Monday, October 29, 2012

A Fistful of Chan

Francis Chan is an author who has recently come to my attention. I've read all three of his books in the past few months, and he is one of the most refreshing reads I've had in some time. I've also listened to a number of his podcasts, and I really appreciate his easy-going style of communication, coupled with a firm but exceedingly gracious commitment to the Bible. (He actually reminds me of my friend Kevin Loten, one of Canada's finest unknown preachers.)

Francis' first book, Crazy Love, tackles a topic that everyone loves: to hear more about how crazy God is about us. Except that Francis goes much deeper than that -- he calls us to a radical lifestyle of serving others as the fruit of having "crazy love" for God, flowing out of experiencing God's "crazy love" for us. I won't steal any more of Chan's fire -- this is one of the more noteworthy books on being loved by and loving God that I've read.

Forgotten God came next, and it's a fascinating book -- from my perspective, after writing Post-Charismatic? a few years ago -- dealing with the opposite end of the spectrum. It seems, sometimes, that the pendulum continually flies to the opposing edge; you are either forced to embrace all the craziness and extremes, or relegate the Holy Spirit to a kind of Divine Administration position. Forgotten God is a well-crafted introduction to something in between.

Erasing Hell is the most recent, and the most risk-taking, of Chan's books. Let's face it: talking about God's love, our responsibility to the poor, and the Holy Spirit will make you more friends than enemies. But to adopt a view of hell, as taught by Jesus in the Bible, tends to bring out the villagers with their torches and pitchforks. I admire Chan for taking this risk, and I am very impressed with his tact, compassion, vulnerability, and graciousness as he tackles a very important and unpopular topic. I would lend this book without reservation.

Bottom line: I would highly recommend any of these three books by Francis Chan. Each one of them will provide encouragement, provoke thoughtful reflection, and challenge us to dig deep into what we believe, and why, and what we're going to do with it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Political Interlude

I've usually avoided getting political on my blog. Writing about religious topics is usually quite enough to land one in hot water from time to time. Politics could only make it worse, right?

But as the ongoing political comedy unfolds just south of the True North Strong and Free, I couldn't resist sharing an appropriate song lyric from the insightful and delightfully subversive Steve Taylor, from his On The Fritz album. (Wendy and I saw him in concert several times and loved it.)

It's A Personal Thing

(The press conference)
It's a personal thing, and I find it odd
You would question my believing in a personal God
I'm devout, I'm sincere, ask my mother if you doubt it
I'm religious, but I'd rather not get radical about it
The old-time believers had timidity and grace
But this new generation doesn't know its place
You're entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll
Says you mustn't interfere -- that's the government's role

(The nomination speech)
It's a personal thing, and I boldly state
That my views on morality will have to wait
'Til my personal life's out of the public eye
And the limitations statue can protect my alibi
I'm devout, I'm sincere, and I'm proud to say
That it's had exactly no effect on who I am today
I believe for the benefit for all mankind
In the total separation of church and mind

(the victory night)
It's a personal thing, and I plainly speak
(From the same code of ethics that I held last week)
As I promised if elected this election day
With the help of God Almighty, I'll do it my way

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rejoice and Be Envious!

Can you rejoice with, and be envious of, the same person all at the same time? Usually, my gut reaction would be "no".

After watching videos of my son Caleb's new music, I can safely say that I am incredibly proud of him. I rejoice in his talent, and I rejoice in how he's using his incredible musical and songwriting abilities to express his faith.

And yes, in a moment (or several) of musical covetousness, I envy the level of skill and creativity Caleb has been gifted with. I'm a reasonably decent bass player, with some lesser ability at other instruments, but -- HOT DANG! -- can this guy play!

Perhaps some of my older musical comrades may recall our prayer together, many years ago, that God would take the next generation of artistic worshippers far beyond our own.

Well, guess what?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning from the (type-written) Masters

Once upon a time, my instrument for creative writing was a portable Underwood manual typewriter. (ping! wrrk!)

My mother had graciously granted permission to use her prized 1950's workhorse -- complete with hardcover traveling case -- to allow her aspiring writer of a son the opportunity to produce multiple cringe-worthy stories. Imagine 70+ pages (double-spaced) of junior high sci-fi dreck*, per book. (ping! wrrk!)
noun, Slang;
1. excrement; dung.
2. worthless trash; junk.
In some ways, typewriters made writing much easier. There was only one font. There was no "align right" or "justified" -- everything was "align left". To "center" something, you just kept hitting the space bar until you were centered (more or less). And let's not forget the psychologically-satisfying act of ripping out a page you were frustrated with, crumpling it into a tiny ball, and tossing it into the (usually overflowing) garbage can. (ping! wrrk!)

On the down side, there were typewriter ribbons gradually fading, white-out for correcting typos (even though you could never get the page aligned correctly again), and the remedial surgery required when your feverishly-speedy fingers got ahead of the typebars, creating a mechanical traffic jam (see pic at right). (ping! wrrk!)

Last but certainly not least, there was the dreaded ping! that let you know that your next wrrk! was now required, and the word you were in the midst of typing would neither fit in the space available in that line, nor hyphenate well. (ping! wrrk!)

The following list is a treasure trove of advice and inspiration from some of the modern "masters" of the written word. And, remarkably, most of them used typewriters to accomplish their literary feats. (ping! wrrk!)
  1. Cut the boring parts.
    I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard
  2. Eliminate unnecessary words.
    Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~ Mark Twain
  3. Write with passion.
    Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~ William Wordsworth
  4. Paint a picture.
    Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Anton Chekhov
  5. Keep it simple.
    Vigorous writing is concise. ~ William Strunk Jr.
  6. Do it for love.
    Write without pay until somebody offers to pay. ~ Mark Twain
  7. Learn to thrive on criticism.
    You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~ Ray Bradbury
  8. Write all the time.
    Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. ~ Ray Bradbury
  9. Write what you know… or what you want to know.
    If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  10. Be unique and unpredictable.
    I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G.K. Chesterton
    Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. ~ Oscar Wilde
(ping! wrrk!)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Yesterday's "service worship" with The Well got me thinking.

On the first Sunday of each month, The Well goes into the community to serve. Ranging from a plot in the community garden, graffiti removal, cleaning garbage off the streets, cleaning houses, and helping out in general with struggling neighbours -- this church invests itself in the community. Children serve alongside their parents. Lord only knows the long-term fruit this will bear in their lives as they learn to serve in practical ways from an early age.

Three of us had returned to the home of a single mother who struggles with a debilitating, long-term, incurable disease. My responsibility this sunny autumn morning was twofold: (a) make some headway in organizing her small storage room, and (b) find old photos and yearbooks for her as she prepares for Canadian Thanksgiving, and the anticipated visit from her children.

She wanted to share some of her life stories with her children, and the photos and yearbooks would serve as nostalgic visual aids.

The sobering discovery for me, when I finally unearthed the old yearbooks (in the lowest box in the farthest corner, naturally), was that this woman graduated from high school the same year as me.

The old photos and the yearbooks show a pretty young woman, full of life and promise, and I couldn't help but wonder, as I brought them into the house for her to see, whether the re-telling of her life story was as much for her, as it was for her children.

It wasn't always like this, the photos proclaim, pointing to happier times in her past. The three of us from The Well arrange the photos around her tiny living room, making it a treasure-house full of happy memories as she tearfully anticipates seeing her children today.

I'm thankful that we had the opportunity to serve her yesterday, to help out in whatever ways we could. And I'm grateful for the perspective that her life gives to me about mine.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so I pause and remember just a few of the many things I'm grateful for:
  • my beautiful wife Wendy, my companion and lover in all the ups and downs of our 27+ years together
  • our three incredible children:
    • Jordan the dancer/artist, who works full-time as a social worker at Inn From The Cold,
    • Caleb, the musician, who serves at YWAM Harpenden (UK) as DTS staff,
    • Renee, the dancer/gymnast, who selflessly and happily serves with The Well or alongside her big sister at the homeless shelter, or just wherever
  • my extended family in Ontario and Manitoba
  • friends near and far who have enriched our lives
  • a roof over our heads and food on the table (our "daily bread")

  1. warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received;
  2. thankful.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Is it just me, or are the times a-changin'?

Times They Are A-changin'
It hit me again this morning. That feeling that somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, time had continued to march on.

The changing of the seasons here in the Okanagan Valley, as the leaves turn vibrant colours in a final act of stubborn defiance against the coming winter, perhaps?
Or maybe it was when I was painting the gable on our roof, to complete our weekend project of repainting the exterior of the house.

When I was young and indestructible, things like heights, ladders, scaffolding, or taking ridiculously stupid risks while rock-climbing, all seemed laughably irrelevant. Today, as the suddenly cold fall wind tugged insistently at me as I applied the last bits of paint to the gable, I realized I had become much more aware of things such as, for example, gravity.

Whenever I'm perched precariously above the ground these days, there is this one vivid memory that keeps coming to mind...

SMART climbers use rope
For the record, it's nothing like the movies. My life didn't flash before my eyes. Everything didn't suddenly go into slow-motion. There just a sudden, sharp crack as I leaped sideways from one perch to the next.

Everything went black and the next thing I knew, I was sprawled awkwardly in a puddle of my own blood, spitting out pieces of my teeth.

Which is why, they say, people who climb without ropes are an accident waiting to happen. (I didn't even fall very far.)

And one fractured arm, a badly sprained ankle, numerous capped teeth (exposed roots are exquisite but not in a good way), a fair number of stitches, and a handful of Advil later, things were looking up.

"Don't worry," my doctor, friend, and fellow youth group leader told me, after suturing my skull back together, "your hair will cover the scar." And it did.

For a few years. (Another marker of time's passage, but I don't want to talk about it).

So what did I learn from the experience?
  1. Well, to state the obvious: gravity hasn't changed, but my appreciation for its effect was greatly enhanced.

  2. Life can change in an instant. That, also, has always been true. But I was now more aware that it applied to me, not just to 'other' people.

  3. Stupid risks will always be stupid, even if "nothing happens". Smarten up.

    And last but not least,
  4. When it comes to life, there are risks worth taking, challenges worthy of our time and energy, and 'playing it safe' is not the answer. Knowing the difference between a stupid risk, and something that God is truly calling you to, might be helpful.
Our house-painting project is done, and I made it back down off the roof requiring no new stitches, and with the same number of teeth. I'm not sure if the times are a-changin' (any more than they already were). But I think I have.
Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. (Psalm 39:4)
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:17-18)