example is a variation of my first. Sometimes I get so bogged down with keeping up with the various websites and blogs and email accounts that I don’t find the time to write what God is leading me to write. How sad! (As I type this, I have a manuscript waiting for a second edit and three other manuscripts waiting to be finished. We’ve already established that I’m ADHD and need to work on several things at once.)

As two contracts came into my inbox this past week, I was forced to step back and look at the busyness of my life. There was a lot of clutter distracting me—and a lot of jobs being done that weren’t necessary. It was time for me to do some housecleaning—and I don’t mean the kind involving a vacuum.

I scanned through my email accounts and unsubscribed to all those e-zines that I never have time to read. It drastically cut down on the number of emails I had to sort through. Some of my extra websites found themselves in the trash can too. While Facebook and Myspace are wonderful social tools, they weren’t the effective marketing tools I had hoped for—so I disengaged. I took a step back and looked at my calendar. There were unnecessary events that I had committed to—programs that I had signed up for—that weren’t as important as my family or my writing. So I shaved them off of my agenda.

So now that my work day has been whittled down to the bare bones, I am far more efficient and far more relaxed. I am back to my writing and proofreading. And my family is happy to see me stepping out of my office for some quality time with them. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing the best in your life for all the good things that come your way.

Donna Fawcett is the author of Thriving in the Homeschool
and the Donna Dawson novels Redeemed & The Adam & Eve Project

The Joy of Grumbling - Hird

When Michelangelo had completed his famous piece of sculpture on King David, The Gonfaloniere Soderini of Florence who had ordered it came to inspect his purchase. Among his many complaints and criticisms of the sculpture, he grumbled the most about the nose. He said, "It's too big. It doesn't fit the statue. David didn't have such a big nose."

So he insisted that Michelangelo do a nose job on the statue and reduce its size. Michelangelo knew that he had no choice, but hated to deface his masterpiece. So he mounted the scaffold of the 12 foot high figure, and giving a few noisy but harmless blows with his hammer on the stone, he let fall a handful of marble dust which he had scraped up from the floor below. "Wonderful", said his critic. "You have given it life indeed". His critic was so excited about the improvement that Michelangelo received a major financial bonus for the improvement.

Grumbling can become so compulsive that we actually begin to get a certain "joy" from it. But grumbling always ends up destroying the very things we most want out of life. That is why the Bible says "Don't grumble against each other, or you will be judged." What is grumbling anyways? The Concise Oxford Dictionary tells us that to grumble is to growl faintly, to murmur, to complain. In essence, a grumble is a dull inarticulate sound.

Grumbling is a very hard addiction to break. It is fed by two very powerful sub addictions: self pity and self righteousness. We grumble because we are convinced that we are being hard done by and that it just isn't fair. The truth is that all of us struggle with grumbling. I know in my own life that I can slip into it far too easily. I just caught myself a while ago slipping into self pity and self righteousness, and I started to laugh at myself, because I realized that all grumbling is self deception. I said to myself "Oh no, the day is ruined." But then I forced myself to apologize and say that I was sorry for my grumbling, and I ended up having a good day."

I am convinced that the cure for grumbling is humbling ... humbling ourselves before our spouse, our children, our friends, our neighbours... confessing our bad attitude and asking their forgiveness. Far too many divorces can be traced to the addiction of grumbling. Paul J. Getty, one of the wealthiest billionaires in the world, was reported in the press to have said "I'd give all my wealth for just one happy marriage." Grumbling is not a harmless pastime. It is a deadly cancer that kills far more people than all other diseases combined.

To grumble about another person is to both judge and condemn them. There is only one person in the world who has it together enough to judge others fairly and that is Jesus. That is why Jesus said "Judge not, lest you be judged." Only Jesus fully knows how to judge without being judgmental, how to judge us without condemning us.

My prayer for each reader is that any tendency to grumbling or judgmentalism in our lives will be replaced by a deepening love of neighbour.
The Joy of Grumbling
by the Rev. Ed Hird+
-Previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

Rev. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dirt and Wood (The Writing Life) - Arends

God may reduce you
on Judgment Day
To tears of shame,
reciting by heart
The poems you would
have written, had
Your life been good.

- W. H. Auden

There are psychologists in white lab coats who study creativity, and they generally maintain that anything creative happens in 4 stages: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. As writers we tend to focus on Illumination (actually writing something) and Verification (rewriting the piece, and rewriting, and rewriting...), but many of us don't think a lot about the Preparation and Incubation stages.

It’s always wonderful when an Idea comes along—whether it’s for a song or a poem, a painting or a novel, a sermon, a new angle to help us explain something to our kids, a way to resolve a working relationship, a joke, whatever. But we must be mindful of the fact that everything we've been until the moment we receive the idea is the soil into which that seed is planted. Every emotion felt, thought processed, book read, movie watched, sunset noticed, mistake made, prayer prayed, Scripture learned, grudge nursed—all of it feeds all we do.

Craft—learning to wield a pen (or any other instrument) with skill and intentionality—is hugely important. But if craft is the tool set, and inspiration the blueprint, I am beginning to understand that our lives are the wood. Ultimately our work is only as deep as our prayer life. Our words are only as sturdy as our character. The clarity of our vision is directly proportional to the time we invest in contemplation and meditation.

My friend Roy is fond of referencing a passage from a Frederick Buechner book. Buechner is staring out the window. His wife enters the room and asks, “What are you doing?” Buechner replies, “Working.”

We are a culture of doers. Better to type than to ponder. Better to plan than to play. Better to run than to walk. But if we are to be fertile ground for ideas to fall upon, we must remember good soil is the product of time (and it involves more decomposing than composing!) If we are to be usable wood for the building of something beautiful, we must accept the fact that solid trees need deep roots, not to mention sun, water and oxygen. And we must never forget that for us, as for both soil and wood, there is sacrifice involved. We must be churned and chopped and dug up if we are to be of any real service.

Still, the fact remains that we can be of real service if we are willing. Where Auden has us weeping at poems unwritten, the Apostle Paul imagines our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of God. That is why it is astonishing to think of the poems we might write should we live our lives well. And it's even more astounding—and rather thrilling—to think God might have a vested interest in our writing them.

Carolyn Arends

Where Do You Belong? - Harris

Niche. Your place in the eco-system. A place no one else can occupy and, if you fail to fill it, something is missing from the environment. Yes, it's a biological term. But I think it applies equally well to us as writers, as Christians, as spouses, parents, in whatever role we fill in life.

It's taken me a long time to figure out where I fit in the world, what church I belong to, what kind of mother I am, and, most of all, what I am supposed to be writing. Try as I might, I couldn't fit into the evangelical church I was raised in. I tried to, really hard. But I was a square peg in a round hole.

I love liturgy. I hear Jesus in classical music. And I love taking wine and bread from the priest who bends low to provide elements to every member of the congregation: rich, poor, white, black, or First Nations. These things remind me of Jesus and his love for me - even me. I guess I was born to be an Anglican.

I had the same issues in my career. My parents thought their bright daughter should become an unmarried professional. My mother had visions of me as a missionary, no kids, no husband, no make-up. My Dad thought law or business - something that made lots of money - would be a good idea. Again, no kids, no husband, no make-up. And the generation ahead of me had decided that 'being a mum' was no longer a 'valid career' option.

But I insisted on being a 'girlie-girl' who just happened to get good marks in school. When a high school guidance counsellor, helping with my university registration, told me I should go to law school and forget about kids and a husband, I froze in fear. Not surprisingly, I never showed up at the U. of C. the following September. Instead, I took a minimum wage job and started dating a totally unsuitable young man who I must confess I really never liked that much. (He won't be offended by this statement because he now admits he never really like me either.)

By the time I was twenty, I was a housewife trying to ignore the fact that my young husband liked to hit me when he drank too much. I still loved learning, though. And I loved being a mum. So, I took my degree juggling distance studies/daycare and diapers. I still love thinking about those days I spent writing papers while dinner cooked on the stove and the kids played on the floor beside me!

But, by my thirties, the marriage was over. And I was trying to find a career.

It was clear that I had a artsy bent, but no gift for making money. And that I wanted to be a writer. But what to write? I started with business and features. Those early articles sold well, but they are devoid of passion. They cover the story, a bit coldly though.

It was only that I accepted that Christ had a plan - better than one I could think up - that I really became able to fill my niche in the world. And, in my opinion, my writing has improved immensely. It's no longer cold. It's no longer uncommitted. It's something God can use. And accepting the 'niche' God has for me has allowed me to settle into a new marriage - this time with both feet inside the door. No need for any more quick escapes. And I have time to make a pot of tea and sit down for a chat when the kids want to talk. And, believe or not, my parents say they are proud of me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Meant to do That- Grove

I saw a magazine headline the other day, “65 ways to simplify your life”. I don’t know about you, but changing 65 things in order to simplify my life sounds way too complicated for me.
The article went on . . . and on . . . and on.

I wouldn’t have thought much about it except for the fact that there are so many of these goofy (yeah, goofy. 65 ways to simplify? Come on) headlines assaulting me from every grocery checkout, e-mail offer, blogsite, and newspaper.

List articles are popular and easy to write. Pumped full of seemingly good advice they list off things you can, should, ought, would, might do or not do in order to change, add, subtract, multiply or divide something in your life. Look closely three or four articles on the same subject and you will find the same recycled ‘advice’ in each of them.

Faith Today published an article that said churches that put sayings up on their outdoor signs are guilty of ‘drive by shootings’. I guess the guy doesn’t like church signs. But why did Faith Today publish the article? (I asked them that in a letter to the editor, you can read it in the most recent edition of Faith Today under the title “Rolls her eyes”) I suspect they published it because it had an ‘edgy air’, an ‘against the grain’ feel that is so popular these days. But if you look beyond the pallor of “controversial” you will, too often, find little substance. ‘Edgy’ can easily become synonymous with ‘subjective opinion without any supporting evidence’. Worse, it adds noise and confusion to a world that is loud and confused enough.

And it got me thinking; what are we writing these days? And why?

I went looking. Magazines, newspapers, secular and religious periodicals. I came away from that experience (too lengthy to detail in a blog) with a feeling that many writers are writing for the sake of writing; jumping on any bandwagon, pounding any drum, touting any topic in an effort to get their name on a byline; and a paycheque.

So here’s the deal as far as I’m concerned: I’m not about to spit into the wind, I’m not here to stand on Superman’s cape. I’m certainly not here to tell anyone else what they should or should not write about. But I’m sitting myself down and giving myself a good talk: Bonnie, write with substance. Be truly original, jump off bandwagons, avoid pop culture jargon, check your facts, smooth out your logic, and tell more than one side of a story. And, above all, only be goofy on purpose!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Soggy Bread - Meyer

I originally wrote this 3 years ago (unpublished) with the title: “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.” It is based on the Bible verse Ecclesiastes 11:1.
As I reflect again upon this topic, I read on in the chapter where it says that if we look at the wind, we won’t sow; if we look at the clouds, we won’t reap. We are further told to sow seed in the morning and in the evening for we don’t know which one will prosper – or maybe both sowings will alike reap good things.

During the last few weeks, I have sent out approximately 150 invitations to my book launch and about 50 letters to bookstores and libraries, announcing Deep Waters. Once when my husband asked me about my day, I told him I’d been casting my bread upon the waters – and likely it would just all turn soggy and sink to the bottom. I said the words in jest but later I thought that this was what so often happens. We earnestly embark upon some venture or another only to have it fail abysmally a short time later. This is, of course, not true in every case. Hence the injunction to sow seed (cast bread) even when the wind is blowing, the clouds are overhead; sow in the morning, sow in the evening.

Please enjoy the article written below.
And may all your bread be un-soggy and may all your dreams come true!

* * *
Throw away good bread? What will we eat? How will we survive till the harvest comes in? What will we do if the harvest doesn’t come in?

For five years, I wrote while juggling various responsibilities in and outside of the home. But sometimes, I wondered if what I was doing made any sense at all.
I finished one complete manuscript… Then two… Then three…

Making the move to writing full time was a step of faith but having a supportive family made it seem easier.
But now I worried even more. All this writing. What if it never gets published?
I wrote some articles on the side and they did get published. Then I won a poetry contest and was commissioned to write a play. But I consider myself primarily a novelist and now I have 7 complete manuscripts and then 8 and 9 and 10…

And all the while, the Lord is stretching me. With each new manuscript, I grapple with a new and more challenging issue. And as I live and breathe the characters, their pain becomes, at least temporarily, my own.
I believe that what I am writing will help people to heal and find hope in the Lord. But still there’s that agonizing question rippling through the moments and days and years.
What if it never gets published?
And steady as the falling rain comes the reply.
Let Me worry about that. You just write.
And so I did.

But lately, with 10 manuscripts (and sundry other writings), there’s a new message from the Lord. In some ways, a more alarming one...
Cast your bread upon the waters.
As an “emerging professional” writer, I don’t earn a lot. With maybe $50.00 or $75.00 for an article, it takes a little while to build up the funds.
It’s a big decision to self-publish. But my books are for a specialized market and this will likely be the way I have to go.
It’s a new kind of faith now – but in some ways, the same. The courage that it took to type the first words of the first manuscript, the courage to let someone read what I had written, the courage to dream of someday having it published… It is the same courage that I seek now.

Cast your bread upon the waters.
Offering to teach a course in writing. Am I crazy?
And one week before it’s due to start, there’s only two people signed up! Still I prepare for twelve. I print up sheets, I order materials, I fill up binders.
And seven weeks later, ten inspired writers have completed the course! I’ve covered my cost and have money to put towards my book. And I begin to make plans to teach a second class in a nearby community…

Cast your bread upon the waters.
Is it worth the entry fee to submit work to a contest that I may or may not win? Do I have a chance of getting the grant that I’ve applied for? Should I spend money for a professional membership in a writing guild?

Cast your bread upon the waters.
Bible scholars have long debated the meaning of the words in the 11th chapter and 1st verse of the book of Ecclesiastes. Some suggest that it means shipping grain to foreign ports. Others that it is a type of seed planted during the rainy season.

For me, it is a simple call to faith. Early on in my career, someone encouraged me with the words, “God never wastes the talents of His children.” I believe that.
Our part is to just keep trusting Him and keep taking all those risks! That is what being a writer is all about. And in the larger picture, I suppose that it is also what being a follower of Jesus is all about, too.

My Writing Testimony - Payne

It was in the year 2000 that God called my husband and me to Orillia. We bought a home in a town where we had no family and no friends and started a new life.

It was the first time that I ever stayed home with my children full-time. I was used to working when they were young and then started my own business when my oldest started school. In Orillia, I was home all day, everyday.

Being a social person, I sought out other women and ended up attending a Women’s CARE Group at the Christian Reform Church. It was there that I gave my heart to Jesus and began my personal relationship with the Lord.

At home, I took to reading and studying Christian books. I enjoyed such classics as Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Josh McDowell’s More than a Carpenter, Catherine Marshall’s Something More and The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge.

By following the advice of Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, I began to journal a minimum of three pages each morning. They were called, quite appropriately, “Morning Pages”. Through this process, I wrote about my fears, anxieties, observations and lessons learned as a new Christian. At first, my writing was between God and me. He revealed things to me that I never would have been open to receiving any other way. I remember the day when I was having a “discussion” with God about what my call in life was and He responded, “to write”. He told me to write to bring people closer to Him.

Since that day I try very hard not to miss a morning without writing my morning pages. I share my walk of faith with others through my weekly column, "Today’s Faith," in the Millbrook Times and Cornwall Seaway News. God has done so much for me in my life, writing a book – Fit for Faith, writing regular Christian articles, and writing this column are just some ways I can be obedient to His call in my life and bring others closer to Him.

Kimberley Payne

Friday, November 16, 2007

Psalm 23: Why is it Still So Popular? - Hird
Psalm 23: Why Is It Still So Popular??
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
by the Rev. Ed Hird+

Again and again when people from North and West Vancouver are buried through St. Simon’s NV, their family asks for Psalm 23. Regardless of whether they have been in church for years, Psalm 23 seems to have a comforting power that touches people again and again. Why is Psalm 23 so meaningful to so many people? When Dr. Billy Graham preached a number of years ago in a Russian Synagogue, what was his topic? None other than Psalm 23. Whether Jewish or Christian, Churchgoer or NonChurchgoer, Right Wing or Left Wing politically, Psalm 23 seems to speak to all of us. All of us can find strength in knowing that the Lord is our Shepherd.

There is an extremely popular book written by a Canadian agrologist entitled "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23". Philip Keller, unlike most of us, is an actual modern-day shepherd, who has spent many years in agricultural research, land management, and ranch development in British Columbia. From Keller’s first-hand experience, Psalm 23 has burst open with many new insights and surprises. For example, what does it really mean to say "I shall not want"? Keller says that this is a picture of "a sheep utterly satisfied with its owner..utterly contented in the Good Shepherd’s care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more." Does this describe our personal day-to-day lives? I remember seeing a poster which read: "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have."

Why does Psalm 23 talk about "lying down in green pastures"? Keller tells us that sheep will never lie down until four conditions are met:

1) they must be free of all fear
2) They must be free of torment by flies or parasites
3) They must have a full belly
4) They must be in harmony with their fellow sheep.

Green pastures did not just happen by accident. A good shepherd would put tremendous labour into clearing rough rocky ground into lush pasture land. Psalm 23 tells us that Jesus the Good Shepherd desires to take away our fear and disharmony so that we can find the inner peace that we have always been looking for.

What about "leading us beside still waters"? What difference does that make? Keller tells us that sheep are made up of about 70% water on average. Without a clean water source, sheep become restless and dehydrated. As well, sheep will not drink from fast, flowing waters, but rather from still calm waters. So too the Good Shepherd desires to fill each of us with calmness and stillness, with living water that can quench our deepest thirst.

Psalm 23 reminds us that the Good Shepherd desires to "restore our soul". When a death has just occurred in our family, we often feel heavy and burdened inside, even down cast. Jesus said: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest". All of us need that inner rest from time to time. Sheep, from time to time, may fall on their backs, and be unable to get up again by themselves. When a sheep becomes "down cast", it can quickly become a casualty to sun stroke, or attack from wild animals. A Good Shepherd will restore his sheep when they become cast down.

Perhaps most familiar of all is the phrase: "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , I will fear no evil, for You are with me". Think of funerals you have been to, and what comfort these words have been. Keller tells us that the only way to the mountainous green pastures is through the dangerous mountain valleys where wolves and coyotes are in hiding, waiting for their next victim. Psalm 23 reminds us that the Good Shepherd is also a warrior who will fight for us and protect us, even in times of death and tragedy.

All of us want to be loved and cared for by significant others. Most of us believe that there is a God out there. The good news of Psalm 23 is that God really cares about each of us in a way beyond our wildest imagining. That is the meaning of the poetic language speaking of the Shepherd preparing a table before us, anointing our head with oil, and our cup overflowing. All of this means that God personally cares for you. No matter how tough life gets, and how many setbacks you face, Psalm 23 tell us that God is there for you, and will never give up on you.

The Rev. Ed Hird+, Rector, St. Simon's North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Answered Prayer - Shepherd

Like many people, I do not remember when prayer was not an integral part of my life. According to my parents, they prayed for me even before I was born.

As good Christians, they taught me a prayer for children that I repeated aloud kneeling by my bed at night before going to sleep. As I grew, we learned to pray out loud around the table as a family, as we knelt beside our chairs each one taking a turn. It was good training for a life of serving the Lord.

At the age of seven, I discovered a new dimension of prayer, when I went to church with my parents one Sunday evening. Some of the faithful gathered for a prayer meeting every Sunday evening prior to the service. That evening, I opened my eyes while my mother was praying. I was surprised to see tears rolling down over her face. She was so moved with compassion for someone who had not yet made a commitment to Christ. This scene spoke to me more powerfully than any sermon about the importance of the message of God’s salvation that she preached about.

Soon after that, I made that commitment myself. Over the ensuing years, within the church, I learned why we pray, how to pray and many other principles about prayer. I learned that God answers prayer, even if it is not always the way we expect Him to answer.

Two of the many examples of answered prayer in my life particularly served to strengthen my faith. The first response came the day that my husband, Glen was hospitalized because of his diabetes. He was extremely ill. I know now that if he had not gone into hospital that day, he would not be here with us today. It was a difficult time for us. We had recently become parents and now we knew that Glen had an incurable disease. We had no idea how this would impact our lives. In church, that Sunday morning, I asked God, “Why Glen? You know that He loves You. He wants to serve You to the best of his ability. Why him?”

In the silence, I received my answer. God did not tell me why; but He enfolded me in His love and whispered in my heart, “My child, I know that you cannot understand, but I assure you I know what I have allowed to happen to you. Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will always be with you.”

Then, I felt such a sense of His peace that I no longer needed to ask why or complain of the injustice of our situation. Later, I learned that the Lord used these circumstances to teach my husband important lessons about prayer.

The second answer to prayer concerned our calling to ministry. For ten years, the question of our calling to serve God in The Salvation Army remained an unresolved question. A crisis moment came when we could no longer ignore the issue. One spring evening, Glen and I decided to pray specifically about this. In prayer, we asked the Lord to show us clearly in the Scriptures, His will for us. We knew it could mean a decision that would change everything about our lives.

The next morning, when Glen got up he picked up his Bible and began to read where he had left off the day before. He stopped and recognized God’s answer as he read from I Corinthians 9:16 “Yet, when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” We were certain that God had answered our prayer and since then we have found and still find great joy in preaching the gospel, in the ministry that He has given to us.

I know the faithfulness of God in answering prayer. A song we sang in France summarizes what I believe with absolute confidence. It translates as:

“God answers our prayers. I'm sure of it – I know it.

I have daily proof of God’s help in my life.”

I cannot prove to anyone that God answers my prayers but the evidence satisfies me enough to give me confidence to turn to Him when I need wisdom.

Overcoming the Negative - Gregoire

I fall into the common writers' trap of wanting praise. I want people to like what I write. I want people to tell me that they like what I write. And I want people to agree with me.

Unfortunately, it's pretty unlikely I'll ever have even a majority of people agreeing with what I say, because one of the things I pen is a controversial column from a family values standpoint that appears in several secular papers. Hate mail seems par for the course.

But this week I had a new perspective on that, from two stories in the news. The first occurred in my hometown of Belleville, where a 24-year-old was arrested for spitting on the war cenotaph right before the Remembrance Day ceremonies. It's hard to think of something much more despicable, and he was soundly condemned, but there you go.

The second was from a new poll out showing the popularity, or lack thereof, of our current political leaders. Harper's way on top, Dion is eating dust, and no one else is doing tremendously well. But what really interested me was the 20% who said none of the above.

The question was not: "do you like any of the political leaders", but simply "of the leaders we have right now, who would make the best Prime Minister?". In other words, you could hate the whole bunch and still answer the question. But 20% of people chose to be negative and difficult instead. I bet that 24-year-old war memorial spitter would have said the same thing.

There is a significant portion of our population that will be negative no matter what. And some of those people sit in our pews.

We are never going to please everyone. Jesus didn't even please everyone. And the urge to be liked and affirmed by people, while natural, is not something we should nurture. Instead, we need to look to God for our approval.

That can be hard, but in all honesty, does it really matter what these negative people think? Sometimes it can be a badge of honour to be disliked, as long as one is disliked by the right people.

The only thing that really counts is what God thinks of us. He's the one who designed the specific good works He wants us to do, and He's the one who gives us the words to say. It doesn't matter how people take those words. It is only our job to speak them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Writing and Remembrance – Wright

Remembrance Day reminds me of the importance of writing down memories before they evaporate. My father flew in the First World War during a time when training lasted a few weeks and the lives of pilots were cheap. He flew surveillance flights over the German lines so troops on the ground would know where German defenses were strong or weak. He survived to marry and raise four boys. But I have no written account of his life. A few stories have survived. Of his stunt flight under the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Of the family who billeted him in England. Little else. My older brother, with whom he probably talked about his experiences is beyond recalling them.

Two of my older brothers were in the Canadian forces in World War II. And yet nothing is written. Norman, my oldest brother, served as an aircraft mechanic here in Canada. I remember from my childhood his skill at creating models, especially the model of a Mosquito bomber.

Bruce, my second oldest brother, served with the Canadian army, as far as I know, in the Burma campaign. He was a radar operator during the early days of that innovation. Beyond gaining a vague sense of the horror of fighting against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma, I have little understanding of his suffering. That he did suffer, is sure. Just the other day I learned that he had been a guerilla fighter in the Burmese jungles tasked with plane spotting for the allies.

The emotional scars Bruce carried with him could only be surmised by his struggles to integrate into civilian society. Fortunately, he came to faith in Christ before he left us. But no written memories remain. What did he experience? How did he understand war and suffering? What stories would he tell about India and Burma? All I have to remember him by is a carved teak elephant and a fragment from a Japanese Zero.

Which brings me down to our day. What is it like in Iraq—in Afghanistan? Should we be there or not? Much ink is being spilled on either side of these issues. Here is where fiction is serving us well. No one should render a judgement about Afghanistan without reading, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, along with the dark book, The Swallows of Kabul. And the Reluctant Fundamentalist can do much to help us understand 9/11 from an Americanized Muslim perspective.

But I’m straying from my personal sorrow about lack of information about my own family. Fortunately, my wife Mary Helen, is compiling a memoir about our family life that she can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Memories are important. People live and disappear. For most, a tombstone is not enough. Hence the importance of writers.

Eric E. Wright

Saturday, November 10, 2007

B.P. & Churchill: Soulmates
B.P. & Churchill: Soulmates
An article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
by the Rev. Ed Hird+

For the last number of years, I have written a yearly article about Baden-Powell, the remarkable founder of the world-wide Scouting and Guiding movements. Both Lord and Lady Baden-Powell both were born on February 22nd, a coincidence which has led to the widespread celebrating of their lives every February with events like Parent-son banquets, church parades, and thinking days.

In thinking about Lord Baden Powell, I was struck by the unexpected similarities between Baden Powell and Winston Churchill. Both, for example, came into international recognition through their miraculous escapes and bravery in the South African Boer War. Both were courageous, determined men who inspired millions of others to try their best and to never, never give up. Admittedly, they had many differences as well. For example, Churchill lived in the world of politics and power, while Baden-Powell lived in the world of boys and backpacks. As well, Baden-Powell clearly warned against the dangers of smoking and drinking, while Churchill was famous for his cigar and glass of brandy.

At a deeper level however, their common determination and perseverance has had remarkable impact on the character development of millions. Churchill once went to a meeting of students, where he stood up and said: "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.". Then he sat down. In his 1937 book Great Contemporaries, Churchill included one whole chapter on Baden Powell. In describing Baden-Powell’s Scouting movement, Churchill said: "It is difficult to exaggerate the moral and mental health which our nation had derived from this profound and simple conception." Churchill described Baden-Powell (B.P.) as one of the three most famous generals he had ever known.

Churchill first met Baden-Powell while B.P. was acting as an Austrian Hussar in an amateur vaudeville entertainment, given for the British Army in India. Three years later, Churchill interviewed B.P. for a newspaper article about B.P.’s famous 217-day defence of Mafeking in South Africa. Churchill said of this interview: "...once B.P. got talking, he was magnificent." Churchill commented: "In those days, B.P.’s fame as a soldier eclipsed almost all popular reputations. The other B.P. - the British Public - looked upon him as the outstanding hero of the War. Even those who disapproved of the War, and derided the triumphs of large, organized armies over the Boer farmers, could not (help but) cheer the long, spirited, tenacious defence of Mafeking by barely eight hundred men against a beleaguering force ten or twelve times their number."

"No one", said Churchill, " had ever believed that Mafeking would hold out half as long. A dozen times, as the siege dragged on, the watching nation had emerged from apprehension and despondency into renewed hope, and had been cast down again." By the end of the siege, Mafeking had become so famous that it turned into a verb: "to Mafeking meant to celebrate uproariously". Churchill noted that "when finally the news of Mafeking’s relief was flashed throughout the world, the streets of London became impassable, and the floods of sterling cockney patriotism was released in such deluge of unbridled, delirious, childish joy as was never witnessed again until Armistice Night in 1918."

Churchill, too, became an instant hero through his adventures in South Africa. On May 15th in 1899, Winston Churchill the newspaper journalist was accompanying 150 soldiers on an armoured train, when suddenly it was ambushed and derailed. Churchill took command in clearing the lines, and took 60 men, many of them wounded, away to safety. Upon returning to help the other troops, Winston was captured, despite his protest that he was just a journalist. After 3 weeks in captivity, Churchill escaped over the prison wall, jumped a train, hid in a mine, and finally escaped by train. In the afterglow of his amazing adventure, Churchill was elected to the British Parliament at the young age of 25.

Neither B.P. nor Churchill were particularly successful in their early school days. B.P.’s school reports read: 1) Classics: Seems to take very little interest in his work 2) Mathematics: Has to all intent given up the study of mathematics 3) Science: Pays not the slightest attention, except in one week at the beginning of the quarter 4) French: Could do well, but has become very lazy; often sleeps in school. Churchill was described by one of his teachers as "the naughtiest small boy in the world". His father warned him: "I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle unprofitable life you have had during your school days, you will become a mere social wastrel, one of the hundreds of public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby and futile existence."

Both B.P. and Churchill preferred to learn their lessons from nature than from a classroom. Baden-Powell once said: "Say your prayers regularly, read that wonderful old book, the Bible, and read that other wonderful old book, the Book of nature, and see and study all that you can of the wonders and beauties that nature provides for your enjoyment. Then turn your mind to how you can best serve God while you still have the life that He has lent you." Churchill loved animals and loved to paint the beauties of nature. After his crushing election defeat right after V-Day, Churchill went to the Mediterranean where he said: "I paint all day and every day, and have banished care and disillusionment to the shades."

Despite the many setbacks and defeats in both B.P.’s and Churchill’s life, neither of them ever gave up the struggle to fulfill their visions. Churchill described B.P. as a "man of character, vision, and enthusiasm." Winston described what he saw as the marks of a scout: sturdiness, neighbourliness, practical competence, love of country and , above all in these times, indomitable resolve, daring and enterprise in the face of the enemy. "BE PREPARED", said Churchill, " to stand up faithfully for Right and Truth, however the winds may blow."

Similarly, Baden-Powell said that it is the stickability of the man that really counts. Stickability for B.P. was "that mixture of pluck, patience, and strength which we call endurance." Stickability "...will pull a person out of many a bad place when everything seems to be going wrong for him." As I think of Baden-Powell’s and Churchill’s stickability, I am reminded of the words of wisdom: "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." May the God of endurance fill each of us with stickability as we face life's challenges.

Rev. Ed Hird,
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Friday, November 09, 2007

Geese Lessons - Hovsepian

Preface: I'm in the middle of whirlwind preparations for Mission Fest Montreal this weekend (I'm in charge of the children's program on Saturday, for which we anticipate about 100 kids!), so please allow me to simply pull out the latest editorial I wrote for my church newsletter (slightly edited).

On Sunday, October 21, after the morning worship service at a women’s retreat I attended, a few of us stepped outside to enjoy the unusually warm sunshine (for October in Montreal!) and gorgeous fall foliage. While we were chatting, we heard unmistakable honking overhead and looked up to see an amazing site!

About 50 Canadian geese were flying in perfect V formation — one big V in front and a smaller V off to the side — clearly ready to migrate south for the winter. They were flying so low that we could see their white bellies and hear their enthusiastic honks.

Those of us watching all reacted in similar ways: marvelling at the excellent example of leadership, teamwork, encouragement, and even humility, as each goose knew its place and didn’t try to take over the situation. What an apt illustration for topics such as mentoring and discipleship, though you might not think so at first.

A few months ago, the Men’s and Women’s Fellowship groups at my church both had meetings that focussed on role models and how we, as maturing Christians, can be good role models to those around us, especially younger people.

While this is a very important issue, I believe we can’t assume this type of responsibility unless we, too, are teachable students, humble followers and willing disciples. How many of us have a mentor to teach us, challenge us, keep us accountable, and encourage us?

It’s natural for each one of us, especially after a time of spiritual growth, to feel eager to share with others our faith and the things we’ve learned… and this is definitely important! However, we put ourselves in danger if we do not make sure that we are first being properly fed and discipled.

We all need Christian friends who are genuinely concerned about our walk with God and who can honestly but lovingly check up on us… people who go beyond small talk and meaningless conversations, who are passionate about God and His Word, about prayer, worship, and fellowship… so much so that they cannot help but talk about these things when they are with other believers.

Just like geese, surround yourself with others who are growing in their faith and are actively serving God. Humble yourself enough to learn from a more mature believer, whether that’s your pastor, a teacher, a parent or even a friend. And be more eager to serve than to lead. God will place you at the front of the flock in His own time.

And by all means, “honk” loudly about your joy in Christ: God loves to hear our praise!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In Praise of Waiting - Schneider

If there's one thing a writer does lots of (other than staring at a computer screen), it's waiting. We wait for an editor or agent to respond to a query. We wait for revision letters from our editors. We wait for the book to actually be published. We wait for the next contract. Usually, the wait is longer than we'd prefer.

I'm learning to take refuge in a phrase of Scripture found in I Timothy 6:15 "... He Who is the Blessed and only Controller of all things ..."

We give lip service to God's absolute control of all, but when the cheque is late or the next contract elusive, do I really, truly believe it?

I think of the Children of Israel wandering in the desert. Scripture tells us that when the Cloud moved, they moved. When the Cloud stayed, they stayed. That sounds like a great story. But how would I have liked to live that story? How would I have responded after a month of camping in the same location, depending on each day's delivery of Manna? When the Cloud continued to stay, day after day, when I ached to find new scenery, would I have trusted, or would I have joined the complainers?

When I face my computer each day without a contract that affirms to me that my time is well spent, do I still trust? Do I really believe that God is the Blessed and Only Controller of all? When the story doesn't want to gel, and imagination feels thin, do I trust His work even in my own creativity?

I want to.

I think of another phrase used often throughout Scripture--"in the fullness of time". When the time is right, when His Wisdom deems that this moment is the perfect one, when all is in readiness from His perspective, then dreams give birth to reality. I may think now is the moment, but He knows far more than I. I can trust Him to determine accurately "the fullness of time".

In the meantime, Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Faced a Man - Austin

War has been glorified in our culture. Movies make it a grand adventure. How does someone who has never tasted the horror even begin to grasp the reality? My Dad, at 87, is a veteran, although he never got overseas. He was grounded in the Air-force because he got airsick, so he patched up planes and sent them back out – and saw many of his friends killed.

As little as I understand of the realities and the horrors of war, there are times when I ache over how complacent we are about our freedoms. With troops in Afghanistan right now, whether we understand this war or not, and agree with this war or not, it seems to me that those of us in safety have a responsibility to those in jeopardy. I’m not sure how that responsibility should look for others, but war and remembrance are themes my pen has often tackled.

With Remembrance Day just around the corner, will you pardon me if I share one of the oldest pieces of writing I have saved. Written during college days more than 30 years ago, this is the piece that defined the release date of my book, Laughter & Tears, launched on Remembrance Day 2005.

There is a cost to war that is rarely touched on – at least in my reading. It is that cost this piece looks at – a cost I pray I never have to experience first hand. Perhaps it is appropriate that the formatting of this piece falls somewhere between prose and free-verse poetry, a no-man’s-land that both sides tend to take shots at.

I Faced A Man
Published in Laughter & Tears TP Nov 2005
Published in The Post Nov. 2005
Published in Laughter & Tears CD Feb 2006


It is raining; little more than a cold drizzle. For four days we have fought in this sullen atmosphere, with the smell of gunpowder and smoke, and the sound of guns in the air.

Yesterday, across a little clearing, with the grass charred and scorched, I faced a man.
There was no hesitation on the part of either of us. One of his bullets grazed my side. Four rounds from my gun smashed his chest. He died almost instantly.

He was my "enemy." This is war. But I am sorry.

I have killed -- how many times now? Still I am sick each time.

I am sorry. How empty those words sound. I wish there was something I could say or do, but there is nothing.

The letters he was carrying from you I am returning. I hope that in some small way they will lessen the grief.

There was a picture – he carried over his heart. Most of that picture, he now carries within his body. You have lost him, but he has not lost you.

I laid him under the trees where the grass was still green and no shells had scorched and destroyed. His rifle and helmet mark the spot.

The fighting is getting intense again. I dare not stay, or even carry this letter with me. I hope somehow, it gets to you.

I am sorry.

From a man who in better days would have shared a cup of coffee with the one I just killed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Assessment of Ape Language Skills is Dramatically Scaled Back - O'Leary

You've probably heard about all the apes who have been taught to communicate using sign language in recent years. As Mario Beauregard and I discuss in The Spiritual Brain, the discovery that American Sign Language could, in principle, be taught to apes spurred a number of interesting research projects - and some pretty unrealistic claims. In Dragons of Eden (1986), for example, Carl Sagan dreamed of a day when
"Although a few years ago it would have seemed the most implausible science fiction, it does not appear to me out of the question that, after a few years in such a verbal chimpanzee community, there might emerge the memoirs of the natural history and mental life of a chimpanzee, published in English or Japanese (with perhaps an "as told to" after the byline)."
What you probably DIDN'T hear much about is the mood of skepticism with which much of the science community has greeted this work in recent years - even as the apes impress hosts on national television programs.

In "Aping Language", a thoughtful article in E-Skeptic, Clive Wynne explains how that happened. Wynne certainly does not have a hitch in his craw about the concept of ape language. On the contrary, would have been pleased to discover that apes can be taught grammar. The trouble is, after the initial flurry of success stories, later, more critical research came to the conclusion that they generally can't.

Why did initial reports sound so favourable? One problem was overinterpretation. The ability to learn a large number of signs is not the same thing as the ability to learn a language whose meaning depends largely on grammar. The former achievement is sometimes found among birds as well as mammals, but the latter seems unique to humans.

The ability to string a sequence of words together does not necessarily mean awareness of grammar. The sentence "Tom shot John" does not mean the same thing as "John shot Tom," and the difference is pretty important. Overly generous assumptions were made about the extent to which apes such as Washoe and Kanzi were using grammar. When they were examined by scientists other than their trainers, they did not perform well.

Also, attuned as they were to individual signs of success, researchers were often not looking at the big picture. Reporting on how one researcher revised his thinking after closer study, Wynne notes,
Terrace now argued that Nim's use of ASL signs was quite unlike how children learn language. Nim failed to initiate conversations, he seldom introduced new vocabulary and just imitated what the humans around him said. Nim's sentences failed to grow in length. In human children there is a close relationship between the number of words known and the number of words used in a sentence. Not so in Nim. Throughout his time in the language project he stuck to using one or two words at a time. And his longer utterances were without any regard for grammatical structure. Nim's longest recorded "sentence" was give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you. Not hard to understand — but not very grammatical either.

The key difference between an ape and a child is that the child is growing in intellectual capability. The ape is not. Thus, the ape isn't under any internal pressure to expand his language competence. Once he knows how to satisfy his fairly simple needs, any pressure he experiences will come from drill by humans - at the expense, one suspects, of things he would rather be doing.

Wynne describes his own disillusion,
For a start Kanzi — like Nim before him — did not show the increase in sentence length that is typical of children learning language. In fact, at 1.15 symbols per sentence, Kanzi's average utterance is even shorter than Nim's. And it turns out that to complete many of the requests that were put to him Kanzi did not need to understand grammar. For example when Kanzi was asked to "Take the hat to the colony room" - which Kanzi did successfully - all he needed was some sense of "hat" and of "colony room."
Wynne's point is that, unlike "John shot Tom"/"Tom shot John" the command given to Kanzi is not reversible - a room cannot be taken to a hat. He concludes that, while Kanji's and his trainers' achievements are significant, as far as grammar is concerned, "on any assessment not tinted with rose-colored glasses, Kanzi just doesn't get it."

Commenting on John Berman's recent Nightline show with 26-year-old Kanzi, he quotes Berman's assessment, "Moments like this are proof that these conversations help scientists learn about apes, from the apes themselves," but says,
I don't disagree, though I fear the conclusion I draw is not the one Berman intended. Moments like this tell us that Descartes was right, there really are no beasts, no matter how fortunately circumstanced, that can make known their thoughts through language.
As I see it, the take home point is that Kanji doesn't really want anything more out of life than his limited language skills give him. That is what makes all the difference between him and a three-year-old child.

Anyway, it's good to see a magazine that bills itself as "skeptical" living up to its billing by exercising its skepticism in an area that has long been in need of it.


Philosopher argues that polytheism (many gods) would be better

Psychiatrist doubts God but dismisses new atheists

Why lifelong atheist Anthony Flew decided there must be a God

A real Dr. Frankenstein?

The lazy paddlefish could have hands, feet but doesn't bother

Sunday, November 04, 2007

African Perspective - Boge

In February 2008 I plan to return to the Mully Children’s Family orphanage in Africa to write a follow up book to the biography of the orphanage founder, Charles Mulli.

This new book will focus on the lives of some of the street children who have been rescued, and explore what life was like for them on the street and how their lives changed after Charles Mulli introduced them to Jesus Christ.

And, like my first trip to Kenya, I expect to hear stories and insights into life that I have never discovered.

Sometimes Christians in other cultures understand things differently than we do in our own. That’s what I discovered while researching Father to the Fatherless: The Charles Mulli Story. It chronicles his life as an abused and abandoned child who begged for food for his survival. Later, as an adult he started businesses which grew into a major empire. Impressed by God to sell all he had, Charles began rescuing street children. Today he has more than 1,000 children under his care. And with a faith experience like his, Charles offers simple yet profound explanations about life.

“Prosperity is a changed life,” he told me.

I had never heard that before. And it has stuck with me these four years. I hope it never leaves.

I also hope to be able to connect with George again. He was in grade 7 or 8 at the time. I sat next to him at an outdoor evening service one night as the bugs (many of which I had never seen in Canada) flew around us. George had a stained shirt and shorts and a pair of worn flip-flops. His smile was genuine.

“Why are you so happy?” I asked.

“Because of what Jesus has done for me,” George replied.

“And what has Jesus done for you?”

“Oh,” he said, his smile even wider now. “I couldn’t even begin to count.”

George had no possessions.

And so as I prepare for Africa next year, I’m armed (this time more so than last time) with the understanding that there is very little that I will be able to bring to my brothers and sisters at MCF. My hope, however, is that what those children give me I will be able to capture in a book that will encourage others to examine the claims of Christ through their eyes.

And, perhaps in so doing, will experience a rescue of their own.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More Blessed to Give - Hird

-an article for the North Shore News ‘Spiritually Speaking’ Column
More Blessed to Give
By Rev. Ed Hird+

For more than fifty years, I have worn a poppy each November 11th. On Remembrance Day, we give thanks for those who have given generously of their time and even their lives so that we might live in freedom. It is so easy to take freedom and security for granted. Two of my great-uncles Charlie and Harry both went off to war in World War One and never came back.

On November 19th, 1917 a caring chaplain wrote my Nana the following note: "Dear Miss Williams, I dare say you have heard the sad news of the death of your brother Private H.C.W. Williams who was killed in action on the morning of November 6th. He did not suffer as death was instantaneous."

"No doubt you will feel the loss of your dear brother very much as it is hard to part with those we love; but it is a consolation to know he did his duty faithfully and died in a righteous cause. He gave his life for others. And ‘greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’"
"I pray that God will comfort you in your sad bereavement and may you find his grace sufficient in your hour of need. Cast your cares on the Lord and he shall sustain you. With Deepest Sympathy, Yours sincerely, Alex Ketterson Chaplain 29th Canadians, B.E.F."

My Nana had a deep faith that sustained her in the worst of times. Her faith also inspired her to be a giver rather than a taker. She knew well the Great Physician’s teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Nana loved to give to others of her time, talent and treasure. One of her most precious gifts to me was a book called “Why You Say It”, which explains the fascinating stories behind over 700 everyday words and phrases. I reluctantly thanked my Nana at the time, secretly wishing that she gave me a toy instead. Years later all my toys are gone, and that book is one of my precious gifts from my childhood.

The Good Book tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. The term ‘cheerful’ in the Greek is the word ‘hilaron’, from which we get the word ‘hilarious’. Part of Canada’s Judeo-Christian heritage is a valuing of generosity. It is so important that when we give to others, we do it cheerfully, not grudgingly like the infamous Mr. Scrooge.

Good examples of cheerful giving on the North Shore are the Lions and Kiwanis Clubs with the wonderful housing complexes that they have developed. As Canadians, we need to keep growing in our generosity to others in need. Recent studies by the Fraser Institute found that charitable giving as a percentage of aggregate income in the United States is double the giving in Canada (1.67 per cent vs. 0.72 per cent).

The Bible tells us that God has a real heart for widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor.

My challenge to each of us this Remembrance Day is for us to look for ways in which we can show our gratitude for the sacrifices made by others. The gift of democracy does not come cheap. If we are really grateful for the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful countries on planet earth, how might we say thanks?

The Rev. Ed Hird+
Rector, St. Simon’s North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Friday, November 02, 2007

Raising the Wall Together - Wegner

As I considered a topic for this blog my thoughts turned to the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. What made me think of that project was a call I received from a local businessman yesterday.

"Is Len there?" he asked and I made a mental note, again, to change the listing of our names in the phone book. Two "L Wegner" entries is confusing enough but having them live next door to each other is downright perlexing to those who don't know we moved into the house beside our son and his family.

There is a point to this story because as a result of the misdirected phone call, the business owner recalled having received an email asking if he knew of a good writer of business articles. His getting the "wrong" number resulted in my getting 2 new jobs today. It all reminded me of the workers on the wall and of the importance of their coordinated effort to get an important job done.

We've all heard, and perhaps demonstrated, that writers tend to live an isolated life. In an "earlier life" I considered myself quite the extrovert; now, as a full time-make my living as a writer-person, I spend most of my waking hours behind both a computer screen and a closed door. This Scripture passage reminds me of my need for fellowship as well as productivity.

It's all about networking, doing our part, and cooperating. "The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build...."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What’s So “Merry” About Christmas? — Clemons

November 1st and if you don’t believe Christmas is here you haven’t been shopping in Wal-Mart, Zellers, Canadian Tire or any other house of retail repute. And you probably don’t believe in Santa Clause, either—Grinch!

Oh, I too remember the days when Christmas d├ęcor wasn’t put up until December—at the earliest—but I guess I’m showing my age. I, of all people, shouldn’t be surprised. One thing I’ve learned as an author is that books for the Christmas season are ordered by stores in July. You gotta get the goods on the shelf early to squeeze every dollar of profit from the holidays. In today’s techno-riffic, five-hundred-dollar Christmas present, oh, what the heck, just get ‘em a gift-card and let them buy what they want, world, I wonder if anyone remembers what it’s really all about.

“Yes, of course,” you say, “It’s about that cute little baby wrapped in those snugly warm blankets with all those lowing cows, that glowing star, and those winsome shepherds.” Well, maybe. Things get a bit fuzzy in a country where it’s considered politically incorrect to say “Merry Christmas” because, heaven forbid, Christmas is really “Christ’s Mass” so please say “Seasons Greetings,” lest you offend. No, that’s not a Christmas tree you see, that’s a Holiday Tree, never mind that the word “Holiday” is a derivative of “Holy Day,” and do not, please, do not plant a nativity scene in your front yard. You may get reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Imagine the nerve of those parents making those poor cows go hungry while they steal the manger for their kid?

Perhaps it’s for the best. Even in our brightest candlelit cantatas we still miss the point. That baby boy wasn’t born to be cuddly and cute. He was a sacrifice, born to die an ugly death so we might live. He would be scourged and spat upon and have His head impaled with thorns and carry a cross on his bloody back until there was no strength left in Him, and then be nailed to it and propped up naked for all the world to laugh at and mock and jeer. And all because I did a bunch of things for which I am deeply ashamed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this time of year. I love being reminded that God loved me so much, he willingly entered this world and became a man so he could pay the price for my sin and thus redeem me back to Himself. I’m reminded of the old children's story about the little boy who lovingly made a toy boat. He carved it, painted it bright blue, and fitted it with a handkerchief for a sail. Then he took it down to the river and set it on the water and let go and watched as it caught the wind, sped away, and before he knew it, was gone. He went home with tear-filled eyes knowing he might never see his much-loved creation again. A few days later he was walking downtown and saw his boat in the window of a second-hand store. Not having any money, he went out and worked every odd job he could find to earn enough to buy it back. Laying his coins on the counter he took that tiny boat from the retailer, hugged it to his chest, and said those classic words: “First I made you—then I bought you.” That’s the Christmas story.

Yes, I love Christmastime. I love singing the carols, wassailing hot cider, visiting family and friends. I love the cold that puts rouge in my cheeks, the lights and tinsel and the star sparkling on top of the tree, I even love hearing the “ho, ho, ho,” of the shopping mall Santa. But I also want to keep in mind the whole story, the reason and purpose of it all. Perhaps instead of reading the pastoral narrative penned by Luke, beautiful though it is, I need to read the one Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

To that I can say, “Merry Christmas,”—all year long.

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