Wednesday, December 31, 2014

365 (the days of portraits past)

Imagine taking one portrait per day, every day, for an entire year.

That's the project that my beautiful and talented wife, Wendy, started 1 January 2014. Her first shot was of our youngest, Renecita: dancer, singer, artist, a gentle soul who is probably the kindest person you could ever meet.
(She has often been Wendy's assistant throughout the project, as well.)

And today, one calendar year later, Wendy is poised to take her final picture in the 365 Portraits Project.

Like a lot of innovative, artistic endeavors, this one required a step of faith. Putting your creative work out in the public eye is always a risk-taking venture. And doing it for an entire year -- now that takes determination and a strong work ethic in addition to the creative eye and professional skills.

By mid-year, as the newsmagazine video below attests, the Project had already taken on a life of its own.


Along the way, Wendy has taken photos of celebrities, politicians, activists, artists, musicians, fellow photographers, poets, business professionals, moms, dads, kids, families, and even a few pets.

She has had the honor of listening to the stories of volunteer models with terminal illnesses, who wanted one last portrait for friends and family to remember them by.

She has celebrated new life with expectant moms, captured the joy of children, and chronicled many fanciful and imaginative whims together with a wide assortment of people, of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life.

There have been casualties along the way. This trusty little gizmo was her constant companion throughout the Project, and I'd like to think that both MacGyver and Red Green would be proud of Wendy's fix-it skills.

And after an entire year without a proper "day off", Wendy at times can identify with her long-suffering speedlight.

And today, on the final day of the Project, we started the morning as we typically do: I made coffee and brought her a cup in bed. And then Wendy was off for a radio interview about the 365 Project, which isn't typical of our mornings but seemed like an appropriately fitting book-end to an incredible year.

Wendy returned from her interview, and we set about creating the last image for the series: of Wendy. (Sort of a photographer selfie, in triplicate.)

My contribution was mostly moving furniture and pushing the button on the camera whenever Wendy said, "now".

I couldn't be prouder of her. The resulting image is the perfect finale to her 365 Portraits ProjectAs I said to some friends recently, "It's cool being married to somebody famous".

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 (the year of many musical notes)

This year has been a Year of Music in many ways -- currently, I am in some way associated with five different bands in the Okanagan Valley. Band names like Public House Band, Feet First, Easy Fix, J.S. Garcia Band, and the Norm Strauss Band have become commonplace around our dinner table.

I have also had the privilege of serving at The Well church as a part-time worship director, which has been a fun return to leading worship (slightly different from playing bass for another worship leader, which I've been doing, like, forever).

Last year saw me spending the lion's share of my time writing -- The Genesis Café and Post-Charismatic 2.0 were completed in the same year -- although music still played a part, as it has for most of my life.

This year was almost a complete reversal, as music came more to the forefront, although blogging continued (obviously), and I have been writing a novel in my "spare time".

It always makes me pause and reflect on how grateful I am to have the ability and the opportunity to do things that I love doing.

Although I'm frequently unseen at the back of this unusually large combo, 
you'll have to just take my word for it: yes, I'm the bass player here.

A second musical presence in our house this year came with  the return of our son Caleb from YWAM Harpenden. To have Caleb home for Christmas this year -- the first time in four years -- was a treat for the whole family.

Caleb immediately began performing his own original music around the area, recruiting his older sister Jo to sing with him. Can I just say, as a parent, that there is very little than can compete with the sounds and sight of your adult children also doing something they love and are gifted at -- together?

Caleb's first CD was recorded in England earlier this year, and you can download it from his website: All Things New.

Amazing how talented people can do so much with one guitar and two voices

Music is a gift, one that can express joy, sorrow, anguish and hope. And as one of my childhood musical heroes -- Bob Seger -- once said, "playing [music] as an adult is a privilege".

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Did You See That?!?

Maybe it's just me, but the nights have seemed darker than usual. I know, I know... Maybe I'm just a little too jaded and cynical in my old age.

Stoke that fire a bit, would you mind? The nights seem colder, too. At least, they do to me.
And maybe I'm just tired of the same-old, same-old in my so-called "career". Herding sheep at my age? Sitting out here in the freezing cold, night after boring night... Good thing I've got my friends with me around this fire, or I'd probably go nuts.

It's like I was telling some of you -- oh, let me see, it must have been almost a year ago -- that these so-called "four hundred silent years" have pretty much sucked all the faith out of me. And not just me, mind you. A lot of people.

What's that? Are you kidding me? Do you actually believe that naive young punk, Joseph whats-his-name?

Yes, yes, of course I've heard the story. It's a small town; word travels fast, especially when it's so ridiculous. His girlfriend's pregnant, and he claims she's still a virgin. C'mon, did this kid skip his human biology class? That's not how it works.

Have you heard her version of the pregnancy? Don't laugh -- the angel Gabriel brings a message, the baby is really God's offspring. I almost fell off my camel, I laughed so hard the first time somebody told me that one.

A quiet divorce, you say? Well, that's more than she deserves, I guess. Pretty decent of Joseph, no matter how gullible he is.

Oh, come on, now. You can't be serious. Now Joseph is claiming angelic messages? He went ahead and married her anyway? Wow -- there's a sucker born every minute.
All this talk of angels, messages from God -- guys, need I remind you that it's been four hundred years since anything has been heard from the Almighty? Get over it, already!

Wait a second... What's that light...? Do you see what I see?


*     *     *

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
(Luke 2:8-20)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ssh! Did you just hear something?

Four hundred years.

Four-freaking-hundred years.

That's how long it's been since we've heard anything from God. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Not even a whisper.

He used to talk to us all the time, but those days are long gone.

Granted, it was usually through some annoying prophet -- Isaiah, Amos, Malachi, just to name a few -- accusing us of abandoning our Covenant with God. We usually just rolled our eyes at them. Maybe, just maybe, we should have listened.

Oh, watch your step, there. It's really dark tonight, isn't it? I can barely see a cubit in front of me!

Now, what were you asking about again? Oh, right, the four hundred years...

Now, when I said "we", of course, I really meant our ancestors. None of us were around then, after all. So, why are we being punished for their lack of response? I mean, seriously... four hundred years of silence? Really? For something we weren't even alive for?
Anyway, the local Pharisees (our religious leaders -- now there's a grumpy crew) have been neurotically obsessed with keeping all the rules of the Covenant. And even adding new ones, just in case God may have overlooked something. Maybe they think that will convince God to stop ignoring us.

Our other religious leaders, the Sadduccees, say this is the "new normal", and we just have to get used to it.

And don't get me started on the Romans and their occupying army. Everybody says we are "God's chosen people", but Rome does whatever it pleases on our streets and has for years.

What's that? You think you saw something? Where?

In that corner house? You mean that bright light in the window? Yeah, now that you mention it, that does seem more intense than any lantern I've ever used.

Oh wait... it's gone now, whatever it was. Now it seems even darker out here. Watch your step, okay?

Anyway, I've about given up any hope of God ever doing anything remarkable. I mean, four hundred years is a long time, wouldn't you agree? Maybe God has forgotten about us, or given up on us, or... who knows?

All I'm sure of is this: four hundred years of silence gives me very little hope for the future...
*     *     *

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.” (Luke 1:26-38 NLT)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cramming: It's Not Just for Exams Anymore

Ever since my first piano recital -- in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the advanced age of 8 -- I realized that I love performing music. Granted, in that first-ever public performance recital, I was merely one of what felt like a multitude of awkward children in a hot and stuffy room, each clutching our sheet music in sweaty hands while awaiting our turn on the stage for our single song.

I bought my first guitar just before my sixteenth birthday. It was a classical guitar, with nylon strings and the traditionally extra-wide, flattened fretboard. Completely unsuited to my style of playing and musical preferences. But it was cheap and it was all I could afford, so I was thrilled just to have it.

I was 18 when I first picked up a bass guitar -- almost by accident, but that's a whole 'nuther story -- and discovered that I loved playing bass. If my parents had previously been perplexed by the distorted cacophony I had been creating with my second-hand electric guitar and equally low-fi amplifier, I can only imagine their furrowed brows over the low-frequency rumblings working their way up through the vents from the basement. (Parents of musicians don't get nearly enough credit for their years of long-suffering endurance as we learned our craft.)

My American friends recently celebrated their Thanksgiving Day. I was privy to many social media reports of what my friends are deeply grateful for.
In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving much earlier (first week in October), generally because it's still warm then, and we are therefore more disposed to being thankful.
I'm reminded, by both holidays, to be thankful for the gift of creativity, whether as a writer or as a musician. I thoroughly enjoy performing live, and I also love the creativity and hard work in the recording studio.

Even when I've been spending four-to-six hours a day (as I have been this past month or so) learning and memorizing songs for the various bands I am a part of (Public House Band, Feet First, & the J.S. Garcia Band), subbing in with Easy Fix (when their regular bassist isn't available), special occasions like the recent CD release party with Norm Strauss, or leading worship at The Well -- my mind may be crammed full to bursting with all the songs represented, but I love it. The opportunity to perform with such an array of talented & creative people is a gift and a privilege that I am very thankful for.

CD Release Party with Norm Strass & Band -- more gigs coming in 2015!

And, while we're on the topic, it's also why I haven't been writing as regularly. There is an ebb and flow in the creative arts, and I'm learning how to adjust and flow with it. Especially as  I seek to excel in more than one artistic expression.

I am anticipating a greater emphasis on writing in early 2015, once the "front-loading" of learning so many songs in a short period of time gives way to the more moderate and balanced pace of rehearsal and live performance.

But for now, I'm just grateful. Very much so. (Even for the cramming.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thesis


I have recently been revisiting a classic book that Wendy & I both read back in our early college days at Prov: Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart's excellent How to Read the Bible for All its Worth.

To be honest, both of us recall feeling like we "had to" read the book, back in the day. It was on our "required reading" list as a text, after all. Neither of us realized at the time what a true gem this book was and is (now in its fourth edition).
College students tend to be like that, including Bible college students: we think we already pretty much know everything, and are only there to brush up on a few things. Usually by our senior year, we've realized how much we still need to learn. Life-long, as it turns out.
I am amazed at how exciting this book is to me. You'd think a book like this would be mentally filed under "a helpful resource" (which it most definitely is!), but "exciting"? Yes, actually. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading it (even reading parts of it out loud to Wendy -- "hey, listen to this!").

And I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who seriously wants to dig deeper into the Scriptures. You don't have to get a degree in theology first before this book is of any use. In fact, the opposite is true.

Of course, one of the many things that Fee & Stuart invest time in explaining is the whole concept of "context" (how any given verse is part of a larger section which gives clues to understanding). This is important, because there have been far, far too many people who have ripped a single verse -- or even just a partial phrase -- out of its original context and created all kinds of wacky (and at times destructive) teachings. As the saying goes: "A text without a context is only a pretext" (clever, eh?).

Which got me thinking about a certain passage of Scripture that has a tendency to cause people's blood pressure to spike just by mentioning it. Unpacking this passage is usually done to the soundtrack of people sharpening long knives if you dare to step in any of their sacred cow's droppings.

You know, that passage in Ephesians that talks about wives, husbands, and submission. (Did your muscles just clench slightly when you read that sentence?) We all want to immediately dive in with our explanations of what "submit" means and doesn't mean, etc., don't we? 
But let's back up for a second. Context, remember?
The passage has what I would like to call a "thesis statement", which is the main point of the passage. Everything else is an explanation of how Paul's main point is worked out in our relationships. Paul has just been talking about what it looks like to be "filled with the Spirit" -- something we all need and want.

In the midst of discussing what it means to be Spirit-filled, Paul drops this pithy little thesis statement:


Read it again. Ponder it for a moment. Recognize that it's not just randomly placed there between verses 20 and 22. This is included in Paul's teaching on what it means to live our lives "filled with the Spirit". We submit to each other because of our deep, reverential respect for Jesus. Paul is providing this "thesis statement" before spelling out what that looked like for the 1st century Ephesian church (which had its own unique historical and cultural setting and issues).

It's like Paul is saying, "Okay, wives, this is what that looks like for you: show the guy a little respect. And husbands, you need to step it up until you love as intensely and sacrificially as Jesus does". It wasn't about who gets the power in the relationship. Both of these statements are subsets to his main thesis:

Paul then goes on to give some examples of what that looks like for kids. "Okay, kids, now listen to Uncle Paul: this is how you submit to your parents out of reverence for Christ." And then he immediately turns to the fathers (I guess the mothers were doing a decent job already?), and reminds them (like the Berenstain Bear's father), "Now, Small Bear, this is how you should not do this." Again, Paul is giving them examples that support his thesis statement:


And Paul concludes the section with some timely advice for slaves (indentured servants) and their owners/employers. How does their reverence for Christ play out in their working relationships?

We need to recognize that this is all one section, a single discussion: it's not fair to separate the parts about husbands and wives from the words to fathers and children, or from workers and employers. It's all part of the same discussion, stemming from Paul's original thesis statement for living life "filled with the Spirit".
Context. What a game-changer. Get Fee & Stuart's book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

11-11-11

The flags are at half-mast -- the Canadian flag, flanked by the flag of British Columbia, and that of the United Kingdom. A modest breeze provides just enough energy to make the flags fly.

The same breeze is making the gathered crowd huddle into their winter coats a little more. The sun is shining, but the wind off the mountains is cold.

There is a larger-than-normal gathering at the Rutland Cenotaph this year, as was true in many Canadian cities. The recent events in our nation's capital have resulted in an increased awareness and appreciation for those who have served our nation in the armed forces.

People from all walks of life, and generations, are here. Paying their respects in silence to those who made sacrifices yesterday that allow us to enjoy a free country today.

The cold gradually seeps deeper into the bones, the longer we all stand here. Bright splashes of red are everywhere, between the Canadian flags and the abundance of poppies pinned to jackets and sweaters. The sound of the bagpipes is mournful yet somehow comforting.

The single bugle commands everyone's attention; the two minutes of silence providing mute testimony to the solemnity of the moment. Even the breeze has stopped; the flags now furled half-mast.

From the elderly woman who collapsed in tears when the bagpipes began to play "Amazing Grace"; the restless group of young guys who were there nonetheless; to the somber-faced children accompanying parents & grandparents -- we remember.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Wee Post-Colonial Rant

One of the most popular sitcoms during the 1970s was All In The Family, with its iconic lead character, Archie Bunker. Archie was an over-the-top, nasty piece of misogynist, racist, pro-Viet Nam, kill-the-commies, my-way-or-the-highway loudmouth. 

His character was deliberately offensive in order to point out how offensive some of his bigoted ideas were. He was satirical with a capital "S".

Satire has a long history of being an effective tool in pointing out -- in a humorous way -- some of the blind spots, inconsistencies, and outright hypocrisies that any and all of us are capable of. Take, for example, this old satirical cartoon lambasting cultural colonialism. It's offensive in so many ways, but that's the point. It's satire, using humour to make a devastating social commentary:


"School Begins" (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Part of the text on the blackboard makes mention of how the British Empire forcibly 'civilized' their colonies, and that America had the moral obligation to provide the same involuntary, unsought eduction for (in the front row): the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba. It's offensive, and it was meant to be. That's how satire works.

Equally offensive: check out the unhappy black child washing the window, the Native American student seated away from the other children by the door (reading his book upside down), and the little Asian child standing alone and neglected outside. Yeah, the satirical intent of this cartoon is pretty blatant, and most of us would agree: rightly so.

So, what's the relevance to 2014? After all, we are living in the "post-colonial" age, aren't we?

Well, aren't we?

After all, we are long past the arrogant elitism that set about t0 "educate the savages", right? We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and no longer try to import/force our culture and morals on other people groups or nations.

Unless, of course, we in the Enlightened West decide that other cultures are too backwards. Or too archaic. Or in some manner mired in old traditional ways of thinking that We The West have decided are out-dated and therefore must be eradicated.

In many news outlets, you hear terms like "it's the 21st century, and they need to get with the times". References are made to being "backwards", or "barbaric", or "out-dated". We label things "human rights issues" -- and they may justifiably qualify as such -- but the kind of language that we use reveals that We The West think we're smarter, more enlightened, more humane, and therefore we have the moral obligation and responsibility of getting the rest of the world to think just like us (politically correct).

Let's just ask it out loud, ugly as it is:
Are we in the West still trying to civilize the savages?
I'm not convinced we're "post-colonial" just yet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dastardly Pastors

Y'all remember this archetypical villain, right? Snidely Whiplash, twirling his handlebar moustache and cackling maniacally as he planned deviously devilish plots that would make even The Simpsons' Mr. Burns faint due to their pure and unadulterated evil.

Strangely enough, you may have noticed in recent years that it's become popular to portray Pastors & Theologians as the dastardly villains wreaking havoc on innocent Christians everywhere.

For example:

A few years ago, I was reading a book (representative of many, so I won't give the title lest it become a rabbit trail) that was attempting to prove that Old Testament Law was actually a blueprint that God had given us in order to "disciple nations". The author mentioned that they hadn't seen this truth for many years, because -- you guessed it -- "pastors and theologians" had deceived the author into only looking at the Old Testament through "Jesus lenses".

The author was, in essence, blaming those dastardly pastors for telling the author to look for Jesus in the Old Testament, thereby deceiving people about the true intent of Sharia Old Testament Law.

Imagine! Those sneaky, conniving, deceitful, dastardly pastors and theologians!

Where the Holy Hand Grenade do they get off, deceiving thousands upon thousands of unsuspecting Jesus-followers like that?

Where on God's green earth did they ever come up with the lame-brained lie that the Old Testament points to Jesus?
This may help:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself [Jesus]. (Luke 24:13-35)
(face palm...)

Oh yeah, that's right. They got the idea from Jesus. Those dastardly pastors and theologians, they were... you see, they were... agreeing with what Jesus said. After all, when anybody in the Gospels refers to "the Scriptures", they meant the Old Testament, because the New Testament hadn't been written yet.

So when Jesus said things like:
"These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40)." and "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me" (John 5:46)...

... He was talking about the Old Testament. The Scriptures that pointed to Jesus.

Oops. Turns out, those dastardly pastors and theologians may not be the real villains, after all.

As I've written about before, when people -- speakers, writers, or bloggers -- adopt a methodology that mocks and dismisses anyone with theological understanding (including but not limited to pastors & theologians), it should immediately raise a Red Flag of Discernment in our minds.

Sometimes, Snidely Whiplash disguises himself as one of the Good Guys In The White Hats. But if you pay attention, you may be able to discern a certain -- oh, how shall I say it? -- barnyard aroma.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prophecy: You're Doing It Backwards

In the Old Testament, prophets had the unenviable position of telling people news that they usually didn't want to hear.

And in many cases, "shoot the messenger" was the response they received, even if what they were saying really was what God wanted them to say.

Photo source: Wikipedia

But the real problem wasn't the unpopularity of the message that the prophets were compelled to bring. The real underlying problem was the spiritual state of the people to whom the prophecy was directed. They had forsaken their Covenant with God, and nobody wanted to talk about it:
  • the priests were corrupt, money-hungry, and too often not genuine followers of God themselves
  • worship was just a big show with no heart
  • the people did their religious duty but otherwise lived like God didn't exist
  • the poor were marginalized (ignoring is a form of marginalization) and/or taken advantage of

Does any of this sound like today?
And every so often, God would send a prophet to call them back to the Covenant. Back to their First Love. Back to honouring God with more than lip service. Back to a genuine relationship with their Creator.

Fast forward to 2014:

There is no shortage of people who have (often correctly, I'm sad to say) pointed out the shallowness, hypocrisy, and -- for lack of a better word -- corrupt aspects of Christians, churches and ministry organizations. Nobody with access to Google can deny that things are rotten in the state of Denmark.

But here's where it gets weird: instead of calling people back to the roots of their faith (repentance), there is a thriving industry of writers, speakers, bloggers, and leaders who are using the sad state of affairs to encourage Christians to abandon their faith (or at the very least, quit church).

That is a light-and-day reversal of the role of the prophet that we see in the Old Testament. They saw the corruption and called people to "come back". That is also a complete reversal to Jesus' own prophetic words in the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Six out of the seven churches received a strong word from Jesus (if I may broadly summarize) to "come back".

Honestly, we don't need more "prophets" telling us that God wants to give people world-wide ministries, great wealth, or fame and fortune. Nor should we heed "prophets" who entice us to simply roll over and play dead, abandoning the faith (or wash our hands of "the church"). We need people who function like it says in Revelation 19:10: "it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus" -- in other words, prophets point people to Jesus. And in some cases, they call people back to Jesus.

As one of my favourite authors, C.S. Lewis once said:
“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” (Mere Christianity, page 36)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: What I Learned from Cancer

Dennis Maione’s What I Learned From Cancer is an engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring book about a topic that usually has next-to-nothing to commend it. Dennis writes from his personal experience, having survived cancer twice already. Dennis was born with Lynch Syndrome (which was news to him), an inherited genetic condition that predisposes him to develop colorectal cancer. As Dennis recounts his story, the reader is quickly drawn into the well-written narrative.

Dennis is a great communicator, and his style of story-telling is evocative and compelling. Whether it is the shock and bewilderment of discovering cancer at an early age, grief as he must inform his children that they also may have the same cancer-friendly gene, or light-hearted humor as he shares stories of dealing with abdominal stitches while at a comedy festival, Dennis has a way of making the reader feel like a part of the story.

What I Learned From Cancer is much more than the autobiographical tale of a cancer survivor. Dennis includes two very important and helpful sections of what his journey with cancer has taught him. The first is entitled (appropriately enough) “What I Learned from Cancer”, as Dennis highlights some key topics that will be extremely helpful to cancer patients, their families, and their friends: About Doctors, About Community, About Advocacy (this is a fascinating part of Dennis’ journey, and is worth the price of admission all by itself), About Dying, and A Tale of Two Doctors: A Message to Health Care Providers.
Yup. Wendy took this one.

The final section of What I Learned From Cancer is “Conversations with a Doctor”, and is a helpful and practical study of how cancer occurs, the impact of genetics, and how to prevent cancer through lifestyle choices. These are extremely helpful chapters, and by utilizing a conversational approach, immensely readable.

Throughout this book, what shines through is a profound sense of gratitude, a deep appreciation for the power of community, the role of faith and humor, and Dennis' desire to equip, educate, and encourage. Written with candor, disarming transparency, and personal warmth, What I Learned from Cancer is a fascinating true story.

Highly recommended. Five stars (out of five).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

To U.K, or not to U.K.?


I will wear this shirt tomorrow. It commemorates the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn.
I was born and raised in Canada, although my last name might offer a clue as to my ancestry. Even now, to jokingly say "Robby McAlpine of the Clan McAlpine" just sounds... right.

(Scots still living in the Old Country have multiple facepalm bruises over people like me and our naive assumptions re: our Scottish heritage. Compounded by our feeble attempts at adopting the accent.)

Wendy and I visited Scotland for our 25th anniversary, and we absolutely loved everything about it. (Yes, I ate haggis. More than once. Thank God for Scotch whiskey.)

My family roots are in the United Kingdom. Two of my four grandparents are Scots (the third is Irish; and the fourth, English). My mom grew up in Paisley (near Glasgow). If I could find a Welsh great-aunt somewhere, I'd be thoroughly UK. So, I guess I should be in favour of the "Better Together" side.

And the Union Jack is such an iconic image -- the combining of the flags of England, Ireland, and Scotland. On the grand scale of things, it's a minor note compared to all the other issues surrounding tomorrow's historic referendum on Scottish independence, but you gotta admit: it's a cool flag. More iconic than any of the three flags that comprise it.

On the other hand, like many other Scots and people of Scottish descent, I was very inspired by the less-than-historically-accurate production of Braveheart. (Note: there are also Scots who loathe this movie, although not as much as the English do.) So, with my second-generation Scottish nationalism stirred up, perhaps I'm more in favour of the "Yes Scotland" crew.

So, as a typical second-generation Scot-Canadian armchair quarterback, I can't really say I have the best-informed opinion about tomorrow's referendum on Scottish independence. (And nobody over there has been asking for my opinion anyway.) 

Emotionally, I would love to see Scotland be its own country. But sentimentalism is not a wise thing to base such an important decision on. There are so many complicating factors in the 21st century geopolitical landscape, that perhaps Scotland -- in the long term -- might be better to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, nothing will quell the sense of pride and identity that the Scots are known for. And nothing will affect my affection-from-afar as a Canadian of Scottish ancestry.


And to commemorate the cheeky defiance that Scots are known for, I offer this enlightening video for your education, edification, and enjoyment.


Alba gu bràth! (ancient Gaelic phrase meaning: "Scotland forever")

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writer's Corner

Today is Thursday. For the denizens of the Greater Twitterverse, this is normally referred to as "throwback" Thursday, where everyone posts archival photos of themselves.

Here, in a local St. Arbucks, Thursday afternoons have a different significance: there is a small collection of writers who gather in our "traditional" corner, and spend several hours writing.

For those who have, like myself, spent any significant time writing in a public space, there has arisen a new societal protocol: when refilling coffee, ordering food, or visiting the (ahem) "facilities", those who are working next to you -- even if you've never met before -- agree to "keep an eye" on each other's laptops.

Today, it turns out that the young woman at the next table -- as we took turns practicing the bathroom & laptop protocol -- is also a writer. We invited her to join our little fraternity. Now there are four of us.

There is only a bare minimum of conversation. We're here to write -- it is a writer's corner, after all. But during our brief interaction today, before silence and the furious tapping of laptops ensued, the topic of proof-readers and content editors came up. Naturally, all of us expressed a great deal of gratitude for the invaluable input that we've each received over the years.

The first reader of anything I've ever written, naturally, is my beautiful and talented wife, Wendy. She has offered many helpful insights, given me great encouragement, and challenged me where I needed it most. (And consistently provided me with incredible images for my book covers!)

There have been a bevy of others, as well, whose input, critique, push-back and encouragement have been treasured gifts to me as a writer.

Friends like Brent Toderash (the blogger formerly known as Brother Maynard), Luke Geraty from ThinkTheology, Jamie Wilson of Coast Vineyard, family members Keith & Charlotte (my parents), and my daughter Jordan (who doesn't blog often, but is a fantastic and funny storyteller in her own right) -- I know I've already thanked each of you in the books that you've helped me with.

But I just wanted, during our Thursday Writers' Corner, to publicly acknowledge each of you again, and recognize (for approximately the 1000th time) your invaluable input into my journey as an author.
It takes a village to raise a book. Thanks for being part of my village.