Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Campfire Ghost Stories

The crackling fire provided a calming soundtrack to their yearly gathering.

A log shifted, and a swirl of sparks gusted heavenward, the sizzling sound accented by a choir of crickets in the darkness and the occasional blip of unseen fish breaking the surface of the tranquil lake.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” The Scholar quoted perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase from his area of expertise. “What we are experiencing today was known to the ancients just as well.”

The Historian nodded solemnly, his every mannerism soaked in the aura of musty books and tweed. “Same as it ever was,” he agreed.

The Younger spoke up, brows knit together as he carefully rotated the marshmallow he was attempting to brown without burning.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s a normal spiritual rhythm,” he mused. “My friends’ attitudes feel more like they’ve given up on their faith. And they don’t want to hear anything from me about it—they’ve made that clear. I feel handcuffed. Our faith used to be one of the things that bonded us, but now it’s become That Which Must Not Be Named.”

The Elder sipped his coffee—‘black, the way God drinks it’—and said nothing, content to allow his circle of friends to answer.

“The human heart has a rather predictable tendency to wander.” The Scholar puffed on his pipe, smoke wreathing around his long face. “The ancient Israelites, followers of Yahweh, forgot their covenant and fell into idolatry with alarming frequency.”

He paused for a moment, his thoughtful countenance illuminated by the flickering firelight. “Yet Yahweh was faithful even when they were not, sending prophets and leaders to turn them back to their faith. Nehemiah reading the Law to the people after rebuilding Jerusalem, for example. Or perhaps King Josiah’s discovery of the Torah in the ruins of the Temple and his subsequent reforms.”

“Church history is a record of the same pattern.” The Historian took up the narrative, shifting on the log he sat upon, searching for a more comfortable position. “The post-Nicean priesthood was no stranger to corruption, and there were many ‘reforming’ movements within the Catholic Church, long before the Reformation.”

“Isn’t that why there’s so many Protestant denominations?” The Younger came close to interrupting in his eagerness. “A new movement seeking to recapture the life of the New Testament church?”

The Historian smiled faintly. “Yes, but also many aberrant movements ended in heresy, even as they advertised themselves as returning to ‘biblical’ Christianity. One must be discerning.”

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, staring into the campfire. “But it’s also quite true that the Holy Ghost was faithful to bring ‘revival’—if I may use the term—to rejuvenate a passion for Jesus even in a cold-hearted, corrupted church or denomination. If there was ecclesiastical resistance . . . Well, those whose hearts had been ‘revived’ were often given little recourse but to break away.”

“That reminds me of King Saul being replaced by David—the ‘man after God’s own heart’.” The Scholar knocked his pipe against his knee, dislodging the dead embers. Whether or not he intended his action as a metaphor was impossible to tell.

The Elder refilled his metal camping mug from his thermos. The steam from his hot coffee rose in a miniature counterpoint to the smoky campfire.

He spoke for the first time, with a nod of appreciation to his colleagues. “The lesson we can take from both biblical and church history is God’s faithfulness to rekindle the embers of a dying faith.”

He sipped his coffee cautiously. “The Holy Ghost can be trusted to re-ignite a passion for Jesus. Your friends may resemble what some Plymouth Brethren theologians call the ‘great falling away’—I won’t debate that.
”But the health of the Church universal is in the hands of Someone else. And I believe the Holy Ghost will do the work Jesus promised would be done.”
“Revival.” The Younger uttered the single word in a neutral monotone. He reached out and stirred the fire with his marshmallow stick, watching as sparks flared upward in response. “Let’s hope so.”

The Elder raised his coffee mug in salute, a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “Let us pray so.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Decade Times Three

Thirty years is a significant chunk of time. For example:

In a typical music store in 1989, new-fangled Compact Discs (CDs) were still competing for shelf-space with cassette tapes and a nearly-extinct smattering of vinyl records.
Fast forward thirty years: cassettes have all but disappeared, people with extensive CD collections are mocked and/or pitied, and vinyl is back. Because trends.

Three decades can also go by with astounding speed. Jordan celebrated her thirtieth birthday this spring, Caleb is half-way to fifty, and Renee turned twenty-two and got married last month.

In other words, Wendy and I have just completed three decades of having children in our house. All of our kids are married—to wonderful people who we are thrilled to include in our family—leaving Wendy and I to explore this new reality called the “empty nest.”

A few early observations:
  1. It’s fun having just the two of us around. Meal prep and clean-up is shorter, the laundry burden is less, and you don’t have to worry about children showing up unannounced in your bedroom (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
  2. Everything you discover as you tackle the basement seems to hold nostalgic value. Except the cat litter, but that’s always been true.
  3. Spending time with your adult children—whether an impromptu coffee/beer, double-dates, or a family barbeque—is a treat, as their own adventures become the new stories told around the campfire.
  4. Speaking of campfire stories, this “empty-nest” thing opens up all sorts of possibilities for Wendy and I to consider new adventures of our own. And that level of dream-for-the-future freedom is exhilarating.
But first, I think I’ll cue up another vinyl record while I wrestle the basement into submission.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


“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 a 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’.