Saturday, May 18, 2019

Windblown

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

The desert sun beats down upon the Traveler, its glare blistering and merciless. He pauses for a moment, shielding his eyes with one hand as he scans the horizon. The dry, searing wind raises another dust cloud. Somewhere—untold miles ahead—his destination lies waiting.

A frugal sip of tepid water from his half-filled canteen soothes his parched throat, at least for now. He must conserve his supply—hasty gulps would be his undoing in the wilderness.

He reaches inside his tunic to find the ancient map. The tanned leather is as soft as silk from years of use, handed down from his father and his father’s father. The intricate chirography has faded over time, and he squints at the faint markings, coaxing their reluctant hues to divulge his route.

The Traveler’s concentration is broken by the unexpected sound of a voice behind him. Startled, he clutches the map to his chest as he pivots to face the newcomer.

“Need some company?” The smile on the newcomer’s face is broad, his desert-roughened voice hoarse but clear. He glances at the map in the Traveler’s grip, intrigued. “Where’d you get the map?”

The Traveler recovers from his surprise, smiling at his unexpected companion. “Company’s always welcome. Are you heading for the Oasis, too?”

The other nods enthusiastically, and the Traveler remembers the leather map crumpled in his fist. He relaxes his grip and holds it out for the other to see. “Oh, and I’ve had this map for years. It’s a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation.”

The smile fades from his newfound companion’s face, replaced by an expression of good-natured skepticism. “You’re still using the same map as your grandparents? No disrespect—but isn’t that just a little . . . old-fashioned?”

The Traveler laughs as he smooths the weathered fabric. “Well, to be honest, the markings are pretty faded. It’s not always easy to interpret. But it’s worth the effort—the map’s a reliable guide.”

His companion takes a deep breath, searching for the right words. He’s concerned but doesn’t wish to offend. “No, what I meant was—there’s many ways of getting to the Oasis. Hanging on to out-dated maps can be a little . . . confining, wouldn’t you say? It’s a new day, and maybe it’s time for new maps.”

The Traveler smiles, his dry lips feeling stretched. “This map’s never let anyone in my family down. I may not be able to understand every detail with perfect clarity, but it’ll guide me to the Oasis.”

“Well, to each his own.” The newcomer shrugs, and then his eyes light up as he catches sight of something over the Traveler’s shoulder. “Excuse me—but I think my ride’s arrived.”

He steps past the Traveler as an enormous tumbleweed bears down on them. The Traveler tightens his grip on the map as he scrambles out of its path. His companion inexplicably throws himself into the tumbleweed’s thorny embrace, and is carried off.

“New maps for a new generation . . .” his cheery voice fades quickly as the tumbleweed rolls on its way.

The Traveler watches him disappear from view, perplexed. He glances down at the faded map, studying the time-worn markings and comparing them to the hazy mountains in the distance.

Satisfied, he resumes his trek across the desert sands. Not long after, he sights a cluster of cacti ahead, their spiny arms held stiffly aloft. A single flower adorns the tallest plant, and the Traveler spots a young woman sitting cross-legged in its shade, shielded from both scorching sun and arid wind.

“Another pilgrim, bound for the Oasis.” The girl salutes him with an upraised canteen before taking a rejuvenating swig. She grins as she screws the lid back into place. “Which route are you taking, friend?”

The Traveler pauses in the shadow of the tallest cactus, mirroring her action with his own canteen. His moistened lips don’t feel as cracked as he returns her smile. “The same route I’ve been on since childhood.”

He shows her the map. The young woman runs a finger gingerly along its soft surface. Her eyes widen.

“I used to have one just like this,” she enthuses, handing the map back to the Traveler. “But I traded it in. I’ve heard that if you don’t change maps every so often, you run the risk of becoming too rigid. I make a point of trading for a different map every three years or so.”

The Traveler looks perplexed as he glances from the woman’s sincere face to the map in his hands. “A different map every three years? How do you know if they’ll lead you to the Oasis or not?”

She gets to her feet as another swarm of tumbleweeds approaches, smiling easily. “It’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.”

She leaps into the nearest tumbleweed, giving the Traveler a friendly wave as she is carried off.

Alarmed, he quickly consults his map and then races after her, waving his arms. “Don’t go that way—you’re heading straight into Dry Gulch! There’s nothing there but rattlesnakes and scorpions!”

“That’s just your interpretation.” Her voice wanes as the tumbleweeds reel on.

The Traveler slows to a halt. His examines the map again, and his heart sinks. The dry wind tousles his hair as he stares after the rolling tumbleweeds. They plunge over the edge of the precipice and disappear from sight.

The Traveler stands motionless, arms hanging loosely at his sides, feeling helpless. He looks over his shoulder at the cactus, as if hoping the spiny succulent could explain or offer comfort.

He takes another sip from his canteen, and turns to face the distance mountains. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve as he squints at the map’s faded markings. Tucking it into his tunic, he resumes his dogged trek.

“No turning back,” he tells the cactus as he passes. “No turning back.”

Saturday, May 4, 2019

And Also With You

Wendy and I have long been fans of the Star Wars franchise.

For years, our youngest daughter, Renee, thought we chose May 4 as our wedding day because our excessive level of nerdification matched hers.

Alas, we were forced to explain that “May the Fourth be with you” simply wasn’t a thing back in 1985.

We chose this day because it was the first Saturday after college finals. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from adopting the whole May the Fourth schtick in recent years.

Today is special on more counts than usual—Wendy and I celebrated thirty-four years of marriage AND Renee got  married! And as the happy couple was introduced, it was only fitting that the Star Wars theme was their recessional music.

One year from today, Wendy and I will have the opportunity to say to Renee and Tobias: “Happy anniversary and May the Fourth be with you,” and hear them respond, “And also with you.”

And another family tradition is born.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Graveyard Shift

The etymology of the term “graveyard shift” is less entertaining than I’d hoped.

I’d heard the apocryphal tales about people sitting in graveyards overnight, listening for bells rung by frantic people buried prematurely. “Saved by the bell”, “graveyard shift”—it was an entertaining tale, but not based in fact.
That’s a shame, really. I was all set to blog a merry metaphor about wandering the cemeteries of greater blogdom, looking and listening for signs of life.

That’s a convoluted way of simply noting that blogs come and go. There are always new people joining the ‘blogosphere’, while others have said their piece, made their peace, and moved on.

Sometimes, their blogs disappear entirely, usually coinciding with the expiration of their custom domain renewal. Their common epitaph is “404: Page Not Found”.

Other blogs remain online indefinitely, untended for months and even years. It’s akin to one of those ‘frozen in time’ moments you see in a movie—there’s an online record of what their last blog-worthy thoughts were, and then . . . silence.

The reasons and stories behind these missing and dormant blogs are as varied as the bloggers who created them. There’s no simple “one size fits all” explanation, except to note:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Someday, I would love to gather with my blogging kin around a campfire—a real one, with roasted meat and good ale—and share our present-day stories. I’m sure there’s a lot we could learn from each other.

I’d even be willing to spend a night on the graveyard shift, just in case.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

I Just Play One on TV

A friend sent me a text the other day: “Dude! You’re on the front page!”

Mystified, I checked the online news source he directed me to, but couldn’t find anything.

Then I chanced upon an article about the Salvation Army’s push for volunteers to help with their roving food trucks.

And the accompanying picture of one of said trucks included yours truly (a volunteer) being served a meal by the nice folks at Sally Ann.

I had a brief chuckle at my inadvertent portrayal as one of the homeless community in K-town. On the heels of that thought, I realized how fitting my ‘mistaken identity’ actually was/is.
People experiencing homelessness—or at risk of homelessness—don’t always fit the stereotype. For every person you see pushing a heavy-laden shopping cart, there are dozens more who look pretty much like… me.
I’ve spoken with homeless people who were once wealthy real estate developers, gifted musicians, nurses, businessmen, etc. Yet in every case, something broke in their worlds, and here they are. They never foresaw where they’d end up. This wasn’t a ‘career choice’.

In any city, there are multiple ways of volunteering to serve among those who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Every person has a story, dreams, hopes for the future. Each one is an unique human being, worthy of dignity and respect.

The reporter who took my photo couldn’t tell the difference. That’s fine—it’s a good reminder that our society’s most vulnerable people look just like the rest of us, more times than not.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Creative Writing is a Beach Ball

I wish I’d kept my first rejection letter.

It’s sort of like framing your first earned dollar bill (yes, I’m old enough to have had $1.00 bills in my wallet).

I’ve been asked in recent years if I’d kept that first letter, and I can only offer my best rueful smile/self-deprecating shrug in response.

But no, I was deep in the throes of a teen-aged fiction writer funk after my stunningly-brilliant creation was rejected. It never occurred to me to keep the letter.
It was a gem, too: photocopied crooked by a machine low on ink. I suspect the editor’s signature was also photocopied. A keep-sake if there ever was one—on so many levels. Alas.
Hey, I was 13 at the time. You don’t make your best life decisions during the early stages of puberty.

I started high school a year later. Despite the Department of Education’s cruel practice of adding Grade 13 to the timeless purgatory known as secondary school, there were exactly zero—ZERO—classes offered in creative writing. So, after a dubious attempt at one (1) short story in grade nine, my only notable output during five years of high school was this haiku:
School really bugs me
My freakin’ English teacher
Makes me write haikus
But writing is kinda like a beach ball. You can try to shove it underwater—out of sight and out of mind—but it eventually and inevitably escapes its watery dungeon and bobs to the surface once again.

I originally enrolled in the “RTJ” program in college: Radio, Television & Journalism. I went there with some vague idea of emulating Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinatti. I really enjoyed being a DJ on the college radio station. I also became fascinated with the Television section of the course. The last thing on my mind—grudgingly done only because it was required—was journalism.

Yet somehow, with far less interest and work ethic than my Radio & Television classes, guess where my best marks kept showing up?
I felt like Lady MacBeth: “Out, damned spot beach ball! Out, I say!”
Fast forward a couple of years, to a different college in a different province. Without planning it, guess who ends up writing an article or two for the college paper? And the following year, becomes the editor?
You’d think the sight of a brightly colored beach ball punching its way to the surface—repeatedly—would eventually qualify as a “sign”. Some of us aren’t as swift of wit as others…
I managed to shove the beach ball down again. Looking back, it’s both fascinating and a little disturbing to realize how much my first rejection letter controlled my view of writing: Not good enough.

Ten years later, a visiting prophetic dude from Kansas City—not knowing me from a hole in the wall—says: “you put down the pen because you felt your best efforts weren’t good enough, but you’re going to start writing again…” Aside from my beautiful wife Wendy, nobody in the room had any idea I was hiding a beach ball.

Seven years passed before I started blogging. Things went well for the first few years—I was even “discovered” and became a published author. The beach ball had arrived again with a big splash.

Then the marketing department torpedoed the book, and that (I thought at the time) was the end of it. Beach ball deflated.
In hindsight, I should’ve recognized the symmetry with the original rejection letter. But again, I was in a writer-blocked funk and tossed the beach ball away.
Fast forward another four years. The beach ball ambushed me again, like a oceanic saltwater slap in the face. And this time—finally—I surrendered. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Your gift may not be creative writing. But if there’s beach ball of creativity/passion that you keep squelching because of (fill in blank as necessary), learn from my story.

Give up. Surrender. Embrace it. Pursue it as if your life depends on it.
Don’t mess with the beach ball. It’s relentless and will not be silenced.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019: the Call


My father got fired from his job in the spring of my grade nine year.

We’d moved only eight months earlier, after he’d accepted the position. We were still settling into our new home, new schools, and new routines while Dad endured the daily commute into the Big Smoke (Toronto) to his office in one of the gargantuan skyscrapers near Union Station.

New house, new mortgage, finally replacing an aging automobile, and three kids ranging from 12-15 years of age.

If there was ever a time when a husband/father would be sorely tempted to look the other way regarding some of the companys financial ‘shenanigans’ (one of my Scottish mother’s favorite words), this would’ve been it.

Instead, he stood his ground, refusing to participate in ‘projects’ which he knew were sketchy at best. The company let it slide the first couple of times, but the third time, he was summoned into the president’s office.

“Your ‘style’ doesn’t suit our company. Clean out your desk.”

Later that evening, at our church’s weekly prayer meeting, I sat—a scrawny 15-year-old—and listened as my parents requested prayer regarding my father’s sudden unemployment. Our whole family was a little nervous about our future, for obvious reasons.

I vaguely recall that people prayed for us. I vividly recall, to this day, how proud I was of my dad for not compromising his faith-based principles. My father was—and is—of the firmly held belief that following Jesus impacts every aspect of life, including business ethics and practice.

Even when it cost him.

My father’s simple act of faithfulness—and faith—may not count as ‘epic’ on the world stage.

But it was undeniably ‘epic’ in the eyes of his 15-year-old son.

2019: Let this be a year of faithfulness, unfettered by any desire to be ‘epic’.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Awkward Continuationist: Charis-Missional

I was recently contacted by someone in Texas who is working on a dictionary project. He was seeking my input on a phrase that I’d included in the first edition of Post-Charismatic: “Charis-Missional.”

I’ve always deferred to Kingdom Grace’s definition, since the term was her invention in the first place. Simply put, charis-missional means: ‘Spirit-led Missional Living’.

I liked the phrase, and its definition, and thought it was more of a “moving forward” kind of terminology than “post-charismatic”. (I’ve never been comfortable with the term post-charismatic, but couldn’t come up with a better suggestion, so it kinda stuck.)
My first publisher included the subtitle “Where are we now? Where have we come from? Where are we going?”—and added a big question mark to the book’s title. The phrase “charis-missional” (at the time) seemed like a good counter-balance to too many question marks.
Speaking of questions, there were three posed to me regarding the dictionary in Texas. Briefly summarized, they were:

1. Is the charis-missional movement going strong today, or has it morphed into something new?
Short answer: yes and no.

There’s never been a ‘charis-missional movement’ per se, so it’s impossible to state with any confidence whether it’s going strong, failing abysmally, or morphing into something else.

If people read Post-Charismatic and were encouraged to pursue a Spirit-led life despite their previous experiences, then YES, the ‘movement’ is going strong.

But because it’s not an organized entity—for example, there’s never been any such thing as a post-charismatic/charis-missional conference, book tour, or podcast—it’s hard to quantify.

If there was/is anything resembling a ‘movement’, it was/is very grassroots and non-institutional.

Which is probably just as well, in the long run. :)

2. Do you see charismatic gifts at work in the missional movement, or is charis-missional more about moving past the excesses of the charismatic movement?
Short answer: both/and.

I’d suggest that moving past toxic theology (which always results in toxic leadership/experiences) is a prerequisite for seeing any of the Spirit’s gifts at work as we seek to be missional.
(Without being disingenuous, every gift of the Holy Spirit—including boring old ‘administration’—is charismatic by definition. It’s not just about tongues and prophecy.)
In other words, you can’t have a healthy missional presence without dealing with the toxic teachings which have infiltrated the charismatic movement. It may not be a classic case of “which came first: the chicken or the egg”, but separating theology from practice isn’t an option, even if it were possible.

I’d also point out that if we attempt to be missional without being Spirit-led, we run the very real risk of becoming little more than social do-gooders with a thin veneer of spirituality.

3. Does the term ‘charis-missional’ continue to have meaning for you today?
Short answer: No (but with explanation).

The term ‘charis-missional’ has not passed my lips in quite some time. I also chose not to include the phrase in the 2nd edition of Post-Charismatic (and I changed all the subtitle questions to a simple phrase: “Rekindle the Smoldering Wick”).

*Not because I think charis-missional is passé or unimportant.*

As I mentioned earlier, there’s never been a recognized, organized, institutionalized movement for post-charismatic/charis-missional followers of Jesus.

They can be found in all manner of churches, home gatherings, coffeehouses, and pubs—just going about their Spirit-led, missional endeavors with no thought or desire to be part of some trendy “in crowd” in 21st century Christianity. They are, as I wrote back in 2005, people of the spark.

So, honestly, NO. I don’t call myself or describe myself as “charis-missional” any more. Perhaps I should reconsider.

What’s more important is that I be charis-missional, regardless of what—if anything—I call it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Stories


(Video Link)
Christmas Eve this year was a roller-coaster of a kaleidoscope—if such a metaphor can fit comfortably inside the human brain.

For my son and I, it was a chance to do something we don’t get to do often: perform in the same band for a weekend of Christmas concerts, to a combined audience of 14,000 people.

The theme of the night was “stories”, and whether sung or spoken/acted, it was a moving evening of shared life-stories impacted by Jesus’ story. It was an honour and also humbling to be part of such a powerful presentation.

An hour or so later, the kaleidoscope rotated. Our (now adult) children and their spouses gathered in our home. We were joined by friends who are navigating their first Christmas after the painful death of a wife and mother. It was an honour to have them in our home.

And then, another rotation of the kaleidoscope.

A long-held tradition in our house is Christmas Stockings—usually crammed full of junk food, inside jokes, and wacky presents. It’s our most light-hearted and quirky piece to family celebrations at Christmas.

“This is the last year,” my youngest daughter reflected. She looks a little misty. She’s engaged to be married next spring, and like her older (married) siblings, the stocking tradition will then shift from Wendy & I to her spouse.

Next Christmas, for the first time since 1989, the stockings hung from our mantle will be merely decorative.

Final revolution of the kaleidoscope:

Christmas Day, and our three children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and a fiancé fill our house for a fun and memorable day together.

It’s quite a mix in just one 24-hour period: celebratory concerts (seven!), time with grieving friends, a houseful of family—feasting and playing silly games together—and a nostalgic final Christmas stocking for my youngest daughter.

A variety of stories, running a gamut of associated memories and emotions. And, of course, one of our oldest family traditions: The Muppet Christmas Carol, everyone singing boisterously along with the songs.

And if I may be so bold—we sound pretty good.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Literary Bones

“Eat the meat, spit out the bones.”

It’s a valuable piece of advice most of us have heard more than a few times. It also applies to the plethora of available “how-to” resources for writers—not all of whom agree with each other.


It’s a good idea for aspiring authors to read as many different voices as possible, but in the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself which ones qualify as meat and which are bones.

That’s why it’s difficult to say which books should be on an aspiring author’s “must-read” list. Every genre has its own unique personality, and what might make obvious sense in one may be incomprehensible gobble-dee-gook* in another.
*highly technical writer’s term

That being said, there are a few books which I’d suggest are indispensable, regardless of genre, sub-genre, and/or the unique and twisted personality of the would-be writer.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White
  • It’s short.
  • It’s a tech manual for writers.
  • It’s worth its weight in gold, diamonds, and assorted other gemstones. Why? Because it will persuade grammar nazi’s (and editors) to put their long knives away.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

The craft of story-telling as recounted by a true master of the skill. Subtitled “a 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story”, Le Guin’s book is a pleasure to read, and the writing exercises she includes are a challenging and fun way to immediately put her recommendations into practice.

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve re-read this one several times. It’s just that good.
King includes his own journey as a writer, which is as entertaining a read as any of his works of fiction. Nuggets of wisdom are sprinkled throughout—including his famous (and oft-debated) axiom: ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’. In a word: inspirational.

I’ve read quite a few additional tomes on speculative fiction, world-creation, character arcs, dialogue, etc., but I keep coming back to these three.

That’s not to suggest I don’t “spit out the bones” at times (with the exception of Elements—ignore it at your peril), but any aspiring author should give these three books a permanent place of honor on their desk.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gift ≠ Identity

For just under two years, I couldn’t play bass. Or any guitar, for that matter.

Not because I lacked the talent for it (although some may beg to differ), but as the result of an unfortunate injury that has nothing to do with the picture at left.

I was working in a juvenile detention center at the time, and one day, while supervising a recreational sport activity, it happened.

Don’t assume it was a malicious act by some young punk with a bad haircut and attitude to match. He was simply running laps around the gym like a hyperactive squirrel on a hamster wheel, while everybody else was lined up, ready to return to the main facility.

As I tried to slow him down on his next lap, my finger got caught in the folds of his rolled-up sleeve, and when he twisted away—laughing as if we were playing a game of tag or something—every joint in the index finger of my left hand was dislocated.

The next day, my entire finger was twisted in a slightly corkscrew pattern and had taken on the hue of a Concorde grape (the darkest shade of purple I know).

And it hurt. A lot.

Playing guitar (and especially bass) was out of the question. And as the months dragged on, I was forced to consider that, at age 27, my passion for music might henceforth be limited to listening instead of performing.

When it comes to owning the gifts we’ve been given—whether music, art, creative writing, dance, etc.—it’s a common struggle for many to fully embrace their gifts as a significant part of who they are. Non-creative types have been known to snidely denigrate artistic endeavors as ‘hobbies’, far less down the scale of worth than, say, ‘real’ careers in maths and sciences.

I have several artistic friends who have given workshops to challenge/encourage creative artists to stand up and say, “I am an artist. It’s who I am.” For those who haven’t felt the freedom to “own” their artistic gifts, this is both necessary and validating, and I fully support the idea.

At the same time, my involuntary two-year sabbatical from playing music also serves as a reminder to not equate my identity with my artistic gifts. Whatever gifts I may have flow out of my unique identity, but they do not constitute the absolute be-all and end-all of who I am.

It’s still difficult, at times, when people ask me what I do, to respond with breezy confidence: “I’m a writer.” It’s still tempting to qualify it a second or two later by adding: “Well, actually, I work a lot of construction gigs to put food on the table, play in number of bands to put gas in the car, and I write when I can but I don’t make much money at it.”
As if financial remuneration is the ultimate validation. (cf. Taylor Mali’s thoughts on What Teachers Make)
I was fortunate—and grateful—to recover the ability to play music again, about twenty months after the initial injury. I’m grateful for the lessons learned during that season, specifically about not locating my identity and personal worth in my musical ability.

And when it comes to creative writing, I’ve also learned to embrace the other side of the gift/identity coin: what I do with the creative gifts that I’ve been given is an expression of my identity, not the source.

Now, if y’all will excuse me, I’ve got a novel in its fourth draft that needs my time and attention.