Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stop! . . . Get to the Point! - Peter A. Black

“Stop! Sto-o-op! . . . Will you please get straight to the point. What is it you’re trying to say? You completely lost me with all those
details. Never mind the details; get to the point.” A tide of frustration breaks over the dam of intelligent interest for some people when they listen to someone telling a story or recounting an incident, and the speaker gives every last detail – details that hinder, instead of helping, the story to unfold in a coherent, comprehensible manner. My wife is one of those “straight to the pointers,” whose frustration soon overflows when I fall – as I often do – into that mode of pursuing unnecessary details in conversation. It’s a wonder she has any hair left on her head with listening to you know who. I have to confess that I’m beginning to get sensitized to, and wearied by, endless minutiae – mostly when I’m on the listening end of things, myself. It’s baffling though, that after 50 years of public speaking, I have never conquered that tendency to feel the need to share detail that’s largely irrelevant to the point of the story or conversation. There’s hope. Writing offers a great vehicle for sorting out what’s important to a story or an account of incidents, events, and matters.
I think of the many years I pecked away on my faithful Underwood Five manual typewriter, preparing correspondence, sermons and Bible studies. I now wonder how on earth I did it! The scratchpad was handy for sketching things out and roughing up before typing up, for it reduced the amount of white-out I’d need to use. But nowadays, computing and word-processing means I can cut and paste and move material, points and ideas around the screen, before ever committing to a printout. Oh, how easy writers have it now, compared to how it was several decades back. We can read and reread, combing and sifting through our WIP (work in progress), assessing, reading out loud, getting a sense of nuance, and checking spelling and grammar as we go, or at the end. Cutting out the fat of duplication and what we, in our on-the-go review process have come to perceive as unnecessary detail, is easy. The delete key takes care of them in a nano sec Personally. I do need to work at the art of conversational word-processing in order to save my breath and my listeners from either frustration or zoning out and into la-la land. In this regard, I think my deliverance may well come through writing. Writing slows the pace at which thoughts are articulated into speech. It allows us to set out those thoughts and organize them into a concise form and in words that precisely express our ideas and feelings. Ah, writing – what a great gift! Writing and speech are so closely related. I love the opening of the 45th psalm: “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer. You are the most
excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever” (NIV). With skilful pen may we write, and our lips be anointed with grace, enabling us to write and speak of that noblest of themes – the Living Word. (Cp. John 1:1-4; 14-18.) ~~+~~ Peter A. Black writes a weekly newspaper column, magazine articles and short biographical pieces.
He is author of the children/s / family book "Parables from the Pond."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Are Writers Leaders? - Eleanor Shepherd

Recently, I read somewhere, on the web and I cannot remember where, that as writers we are leaders.  I have to admit that I do not like that idea.  I believe and hope that what I write will be of benefit to others, as it is to me, but I do not like to think that by writing I am setting myself up as a leader.  I am not sure if the problem is in my understanding of what a leader is or what a writer is. 
            I have been churning these ideas around in my head and trying to understand if as a writer I do have some responsibility to be a leader, much as I feel that puts pressure on me for excellence. 
            Then a couple of days ago, I came across a post linked to one of my online writing groups that gave some specific characteristics of a great leader and I found that they are also relevant to what it means to be a writer.  The post is by Catarina Alexon, an international businesswoman and writer.  Here are some of her characteristics of a great leader:
·      A strong set of values and openness, trust and true respect for others. 
I believe a writer must have these characteristics.  If we do not have a strong set of values, our writing is weak and does not provide any intellectual meat for people to chew on.  Without openness, trust and respect we will not listen to others and thereby test our ideas against their experience.  When we fail to do that we risk writing irrelevant prattle that is poor stewardship of the gift that has been entrusted to us.
·      Genuine humility and not afraid to show vulnerability. 
In my opinion, this is what makes our writing credible and allows others to feel the common bond of our humanity.  I think that genuine humility can be quite elusive for us, as it is easy for us to take a humble pose, without really being honest about our doubts, fears and misgivings.  I think this is particularly true for Christian writers.  We sometimes feel that by admitting that we do not have it all together we are suggesting that in some way the Lord we follow has failed us.  In our saner moments, we become aware of the absurdity of such thinking that somehow equates our inadequacies with divine activity.  We also walk a tightrope between being vulnerable and exposing unresolved inner conflicts that are better resolved privately.  Transparency becomes exhibitionism when it focuses on the writer rather than the principles articulated. 
·      Regularly reflect and have an unquenchable thirst for learning.
If as writers, this is not a part of our lives, the well will soon dry up and we will have nothing of consequence to say.  Probably one of the things I love most about reading and writing is to be able to explore ideas and try to fit them into my constantly growing and changing worldview.  These are part of the integration of my personality in all areas, physically, emotional and spiritual.  For me, this is one of the greatest gifts of writing.

            I still am not sure if writers are leaders.  I understand a little more clearly that what we do as writers is try to articulate some of the process that takes place, as we become more fully integrated human beings.  Some do this through the exploration of plots and characters in fiction.  Others do it through the unique expressions of language provided by poetry.  I prefer to work through my thoughts using the ideas verbalized as non-fiction.  Some highly gifted writers use several different formats.  Does that make us leaders?  Perhaps it does in the sense that we put forward thoughts that can stir others to reflection and to action.             
 Link to Catarina Alexon’s post:
Winner of 2009
Award of Merit
Human Interest Article
Winner of 2011
Word Guild Award
Christian Leadership

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is it Now or Never? - MANN

I recently answered the front door of our home to a friendly looking man and woman. They were very gracious in their greeting and we discussed the lovely warm day, one of the first of the spring season. Within a few minutes they began to talk about faith issues and I listened for a while and then gently said that I had my own faith position and it gave me a great deal of peace in my relationship with God. That obviously didn’t get me safe on the other shore, as I was soon led into a conversation about other theological matters.

The same day, I answered the phone and was instantly captured in an hour long exchange of how the caller does her duty in sharing God’s word. She had called to invite me to volunteer for an organization and then had given a myriad of reasons why volunteerism is good for the kingdom. I didn’t doubt that for a minute, but always thought it was courtesy to ask “Am I interrupting anything, or do you have time to talk?” In my case a good question might have been, “Are you out of your pyjamas yet? It’s 10 o’clock.”

I guess I must be an easy mark because later in the day a man holding a large sign accosted me at the town centre and asked me in a rather ragged loud voice if I believed in Hell, further stating that obviously most people didn’t or they wouldn’t live the way they do.

A few days later I was sitting with a friend at a baby shower who began a long story about why she wouldn’t visit a senior relative because she never knew, ‘just when it would all start,” meaning a friendly quiz about how sound her relationship was with God.

Today I met with a financier who, when we were finished, thanked me for coming and wished me a safe trip home. Before I said goodbye, I asked if he was through for the day. He said, “No, but I wish I were. The next client is always a difficult one, as he always wants to talk about what the Lord is doing for him, rather than using his precious sixty minutes to give me opportunity to answer the questions that he should be paying me to answer.” It was this conversation that caused me to file the blog away I had written for today and posted this one.

It’s no secret that scripture asks us to witness our faith. It’s no surprise that we have lots of opportunity to share our faith with others. There is no question that there are appropriate times when this is a very good idea and definitely widens the circle. However, I wonder if our witness always grows the kingdom.

Donna Mann

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weekend Retreat—Carolyn R. Wilker

A get away? You bet!  It would be a weekend away from my usual household chores, my office, and my “to-do” list. I’ve been looking forward to this women’s event the way a child looks forward to Christmas. I filled out the registration form and sent it out in the mail the day it came.

No woman or mother gets away easily. It requires planning, getting laundry done, packing clothing for warm and cool weather, pulling the sleeping bag out of storage, and making a list. Add in grocery shopping and food preparation for one meal and snack the first night.

Three of us gathered Friday afternoon, waiting for the fourth member of our group. Deb arrived; she and her husband unloaded bags and packages from their car.

“Whose idea was it to meet at 5:00?” she joked.

 She’d no more than set her bags down beside the car when she let out a large sigh. I smiled with her, understanding the reason: It’s a feat of enormity for women to get away. After determining our supper location, we set off for the camp.

At the opening session, we played an informal game, matching a note about a treasured possession with the writer of that note. My note read: a pair of opal stud earrings. We walked around the room searching for the person who had written it, being asked about others' notes in the process. Afterwards, we shared what we had learned about the other person and the treasured possession. Thus the theme, Treasured.

Our retreat leader, Joanna, an ordained pastor of the Lutheran church (ELCIC), led us through the study. She said that even though we may feel small and insignificant at times, “We are God’s bling bling," meaning 'jewellery that makes a loud statement.'

I learned about 'bling bling' last fall when my eldest daughter showed me her engagement ring. I looked up the term to find that bling is actually a slang word.

 Just as a lump of coal turns to a diamond with much time, constant pressure and heat, we as women are also shaped by happenings in our lives. While we agreed that many of those experiences can be difficult, we are reminded that God is with us in those circumstances, carrying us when the load gets too heavy.

Between group sessions, we socialized, made a craft, ate together, laughed and shared our stories. We went for walks around Edgewood Camp—some of us taking the high road to the cliff—watching for trilliums, the great horned owl, as well as the fish in the stream, none of which my walking partners found on our walks.

 In small groups, we discussed how it feels knowing that the God of the universe values us as a prized possession, much as we value the particular thing we shared on Friday evening. Our leader reflected that most of those items were not high-priced items, but still precious to us.

 In our last session, we talked about a time in the previous week when we felt that light shining in our lives from someone around us, and how we can be a light to others. During the weekend, when I experienced physical pain, I also felt the loving care of others and God’s light shining through them.

Just outside of camp, heading home, Monica said, “It seems like a long time since Friday.” We had packed so much into those few days.

As I write this, I’m still pondering those discussions and the words of our leader, “We are God’s bling bling.” We are called to show that light in the world.

bridge over the creek
Cedar Lodge, our accommodations

Carolyn R. Wilker is an editor, speaker, storyteller and author of Once Upon a Sandbox

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BJ McHugh: Mother's Day Marathoner: HIRD

By Rev Ed Hird

While working out at a local weight room, I had the privilege of getting to know Betty Jean McHugh, the world’s fastest 83-year old long-distance runner.  Interviewed on TV and newspaper, she has been called the flying granny.  Jack Taunton, Chief Medical Officer for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, called her one of the most remarkable senior runners we have seen.  Betty Jean is so positive and energetic that she inspires the rest of us to not give up on our health goals.  Recently I met her at the Parkgate Village right next to the Bean Around the Worldcoffee shop.  She told me of her tri-generational plans to run in the December 2012 Hawaiian Marathon, along with her son Brent and her grandchild.

After reading her new book My Road to Rome, I knew that I needed to celebrate BJ’s achievements as a Mother’s Day marathoner.  One of her great lifetime highlights which she talked about extensively throughout her book was an all-expense-paid trip to run in the Rome 2009 Marathon.  There are now five million North American women running, compared to less than one million in the 1980s.  Women, many of whom are mothers, now outnumber men at running events.  BJ has run in 14 marathons and over 300 road races.  Running four times a week at 5:45am, BJ has broken a dozen Canadian and world records.  She started running at age 55, a time when many others were hanging up their running shoes.  While BJ has been injured many times over the years, she never gave up, saying that she ‘was not going to accept the ravages of time without a fight.’  Running has become for her as much part of her life as ‘brushing her teeth’.

BJ’s determination is an inspiration to watch. She not only runs and works out at the gym, but also has been an avid North Shore skier since the early 1950s.  BJ even climbs the Grouse Grind with her grandchild.  Such athletic involvement helped condition her to become a leading octogenarian runner.  She acknowledges that there are thousands of times when she felt like not bothering. “Excuses are easy; commitment is hard”, says BJ.  But she just keeps putting one foot in front of the other and goes for it regardless.  Every marathon, says BJ, is a journey into the unknown.  You train and train and train again, and think that you are ready. But you never really know how your body is going to fare over 42 kilometres of running.

One thing that keeps her going are her running partners to whom she is committed. “How can I sleep through an early-morning downpour”, says BJ, “when I know that my friends will be waiting for me at our meeting place in ten minutes?”  Running, says BJ, has given her friendships that are powerful and lasting.  Through her running with her partners, they experience ‘the elation of reaching the top of a hill, the pain when (they) increase the distance on a training run, the slogging through rain and dancing through a sunlit forest.’

In BJ’s book, she talks about being raised in the poverty of the Great Depression in Stanwood Ontario.  The local church was the centre of the community.  BJ comments that ‘as a child she liked everything about church but the Sunday service…The minister droned on about subjects I never understood, and I had to sit in the pew with my hands folded politely.’

Once while running in a Vancouver marathon, she became more and more concerned about finishing well: ‘I feared hitting the dreaded ‘wall’, that point at which the body has used up all its reserves.’  Finishing well is a challenge for all of us, whether in a marathon, in our business, or in our family.  It  is about ultimately facing the question: will my life have made a difference?  BJ is an example of someone who is finishing well, whose life is making a difference.  She has chosen to give her best into what she believes in and is passionate about.  BJ is leaving a legacy that other younger people will be able to tap into.

One of my mentors, Paul, said that he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Even though Paul was tragically killed, he finished well.  Paul also recognized that physical exercise was of real value, but he pointed us to the even greater significance of spiritual exercise (1 Timothy 4:8).  Part of finishing well is a commitment to being healthy in body, mind and spirit.  If we neglect any of those three, we are the poorer for it.  Life is a marathon. Life is about discipline.  Life is about finishing well.  My Mother’s Day prayer for those reading this article is that BJ McHugh’s example will inspire all of us to discipline ourselves in body, mind and spirit so that we may truly finish well.

Rev. Ed Hird, Rector

St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)

-previously published in the May 2012 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 . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide

Monday, April 23, 2012

Here are some pieces I wrote recently on public education - O’Leary

 Banned words in New York City schools? “I’m with the banned,” Part III, One of the most extraordinary examples of schools-are-for-teachers occurred in New York City: the maintenance of “rubber rooms” for incompetent teachers. In Moe’s words:
And these were public school teachers passing a typical day in one of the city’s Rubber Rooms---Temporary Reassignment Centers---where teachers were housed when they were considered so unsuited to teaching that they needed to be kept out of the classroom, away from the city’s children.
There were more than 700 teachers in New York City’s Rubber Rooms that year. Each school day they went to “work.” They arrived in the morning at exactly the same hour as other city teachers, and they left at exactly the same hour in the afternoon. They got paid a full salary. They received full benefits, as well as all the usual vacation days, and they had their summers off. Just like real teachers. Except they didn’t teach.
All of this cost the city between $35 million and $65 million a year for salary and benefits alone, depending on who was doing the estimating. And the total costs were even greater, for the district hired substitutes to teach their classes, rented space for the Rubber Rooms, and forked out half a million dollars annually for security guards to keep the teachers safe (mainly from one another, as tensions ran high in these places). At a time when New York City was desperate for money to fund its schools, it was spending a fortune every year for 700-plus teachers to stare at the walls
But maybe, beyond a few fixes, nothing much can be done, for this reason:
The parent groups and politicians who demand that the system be reformed blame the administration and the unions for stonewalling---and thereby miss the point that a civil servant once explained to me: If the government funds the schools through taxes and quasi-government agencies administer them, everyone involved is part of the government's constituency.
The incompetent teachers in the rubber room are citizens and voters like anyone else, including the children's parents. So are the administrators. So are the trial lawyers of the incompetent teachers and their union officials. And the trial lawyers of parents suing the board. So are the business people who clean and repair after episodes of graffiti and vandalism. And so forth.
Whatever reform the government intends is likely to be stonewalled by one of the groups that is in fact a legitimate part of its constituency. To put the students first, definitely and unapologetically, is not possible by the very nature of the system.
Very well, then, do I see private schools, charter schools, or home schooling as the answer?
For some students, yes. Their main advantage is not superior virtue, harder work, or better methodologies. It’s simply the fact that a private institution is free to prioritize how well the kids are doing over other interests.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Voice by Glynis M. Belec

The order assaulted her senses as she tore at the damp sheets. The girl tossed her heavy head to the side trying to quiet the demon-like voices that poked and prodded.

"Five-thousand, six hundred and seventy two, five thousand, six hundred and seventy three, five thousand six hundred and seventy four..."

The vile taste in her mouth made her nauseated but she didn't have the strength to move, to get a drink, to go to the bathroom. She couldn't even recall where the bathroom was. Where was she? Why do the voices torture her so?
"I can't! I can't!" she cried as the pressure for her to continue played havoc with her mind. Perspiration covered her face like drizzle; her hair, matted and unkempt. But the girl's outward appearance was the least of her worries.

"Five-thousand, six hundred and seventy five, five thousand, six hundred and seventy six, five thousand six hundred and seventy seven..."

"No more! Stop...please."
The girl's frantic voice sounded threadbare and weak.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...all good children go to heaven. When they die, put them in a pie. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!"

Stillness. Black.
As the girl lay motionless, a wet cloth placed on her forehead took on the appearance of a veil. A shroud. Enveloping. Shielding. Preparing. A grave cloth?
"Count! Death child. Count!"

Like a timid fawn the girl tucked in her limbs and feigned sleep. As the girl drifted into oblivion, the voices started again.

"Awaken and hearken to my instruction!" The demon voice bellowed. "Heed not to sleep wretch!"

"Five-thousand, six hundred and seventy eight, five thousand, six hundred and seventy nine, five thousand six hundred and eighty..."

Like a beating wind, the dreaded voices came faster and urged the girl to count more; longer; louder; higher. The girl could not keep track. She did not know where to begin. She had no sense that her counting would...could ever end. Her voice faltered. Her mind - obfuscated.

"Take me, Jesus. Grace, mercy. Take me," the girl uttered. She no longer wanted to fight. She would give up to the merciless voices and succumb to their incessant battering. They would win.

Then, barely an audible whisper, she heard it. The Voice. It was different. Balm for the soul. Divine balm.

"Count with me my precious child..." came the sweet, loving words.
She reached up her tired arm in the direction of the tender voice. "Where do I begin?" she asked as she opened her eyes and felt a peace like she had not experienced for a very long time.
Start at the beginning - Alpha. Fullness of life. Journey with Me. It is finishe
d - Omega.  The girl's fever had broken.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring and Cleaning—den Boer

Every spring the robins build their nests, the daffodils pop up, the tulips bloom and women everywhere clean their houses from top to bottom—or at least that’s what Marty believes. He wonders why spring doesn’t happen at our house.

Oh, the grass turns green, and soon he’s mowing the lawn every week; the daffodils bloom, and I canvas for the Cancer Society; but spring and cleaning are two words I have a hard time putting together.

Some years I tell myself—and Marty—that I’m waiting to begin on a perfect spring morning. Then I will be able to fling all the windows open and hang out the bedding —an essential part of Marty’s idea about spring cleaning.

Yet the longer I wait for a fine spring day the more unlikely I’ll want to spend it indoors cleaning when I could be outdoors enjoying.

Some years I’m too pregnant to clean; some years I have a backache, and some years we simply move. This year we’re not moving, I’m not pregnant, I don’t have a backache and my house is noticeably gritty. I hate it when that happens.

Marty mentions the grime as much as he dares; I’m very touchy on the subject. But knowing my house is dirty is slightly more painful than cleaning it, so this year I am actually spring cleaning.

For inspiration I’ve been asking friends and acquaintances about their traditions and habits. A few admitted that they enjoy this chore. One lady said cleaning is one of her favourite things to do. One friend is so efficient she does her spring cleaning in February and fall-cleaning in June.

But most people I talked to either dislike spring cleaning or hate it. Some do it anyway. Some don’t. Some scrub walls, floors and everything in sight. Others would rather paint over the dirt. Some make it a family weekend project because both partners work outside the home full-time.

Some people can do their entire house in a week. I haven’t been inspired to that point, but I have decided to dedicate a weekly morning to the chore. This is my fifth week and I’ve done the kitchen (but not inside the cupboards), the washrooms, the hallways, and one bedroom. I may be through by Christmas.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25–26)

My heart could use a good scrub. There are cobwebs in the prayer room and the Bible study area. The worship room is filled with all sorts of distracting trivia, while the other rooms are strewn with selfishness, pride and discontent. I prayed for help. So now in addition to my morning per week spring cleaning, I’m planning to spend an hour a day in private devotions with the Lord.

It’s a plan. I tend to wonder which will get cleaned up first—my heart or my house. I have a suspicion both are ongoing projects.

Excerpt from the book Blooming, This Pilgrim's Progress.  by Marian den Boer. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

But God Doesn't LIKE Salsa - Gibson

Since their births, my four grandbeans have absorbed the habits of their nearest and dearest adults. I should mention here that their daddy is a preacher. That their grandfather is a Preacher. And that Mama and Nana preach too, in and out of the pulpit, in words written, spoken and sung.

Surrounded by such adults, it’s not surprising that the Beans would receive advanced classes in early spirituality. Some days I’m not sure that’s optimal.

Our third grandbean joined the Preacher and me for lunch the other day. At the tender age of four, Dinah is experimenting with her fledgling faith—and finding it useful.

“This is TOO spicy,” she said, of her tamale square.

“Ah,” said I. “That’s why I also made mashed potatoes.”

She dipped the tip of her spoon into the spuds on her plate. “But I don’t WIKE smashed potatoes.” she said. Then she put the spoon down. “Nana, I want salsa on my potato.”

I put salsa on the potato. She played with it a moment. “Nana,” she said sadly, “Ahm NOT hungry.” She slipped off her chair and left the table, then, minutes later, bounced back. All happy. “Nana, I want a snack.”

"No snack. You haven't finished your mashed potato and salsa or your tamale square. Around here, nobody gets snacks if they haven't eaten their lunch."

"I don't WIKE it,” she said, and retreated again. Then returned, seconds later. "Nana, God is hungry."

I almost dropped my fork. "Pardon me?"

"God is hungry!"

I gulped. "And how do you know God is hungry?"

"He told me."

"He told you?"

"Uh, huh. God is in my heart and God said he's hungry. He needs to eat."

"WELL then," says I. "No offense intended, but God can eat YOUR lunch."

"Nope," said the little con-artist, flouncing off for the third time. "God doesn't like salsa either."

At an after-church dinner, on another day, Dinah sat next to her older brother, who took his turn making contrary comments about Nana's food. Eating quietly (God liked her food that day), she listened to his complaints. After several miserable minutes, she’d heard enough. Lifting her pointer finger, she wagged it under his nose, and quoted from Philippians 2:

“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God…!” Sermon text finished, she added the application: “Benjamin, dat’s what YOU need to do!” On the YOU, she poked his shoulder, and resumed eating. He howled, and the surrounding adults—at least this one—nearly choked.

“How to Use Religious Words to Manipulate Nana and Coerce Your Brother.” Who taught her that deep spiritual lesson?

Faith, they say, is more caught than taught. Some days I think we preachers should all just shut up and start tossing around more love and fewer words—especially in the presence of children.

Kathleen Gibson

newspaper columnist, broadcaster, author

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Safest Place - M. Laycock

My husband and I watched the film "Iron Lady" last night - the story of Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain's longest-running Prime Ministers and the first woman to hold that office in the nation's history. I enjoyed the film and was particularly struck by one scene in which the PM is being interviewed on television. The host refers to her recent trip to the United States and asks what she learned while there.

"I learned that the people in the United States are not afraid of success," she said. An interesting and astute comment, I thought.

Then Sunday morning my husband preached on Joshua Chapter 3 - the scene at the Jordan River when God tells Joshua how it will be done. "They were to put their most precious possession, the Arc of the Covenant, into a raging torrent," my favourite preacher said. And they were to trust God for success in all the battles to come.

I wondered as I listened to my husband, what those people might have been thinking as they crossed into the Promised Land. Were they at last ready to do battle? Were they afraid? Did they perhaps glance up-river to make sure the priests were still standing steady with the Arc on their shoulders? Did they kick at the dry sand under their feet and tremble at what God had done?

I think the answer to all of the above is yes. They were ready, because God had been preparing them for forty years. But I think they were afraid and no doubt kept an eye on the Arc as they crossed. And no doubt they trembled. But they did what God told them to do. They trusted Him, at least in that moment, and were confident of success because He had promised it to them.

My favourite preacher asked an interesting question during his sermon. "What if success did not lie so much in what was to come but in the very crossing itself? What if the process was what would make them perfect, "refined... in the fires of affliction?" (Isaiah 48:10)

I have just come through a process during which I was afraid and trembled and trusted God. And it left me believing that being afraid is not such a bad thing. It keeps us humble, keeps us on our knees, keeps us looking upstream for the source of our strength, God Himself.

As a writer, there have been times when I've been afraid of success and all the changes it could mean. (What if this manuscript really takes off and I have to travel all over the country and beyond?) And many more times when I've been afraid of failure. (What if this manuscript stinks and never gets published?) But I have been refined in the fires of the process more than once and learned that God is trustworthy. He will accomplish His purposes for my work, as He has promised.

So I've learned to put all my precious possessions - my family, my work, my hopes and dreams, into the middle of the torrent on God's shoulders. He will always stand steady. The middle of the torrent is the safest place for them to be.

Marcia's new novel, A Tumbled Stone has just been released. Visit her website

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'll write the appies - Violet Nesdoly


Though I have laboured long
over the hot stove of fiction
slow-roasted the plot
peeled and cooked the characters
tossed point-of-view and dialogue
whisked lumps out of theme and motivation
and at last presented my creation
garnished to be page-turning

I prefer to work
on the poetry course
try to make each hors d’oeuvres
a playful experiment
every bite-sized creation
so surprising and intriguing
the reader won't stop at one.
Then I get to leave the kitchen early
because I’m done.

© 2011 by Violet Nesdoly

This is my little tip of the hat to April—National Poetry Month. I hope you're all enjoying lots of poems:  writing, reading, and reciting.

Some suggestions on where to go:

To write: 

To read and perhaps recite: 

  • Your Daily Poem has just that—a daily poem. This is poetry that is accessible and fun. Subscribe to get the daily poem delivered by email every morning.

If you enjoy children's poetry try:

  • Gotta Book,  a blog by kids' poet Greg Pincus. Greg is posting a new poem by well-known children's poets  every day of April
  • If you like your poetry with calories, Jama's Alphabet Soup features a new poem by well-known children's poets every weekday, along with a recipe from the poet. (My Easter feast benefitted from one of these recipes!).


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Defending Scripture. Literally - Carolyn Arends

What follows is my April CT column, documenting a bit of my journey with understanding the Bible. I'm curious to know how you interact with it. Are these ideas new and challenging, or issues you resolved years ago? Am I touching on things that are obvious (even cliche), or controversial?

Blessings on your own journey with the Word.

Defending Scripture. Literally.

Not everything the Bible has to say should be literally interpreted. But that doesn't make it less powerful.

Carolyn Arends In the April, 2012 issues of Christianity Today, posted online 04/01/2012

I attended a Christian university in the long ago days of acid wash denim and Commodore 64s. One of my classmates, Ken Jacobsen, had a gift for impersonation. He was renowned for his imitation of Bono on the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." "I have spoke with the tongue of angels," he'd croon when he got to the fourth verse. "I have held the hand of a devil." But then he'd alter the lyric and sing, "N-o-t literally. It's only a metaphor." That always got a huge laugh.

It's been decades, but I still remember the joke. I realize now it was humorous not only for its inherent silliness, but also for the way it held up a mirror to something funny about ourselves.

Most of us were earnest, sincere evangelicals. We weren't biblical studies majors, but we saw the defense of the Bible as our sworn duty. Against the onslaught of those who sought to undermine Scripture's authority, we committed ourselves to upholding it as the reliable Word of God.

One of the unintended side effects of our fervor was that we took almost everything literally, at least in spiritual matters. Generally, we weren't very good with oblique metaphors and analogies. And if, like Bono, you talked about spiritual things in a seemingly unorthodox way, well, we worried.

There was much that was good about our impulses, and maybe they were necessary in a time when the "battle for the Bible" was raging. But for me, and, I suspect, others like me, our "literalist" convictions left us confused in significant ways—not only about song lyrics, but, much more tragically, about Scripture itself.

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

When I say that I am "alive" and God is "alive," the word "alive" is analogical, not univocal—it does not apply to me (a temporal creature) the same way it applies to God (who is eternal). The same goes for words like "good" or "powerful." Connotations of imperfection or limitation must be deleted from any word when it is applied to God, and the notions (as best as we can conceive them) of total perfection and completion must be added.

Understanding this sooner would have helped me with biblical descriptions of God's "wrath." I can only get a glimmer of what God's wrath looks like when I divest the word of the human implications of self-centered, reactionary anger, and condition it with the unchanging goodness that must clarify all of God's attributes. Or take the word "Father." The claim that God is our heavenly "Father" can ultimately mean something wonderful, even to my friends who had terrible human dads, because the word is not used univocally when it's applied to God.

J. I. Packer likens our relationship with God to that of a two-year-old with a father who has a brain of Einsteinian proportions. To make relationship possible, the father will have to accommodate himself to the toddler he loves. The child will know her daddy, but she won't completely comprehend him. What the father reveals to the daughter will be true, as far as it goes. But there will always be more.

We shouldn't be surprised (or worried) that in his overtures to us God uses every kind of language available—straightforward (but culturally lensed) historical narrative, analogy, metaphor, parable, poetry, apocalyptic vision, and, hallelujah, the Word made flesh, Jesus. The best way to receive his Word is with the humble conviction that not only can we find what we're looking for, it (he) will be more than we could hope for, imagine, or fully comprehend. That's the best news there is.


Copyright © 2012 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Words Don’t Hurt…or Do They? - Derksen

These days, the airwaves are filled with articles about bullying, as if this is a new phenomenon. During his 3rd to 8th grade at a Catholic private school, our youngest son was bullied repeatedly and the more we tried to stop it, the worse it got. It seemed that no one wanted to do anything about it and our son spent many days hating his school experience instead of looking forward.

Eventually, after one summer’s growth spurt, he managed to put the bully in his place. That very misguided boy tried a couple of times after that to regain his control over our son but with no success.

Today, the Internet has become the tool of choice for bullies. They post messages of hate for the entire world to see, targeting someone who, in all probability, has done nothing to earn the unbearable comments. Teens have committed, or attempted to commit, suicide because of this practice. The perpetrators walk around as if they’ve done nothing wrong.

When I worked in a newspaper office for a couple of years, I was astounded to hear the back stabbing that went on. As soon as one employee left the room, the words of disrespect and jealousy, even hate, flowed freely. At other times, I’ve over heard people speak words of hate about another person who may be a neighbor or someone who attends the same church.

We all believe that murder is wrong, even the person who commits the crime. But the Bible, in Jesus words, is very clear about what constitutes murder. He said in Mathew 5:21 and 22 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

People who treat another with hate, disrespect, and anger, are as guilty of committing murder as the person who is charged and judged for the crime. Bullies murder a person’s soul. They destroy their target’s self-respect and make them victims in the eyes of the people who watch it go on but do nothing. People who attend church, all the while harboring hate toward another member, are committing murder in their hearts.

Murder is serious. That is something we all agree on but do we do what we can to keep the evil one from making us all murderers at large. Do we deal with issues in a biblical manner so that anger and hatred can be rooted out and do we treat others as we wish to be treated? Tear it out. Get rid of the evil inside and watch how much brighter the sunshine will be tomorrow.

Barbara Ann Derksen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE--Alan Reynolds

We buried our God in darkness,

In secret, and all affright;

We crept on a path of silence,

Fearful of things in the night.

We buried our God in terror,

After the fashion of men;

As we said, each one, “The deed is done,

And the grave is closed again.”

But now I give you certain news

To spread by land and sea:

You may scourge Truth naked,

You may nail Him to the tree,

You may roll the stone about Him,

And seal it priestly-wise,

But against the morn, unmaimed, new-born,

The living Truth shall rise!

(Resurgam, Theodosia Garrison)

Do you remember the story of Cinderella, the girl in the chimney corner who came to marry the prince? It was one of those many stories that enthralled us in our childhood. But now that we are "grown-up," we tend to look back to our childhood and say, "Ah, those were just fairytales. You weren't supposed to believe them. Things like that don't really happen. They're just too good to be true.

The "good news" that we call the Christian Gospel sounds to many people like a fairytale. Easter sounds too much like the happy-forever-after kind of ending to the story! Jesus is dead. The dream is over. Then, like in the comic strip, ZAP! God brings Jesus back to life and we all live happily forever-after.

On the surface of it, there seems to be much more reality to the perspective of those who are more inclined to say, "This is a hard world. You have to be realistic. It's a nice story that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. But life's not like that. You die and you stay dead, and that's the end of it. These stories of Jesus' resurrection are just the wishful thinking of his disciples."

Oh our sad, realistic day! We think sordidness is truth, that clay and dirt are the same thing, and that pessimism is realism. Our contemporary hymnist is Omar Khayyam,

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the dust descend.

Dust unto dust and under dust to lie,

Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and sans end.

Read the plays of our generation -- Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night." (What a title!) Remember Tennessee Williams. There's a scene in one of his plays in which one character tells about seeing, on a South Sea Island, baby turtles hatching from their eggs and making a headlong dash to the sea -- to escape the birds waiting for them, descending on them, killing them and eating them. The character who tells of this scene says, "Then I knew that I had seen God."

Here, we say, is realism. Here is something we can believe. This makes sense! Or does it?

Can we take all hope and beauty, all order and goodness, from the universe, wipe it away, and say that what is left makes sense? Isn't it rather non-sense? Can we say that the only statement of truth we can make about life is that there is no truth? The only statement that makes sense is that life doesn't make sense? Does that seem to you a real, a sensible creed? That's as self-contradictory as the man who said, "I never tell the truth."

In the latter part of the 19th century, archaeologists excavating an old Roman cemetery near the town of Volterra in Italy, came across some ancient gravestones with these letters inscribed on them: NF F NS NC. They were puzzled as to the meaning until on some stones they found the inscription written in full. The letters stood for an ancient Roman proverb, so familiar that the people hadn't bothered to write it out in full (as our grandparents would put R.I.P. meaning "rest in peace").

This is how the Latin inscription read: non fui, fui, non sum, non curo. "I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care."

Think of one generation after another burying their dead -- husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and little children -- in this mood: "I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care." This is a "creed," a statement of belief about life. Does it seem to you an easy creed to believe? Does it really seem a sensible statement?

We live in a day of so-called realistic materialism. The tenets of that philosophy seem so obvious, so realistic, so easy to believe. Alright, then. Face them. Look at them. Sit back and look them fair in the face! Can you tell me that that kind of philosophy of life really makes sense? That it hangs together? That you can believe that kind of thing, say it is credible and logical, live by it and carry it through to its ultimate conclusion?

And now what are we? Unbelievers both,

Calm and complete, determinately fixed

Today, tomorrow, and forever, pray?

You'll grant me that? Not so, I think!

In no wise! All we've gained is, that belief,

As unbelief before, shakes us by fits,

Confounds us like its predecessor. Where's

The gain? How can we guard our unbelief,

Make it bear fruit to us? The problem here --

Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,

A fancy from a flower-bell, someone's death,

A chorus-ending from Euripides, --

And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears

As old and new at once as Nature's self,

To rap and knock and enter in our soul,

Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring

Round the ancient idol, on his base again --

The grand Perhaps.

(Robert Browning, "Bishop Blougram's Apology")

Easter, a fairytale? The resurrection, too good to be true? The disciples, indulging in wishful thinking?

The startling thing is that the disciples themselves had to be convinced. They too thought it was all too good to be true.

Remember Thomas, whom we've come to call "doubting Thomas?" "Except I shall see the print of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the holes, except I shall thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." It was going to take a lot to convince Thomas that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Mary, coming to the grave that first Easter morning, seeing the stone rolled away, broke into weeping. It wasn't enough that they had crucified and killed her Lord. Now they had broken into the tomb and stolen his body away, so Mary was deprived even of the privilege of anointing it in death. "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." You see, she wasn't thinking of resurrection.

The other women ran back to tell the disciples. But the disciples were inclined to dismiss their words. It seemed to them, the Bible tells us, pure nonsense, "idle tales." They were just a bunch of silly, hysterical women.

But something must be amiss! They decided they'd better go and check things out. So Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it empty, the grave-clothes lying in place. But even yet, it only left them bewildered -- evidently thinking that someone had stolen the body, or perhaps that the authorities had come and taken the body away.

Then, simultaneously, stories began to pour in -- from Mary who had thought him to be the gardener, from Peter, from the two men who walked that day to Emmaus. Unrelated, independent stories began to come in.

And finally, with a dozen or so of the disciples together, Jesus himself appeared among them. "Behold my hands and my feet." he said. "It is I, myself. Handle me and see."

Don't ask me to explain it to you, to explain what kind of body he was. Certainly it wasn't a returning to what had been before. It wasn't simply a physical resurrection, in our understanding of the word "physical." In fact, our understanding of the word "physical" has changed drastically in this century. Albert Einstein began to reveal to us a new understanding of our world, of physical substance. The seat on which you're sitting, you yourself -- it's energy, concentrations of energy. Do we any longer, then, live in a physical world, or in a world whose basic reality is spiritual? What is energy -- is it physical, or is it spiritual? The old Cartesian dualism has broken down.

What concentration of atoms formed the resurrected body of Jesus Christ? I don't know. He was able to appear in rooms where the doors and windows were locked and barred, according to the accounts of the witnesses. But on the other hand, he said to them, "Handle me and see. Does a spirit have flesh and bones as I have?" Certainly it was not just a vague spiritual presence. It was Jesus himself -- and the disciples knew it.

There was a time that I didn't believe in the resurrection, dismissed it as mass hysteria and wishful thinking on the part of the disciples. But when I studied the scriptural evidence, it just confounded me.

There was this one particular verse (Luke 24:41). After all this evidence, from Mary, Peter, here, there, everywhere, the stories circulating that Jesus was raised from the dead, finally Jesus himself stood among the disciples. Our text says they were still unconvinced, The King James Bible translated, "They believed not yet for joy!" It seemed to them too good to be true.

It wasn't wishful thinking. They had to have it practically beaten into their heads. They too thought it was more like a fairytale. The reality of it, of his risen presence, they didn't seem to be able to realize or comprehend it.

And here we are today It is good and it is true. He is risen! He is risen indeed! And because of that, nothing can ever be the same again.

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