Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mexican Bugs

I have a new favourite saying, coined during my recent trip to Mexico:
Mexican drugs for Mexican bugs.
Clever and catchy, wouldn't you agree? I'd put it on a bumper sticker, but I'd probably just increase the number of times I get pulled over.

Nobody is better suited to treat uniquely Mexican health issues than the local Mexican doctor. And when I found myself the unwilling and unwitting recipient of a uniquely Mexican bug, a visit to a local médico, and a further visit to a farmacia, did the trick.

Maybe I should pause here, and give you the back-story:

Every year about this time, a local high school does a six-week "Global Citizen Project" at Puerto Escondido, in the beautiful state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This is the grade 12 grad trip for the students, and it's a huge deal at this school. However, one very special young man, Matthew, couldn't go for the entire six weeks due to his confinement to una silla de ruedas (see picture for translation clue). The plan was for Matthew to join his classmates for ten days.

Matthew's parents, John & Kathy, are dear friends of ours, and when they asked me to accompany them to assist with Matthew, I was thrilled. I love this family, and of course, I love Mexico.

Another mutual friend, Trent, was originally supposed to accompany the family on this particular trip, but was unable due to scheduling conflicts. Trent and his wife prayed about it, and suggested to John & Kathy that I accompany them instead. And they would pay for it. This was an incredible blessing, because there's no way I could have gone otherwise.

And so, I found myself back in Mexico, a country my entire family loves and misses. In some ways, Puerto Escondido is quite different than Tijuana -- the brutal heat & humidity, for example, and it's a small town -- but in most ways, it felt very familiar. And I discovered that my Spanish wasn't too rusty, which was a good thing because I was by myself in Mexico City for a day and a half, and nobody I met spoke a word of inglés. While in Mexico City, I also picked up some uninvited bacterial guests, which made the rest of the trip eventful, but not in the way I had hoped.

The good news is that I was still able to fulfill my primary reason for being there, which was to help with Matthew. The other news is that when I wasn't helping with Matthew, I was keeping close proximity to any available baño. For a week, I lived on Gatorade, in my mission to keep hydrated.

Comic Relief: Mid-week, I attempted to fry myself a couple of eggs, hoping to get some protein into my system, but the second egg I cracked over the frying pan was rotten, black and sulphurous. The stench was like a slap up-side the head.

I decided to stick with Gatorade, later supplemented with salty crackers.

After being sick for a week, the leaders of the trip decided I should see a local doctor, where I had another opportunity to practice my español, and came away with some wonderful pharmaceutical products, which greatly improved my health and happiness.

Matthew had the time of his life. He absolutely loved being with his classmates on their grad trip, even if just for ten days, and he loved being in Mexico. He was a hit with everyone he met, which is normal for him: he is a special young man, with a great family. It was a privilege to be a part of his Grade 12 Grad trip.

Since returning to Canada, I have continued to take the wonderful Mexican drugs that I was given, and am about 95% back to health as of today.

To all those who were praying for me during this trip, especially as news of the fiesta in my innards spread, thank you for your prayers. It was a great trip! I'm glad I was able to serve Matthew and his family, and despite the heat, humidity (and, of course, the Plague), I absolutely loved being back in Mexico.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Finding My Brain

Every so often, I find pictures that strike me as really funny. This would be one of them.

There have been (far too many) times where I've said or done something (profoundly stupid), and later wondered, "What was I thinking?!?" And when I haven't thought to ask myself that question, I have been blessed with friends and family who will ask it for me.

Deep down, I believe that God gave us brains for more reasons other than simply keeping our ears from collapsing together. The old joke about not parking your brain by the door is no less valid today than whenever it was first articulated. Too often, we've seen the pendulum swing wildly between a dry, lifeless over-intellectualization of our faith, and the other extreme of virtually celebrating stupidity as a higher spiritual state of being.

I'm also very aware that humility is a deeply-needed character trait when writing about using our brains. It's not helpful to have the attitude -- unspoken, usually, but often in evidence nonetheless -- of "if people were thinking straight, they'd think like me".

But at the same time, I don't believe it's inconsistent with being humble and teachable, to also have strongly held convictions about what we believe. I'd like to (gently) suggest that holding no strong convictions may not qualify as a sign of humility -- it might actually be better described as the 'paralysis of cowardice'.

Everybody has a grid that they approach knowledge from. (I should probably do a post on the 'myth of objectivity' at some point.) As I reflect on the way my own brain seems to be wired, I guess I'm drawn most naturally to what has been called "biblical theology".

"Biblical theology for the most part is a Christian approach in which the theologian studies the Bible from the perspective of understanding the progressive history of God revealing Himself to humanity following the Fall and throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. It particularly focuses on the epochs of the Old Testament in order to understand how each part of it ultimately points forward to fulfillment in the life mission of Jesus Christ." (source: Wikipedia)

That's not meant to draw a line in the sand. It's not designed to shut out other approaches (eg. systematic theology). It doesn't mean I'm close-minded and unteachable.

It just means that as I continue "finding my brain", I am aware of my own mental grid/worldview, and am comfortable working within it. And hopefully, what I am thinking and living has consistency within that understanding.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dreaded Update

Barely two months into this new blog, and already, I'm posting the dreaded blog update explaining the recent paucity of new posts.

What's unusual is that I have been writing. Full-time. Monday to Friday. 9:00 to 5:00. But the percentage of that writing time that is dedicated to the blog shifted somewhat over the past several weeks.

Because I am writing a new book. (Insert wild cheering, forehead-slapping groans, abject cringing, or whatever combination seems best to you.)

Here's the brief publishing update:
  1. I am in the midst of securing the legal author's rights to my first book, Post-Charismatic, from the original publisher. It's a somewhat complicated story about being under contract to one publishing company (in the UK), which was in turn bought out by a larger company (in the USA), which had different criteria about who they publish. The US company still published the book, to honour the original contract, but refused to release, advertise, or market the book to the American market. (Nothing personal, just following their established publishing policies.)

    Under the terms of my contract (with the UK publisher), my rights as the author would revert to me once the publication run ended. I've been badgering the American company for several months now to give me back the legal rights to Post-Charismatic, and there has been (finally) a promise that this will happen "soon", although I'm still waiting.

  2. To fulfill my original (UK) contact, I chose to expand my Detoxing from Church series into book form. This included writing additional material to make what had originally been a series of blog posts and articles, into one cohesive project. I'm pretty excited about how the final version turned out, and (since the American company recently released me from my contract -- verbally) am in the midst of exploring the best options for getting it published.
  3. Ever since Post-Charismatic was first published, I've wanted to follow it up with a book on what Jesus meant when He said, "The Kingdom is near." And I started reading and researching on the topic of the Kingdom of God, in anticipation of writing. Over the last four years, I've started writing on the Kingdom numerous times, but for whatever reason, couldn't seem to find my groove. And I knew better than to try to force it.

    But this spring, shortly after my decision to focus on writing in general, I've suddenly had that "a-ha!" moment of inspiration that has propelled me into the adventurous hard work of writing another book.
I'm really enjoying the writing process, and I'm already quite excited about how it's coming together. It will be some time before it's ready for publication, of course. This is just the first draft. But I'm hopeful -- all things considered -- that it will be ready later this fall.

And in the meantime, I promise not to neglect my blog. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

They Grow Up So Fast...

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. Obviously, whoever said this didn't have a son. I love my son. His being absent has nothing to do with how fond I am of him. It just makes me miss him.

Caleb lives in England these days, serving as DTS staff at a YWAM base there. I couldn't be more proud of him, and couldn't be more excited to hear about what God is doing in his life.

You can read about Caleb's adventures at his blog. On top of all the other reasons that I have to be proud of him, he's also quite a talented writer.

Friday, May 4, 2012

May the 4th Be With You

I'll never forget the time my father drove my brother and I to a theatre in Hamilton, and all three of us watched some new movie called Star Wars for the very first time. From that very first scene, with the Imperial starship flying overhead for what seemed liked forever, I was hooked.

And darn those little Star Wars geeks clone armies, but they've chosen their very own (unofficial) day to celebrate!

As much as I've always enjoyed the Star Wars movies (and have mostly forgiven George "Big L" Lucas for later foisting Jar Jar Binks on us), I've already been celebrating May 4th for twenty-seven years straight, but for a reason far, far away from the movies.

As of today, Wendy and I have been married for twenty-seven years, and all the clichés about time flying, where did the time go, etc. are all bulls-eye accurate. Wendy and I have had many adventures, including graduating from college together (photo evidence provided), and through all of the ups, downs, triumphs, failures, hopes, dreams, and so on, I'm amazed and grateful to have shared it all with such an incredible woman.

So, for the rest of the world, happy Star Wars day, and May the Fourth be with you. But for my beloved wife and I, it's

Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Inspire

Like many of my generation, piano lessons played a formative role in my childhood years. It all started when I was eight, and it went something like this:

Mom & Dad:"Would you like to take piano lessons?
Mini-Me:"No, I want to learn to play the guitar!"
Mom & Dad:"No, it's piano or nothing."
Mini-Me:"Okay, I guess nothing then."
Mom & Dad:"No, you're taking piano lessons."
Mini-Me:"Thanks for including me in this decision."

Okay, I'll admit to a little facetious historical revisionism. However, what is true is that during the short season that we lived in Chattanooga Tennessee, all three of us kids started taking piano lessons.

In the years that followed, as my family continued our nomadic tradition of moving a lot, I had an assortment of teachers:
  • the genteel, Deep-South lady with a Tennessee accent thicker than gumbo, who fussed over my finger positioning until I got it right
  • the college student with the crush on folk singer James Taylor, who had me playing Fire and Rain till my eyeballs bled, as well as most of Elton John's greatest hits (of the 1970's)
  • the tight-lipped, perennially disapproving middle-aged woman who trained me to keep my wrists in the locked and upright position -- or she'd whack the back of my hands with a yardstick.
I actually did reasonably well at piano, although in all honesty, practicing seemed like drudgery and I didn't actually look forward to my lessons -- especially with the Grumpy Wrist-Whacker.

But when I was 13, my parents found a new teacher: an elderly guy from Winnipeg who'd been teaching piano since before World War II (not kidding). He was even older than my grandparents, and his basement room in Sarnia Ontario was absolutely jam-packed with an upright grand piano (which the students played) right next to a baby grand (his -- don't touch). The four walls were lined, floor-to-ceiling, with sheet music and books, broken only by a tiny basement window and the door.

He gave me my first lesson, and sent me home with a bundle of sheet music to begin practicing. A week later, at my second lesson, I pulled a stunt that I'd gotten quite good at: I just sight-read the pieces, because I was good at sight-reading, and had been able to fool my other teachers that I'd been practicing, when I hadn't.

I'll never forget the look on his face. He wasn't fooled for a second. He sat down on his piano stool, took off his thick glasses, and looked sadly at me with an expression of total bewilderment.

"You don't love to play?" he asked, disbelieving. "Do you get no joy out of the gift you have? You are very good at sight-reading. But you didn't practice, did you?"

Busted, I could only silently shake my head.

"You have been given a gift," he repeated, replacing his glasses and turning to his own piano. And then his gnarled fingers absolutely raced up and down the keys, and I sat in dumbstruck awe at the sight of this elderly man, incredibly talented on his instrument, playing with such obvious passion and joy, that it could only be described as inspiring.

Finishing, he turned to me again. "I now have one goal: I will teach you to love playing."

And he did. By inspiration. There was nothing more exhilarating than when he would sit at his piano, as I played through my pieces, and join me in a double-piano extravaganza. Whenever he'd start playing along, I knew I'd nailed the piece I'd been working on. He instilled a passion for playing, and modeled a simple, child-like joy at the privilege of playing his musical instrument.

In an era of dumb-downed, feel-good pep talks masquerading as 'sermons'; in a milieu where Bible illiteracy has reached epidemic proportions; where biblical discernment is at an all-time low, we need teachers, preachers, pastors, and lay-people who love the Bible (Psalm 119).

To educate, explain, and disciple, yes. But even more, to inspire.