Friday, May 17, 2019

'BYE STRAW by Susan Harris

From idyllic island to metropolitan cities to rural farm. From squishing sand with my toes, to squeezing them into pumps, to skirting squelchy mud in boots. Oceans blue tipped with foamy white. Streets buzzing with lights and life. Expanses of serene space. 
And barn cats. We’ve had 116 over 11 years. Their numbers shrank even as our bonding grew. Tears falling over the meal for a fattened fox. For the babies that die. 
"They're only barn cats." The neighbour was patient with my blubbering. "Good for catching mice but multiplying too fast."
She meant well. The "good for catching mice but multiplying too fast" is but a pendulum that swings too quickly, blurring the useful with the burdensome. They catch the mice that eat the grain and gnaw the boxes and nibble rubber hoses in the equipment. The poop we won’t go into.
The tears fall again. For the matriarch whom we buried last night.
Strawberry. The beautiful name I picked for the homely stray with the two kittens my brother-in-law had found. 
“Every farm needs a cat,” was his simple explanation.
Straw she morphed into, the abbreviation a fit for the lowly fields she roamed. And then it was Traw.
Traw – outsmarted the beasts that devoured the rest.
Traw – from morning to night alongside her master while he broke virgin land, sharing lunch and water. A lone man and a lone cat. 
Whitey the kitten had “put on her sunhat, slung a beach bag over her shoulder, and waved goodbye” is how he described it to me. Silver, the other kitten had become a mom herself and was changing diapers. It was just him and Straw. 
As he had cared for me he tenderly attended to Traw. Over the last two years she lay in front of the fire or heater and he petted her head. It was all she wanted. 
When the vet returned my call yesterday all I had was two words. “She died”. Just as he had told me. 
As it was in the beginning so too it was at the end. A man alone with his first companion as she breathed her last. A holy moment that was meant to be (as allergies prevented me from prolonged contact with Traw.) 
I blubber and weep and write. A death as grievous as if it were human. Our four remaining cats understood the loss, and gathered at the sound of shovel meeting dirt. Baron paid his last respects by curling up on the site. Afterwards the man laid white stones on the dark earth. 
In Genesis 1:24 God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind” (NASB). 
It always goes back to the beginning. The One who carries us as we will ourselves to carry on.  
Delivering the valedictory address
 for Biblical Theology the day my parrot died
In 1991 my parrot had died just hours before I delivered the valedictory address at graduation in Biblical Theology on the idyllic island of Trinidad. I blubbered and sobbed up to minutes before the ceremony. Few knew why I was as sad as I was but I delivered the speech well. On Sunday I have to deliver the sermon at Melville Pentecostal Church on a prairie city, and I know it will also be well. 

Valedictorian of Class of 1991
Biblical Theology

Strawberry was with us from Spring 2008- May 15, 2019.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Pre-Launch Jitters, But it All Worked Out

Reading from my book

my launch flyer created by one of the Tavistock Library staff

The night before my book launch, I had everything ready to load in the car—boxes of books, my notebook to record sales, reading copy with pages marked, several pens for signing (in case one quit), a tablecloth for my book table, and my book rack. I fell asleep easily, knowing those things were ready to go.
I woke close to two a.m. with some sore muscles and my mind whirling. What if people don’t show up who said they were coming? This was our home town audience with friends from the city coming too. The editor of the weekly newspaper had indicated his willingness to come too.
Eventually I went back to sleep. The morning of the event, I signed the whole lot of books that I was taking along; I could personalize any as requested. We were ready with time to spare. My husband had his favourite little camera ready, and the tripod. We set out for Tavistock.

From Oxford County Library

We arrived early. The library was fairly quiet as I set up my rack and books. I waited near the door so I could greet my guests as they arrived. It was getting close to 11, and no one was there yet except the library staff and a few other patrons. I felt like a kid at a birthday party, waiting for her friends to arrive. But this was after all a Saturday morning, a day when people want to go a little slower. 
Where are they? I wondered. Close to 11, people started to arrive, in singles, in twos and small groups. Our eldest daughter, son-in-law, and two happy little children arrived, the small ones showing me a truck and a doll they’d brought along. Their smiles told me they were pleased to be in this interesting place.

We started a little late and more people trickled in. One guest had to leave at the end of my first reading. More came and the chairs filled. The children played in the house centre during the readings. I needn’t have worried for those who planned to be there had come.

A pleasing place for a book launch

The reading went well, allowing for people to reflect on what I’d read, or laugh when there was a place of humour. My husband took a video and my publisher, Glynis Belec, of Angel Hope Publishing, had her cell phone poised. Then the editor of the weekly paper, Tavistock Gazette, arrived about the end of my question and answer time. I hoped I had answered people’s questions to their satisfaction when I was called away for a special photo with the librarian.
During the social time, we had more conversations. Deb Schurink, Chief Librarian, and her staff  had set out an attractive table of refreshments for guests to enjoy. I signed and sold books and enjoyed the company of those who had come. Our family was waiting for us over at Quehl’s. We’d have lunch together before heading home. 

shelves behind me had interesting items on them too

I was pleased with the way the event had gone and that my guests seemed to enjoy themselves, pleased too with the varied supporters and the library staff who prepared for the launch. Thank you to all who came to make it such an enjoyable launch.

Carolyn Wilker
 Photos and video by Glynis Belec and the Oxford County Library. Thank you.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Corrie Ten Boom: Victory Through Surrender

By Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird
Corrie ten Boom once said: “I’ve never had the joy of bringing to birth a child, but I’ve often had the great joy to bring the rebirth to someone else. The creative life that a woman had to be married and have children, I could use in the Kingdom of God.”
After the Nazis conquered Holland, 100,000 Dutch Jews were sent to concentration camps. Corrie’s father, Casper, known as the Grand Old Man of Haarlem, had a deep love of Jewish people, saying, “In this house, God’s people are always welcome.” No one was turned away. Corrie similarly prayed, “Lord Jesus, I offer myself for your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.” Through disguising themselves as Nazi soldiers, her underground team saved 100 Jewish babies who were about to be killed in an orphanage. A well-known architect built them a secret 2 1/2 foot wide hiding place behind a new brick wall in Corrie’s bedroom. Even after arresting the Ten Booms, the Gestapo were never able to find the Jews hidden in this ‘angelcrib’ hiding place. At the time of the arrest, Corrie’s interrogator painfully slapped her in the face after every question. Corrie cried out: “Lord Jesus, protect me!” He hissed at her, “If you mention that name again once more, I will kill you.” But miraculously, he stopped beating her. Corrie, Betsie and their Father all glanced at their fireplace’s plaque ‘Jesus is Victor’. Corrie thought: “It looks now as if the Gestapo were the conquerors. But they are not.”
Corrie and her sister Betsie hid over 800 Jewish people in their Haarlem watchmaker home, before being sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in East Germany where 96,000 women died. “The sufferings of Jesus”, said Corrie, “became very real to me at Ravensbruck.” She lost four family members in the concentration camps, including her beloved older sister Betsie who forgave and prayed for the guards even as they mercilessly beat her. “Don’t hate”, Betsie pleaded to Corrie. Three days before Betsie died, she shared with her sister Corrie the vision of first opening healing homes in Holland and Germany, before going around the world sharing about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Two weeks later, Corrie was set free through a God-ordained clerical error. One week after this, all the other women her age at Ravensbruck were taken to the gas chamber.
Upon returning to Holland, Corrie opened a home in Holland to bring healing for people, even including the ostracized Dutch who had collaborated with the Nazis. She was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands for her work.
Corrie told God that she was willing to go where he wanted her to go, but hoped that he’d never send her back to Germany. Finally, after sensing a blockage in her prayer life, she repented, saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll go to Germany too.” God sent her back to Ravensbruck to lead bible studies with former guards, now in prison. Then, she rented and cleaned up a former concentration camp in Germany to bring temporary housing and healing to some of the nine million Germans who had been bombed or driven out of their homes.
In Munich, a former Ravensbruck guard said to Corrie: ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein. To think, as you said, that he washes my sins away!’ Corrie later wrote, “His hand was thrust out to shake mine….Even as angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man. Was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him…Again I silently prayed ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness’. As I took his hand, my heart felt an overwhelming love for this stranger.”
Corrie became a penniless tramp for the Lord, travelling for three decades to 62 countries, and sleeping in over 1,000 different beds. Wherever she went globally, Corrie shared from her Ravensbruck experience that the light and love of Jesus Christ is deeper than the deepest darkness. She was the favourite travelling companion of the Bible-smuggler, Brother Andrew as they both did missionary work behind the Iron Curtain in Vietnam and 12 other Communist countries. In Vietnam, they gave her the honorific title of ‘Double-old Grandmother.” While in the Soviet Union, she intentionally preached the gospel in her hotel room, knowing that everything she said was being listened to and recorded by communist officials.
Corrie was a unique blend of the compassion of a Mother Theresa and the evangelistic passion of Billy Graham. Through her deep friendship with Rev. Billy and Ruth Graham, Corrie’s Hiding Place book was turned into a movie reaching tens of millions. Ruth Graham said: “I didn’t know anyone who had suffered so intensely for the Lord and for his people, as Corrie had, and come through with absolutely nothing but love in her heart for her captors —she forgave them.” In 1967, Corrie was recognized by Israel as a righteous gentile, planting a tree in her honour. When people kept telling her how brave she was, Corrie transparently prayed, “What little courage I have…I was not brave. I was often like a timid, fluttering bird, looking for a hiding place….Lord, I am weak and cowardly and of little faith; do hold me close. Thou art the conqueror. May that assurance give me courage and loyalty.”
Speaking in an African prison, Corrie said about Ravensbruck, “I knew that unforgiveness would do more harm than the guard’s whip…I could not do it. I was not able. Jesus in me was able to do it. You see, you never touch the ocean of God’s love as when you love your enemies.” When Corrie shared with prisoners in Rwanda, a revival of joy and hope broke out, even among the guards. As she was leaving, the prisoners swarmed around her, chanting ‘Old woman, come back. Old woman, come back and tell us more of Jesus.” Many people are unaware of the powerful international healing ministry that Corrie had, once even healing a leper in Vellore, India, through laying on of her hands.
Because of her work blessing indigenous people, Corrie was adopted into the Hopi First Nation and given the name, Beautiful Flower. While staying at a Kansas farm, Corrie challenged her host, who had recently kicked his son out, telling him to never darken his doorstep again. She said to the farmer: “If you believe in Jesus Christ and belong to Him, your sins have been cast into the depths of the sea, and that’s very deep. But then he expects also that you forgive the sins of your boy and cast them into the depths of the sea. Just imagine how you would feel if there should be another war, if your son had to go back into service and was killed in action. Don’t you think you should forgive him right now?” After riding together in silence, the farmer invited Corrie to go with him where he asked his son to forgive him. His son replied: “But Father, I should ask you for forgiveness.”
In her late sixties, Corrie was betrayed and hurt by some Christians she loved and trusted: “You would have thought that, having been able to forgive the guards in Ravensbruck, forgiving Christian friends would be child’s play. It wasn’t. For weeks, I seethed inside. But at last I asked God again to work His miracle in me…I was restored to the Father.” She later burnt the painful letters from her friends, as a sign of letting go. Are you willing, like Corrie, to find victory through surrendering your unforgiveness?
Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird – co-authors of For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Can Big Data Game Bestseller Lists? - Denyse O'Leary

Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to Barack Obama (2009–17), recently published a book, Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward.

Such a book might be expected at this point in her career but it attracted attention for an unconventional reason: According to some, its placement on the New York Times Best Seller list did not seem warranted by its showing in the marketplace. Finding My Voice appeared there when it was only 1,030 on Amazon and had only three reviews. And, despite 12,600 recorded sales, Publishers Weekly did not list it:
“Given the organic sales of that book and the fact that during the entire week of rollout it barely cracked the top 100 on Amazon, there’s no way the book should have a place on the NYT Best Seller list. Inconceivable,” one prominent book industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There’s likely an effort to game the system, it’s the only explanation." Luke Roziak, " Obama adviser’s book is ranked 1,030 on Amazon. How did it make NYT’s best seller list?" at Daily Caller

So what’s the game? It’s usually one or another version of pretending that a bulk order of 10,000 books came from 10,000 individuals, which counts for much more. The digital era is a golden age for such manipulations because digits on a screen are much easier to fake than feet on the street.

Daily Caller is unfriendly to Jarrett’s politics; thus might be expected to play up such a story in her case. That said, the accusation isn’t a new one; it’s bipartisan and it sheds some light on the seamier side of Big Data in the book industry.

In short, your colleagues and acquaintances may not be reading what you think they are, if you go only by the figures you hear touted. So let’s delve a bit more into the art of faking up book sales numbers.

Intellectual snobbery makes some Bestseller and Top Ten lists an obvious target:

… if a book shows up on the New York Times list, there’s an imperative (in certain circles) that you know about it. In my own experience working at a bookstore this was true. Every week we’d receive the New York Times Book Review, and turn to the best seller list. We had to make sure we had copies of every book on the list in the store. And sure enough, that same weekend people would come in looking for those books more than any other. Erin Bartnett, "Are Conservative Titles Using Shady Tricks to Get Onto the Bestseller List?" at ElectricLit
One company, ResultSource, was rather open about the rewards of making the list:

"Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth—exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value," ResultSource's website says. Carl Franzen, "How authors are buying their way to the top of bestseller lists" at The Verge (2013)
Honest villainy doomed ResultSource. It shut down after the Wall Street Journal revealed its methods, but insiders say that similar outfits thrive in its wake, doubtless more quietly.

Underlying the problem is the mystique around data which is often, to be candid, bunk. The co-founder of Book in a Box, a self-publishing and book marketing firm, explains that “every bestseller list is a lie”. He singles out the New York Times list as a “cool kids” club, rife with “weirdness and elitism” (think high school):

For most of the 20th century, they pretended to use a scientific method to count book sales and claimed their list was authoritative and accurate. And then William Blatty wrote a novel called The Exorcist — which has sold 10 million copies and is a famous movie. It sold more than enough copies to be high on the bestseller list for a long time, but initially, it did not appear. He rightly claimed that The New York Times was intentionally excluding it for editorial reasons — the book was considered very controversial at the time — and claimed that their decision was costing him millions of dollars in sales.  Tucker Max, "How Bestseller Lists Actually Work – And How To Get On Them" at Entrepreneur (2016)

That was back in the Eighties and Blatty lost his case because, as Max recounts, the New York Times’ successful defense was that “the list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.” Nothing much has really changed. In other words, the Times list and other social must-haves for aspiring authors are not truly data-driven. He adds:

You can see this clearly if you have access to Nielsen BookScan, which is the database that tracks paid sales covering about 70 to 80 percent of book outlets. I have access because I own a publishing company, and I can see how much the New York Times List varies from the Nielsen report of actual books sold. Anyone in publishing can see this, and it is a known fact. Tucker Max, "How Bestseller Lists Actually Work -- And How To Get On Them" at Entrepreneur
Despite the “how-to” title of his article, Tucker doesn’t think that most authors should even try to be on bestseller lists. Books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies that never appear on such lists. Authors usually need these list rankings for status reasons. In that case, he counsels, they must be published by a big New York house and validated in those media that “the coastal media elite read and take seriously.” That may sharply limit the ideas that can be introduced and defended.

Such authors must also plan to sell five to ten thousand books in a single week, not over a year. That’s where the ten thousand sales that look individual but are actually a manipulated bulk order tempt some. The outcomes can be drastic, as one evangelical pastor found:

In January 2012, former megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage went to the top spot on the Hardcover Advice section of The New York Times best-seller list. In March 2014, it was disclosed by evangelical magazine, World, that Driscoll’s publishing success was aided by a consulting firm called ResultSource, which purchased books on behalf of Driscoll in a coordinated effort to spike sales and give the impression that the book was popular with thousands of book buyers. Driscoll recently resigned from his church and one factor associated with his departure is the decision to buy his way onto the best-seller list. Warren Throckmorton, "How the Religious Right Scams Its Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List" at Daily Beast

As Brent Underwood warns at the Observer, the term “bestseller” today is like “when you see a food described as 'natural. The FDA doesn’t actually regulate that term, so it’s basically meaningless.”

It’s never been easier to publish a book than it is today—and to market it through a tidal wave of channels in our highly connected society. Some questions I often put to writers’ seminars loom more urgent than ever:

  • Who is your intended audience?
  • Aren’t you the person who knows best how to reach them?
  • If not, shouldn’t you become that person before you try to publish the book?
  • Once you are that person, won’t you be much better able to judge what promotional activities will work best?
  • In a world of channels, which lists of books will really help you reach that particular audience?
The decline in the importance of coastal media could signal a decline in the importance of their Top Ten and Bestseller lists. But there is never a decline in the importance of knowing how to reach the people we need to communicate with.

See also: AI is not a simple fix for plagiarism. The internet speeded up a perennial problem without changing it


If thoughts were data, machines could write The fact that creativity does not follow computational rules may well be a ceiling for machine writing and it is not made of glass.

(Reprinted from Mind Matters News, April 18, 2019)

Monday, May 06, 2019

I Heard a Cardinal Call My Name by Peter A. Black

Courtesy of Shutterstock
Earlier this week I heard a cardinal call my name – at least, I thought it was a cardinal. I looked all around and peered up into the trees, but I couldn’t spot it. And yet, the sweetly haunting, yet distinct Pe-ter, pe-ter, pe-ter sounded out.  
A copy of Margaret Craven’s 1960s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name sat on my library shelves for decades. A while back I finally began to read it. I thought of it the moment I heard that Pe-ter, pe-ter, pe-ter.

It’s a story of a young Anglican vicar, Mark Brian, whose bishop sent him to serve a small First Nations community in BC, called Kingcome. The bishop knew that Mark was terminally ill, but that fact wasn’t disclosed to the young fellow. He fitted in well with the ‘Kwakiutl’ people. They accepted him as one of theirs, and he accepted them as family and the village as his home.

Courtesy of
The Kwakiutl people believed that when a person heard the owl call their name, they would soon die. One day Mark Brian heard the owl call his name. Not long afterwards he was in his boat near to land when a landslide completely engulfed his small craft and he was killed.
Now, let’s connect with a touching account in the Bible. Jesus had done wonders for Mary Magdalene in healing her ruined, broken life. Very early on that historic morning of His resurrection from the dead, she stood weeping in the garden near the tomb where He had been buried. Not knowing at that point that Jesus had risen, she was evidently bewildered by the empty tomb, and that increased the anguish of her grief-stricken heart.

We read: “. . . she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it
Credit: free-christian-
was Jesus. . . . [He] said ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”*
She instantly recognized His voice in the calling of her name. It jolted her out of grief and no doubt filled her with inexpressible joy. He then instructed her to go and share the good news with His “brothers.” So she hurried off to tell the disciples. Three years or so before this He’d personally called each of His disciples to follow Him.

Jesus still calls, but seldom with an audible voice; calls in language of the heart. It’s a call to life. I was just a grade-school kid when I ‘heard’ and responded to that call to trust in Him. I reaffirmed it in my teens and also many times since.

I’m glad Jesus called my name. Glad too, that the song of a little bird I couldn’t even see reminded me of these things and warmed my heart with its song.
*Abbrev. from John 20:11-16  NIV.
Peter is a retired pastor  well, sort of retired – as he is currently engaged as an associate volunteer pastor. He lives in Southwestern Ontario with his wife, May, and writes a weekly inspirational newspaper column and occasional magazine articles. Peter is author of two books: "Parables from the Pond" (Word Alive Press) and "Raise Your Gaze . . . Mindful Musings of a Grateful Heart" (Angel Hope Publishing). He and May are also engaged in leading nursing home / residential chapel services, pulpit supply and music. ~+~

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