Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ministry Memories – Reynolds

People go to see a doctor when they are sick, a lawyer when they have legal problems, a banker when they are broke. A minister doesn’t often see results from his work, but here is one instance where I did receive an indication that my ministry had a significant effect upon one life.

The summer before I started studying theology, I worked for awhile as assistant to a plasterer. We were stuccoing the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney River, Cape Breton. Years after, whenever I drove by that church I would look at it with a sense of pride, “I helped stucco that church!” It was something I had done and I could see what I had done.

In contrast, a minister doesn’t commonly see the results of his or her efforts. Other than counting how many people are in church Sunday mornings, there is little way to know the results of hard-worked-over sermons or draining counselling sessions. And one is more apt to hear criticisms, or be called to deal with marital problems, or accidents or disasters, than to hear results of solid comfort and help (note Matthew 17:11f.).

One affirmation in my ministry, which kept me going when things got tough, resulted from my ministry at St. Paul’s, Fredericton.

St. Paul’s was a large, affluent congregation, some 900 families. The minister was important. In the event of a death, I was expected to be at the home or hospital within ten minutes! It was a demanding congregation. One winter, I had the morning service, then a Sunday School class of teen-age boys. At three o’clock, there was a church membership group. About five o’clock, after a short nap, I would start preparing for the evening service. The seven o’clock evening service was followed by a university group.

The attendance at the evening service was, let us say, sparse – about 60 to 70 people in that large sanctuary. Even many of the choir had stopped coming. Often I was so tired and ill prepared that I felt I couldn’t stand up to give the sermon. Somehow I was always given the strength. There was a sense of Christ standing with me. I couldn’t give up on that evening service, but I felt it was largely wasted effort.

Several years later, while I was Chaplain at Mount Allison University, I had a letter from a friend of my mother. It told me that she had friends whose son had recently died of cancer while doing graduate study in England. Members of the medical staff at the hospital where he was treated were so impressed with his faith that they named the ward after him.

His parents found a diary from his days when he was a student in Fredericton at the University of New Brunswick. Again and again there was an entry, “Went to church at St. Paul’s this evening. AR said ….” His parents had no idea who “AR” might be until my mother’s friend made the connection.

I was deeply moved when I read that letter. It isn’t often that a minister gets that kind of indirect feedback. It kept me going for months afterwards, and even after all these years, I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is There a God? - Meyer

Recently, a popular Christian radio host ( posed the question: “How do you know there is a God?”
It was suggested that if God is real, then he would personally contact us in such a way that we would know unmistakably that it was God speaking to us. It was further suggested that He would converse with us in a voice that our ears could hear or in written words that our eyes could see – but again, with a personal message just for us.

Well, actually, it has happened before in human history but not very often.
And what has been our reaction as human beings?
1. Disbelief – in the Bible in the book of John, chapter 12 and verses 28 and 29, there is an account of some people who heard a voice from heaven speaking. Their reaction – they said it was thunder.
2. Worshipping the messenger instead of the God who sent the message – when Paul the Apostle healed a man at Lystra who had been crippled all his life, the people began to worship Paul saying: “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.”
3. Making the place the message was received into a place of worship – When Peter was up on the mountain and Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus, Peter right away wanted to build three tabernacles (places of worship) on that site.
When we look down through history and around the world at special things (miracles) God has done, going against the laws of nature that he has put in place, our human reaction has invariably been one of these three.

So, what would happen if God, wanting to convince a person named Sarah that He loved her, wrote a big message in the clouds: “Dear Sarah, I love you very much. From God.”
What would be the human reaction?
1. Disbelief – most people (including Sarah perhaps) would believe it was some kind of hoax.
2. Worshipping the messenger or person to whom the message was given. Can you imagine the books that would be written about Sarah and her wonderful experience? And the talk shows? Can you imagine Sarah’s inbox or her Facebook account?
3. Making the place the message was received into a place of worship. The area over which the clouds had appeared would be considered a sacred and most blessed land – a destination for pilgrimages for many years to come.

Well, maybe something quieter then. How about a hand coming out of nowhere and carving a message on a tabletop in Sarah’s house, right before her very eyes?
What would be the result of this?
1. Disbelief – Sarah would quite likely question her sanity. Others would question her sanity if she told them what had happened.
2. Worshipping the message, messenger or person who received the message. If people did become convinced that God had actually written a message on the table, that table would be put under glass and put in a church somewhere. People would come from around the world to touch the table (or the glass surrounding it), hoping to have their prayers answered, hoping for miracles, etc.
3. Making the place the message was received into a place of worship. Sarah’s home and her family and perhaps even her city and her country would be deemed sacred. Again, the pilgrimages would begin.

So, maybe if God wrote to all of us everyday on rocks or tables or clouds, then it wouldn’t be so special and we would just get used to getting our daily messages from Him. Yeah, I think we can all see the problem with that. The skies would be so full of cloud messages, we’d never see the sun and all of our tabletops would be ruined. And if God wrote to us in more traditional ways (like email), what would happen if we accidently deleted a message from Him – would that be like the unforgiveable sin? What if our computers crashed? Would he call us on the phone instead?

So, before this blog post gets too crazy, let’s just back up a bit. God is God. If He wants to communicate with us, He can devise a way that is not dependant on cloud cover, Bell Telephone, your local Internet provider (which is very unreliable where I live) or… tabletops. God could, and has, devised a way to speak to us that works even if we are in the dark or in the middle of an ocean and even if we are deaf or blind or incapacitated in some other way. God can use this to speak to us in any language, dialect and accent (yep, it’s true!). God speaks in such a personal way that often we are at a loss to explain the “conversation” to others.

What is this “device”? Well, actually, there isn’t a device. It is a direct communication with God himself, one that bypasses our ears, eyes and other senses, and goes directly to our spirits. As it says in the Bible in the eighth chapter of Romans and the sixteenth verse: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
There are many other verses about the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Romans 8:16, Luke 12:12, John 14:17, 26, 1 John 2:27, John 16:13, etc.) but don’t expect to understand everything all at once. For starters, it will be difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that God exists in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Holy Spirit could descend on top of Jesus in the form of a dove while a voice from Heaven said, “This is my beloved Son.”
The reason we can’t wrap our minds around God and who He is and how He speaks to us is, quite simply, weren’t not God. We’re just itty bitty humans. I don’t know how God, the Holy Spirit, can be speaking into my heart while at the very same time, He is watching over the universe, keeping track of sparrows (Matthew 10:29) and the number of hairs on my head! (Matthew 10:30) AND speaking into the hearts of thousands or perhaps millions of others all over the world. But there’s a whole bunch of other things I can’t understand either. Did you ever try to think what is beyond infinity or what comes after eternity?
At least, I have the assurance that someday, I will understand everything. The Bible says (in 1 Corinthians 13:12) that “now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Beautiful words and reassuring words. Someday we will understand everything… All the pieces will fall into place. All our questions will be answered.
But for now, today, in this very moment, we have the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who speaks to our hearts, reassuring us that there is a God and that He loves us so much that we are privileged to call Him, Abba (Daddy), Father. (Galatians 4:6)

Dorene Meyer

Author of The Little Ones and Jasmine
Now in book stores across Canada
Distributed by Word Alive Press
Available online and as ebook on Amazon (key in title of book and publisher: Word Alive Press).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Straws in the wind re the direction of media, plus comments - Denyse O’Leary

Toronto Star restores free TV guide?: Just recently, a little drama erupted at my house, when my mother could not find a copy of the Saturday Star with a TV guide in it. That, I discovered via some sleuthing, resulted from genuine, possibly ongoing uncertainty on the part of the Star about how to continue to market the guide.

The trouble is, many people - like my mom - take the Star mainly for that handy guide, especially older people who are not on the Internet. Similarly, many buy it for the crossword, a favourite columnist, recipes, horoscopes, news, etc. Many years ago, pundits suggested that, to save paper, all these products be bundled and sold separately. Actually, they are, in books, collector magazines, and round-the-clock TV news coverage of disasters, such as CNN might provide. My hunch is that the daily paper is just plain losing out in the circulation wars because the big wad of paper is no long filling a niche, just a blue bin somewhere.

Anyway, I would guess customers complained because the guide is now back. One way they will not stay in business is by forcing the customer into knots over the very thing (the only thing, in many cases) that the customer wants.

But newspaper circulation is declining anyway, whether in the United States, Australia, or Canada. The trend is less noted in the developing world, probably due to less Internet access.

Here’s how to spot a bankruptcy coming, if you can do the math, but for my money, it’s when the staff are pestering freelancers like me to write for free. That amounts to saying that the enterprise is no longer a business.

Canadian writers, including Christian writers, will need to look elsewhere for venues. The Internet isn’t bad, as long as you can get clients who can pay you enough to support yur work.

Meanwhile, Raleigh, S.C. editor Paul Greenberg worries that American newspapers will seek a government bailout:

Lee Bollinger confuses the sad fate of failing newspapers -- some of which, let's face it, deserved to fail -- with that of journalism itself. Much like someone worrying about what's going to happen to the buggy-whip business once those awful horseless carriages take over the road.

[ ... ]

Mr. Bollinger can't see that the Internet has moved the press back to the uninhibited, robust and wide-open days of the founding fathers, when anyone with a printing press could publish his own news and opinion, advertisements and manifestos. Today they may be bloggers, or, as one outraged and outdated TV executive called them, guys sitting in their living room in their pajamas. And occasionally taking down an imperious Dan Rather.
I don’t worry about Government Media so much now because previous bailouts of failed businesses have fared poorly. If a business is losing money, turning it into a compulsory charity won’t help, and if people won’t read the newspaper, we had better gravitate to something they will.

London Free Press’s Rory Leishman resigns over canned column: Longtime Christian columnist Rory Leishman resigned recently when the editor canned his column on Islamism, shown here. I wish Leishman had not just resigned, making it easy for editors to keep their heads ensconced firmly in the sand on domestic terror, claiming fear of lawsuits.

In fact, our Supreme Court, like many, has signalled a willingness to protect journalists and news outlets that are genuinely acting in the public interest by making threats known. It is no way to justify a newspaper’s continued existence by publishing anodyne stuff only our potted plants will appreciate when we put newspapers under them to catch water overflow.

Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul..

Monday, September 27, 2010

No Way to Die - Austin

Ah the joy of a Fall walk, tangled vines ensnaring feet, golden-rod blooming, driving the allergy-alert into the red-zone. And bugs, inviting themselves, buzzing around nose, mouth and ears, crawling through hair, exploring the outer and inner surfaces of ears. It is the ones that sneak into the ear canal itself, while you are busy digging a cousin out of the corner of your eye, that really make your day.

"Write what you know," is an oft repeated challenge. But what language adequately describes the sensation of a bug crawling deep within the confines of a tiny dark tunnel on the side of your skull?

I am told there is no feeling within the brain itself -- so inform myself frequently that my headaches are not real. The logic of that argument is unassailable. Unfortunately, my headaches have never studied logic. Something crawling deep within the right side of this bony protuberance above my shoulders seems as logical. But. . . beastly burrowing bugs will find I am not without resources. A 30cc plastic syringe has flushed away many a wax plug through the years. (I seem to be a regular wax factory.) Water cannons work for riot control. Why not for bug patrol as well? A wax plug gave up the battle, but unfortunately no bug emerged.

Yet the irritation continued, day after day and week after week. I flushed repeatedly. I administered drops and oil. I debated going into emergency, but always things would improve for a few days. A full month of this culminated in two nights interrupted by a crawling sensation inside my head with frequent sharp piercings. Long flushing sessions in the middle of the night brought no relief. A call to the local medical clinic gave the earliest appointment five days away -- so feeling like this was an abuse of the system, I went to the emergency room of our local hospital.

The doctor was NOT impressed with my stoic endurance. He did NOT tell me I was wise to wait and see if it would clear on its own. He did NOT commend me for my self-medication efforts. He couldn't see a bug inside, but the inflammation of the ear canal showed a serious infection, with risks of complications. He sent me away with a lecture, a prescription, and a warning that things could "go sour."

Now I'm something of a word guy, and I'm not sure what a "sweet" infection would look like. But even if "sour" isn't the word I would have chosen, I have gained a deeper respect for all that it implies.

I managed to get the prescription ear-drops in once. My wife manged once. But the swelling had increased and closed the ear canal. By bedtime visible swelling had puffed up the side of my face. Instead of snuggling with my wife, I swallowed Tylenol and took an icepack to bed. Three am and 9:00 am saw Tylenol repeats, worse swelling and a guy who takes some pride in handling pain pretty well trying not to cry. Breakfast proved a challenge. The infection now included the hinge of my jaw. Opening my mouth wide enough for a bite sent stabbing pains through the side of my face. Biting with any force drove those pains deeper.

Two emergency visits in two days? I think one a year is too much. The same doctor repeated his lecture. I'm sure he gave wise advise, but with one ear swelled shut, a dull ache involving the right side of my face and frequent stabbing pains burning through my skull, he has probably had more attentive listeners. An hour on an IV drip in the emergency room should have turbo-charged the oral antibiotic I went home with. But the worst was yet to come. Tylenol became my companion, with the daily maximum dose sneaking up painfully fast.

Meals lose something when every bite feels like someone has stabbed a 16 gauge needle into the side of your face.

Did I say that an ear infection would not be my chosen way to die? I resist taking Tylenol or other pain medications. My wife has to practically force-feed me. A life-threatening allergy to Aspirin has made me paranoid about any pills. But I had taken the maximum recommended dose and did my best to tough out a few extra hours in the evening. Believe me, I watched the clock, waiting for my next "fix."

A movie distracted me for a couple of hours, but movies don't last forever. Tylenol, when the clock finally says a new 24-hour period has begun, does not bring instant relief. An hour after popping the latest pills, the pain had dulled enough that exhaustion from three days with little sleep gained a brief cease-fire. Again I took an ice-pack to bed. (I highly recommend wives over ice-packs. I'm sure my wife will be relieved to know.) Somewhere around 1:00 am the battle started again. I think the enemy used lances and spears, but with sadistic cruelty refused to strike a killing blow, just stabbing repeatedly. Tough macho guy that I am, I endured till 3:00 am before downing more pills.

How is it possible to fit a year's worth of pain into two hours? And how can you do it over something as stupid as an ear infection? Did I tell you that I wouldn't choose this as my preferred way to die?

Sunday breakfast -- the swelling looks and feels the same, although I can eat without wanting to cry over every bite. My ear remains swelled shut. If the pain doesn't include constant stabbing, it is not the feeling that makes me anxious to sit through a sermon. But -- I might as well be miserable at church as at home. (Isn't that a good enough reason to go?) My wife shakes her head at the foolishness of the guy she married and we head out to the car, me carrying an icepack again -- which I hold against the side of my face for most of the 15 minute drive.

By noon there seems to be hope that the tide is turning. By 5:00 pm there are moments when the ear canal actually opens, usually with a pop amplified as if my whole scull is an empty resonating chamber. Perhaps it is.

Ah, but as a writer I have something new in my arsenal. But I confess I prefer writing fiction to this reality.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Gossamer Curtain Up Close - Smith Meyer

On our vacation this summer, within a week, we were three times confronted with the fragility of life. Most notably, a man who had become a friend over the years, came to take my husband out for the day. He had become one of the welcome components of our visits to Alberta. The two men had started out the lane, but then returned to do one more thing. Within fifteen minutes, our friend died. We quickly called 911. In less than twenty minutes, the ambulance, rescue vehicle, fire truck and three police cars descended at our son's property, but their valiant efforts were in vain.

Questions raced through our minds. What if he had died before he came to spend the day with my husband? He would have died alone, his wife away for the day. What if he had died while driving--if he hadn't come back for that one more thing? That held bigger implications. We were poignantly reminded again--that which divides life here and the life beyond is but a gossamer curtain.

The week before, a couple not far advanced in years to our own, never arrived at their destination on the west coast. Their travel van was found burned out, but they still haven't been found. Two days after the death of our friend, we were also on our way from Alberta to Vancouver. It seemed we had barely started when, at Golden, B.C., we were directed off the highway into parking lots for a two and a half hour wait. There had been a horrible accident up ahead. Two people lost their lives. The folks at the service station and Tim Horton's told us that the day before, in almost exactly the same place, three others had perished. Because of our close connection to one death already that week, we felt the present ones more keenly-they heightened our awareness of each moment of our days. The beauty we encountered driving through the mountains then, seemed even more breath-taking and exquisite; the time with family and friends in that week doubly precious.

Often unexpected experiences or a crisis will initiate changes in our lives. Just recently I realized that my life stages and significant learning times can often be connected to a book I read. Those readings often coincide with what is going on in my life as well.

In light of my summer, You COULD Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? by Lyndsay Green, a Canadian writer, came at the right time. Peter Mansbridge writes of the book, "We're not just living longer, but we're dying longer and that fact is the basis for Lyndsay Green's important new book. If you're betting you are going to be a part of the live-longer and live-better crowd, and let's be frank, we all want to be, then whether you're twenty, sixty or anywhere in between you better read this. It's full of advice, really good advice, that you'll be grateful you took when you hit those golden plus years."

I was barely into the book when I realized it was going to change my life. Aunt Jean's proactive ways and enthusiasm for life had me hooked in the introduction and kept me in her grasp right through to the end! Having worked with seniors (or elders as Green calls that age group) I have seen the difference between those who stay active and those who don't--physically, mentally and emotionally. I have seen the disparity in those who take charge of their own affairs as they age, planning ahead for the necessary changes, and those who fight the changes only to have their family step in to make decisions when they are obviously needed.

There's quite a wave of people on the verge of the elder years, getting closer to that gossamer curtain. We would be wise to make plans for ourselves and prepare not only our homes and finances, but our emotions, attitudes and relationship with God, so we can indeed live well in our dying years. (Read the book and that statement will excite you instead of making you feel gloom.) Good books help--and this is one!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reading, A Good Life - Rose McCormick Brandon

It makes me happy when I ask my children, “what are you reading?” and they have an answer. Melody loves poetry and Shakespeare. Carson’s mostly into non-fiction. His favorite book is Tuesdays with Morrie. Peter is a fan of mysteries and self-help books.

David Estok, editor of The Hamilton Spectator, wrote about his family’s love of reading. He noted that reading isn’t about demographics, economic standing or cultural backing. “Reading transcends all this and more. It is about a way of living and life itself.”

While we were on vacation, Peter went into my den in search of “something good to read.” He found Disappointment with God by Yancey. “I noticed you made a lot of notes in it so I thought it must be good.” Yes, I write in my books, scribble in the margins, highlight, underline and star significant portions. My books look used.

A friend once lamented that she’d loaned a book to someone who brought it back with a coffee stain. I decided then never to borrow a book from her. My books sport little tears, stains and fold marks from turned-down pages. The best ones have broken bindings.

I loathe purging books from my little library. But a few years ago, my husband complained that I had books “all over the house.” Guilty as accused, I set out to purge and organize. The ones I thought I’d never read again went into a give-away box. Last summer, a woman told me she’d bought one of my discards from a used book table. “I enjoyed reading your notes as much as I enjoyed the book,” she said.

I’d completely forgotten the book but at its mention, I longed to hold it and re-read its pages. As I contemplated how best to ask her to return it, she said, “I passed it on to someone else.” A pang of loss swept across my heart and I almost gasped. I wanted to say, “How could you do such a thing?” but since I’d dumped it from my collection that might’ve been inappropriate.

Readers enjoy a greater sense of fulfillment than non-readers. When I visit my children’s homes and see book cases lining the walls, a book turned over on a night table, even magazines littered here and there, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Readers discover. Readers relax. They’re piloted away from everyday life by stories.

Annie Dillard notes in The Writing Life, it takes from two to ten years to write a serious book. In any given year, only a handful of people on the planet out of billions will accomplish this. So why shouldn’t we treasure the smell of paper, the snap of new binding breaking? Why shouldn’t we write our thoughts on the pages of a loved book?

A recent joy – my 1 year-old granddaughter Matilda, picked up her favorite thick-paged book from a pile, handed it to me, then turned her back, a signal to put her on my knee and read. Another generation of booklovers gladdens my heart.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

By All Possible Means

Do you think churches should run film festivals?

It’s been on my heart for a number of years to start a film festival in our church that would be open to the whole city.

By that, I mean it would be a festival that would contain both overtly Christian movies and non-overtly movies/secular movies with a redemptive theme. I thought to myself – if I was a not a believer, what kind of event could we run at our church so that someone like me might come?

That, and coupled with the thrill (and slight terror) of putting together an entire film festival, prompted me to pray and ask God and the church if this was the right way to proceed.

So next year, our church will be hosting the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival. It’s open for submissions for filmmakers from across the world. The goal is to connect filmmakers with audiences through films that encourage, challenge and inspire us to wholesome values and a greater understanding of the human journey.
It’s a joy and a passion to see what the LORD will do. As the Apostle Paul said – ‘by all means possible.’

As the LORD leads you, would you mind praying for this event? It takes place in March of 2011. If you’d like to learn more you can visit us at

I offer this as encouragement to whatever the LORD may be calling you to do next. Maybe it will be a book, a script, a play, a devotional, or (gasp) a film festival or movie. Whatever the call, He can use all possible means. Maybe it’s new and out of the norm.

And that might be just what it takes to reach someone with the good news of Christ.

Paul H. Boge is the author of The Urban Saint: The Harry Lehotsky Story and the coordinator of The Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival

Hearing the Inner Voice - Eleanor Shepherd

This month’s issue of Christianity Today includes an interview with classics scholar, Sarah Ruden. She grew up in mainstream liberal Christianity and came into a personal relationship with Christ through her involvement with Quaker believers after spending many years away from Christianity. What spoke to her was the atmosphere of the Quaker community with the caring for one another. Everyone who was part of the community had a task to do and these were shared and rotated, so that all took their turns with the less desirable as well as the more pleasant tasks. What Sarah noted was that they appreciated the contribution of each other. That kind of openness and encouragement created an environment where she was able to sense the presence of God. She talks about hearing a voice inside her saying that everything would be okay.

While I was on vacation, I had the opportunity to do some pleasure reading and I was spellbound by Angelina Fast-Vlaar’s account of her grief experience in Seven Angels for Seven Days. Again, she speaks several times of being in situations where she received that same kind of inner assurance, and inevitably, the setting for her reception of this message was the kindness of others, whom she felt were God’s angels sent her way when she so desperately needed them.

I recalled my own experience of dealing with our son’s accident when he became a quadriplegic. In all of the pain and turmoil of our grief, there were times when we were able to hear that inner voice assuring us that everything was under control, in spite of the circumstances in which we found ourselves. Those who created the safe place where we could hear that message were our friends from around the world who prayed. Equally importantly were our longtime loyal friends who were there to do mundane things like take me away from the hospital to see the hairdresser and provide a winter coat for my husband Glen when he arrived from France in the middle of a freezing Canadian winter, with just a spring overcoat. Sometimes it was just coming to be with us as we kept vigil outside the surgical intensive care unit.

On Friday mornings in my regular prayer time, I pray specifically for several different countries that I know something about personally. One of these countries is Haiti. On Friday, January 8, 2010, when I was praying for Haiti, I was given a particular verse for this country, as I use the Scriptures in my prayer time. It was Acts 4:30 in the Contemporary English version of the Bible. Show your mighty power, as we heal people and work miracles and wonders in the name of your holy Servant Jesus.” I had no idea what that verse was going to mean for the country of Haiti in the months that would follow the event occurring four days later. Both those who have gone and continue to go to Haiti and those who provide help from afar are involved in working miracles and wonders in the name of Jesus. As a result the people of Haiti can tell of occasions when they have heard that inner voice assuring them that they are not alone and that the Eternal God is not only aware of their situation. He is with them in it.

If as the people of God we want to see others discover the riches of the faith we hold, I believe that we will best do so by our thoughtfulness. As we respectfully create listening spaces for others, they will be able to discern that inner voice that quietly assures us that He is in control and we can bring everything to Him. He longs to welcome us each one of us and make us whole.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bunk and Bunkum -- Peter Black

There’s no point in denying it . . . I admit it . . . that I sometimes – perhaps often – write about things of which I know very little. We’ve likely all heard the common reaction to someone’s verbal bunk, "Huh! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!"

Even without empirical, researched statistics, we instinctively know it’s safe to say that there’s much bunk out there, in print. Do you ever cry out loud, or emit a silent scream (oxymoronic term intended) when reading or hearing of something you know is patently false, but know that people will read the mag or buy the book in the tens of thousands, anyway?

Bunk – or its fuller form, bunkum – is defined in some quarters in rather vulgar language. We won’t go there. However, we’ll have our own ideas of what presents itself to us as bunk – insubstantial, unfounded nonsense, worthless prattle, and what-have-you.

Writers are known to us – some of them, friends – whose excellent work has garnered scathing, and even hostile responses, from mean-spirited people. But what chance have I of succeeding, since I'm a writer who confesses to "writing about things of which I know little"? How should I expect to escape negative criticism on my treatment of certain subjects? Perhaps I don’t.

I have engaged (more accurately, "dabbled") in various forms of writing – from newspaper columns, poetry, and devotionals, to song lyrics, short fiction, and biographical sketches. Some of the material reflects researched information, and some reflects more personal knowledge, aspirations, and experience, while certain elements are more speculative.

An interesting realization coming to me through the writing journey (and I feel very much like a johnny-come-lately), is that even when writing about something of which I know little, the process leads me to draw, not from a complete vacuum of non-existent knowledge, but rather from a growing understanding of life based on experience, along with input from a multitude of sources arising from the realm of human existence. Perhaps that sounds like saying my bunk isn’t pure bunkum, for it contains elements of truth, based on personal and general human experience.

As one who writes out of a Christian world view and with some knowledge of the biblical scriptures, I have to be careful that I don’t espouse the idea that everything I write on matters of the spirit and faith has the stamp of truth in the absolute. One must bear in mind that so much is interpretive, and of interpretions there are many.

And yet, I cherish the notion that the Holy Spirit, who brought order out of the chaos of the primeval deep, who inspired the writing of the Scriptures, and who superintended the coming into the world of the "Living Word" – the "Word made flesh" – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, will cause sufficient truth to reside in the words I write, as to raise the gaze of at least some weary and hungry life-traveller – from the mundane and secular to the sacred, from the material to the spiritual, and from the temporal to the eternal.

When I become aware that this has occurred, I am assured that I’ve written about things of which I do know a little, things which inform and inspire, with the potential to initiate or extend a process of positive transformation in a life.

That, my friend – at least in part, debunks the notion that I don’t know what I’m talking about!

Peter Black is a retired pastor, living in Soutwestern Ontario.
He's the author of "Parables from the Pond" (publ. by Word Alive Press),
and writes a weekly column in The Watford Guide-Advocate.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How to Arrange Your Writing Room - McLachlan

If you have trouble with insomnia, the experts say, dedicate a place to
sleeping. Don't have a sitting area in your bedroom, or a breakfast nook
or a telephone or a television. Teach your body to know that this is a
place to sleep.

I have never had trouble sleeping. I don't really understand people who
lie awake night after night, or wake too early and can't go back to sleep.
I can always go back to sleep.

But I imagine insomnia is something like the way I feel when I find myself
sitting frozen in front of my laptop waiting for a drift of words that
maddeningly eludes me.

I am not drawn to writing. I come to it as reluctantly as every sane
person approaches hard work. But I imagine a lack of sleep is much like
the way I feel when I haven't written for a week or so; grouchy and weary,
dissatisfied with myself and irritated with everyone else and thoroughly
annoyed by all the activities and excuses preventing me from what I am
naturally disinclined to do: which is to write.

Eventually, however much I resist it, I need to write. So I have prepared
my writing room as carefully as those experts advise insomniacs to prepare
to sleep. First, it must be inviting, so much so that I will be enticed to
enter despite myself. Not inviting the way a kitchen is, full of the
aromas of my favorite foods and cheery family gatherings. Not inviting the
way the computer room is, with the internet and the telephone promising
cozy conversations and messages from my friends and daughters who have
left home but are only a short chat away. Not inviting the way a living
room is, providing entertainment and relaxation at the end of a long day,
or a place to socialize and celebrate with others. No, as the experts
advised, my body must know that this is a place to write. So my writing
room must be inviting in the way only a small room with no food, no means
of communication with the outside world and no distracting entertainment
or social opportunities can be.

I write at my father's desk. He died when I was quite young, but my mother
often quoted him as saying, "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing
well." This quote was usually brought out when I was not doing enough
school work to keep my grades up. It seems appropriate that I write at his
desk; my body expects it.

At first, I put the desk facing the window. My writing room is the
sunniest room in the house, which certainly entices me, but the window
proved too distracting. I tended to look out. I had to turn my desk toward
the wall beside the window. This is a place to write, not to look out.
Sitting thus, the entire wall behind me is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase.
Books crowd the shelves, and lie behind or on top of the shelved books and
in piles on the floor in front of the bookcases and occupy every chair and
surround my desk. They watch me write. I try to imagine them cheering me
on, but I think they are really looking over my shoulder and sniffing
disdainfully when I hesitate or reach for my thesaurus. Two of the books
are mine. They are very quiet about that and try to hide their
embarrassing parentage from Dickens and Wordsworth and Hemmingway and
Dostoevsky and most of all from the CanLits.

I advise every writer to create a writing room. At the very least, it will
help with your insomnia.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Writing Life and the Spiritual Life – Part One - Boers

Pleased with my progress, I was plugging away at a writing assignment when the phone rang. I sighed inwardly when I recognized the voice of an editor that I know well and have worked with often over the years. I had just submitted a piece that he had solicited; I knew what his phone call meant.

“Arthur,” he began, “I liked the article but … .”

I was right to worry: the editor wanted revisions. That’s routine for our craft. Parker Palmer observed: “I am a rewriter. I toss out a dozen pages for every one I keep, and I don’t think I’ve ever published anything that went through fewer than seven or eight drafts.” (Parker J. Palmer, “Taking pen in hand: A writer’s life and faith,” Christian Century, 7 September 2010, 23.)

Even after I’ve done what I think is my best possible work, it’s not unusual for an editor to want more: it’s too long or short, not focused enough, slanted the wrong way, et cetera. Or the editor’s different perspective helps him or her see a fault or flaw that I overlooked.

I reluctantly noted the editor’s comments and promised a revision by the new deadline. By the time I had done the reworking I was pleased. There was a decided improvement. I liked the piece better and would be more satisfied to see it in print.

When I hand-delivered the new text to the editor, I sheepishly noted: “You were right. Editors usually are.” I was not flattering him; I meant it. He did not gloat, but quietly noted: “That’s good to know.” We talked about how helpful an outside perspective can be in writing but also in so many other spheres of life, including the spiritual life.

This set me to thinking.

Two of my most important priorities are being a person of prayer and being a writer. I’ve plodded away at both over the years. Day by day, they shape my tasks, identity, duties, and imagination. The writing life and the spiritual life have many meaningful parallels.

The first thing that I learned about writing is that one must do it, keep at it, and persist in it. Writing first attracted me when I felt compelled or inspired to put something down on paper. Such experiences drew me into wanting to improve my craft. Yet I cannot count on inspiration alone.

Douglas V. Steere, no slouch in either the praying department or the writing department, once observed that the first rule of discipline is to be available in a determined way: “A thousand legitimate reasons will appear that will call you elsewhere, and anyone who has ever written knows how insistent these calls away … can be.” (Steere, Dimensions of Prayer, New York: Woman’s Division of Christian Service,1962, 23-4.)

Thus in order to write, I set aside particular times, preferably a particular day every week. Other friends reserve certain hours each day. On my writing day, I turn on the computer, review assignments, consider deadlines, examine notes, and decide on the day’s priorities. Often I am tempted to sit around, read, wait for the mail (which always comes later on writing days), and hope for email or phone calls.

The praying life is similar. We must do it, keep at it, and persist at it. I was first drawn to prayer as a small child. My hunger for God drew me into conversation with God. I prayed when I was inspired, something moved me, something “clicked.”

Gradually this transformed into a desire to grow in regular, on-going prayer. I could no longer rely only on when I felt like it. There are too many days when I do not. I am too busy, too moody, too preoccupied, too anxious, too discouraged, too hostile, or too apathetic. All the more reason to pray perhaps, but none of those conditions inspire me to pray.

I cannot afford to let prayer depend on my moods. I set aside regular times in special places to pray. I make provisions for privacy, close the door, light candles, and begin.

The call to prayer and the call to write both demand an equivalent commitment: just commence.

Arthur Boers is the author of The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and holds the RJ Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exploring The Question: MANN

Having just finished my first full year of retirement, I sigh in relief. Thirty years of ministry gave me experiences that I couldn’t have had elsewhere. For this, I am very thankful. From prison cell to hospital bed; family home to nursing care; violence to peace-making; ball field to quilting bee; sanctuary to hockey game; mainline to charismatic to evangelical to Quaker-silence – you name it, I was probably there, learning to reflect God’s love enough to make a difference. I learned well about John Wesley’s prevenient preparing or going before, grace. Yes, God was there even before I arrived – what a confidence.

Like many parishioners, ministers like to explore their faith. Keeping this in mind during this past year, I’ve been even more aware of God’s grace as I attempted to search for new questions that didn’t seem to have place in everyday ordinary church life – if there is such a space. This has proven different from the predictable voice that proves to be safe.

Christendom often falls into the trap of echoing each other’s perspective or cloning a secure and established expression of faith or experience of the Spirit. This past year I asked questions, sat in circles and listened to wise teachers where questions were explored more than answers needed. I discovered different responses where a year or so ago, I would have quipped the answers or replies people would have expected to hear.

Thinking outside the box has been a risk on my part, as those who know me would expect particular expectations of word, attitude and action. It has been as profound as my early years of seminary and equal to those earth-shaking bible studies where people responded from the edge of their faith rather than the predictable center.

I recently read a faith statement on a church’s website that was pure gospel; however, they were courageous enough to state, “This is wonderfully true . . . but it doesn’t say enough. Not nearly enough.” I suspect this would leave the church hungry for more. It was an invitation to go deeper. Katherine Marshall’s book, “Something more” back in the mid 70s started me on a particular search. I remember reading it and saying, “Yes!” Now I ask: “Does anything ever say enough?” Is there not always “more” to understand and to experience? And are we willing to explore questions without needing tried and true answers?

I suppose it is this ‘more’ into which I’ve stepped. Perhaps it’s even in that part of the faith journey where many congregations hesitate to go and if ministers want to explore, they sometimes have to go alone. Well, not quite alone, as they can always count on God’s prevenient grace of preparing and going before: knowing God is present and might be a lonely dimension of faith . . . results in a holy dance.
Aggie’s Dream: Launching September 30th at Owen Sound Collegiate Vocational Institute. The sequel to Aggie’s Storms (The Word Guild Award: 2008)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Recommendation

Late in August I had the privilege of attending Oasis: Refreshment for the Journey, our denomination’s annual convention. (Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches:

The keynote speaker was Ruth Haley-Barton of the Transforming Center. (http:/

I went to the conference - frankly - tired. A bunch of close and difficult deadlines last year, feeling overworked and overwhelmed in my church duties and a possible change of direction in my writing career, plus other family things had left me with little energy. Going to the convention was just another event on my calendar. When Ruth spoke that first time, it was like she was speaking directly to me.

Her subject was burnout - the fact that we do do do all the time without taking the time to simply ‘be’ in God’s presence. Sitting quietly in God’s presence is how he speaks to us. Sitting in solitude and silence is how he talks to us. We are so busy with church activities that we forget to worship.

What she said resonated with me on a deep, soul level. I am going to be making some changes. I need a quiet time in the morning - not the kind where I quickly skim through a prescribed passage of scripture and then ream off a list of ‘prayer requests’, but a time when I can sit in silence for awhile and listen to God. I’m also going to take a Sabbath Rest. My body needs one day a week where I completely unplug from everything - and that means shutting off my computer and unplugging the modem.

Here’s the book I’m currently going through chapter by chapter: Sacred Rhythms. I highly recommend it.


Find your happy place- CARLETON

Life is full of chaos and noise. It has gotten to the point where we are afraid of quiet. The art of 'Being Still' has bee lost. Whenever there is quiet our thoughts take over and those thoughts can scared us sometimes. So we keep adding to our lives.

Tonight my girls were outside playing so I finished up the dishes and thought I would go and sit down and rest for a few minutes. While I was sitting down to relax I turned on the TV to watch the news, then I thought that I hadn't read the paper today. When I finished the paper I picked up my cell phone and started to play a game on it. Then I realized what I was doing. I had planned to sit down and relax for a few minutes and now I was bombarding my brain into overload. Why do we willingly do this to ourselves?

worship background 4It is time my friends, to embrace quietness and stillness and learn to just 'Be'. It takes time and practise, it will be a challenge for me - I can tell you that! But it is something that I know I need to do. The first step I believe is to find a place where you can find quiet. Also, if you have children that would include a time as well. I have friends who get up at obscene hours in the morning just to guarantee their quiet time. I am not a morning person. I get up because of necessity to take care of my family. I like dusk, the girls have quieted down for the night and I have time to think about my activities of the day - the conversations that took place - and what did I learn today?

Use those precious moments during your day to pause and "Be Still". I am told that your quality of life will increase dramatically. Life throws so much at you each day, I want to be able to treasure those moments of silence and solitude, and use them to become a better wife, mother and friend.

Anyone want to join me on this journey? I am going to need all the encouragement I can get!

front cover


Cj Carleton is the 2008 Canadian Christian Writing Award winner for her first book “What Makes You Unique? Discover the Truth or Believe the lie”.  Learn more about Cj by visiting

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chief Joseph Brant: Canadian Hero

By Rev Ed Hird

My wife and I had the privilege of recently attending the First Peoples Forgiven Summit in Ottawa. During that time we were able to meet a number of Mohawk believers, including Jonathan Maracle of Broken Walls who led us in remarkable worship music. Canada’s most famous Mohawk was Chief Joseph Brant. Recently the Canadian Royal Mint produced a Canadian Loonie with the imprint of Chief Joseph Brant (1742-1807). More Canadians need to hear this story of this Canadian hero. He was described by Mark Jodoin as having the mind of a statesman, the heart of a leader, and the soul of a warrior. Without the military and spiritual support of Chief Brant, Canada would have likely never survived.

Chief Joseph Brant’s Mohawk name was Thayendanegea which means “two sticks bound together for strength”. Isabel Thompson Kelsay notes that “the most famous (aboriginal) who ever lived, has been for two centuries a virtual unknown.” I suspect that he is unknown to most North Americans because he chose the side of Canada in the American revolutionary war. As Canada’s premier First Nations leader, Brant had the privilege of meeting both Georges in person: King George III and President George Washington.

Brant learned to speak, read and write English at a New Hampshire school led by Rev Wheelock. Wheelock described Brant as being “of a sprightly genius, a manly and gentle deportment, and of a modest, courteous and benevolent temper.” In 1772, Brant was then mentored by Rev John Stuart, being trained in the art of Bible and Prayer Book translation. During that time, Brant developed a deep prayer life, becoming a committed Anglican Christian.

During the American Revolutionary war, Brant was falsely accused of committing atrocities in locations which he was not present, including the tragic Wyoming and Cherry Valley Massacres. Those who knew Brant well testified that he often prevented atrocities through the use of his persuasive leadership. As a devout Anglican Christian, he exhibited compassion and humanity, especially towards women, children, and non-combatants. American Colonel Ichabod Alden commented that he “should much rather fall into the hands of Brant than either of them [Loyalists and Tories].” It was frequently said of Joseph Brant that during the American revolution, he fought with a tomahawk in one hand, a copy of the New Testament in the other.

Joseph Brant’s father was one of the sachem/chiefs, known as the Four Indian Kings, who visited Queen Anne in 1710. These chiefs asked ‘for missionaries to be sent to the People of the Longhouse to teach them more about Christianity.” Queen Anne sent this request to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, promising to build them a chapel. In 1711, Queen Anne’s Royal Chapel was built in the Mohawk Valley in New York State. When the Mohawks relocated to Southern Ontario, the Mohawk Royal Chapel was rebuilt there in 1785. Joseph Brant’s grave is located right next to the historic Mohawk Chapel, the oldest protestant church in Ontario. Just this past July, Queen Elizabeth, while visiting Ontario, presented the Mohawk Chapel with a set of eight silver hand bells engraved ‘The Silver Chain of Friendship 1710-2010’.

On each side of the Mohawk Chapel pulpit are two tablets in the Mohawk language of the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Joseph Brant was a brilliant linguist translating the Bible and Anglican Prayer Book into Mohawk (of which there are microfiche copies at Simon Fraser University). He also wrote a concise history of the Bible and a Mohawk language catechism. Brant spoke at least three and possibly all of the Six Nations’ languages. When the Chapel was dedicated in 1788, each person was given a Mohawk book containing the Gospel of Mark and the Anglican Prayer Book. At that celebration, sixty five Mohawks were baptized and three couples were married.

When Joseph Brant first visited England in 1775, he was described by a British commander as ‘His Majesty’s greatest North American subject.’, and painted in full aboriginal regalia by George Romney. Receiving a captain’s commission, Brant met with the King on two occasions, with a dinner being held in his honour. Brant was honoured by the English leaders in the arts, letters and government, including James Boswell, the famed biographer of Samuel Johnson.

In 1779 Brant was commissioned by the King as ‘captain of the Northern Confederate Indians’ in recognition of his “astonishing activity and success’. Brant was described as “the perfect soldier, possessed of remarkable stamina, courage under fire, and dedicated to the cause, an able and inspiring leader and a complete gentleman.”

Joseph Brant’s Six Nations were tragically driven out of their homeland in Central New York. Brant was hurt that in granting their Mohawk homeland in Central New York State to the Americans, England had ‘sold the Indians to the US Congress’. Writing to King George III, he reminded the British that “we, the Mohawks, were the first Indian Nation that took you by hand and invited you to live among us, treating you with kindness…” The Six Nations were eventually resettled by Governor Frederick Haldimand in the Grand River area around modern-day Brantford. The British realized that locating the Six Nations in the Grand River area would be a natural protection against any future American invasion. Initially the Mississauga First Nation resisted the concept of having their former foes on their land. One Mississauga Chief Pokquan however persuaded his other chiefs by arguing that other aboriginals would be better neighbours than European settlers, and that Brant’s knowledge of the British could prove useful.

The term Brantford comes from Brant’s Ford, the shallow part of the Grand River that could be forded. The first years at Brantford were difficult as there was a drought with game being hard to find. Throughout all the challenges, Chief Brant’s deep faith sustained him. Chief Brant’s sacrificial love for God and nation should inspire all of us. He memorably said: “No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthwhile action but the consciousness of having served one’s nation.”

May all of us be willing to learn from the bravery and loyalty of Chief Joseph Brant.

Rev Ed Hird, Rector
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Laugh and the World Laughs With You...

This article first appeared in Dramascene newsletter in March 2008.

Should humor onstage be reserved for children's plays? After all cutesy little girls and boys can get away with it, right? It doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that Jesus actually laughed. Aren't we supposed to be like Jesus? Does that mean that as writers of Christian plays, we should only write serious stuff?

I have a hard time believing that Jesus did not laugh. I have done a
search and it’s true what people say about there not being any Biblical proof. There really is no reference where Jesus actually let out a guffaw.
There also is no reference to Jesus combing his hair, going to the bathroom, having a bath or even smiling. But I'd like to bet a peanut butter and cheese sandwich that he did each of these things. And come to think of it, what little children would come unto Jesus if He had a long face and a seriously furrowed brow? It's been my experience that children run a mile from such a countenance.

A child in Jesus' presence must have sensed love to the extreme when they looked at Jesus. He genuinely cared about the children and their seemingly insignificant [at least to the disciples] desires. The children clearly loved this smiling Jesus.
I picture Jesus with a sparkle in his eye and a warm open smile. I can almost envision the children running to Jesus. How could he not laugh aloud? They clamoured to be with Him and tried to find ways to get around the tough old disciples. But Jesus, who was calling the shots, had to have given a reassuring smile to the children as He said, "…Let the little children come to me, and don't prevent them. For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 19:14. TLB

There is nothing wrong with laughter or desiring to use humor in a play. Humor engages the audience and can be an outlet for serious emotion. It is important, however, that in our attempt at writing humor into a play of Christian proportions, that we do not damage the credibility of God or His representatives. Humor should be purposeful and not derogatory or deprecating in any manner. In fact, I will go one step further and encourage writers to not use this kind of humor [although it is sadly prevalent on the big and little screens today] in anything they write – biblical or otherwise.

Unfortunately, some have difficulty hearing the laughter of Jesus because too often He is portrayed as a stern, authoritative person, stoic in appearance and pokerfaced in response. But, excuse me, people. Jesus embodied humanity. He was put on this earth so that He could experience what we experience. He cried. He felt sorrow. He demonstrated anger and He displayed deep compassion. He got excited. He experienced trepidation. And He laughed.

Jesus used sarcasm, puns, enigmas and paradoxes as he communicated. We need to understand how and when to effectively use them, too. Remember the sarcastic comment Jesus made to his disciples and the gathered people about snakes and stones? The conversation was serious in tone but Jesus used a sarcastic line or two to make the people sit up and think. “If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake?” Matthew 7:9-10 TLB. Can you envision the smile on His face as He spoke? What a funny guy Jesus must have been at times.

We need to study the parables and His teachings and see how he used these techniques to captivate His audience. Jesus' parables usually had an O. Henry surprise ending that would have left people chuckling. Jesus loved to use the absurd to make his point. Remember the camel going through the eye of a needle story? Now that's a bit of a knee slapper when you consider the futility of such a goal. Jesus had to have been parleying that one with a smile on his face.
In many of Jesus' communications, it becomes noticeable that He had a keen sense of humor. Sadly, we tend to take everything Jesus said so seriously and then we often miss the humor.

Jesus was no dreary and dull Messiah. His standard greeting to his disciples was, "Rejoice!” Isn‟t that a pretty obvious command to put on a happy face? And how could he possibly dish out that directive without a smile? A stern, wrinkled brow wouldn't have worked. A hearty laugh and beckoning arms raised heavenward is more how I picture it.

So whether you are concerned about injecting the occasional bit of humor into a play you are writing, or perhaps you are creating a full length comedy for an outreach, do it with Jesus in mind. Follow His example. He did smile. He had to. [I'm still laying my PB& C sandwich on the line.]

Our Creator God Himself willingly and purposefully gave us the gift and appreciation for discerning humor. He never once said, "Whoops,‟ as he looked upon and listened to the hearty laughter of His people.

Tasteful, well-timed humor written thoughtfully into a stage play can engage an audience and make characters come alive and seem real. People can relate. And there is nothing better than an audience being able to relate to something you have written to the glory of God.
(Photo: Granddaughter Jocelyn always makes me laugh!)

Laughter is a good tonic. God said so. “A cheerful heart does good like medicine...” Proverbs 17:22 TLB.
I know, I know…betting is not a Christian thing to do so I‟ll just keep my sandwich! I was just kidding anyway. Insert canned laughter here…

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Joy of Suffering—den Boer

I had volunteered to preach on the Sunday most of the men including the pastor were at Sauble Beach on a retreat weekend which consequently meant a women’s day at the church.

How difficult could it be? You pray. The Lord gives you a subject. You research. You arrange a sermon. You practise. You rearrange your sermon. You research some more. You practise. You pray.

You gather some props. You ask other people to pray. You go to church. You preach. After the sermon the congregation is invited to share their related stories. They do. They are women, after all. Everything clicks. You feel joy even though you preached on suffering for Christ.

Then you get the recording of your sermon which you take home and stuff it into a bookshelf promising yourself you will listen to it, sometime when you are up to discovering how you sound.

Then your husband—who comes home smiling and limping from the muscle he pulled while scoring a touch-down during touch football at the weekend retreat—wants to hear the recording. You give him the CD which he will listen to in the car on the way to a distant client. You ask him to make sure he gives you honest feedback. Then you wait.

When he comes home, he says he is very disappointed. The recording doesn’t go beyond track one. He hears you being introduced. Then he hears you say, “Consider it all joy.” The rest of the CD is blank.

You consider this all joy.

Meanwhile the pastor has been receiving great feedback and asks you to consider preaching again, sometime.

There is joy in this too.

Then you remember what you preached.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11,12a).

I want that kind of joy. God help me.

Marian den Boer

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Down and Dirty with God-Gibson

On the day I skipped church I did it for no good reason other than I was desperate for God. For grace.

My husband and I had spoken in different churches each week for months on end, but that Sunday my soul craved different fare. I hungered for my constant; for the stable, sure thing that has long ushered me through circumstances jagged, wearying, and soul searing. I needed to get into a position where I could find God and be renewed.

Besides, my floor was dirty. It seemed a fortunate collusion. I’ve found God’s hands often, swirling about beside mine in dirty washwater, and every so often we touch.

I shoved aside the table and flipped the chairs upside down on top of it, just like my mother used to. I rolled up the area rugs, stashed them in a bedroom, took the laundry baskets out of the bathroom and began.

Our linoleum at the time was white, mostly, except when it was grey. Full of dibbits, dents, scratches and grooves. A floor like that beckons dirt like carrion seduces flies. And it hadn’t been washed for months. I mean really washed.

Swiffas don’t thoroughly clean a floor. Neither do Bee Mops. I should know—I have both. They just push around the dirt, never genuinely deal with it. For dirt like mine, I needed something efficient.

I filled a bucket, got out a stiff scrubber and a cloth, and got down on my knees. In that posture I remained for several hours. Scrubbing. Praying. Singing.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty…My faith looks up to thee…

I watched that surface, trodden by so many beloved soiled soles, slowly come clean. As it did, God used his own scrubbing agent on a soul also scratched and dented, and much in need of cleansing. My own.

And the stereo played…

…Healin’ rain, is comin’ down. It’s comin’ nearer to this old town. It’s comin’ closer to the lost and found. Healin’ rain, it comes with fire, so let it fall and take us higher. Healin’ rain, I’m not afraid to be washed in heaven’s rain…

What happened during those hours on my knees was worth more than an entire calendar of Sundays.

After I scrubbed, washed, and dried that floor, I polished it. I polished myself all the way into the bathroom. Right up to the tub, where I ran a bath, stepped into the bubbles, then leaned out and polished the spot where I’d just stood.

I forgot something. A steamy bathroom isn’t optimal for rapid-drying a newly polished floor. I stayed in that tub a long while, surrounded by clean, inside and out. Stayed there until the floor dried. I relaxed, and nearly slept.

Washed in healin’ rain. Washed forever in Jesus’ name. Scrubbed bare, finally at ease. It’s the only position of grace.


The above ran in my weekly newspaper faith and life column (Sunny Side Up) in 2008. One of my all-time favorites.

Kathleen Gibson

Monday, September 06, 2010

Engaged In Conversation - Atchison

My friend and I engaged in a conversation the other day. It centered on the activities we do and the benefits that we receive from them. The history to the conversation is that I have been struggling with a decision over the last several months. I was taking part in a rather physical sport when I became injured. This added to the stress my body was (and is) going through with other sports related injuries and it came to a culmination of the fact that perhaps I should be seeking alternate, safer activities.

The problem is, this sport provides access to a club and a group setting of friends and events that are rewarding and challenging. There is a great deal of prestige once one reaches a certain level of training, which provides the ego with a great boost. So to leave the people I’ve grown to love and the ‘prestige’ that comes with the training level I’ve achieved is quite a difficult decision.

I am also a volunteer at a local animal shelter, where I can be seen on Wednesdays feeding and caring for stray cats with my head buried inside cages, cleaning out eliminated waste and kitty boxes, washing their dishes and trays and preparing clean cages for them to be moved to the next day. It is hard, demanding work, but the rewards are so great that I love being there.

Getting back to the conversation I had with my friend…

She had recently visited her mother in a nursing home and sitting around the table was a scientist, a long-ago secretary to a high profile politician, and a couple of other well educated and successful members of society. While these seniors had their dinner, no one cared at that point what they had done in their lives, who they had been or who they knew. The accomplishments they had gained or the lives they had led were all but lost with their memories.

We pulled our conversation toward the fact that it may be more important that in the aspect of maintaining my health I continue with my work in helping animals, which provides quiet, non prestigious rewards to the animals in my care, and to the feelings I hold when I walk out of the shelter. This is an importance far greater than whether I should continue with a sport that has great prestige to many people depending on the high-ranking level of training achievement I receive, but could cause my body injurious grief and pain over the next several years if I continue.

In my life, it matters to me now that I can continue the work of taking care of animals in need. A far greater accomplishment than that of continuing a sport just to say, “Guess what I’ve got, that many people have never been able to do.”

I’m not sure if I’ve properly conveyed the message I meant to write about. I guess when it becomes my time to sit around a table with a handful of seniors in a nursing home, will it matter to any of them, and will they care or even know what I gave up so many years before.

But for now, with my health intact and the ability to care for one of God’s beautiful creatures, I’ll continue volunteering with my hands immersed in poohy water listening to the mewling of stray kitties looking for a home. When I reach old age, perhaps it will be these memories that will be the last to leave me, and I’ll cherish them with a light and happy heart.

As for the challenge of what to do after a decade of training and saying good-bye to the people in the sports club I’ve come to love and cherish, I’ll leave it in God’s hands to help me be strong and will listen to His voice as He directs me in the changes and future activities that come my way.

Sometimes the best conversations come from God, through the friends He gives us. I guess it is best to listen to the advice He shares.

Patricia L. Atchison
Writing & Publishing Blog:

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Literary Pilgrimage to Oxford — Martin

When my wife and I were planning our trip to England this summer, I wanted to make sure we visited Oxford. Oxford University has produced so many exceptional and diverse writers such as: W.H. Auden, Lewis Carroll, Evelyn Waugh, Oscar Wilde, A.A. Milne, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jonathan Swift and John Donne — not to mention musicians, preachers and political leaders.

During our brief time, I managed to slip away from our tour to step into the quadrangle at Balliol College where one of my favourite poets — Gerard Manley Hopkins — and one of my favourite novelists — Graham Greene — had been students.

Above all, I wanted to visit a little pub in Oxford informally known as “The Bird and Baby”, but officially named “The Eagle and Child”. This was the place where C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien and others met for years to discuss their writing and to share friendship. Lewis and various members of the “Inklings”, as they were known, met in “The Rabbit Room” of the pub between 1939 and 1962. Today the little room has become something of a shrine.

To enjoy our lunch in “The Eagle and Child” made C.S. Lewis and his friends seem that much closer — especially when it turned out that our waitress was from Calgary. Whenever I have a chance to return to Oxford, with more time to wander, I’ll certainly investigate Magdalen College where Lewis taught, and visit the home he shared with his brother Warnie, “The Kilns” — and I will stop for lunch at “The Bird and Baby”.

As a writer these are all good reasons to travel to a city as inspiring as Oxford.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Blog comments - Nesdoly

In our new reality of feedback on newspaper articles and comments on blogs, we all welcome interaction — or do we? I have, in the last while, activated comment moderation (an option which lets me view the comment first before deciding whether or not to publish it) on several of the blogs I write. That's because though comments can be a great way to get to know readers and interact with them, they can also work against you and your blog.

There are three types of comments I've encountered lately that I haven't published:

1. Comments in foreign languages

Someone routinely posts comments in Chinese characters to my mural blog. I've been able to translate some of these: they're usually harmless sayings or proverbs. However, I don't have the time to sleuth out what language they're in, or what they say. So I've posted a comment policy directly under the blog's banner to the effect that foreign language comments won't be published. (However, they keep coming anyway; maybe they're posted by a bot)

2. Comments with links
If someone I know has linked a relevant article, definition or some such in a comment, I will publish with no second thought. But often the links within or following comments are pure advertising, lead to questionable sites, or may even whisk one away  to malicious places (who knows... I refuse to click on them and neither do I want my readers to fall into any traps). Of course I'm not talking signature/name links created when you sign in to Google etc. to access the comment feature.

3. Comments that work against the purpose of the blog
This last category is tricky. As an example, I got a comment on Bible Drive-Thru the other day. It was in response to this post about tithing. Here's what the commenter said:

"The tithe was NOT a tenth of everything the people owned. God defined His tithe in Leviticus 27:30-33 to be a tenth of the crops and animals in herds and flocks. NO other animals were tithed on.

The poor did NOT tithe. Every TENTH animal was tithed. IF they only had nine new-born animals that year, there was NO tithe.

The poor actually RECEIVED from the tithe. The three-year tithe was FOR THE POOR.

Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus did not tithe. Paul did not tithe. Peter did not tithe. ONLY Israelite farmers could tithe.

The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent."

To his credit, the commenter's posted name was linked to a website so I was able to check him out. I found that he was a financial adviser who considered himself an expert on tithing — in fact claimed to have special Holy Spirit teaching on the subject.

What to do? His first point was well taken. As I reread my post, I realized one of my statements was probably not defensible. So I changed it. (I had first written: "The tithe was one tenth of everything the people owned." I changed it to: "A tithe is one tenth.")

- His tone was chippy (note the words in caps).
- His ideas were somewhat controversial (at least to me).
- I sensed that because he considered himself an expert, dialogue would probably not be possible.

What tipped my decision to not publish his comment, though, was the fact that Bible Drive-Thru is a blog for children. I felt I could defend my post as orthodox the way it stood (though perhaps not to his satisfaction), and I didn't want this blog to become the scene of an adult theological argument. (Had I received such a comment on an adult-reader blog, I most likely would have published it.)

Did I make the right decision? What are your comment denial criteria? Do you have a comment policy page posted on your blog? Does it help?



Personal blog promptings 

Kids' daily devotions Bible Drive-Thru

Daily Devotions for adults: Other Food: daily devo's

A poem portfolio 

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