Remembering Dad

(cross-posted from Facebook)

I think I’ll break my Facebook “fast” to say a few words about Dad. He died 5 years ago today, as Dixie mentioned earlier.

I’ve never been one to miss people all that much, even those dearest to me. I don’t know why. I sometimes wonder if there’s something wrong with me. But that’s one reason I didn’t think to say anything on Facebook. But I do think about Dad from time to time, particularly around this time of year: his birthday in mid-April and his date of death just over a month later.

Several of you said very kind and true things about my Dad in comments on Dixie’s post today. Thanks for that. It’s interesting how even the not-so-great memories of people will, with time, start to develop a sheen of sorts. Remembering seems to rub away the spots of corrosion and rust and leave polished metal underneath.

One of my great friends sent me a very kind message today in which he remembered some things about Dad which have been meaningful to him in the strange way that memory makes things meaningful, things which for me (at the time anyway) would have been more embarrassing than anything. My friend said he still uses a line that my Dad would, with a twinkle in his eye, say to him: “If you sucked as hard as you blew, you’d have the moon in your face.”

I remember him saying that, but I don’t remember the twinkle in his eye. I just remember feeling mildly uncomfortable because it made no sense to sense to any of us (or at least I thought not). It was just another weird saying that my grumpy, gruff Dad would randomly lob at people.

But now, all these years later, I think it’s hilarious, even though the phrase still doesn’t really make sense to me (or maybe it’s just starting to make sense), because that phrase is just so Dad.

I wish I could remember some of his other turns of phrase. But Dixie and I do carry some of them forward into our own family. Some of them we share just with each other. We will imitate him from time to time. We will say, “I like that pie,” when eating a delicious pizza. Or we will refer to that ubiquitous Seattle coffee company as “Starbuck” without the “s” at the end. And when we go for a walk, we’ll say it’s to “blow the stink off.” Those are all Dad-isms.

Maybe it’s not that I don’ t miss people, but that I don’t take enough time to think about them—to really think deeply and remember—because I really do miss Dad.

A prayer for trust

Ran across this beautiful prayer by Henri Nouwen this morning, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants:

O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?

Help me, O Lord, to let me old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thought can become a hymn of praise to you.

I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom.

Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend. Amen.

Unhurried Delight

Every year as part of maintaining “good ministerial standing,” our denomination requires its pastors to fill in a form in which we list educational and personal growth experiences, such as courses taken, workshops or conferences attended, and books read. I keep track of what I’ve read in a little notebook (and on Goodreads) and so I go back and look at what I’ve read.

What troubled me this time around is that I couldn’t remember a thing about one or two of the books I had read this year. I remember reading them (I think), but I don’t remember what they said. Which makes me wonder, why did I read them?

Eugene Peterson said somewhere (but I’m quoting his Twitter feed, and the same quote pops up every now and then), “Reading is a gift, but only if the words are taken into the soul – eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight.” Coincidentally, it was one of Peterson’s books that I don’t remember anything about.

His words get me every time. How often do I read with “unhurried delight”? Rarely. Usually I’m more concerned with getting through the book and adding it to my “books read” notebook. Part of the problem is that I have so many books that I want to read (and have already purchased in anticipation of reading them) that I feel like I can’t keep up, so I read quickly if I can.

Occasionally a book will be so striking that I soak it up in a hurry and remember it, but that’s not normally the case. But what’s the point in reading if I can’t remember it? Is there value in reading simply for the sake of reading and being changed in small ways along the way? I think so.

On the other hand, there’s really little value in hurrying through a book if I won’t remember any of it anyway.

I need more “unhurried delight” in my life—not just in what I read, but in all of my life.

All Shall be Well (Serendipiday)

Dixie and I have a long-running joke about what our epitaphs will say, based on our personalities and approach to life. Mine will say, “All in good time.” The punchline is that hers will say, “That was a bit excessive.” It’s hilarious. Or it would be if you knew us and I was telling you about it face-to-face.

Another option for my epitaph is “All shall be well.” I’ve never read anything by the fifteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich, except for this one line:

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

This line has had a profound effect on my faith. I deeply, passionately believe her words to be true. They are hope-filled words that I carry with me wherever I go. That’s why I think my epitaph could also say (and perhaps should say), “All shall be well.”

The last few days I’ve been at a retreat centre in Chicago, taking the last class in the ordination process for my denomination. Yesterday I told one of my class-mates about our epitaphs and about “All shall be well” and how profound those words have been for me. He laughed about the epitaphs and understood my deep appreciation for Julian’s words.

The class called “Vocational Excellence” and it works through some of the competencies and requirements of pastoral work, with a particular emphasis on self-care. They provide an optional session with a spiritual director. I’ve been hearing for years now from books, colleagues, and teachers that spiritual direction is an essential resource for pastoral ministry, but due to location and fear (of the unknown) I have not actually pursued finding a spiritual director. So I gladly took up the opportunity this weekend.

There were four options for spiritual directors and I didn’t know any of them. It was a bit of a crap-shoot and it made me slightly nervous because I have heard that a person won’t connect with every spiritual director. For some reason this session felt kind of like a one-shot deal, so the choice had to be right (if you know me at all, or if you’ve eaten at a restaurant with me, this will make a lot of sense). For reasons I won’t get into here—reasons I don’t fully understand, to be honest—I chose the only man on the list as my spiritual director.

My session of spiritual direction was first thing this morning. After a brief explanation of how this session would go, my director suggested a couple of questions I could use as a jumping-off point for our time together. One of them was “What’s your experience of God now?” and I went with that one. I talked in a meandering way about fatigue and stress and the relation between faith and doubt. We talked about that for a bit. I mentioned Frederick Buechner on faith and doubt and muddled my way through a pseudo-paraphrase of this Buechner gem:

I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be.  Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt?  If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me. (The Alphabet of Grace, p. 47)

My spiritual director said, “Funny you should mention Buechner. I have a quote of his in my pocket.” He had meant to use it earlier when they were introduced to the class, having anticipated the need to define spiritual direction.

We talked about doubt and how perhaps doubt is a positive thing in that it could signal spiritual growth, that it suggests that a person is actually listening, to God, to life; that it’s in certainty that a person no longer listens, no longer pays attention. Somehow this led us to the topic of coincidence: he suggested that coincidence may actually be God speaking to us, so apparent “coincidences” are moments when we should really pay attention. He didn’t use the word, but I think he was talking about something like serendipity. God-ordained serendipity. And it was already happening in this session.

This is what spiritual directors do: they listen. They listen and they help the directee see God at work in his or her life. So it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that my spiritual director could anticipate where I was heading.

I began talking about the sense I have had recently that what I need to do right now is slow down, breathe, and listen, but then I lost my train of thought. It had something to do with prayer, but I couldn’t remember what it was. So I sat silently, reflecting.

After a few moments, my spiritual director spoke up. He said that Mother Theresa was once asked about prayer.

“What is prayer?” she was asked.

“Listening to God,” she replied.

“What does he say?” she was asked.

She replied, “Nothing.”

This was exactly where I was going before I lost my train of thought. Prayer. Listening. I told him about how helpful it was to me when I read in one of Eugene Peterson’s books (or possibly several of them) that prayer is a two-way conversation. It’s not just me talking to God. It’s also me listening to God. I get that; it makes sense. But with that came this frustration: when I listen, I don’t hear God say anything. What am I supposed to hear? What does it mean that I don’t hear anything when I listen?

The point of what Mother Theresa said is that it’s okay that God says nothing when she listens. She is still listening. She is still praying. That’s the point: they are together, listening, and hearing. My spiritual director connected the dots a little more for me: it may be that God’s not audibly speaking to me, but God is nevertheless speaking to me. We talked briefly about the ways this is true.

The whole session was wonderful and deeply helpful and affirming to me. Silence on many different levels is okay. It’s not that I’m missing something. It’s about being together with God in the moment.

Slow down. Breathe. Listen.

We talked about what’s next. He said that while most people prefer to have in-person spiritual direction, he does sometimes do direction via Skype. I thanked him and told him that I plan to pursue spiritual direction, but that I’d prefer in-person direction. “I’ll do some searching in my area,” I said, “but if nothing works out I’ll get in touch with you.”

He gave me his business card just in case and I headed back to class, which had been in session during my time with the spiritual director. I sat down. I had met this spiritual director a few years earlier in a different context, but couldn’t remember his last name, so I scanned the information on his card.

I turned the business card over. On the back of the card were these printed words:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

New camera

I’ve been saving up for some time now for a new camera. My Pentax K10D was in need of repair with a price-tag of $300+. For that price, I may as well work towards a newer camera. To that end, I recently purchased a Pentax K-3, their newest(ish) top-of-their line DSLR. My iPhone 6 has been a wonderful companion and I have taken some great photographs with it, but it became clear that it just couldn’t quite do all that I wanted a camera to do. For example, low-light pictures were grainy, and often even otherwise sharp and well-lit photographs still seemed “flat.” Plus I had a bunch of good lenses sitting around.

But enough apologetics. Last night I finally found some time to play with the camera a bit. I’m very pleased with the results. The camera does seem to have a back-focus issue (camera focuses beyond the point it tells me it’s focussed on), which is what needed repair on my K10D, but these newer models have manual auto-focus fine-tuning built right in. So I can solve the focus issues… I just need to decide if I should nevertheless send it in while it’s still on warranty.

Anyway, after fixing the focus issues, I took some black and white shots of our cats. I’m quite pleased with the results. Pictures taken with a 50mm lens at either f1.4 or f2.0, all of them at ISO6400 (except the last, which was ISO3200). Some of them are a little darker than I’d like, but these are all unedited, other than for size (and for the camera’s own processing to b&w jpegs).

I promise I won’t turn this into a blog of cat pictures.

IMGP0101

IMGP0104

IMGP0106

IMGP0105

IMGP0108

IMGP0112

2015: the year in my entertainment (and travel)

Watching

None of the films I saw this year stand out. Over the years I’ve become less and less interested in going to the theatre to watch a film. I’d rather watch it at home when it comes out on DVD. But Dixie loves the movie-going experience, so I go with her from time to time. I believe every film I saw in theatres was relatively disappointing. The one exception this year, which I did not see on DVD, was Interstellar, which was mind-bendingly entertaining.

(I’m beginning to wonder if my attention span is rapidly shortening, thanks to YouTube, Facebook, etc. I just don’t have the patience for films anymore, even the ones I love.)

I did enjoy a couple British game shows this summer, though, which led to a discovery of every episodes of Q.I. (Quite Interesting) on YouTube. What a fun show! Entertainers talking about interesting but ultimately useless facts. Just my kind of show.

Listening

I entered this year listening mostly to The Head and the Heart. But in the spring I discovered, thanks to Rdio (R.I.P.), Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors and I was hooked in a way I haven’t been since I was introduced to Arcade Fire some eight years ago. And I haven’t paid attention to and learned lyrics like I have with DH&tN since high school: maybe The Barenaked Ladies’ Gordon or Counting Crows’ August & Everything After. It’s catchy and moody folk-rock that I can’t get enough of. (I wonder how long that will last? In theory I still love mid-80s—mid-90s U2 and R.E.M., but I rarely listen to them.)

Two bonuses (boni?): my entire family likes DH&tN. They’re one of the few artists who do not provoke argument when put into the car stereo. And I believe Drew and his wife are Christians. Ordinarily this wouldn’t make much of a difference to my enjoyment of the music, but thoughtful, quality folk-rock created by people of faith, that isn’t kitchy or platitude-filled Christian marketing output is hard to come by.

Reading

This is a tricky category. If I finish a book it means one of two things: I had to read it for an assignment and/or I really enjoyed it. (Or my literary guilt pushed me through). I read plenty of books this year, but here are a few that stood out:

Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the Tub — ten years of monthly columns about the books he’s been reading. Highly entertaining.

Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust — the former Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on the Apostles’ Creed. Wise and deep.

Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory — Cockburn’s autobiography. Insightful and interesting.

Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers — An attempt at some “mass market” reading. This is the first of the Kurt Wallander novels. I enjoyed the BBC tv series starring Kenneth Brannaugh. The book was good. The second book in the series, The Dogs of Riga, was a bit of a chore to get through. Thus ends my reading of this series.

And I would remiss if I didn’t mention Bill Bryson’s latest, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island. Bryson is always fun to read, and I heartily welcome his return to travel literature.

Travel

This year I travelled well over 40,000kms. That includes a visit to Denver (via Phoenix), Alaska (via Seattle), Knoxville (via an epic 50-hour bus ride with 40-some teenagers), and England (with the family). It was a good year for travel, but tiring, too.

 

Orthodoxy is untidy and rough around the edges

“The heretics prefer to iron out the creases in their doctrines of God and Christ, leaving a smooth surface where everything is laid bare. But the orthodox tradition leaves the bedsheets in a crumpled pile, with hidden and mysterious crevices. Ironing the divine linen is an impossible task, for God is like a fitted sheet—accomodating yet unwieldy. Talk about God will always have hidden depths and untidy corners.”

(Read the rest.)

Origin of the “Bunnyhug”

Another obscure page from history (the last one being the Swedish Reckoning), which I shared with my Manitoban friends back in 2010. The origin of the “bunnyhug” (the Saskatchewan Hoodie):

Bunny populations were high back in the day, particularly in Saskatchewan, and they were adversely affecting crops. In a move similar to paying children for the tails of gophers they have killed, the government urged people to kill bunnies.
Bunny pelts,contrary to those of the praire dog, are soft and snuggly (and larger). This prompted Sasktachewan farmers, whose ingenuity and perceptiveness saw the potential in the hides, to fashion them into garments. An item of clothing quite similar to the modern bunnyhug/hoodie made out of bunny hides became quite popular in both rural areas and urban centers. The term “bunnyhug” is therefore quite natural (if grotesque) nomenclature.

Naturally, this large-scale bunny killing would eventually reduce the population to more manageable and less damaging levels, and the bunnycide came to an official end. However, the popularity of the bunnyhug did not wane, so the style of the real bunny-hide bunnyhug was adopted for more conventional fabrics, which is what we have today as the bunnyhug/hoodie.

Perhaps knowing the history of the bunnyhug in Saskatchewan (which, not unusually, is quite independent of hoodie histories across the world) will help stem the tide of anti-Saskatchewanism bigotry.

Post-election thoughts: I’m disappointed.

My disappointment is not really in who was elected. We live in a democracy and the people have spoken. Now we can live with it for the next four years or so, just as we have done for all previous elections. We still live in an amazing country and most of us, when we boil it down, have little to complain about. I’m confident that it will stay that way. Sure, we may not like some of the changes that come our way, but do we need to fear? No. And yet that’s exactly what I see and hear.

I’ve been shocked with some of the stuff I’ve seen and heard in the course of this election campaign, both before and after the election. If there’s anything that brings fear to my heart (even though we shouldn’t fear!), it’s what I saw on social media during this election (yes, this is mostly about Facebook).

Two things in particular concern me. They have to do with the possibility civil dialogue and theological grounding.

1. Civil dialogue. I’m worried that we are losing (or have lost) our ability to have civil dialogue. Dialogue requires not just listening but also the effort to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. It seems to me we did very little of either listening or empathizing during this election, at least if Facebook is any indication (it might be that it isn’t, but I doubt it).

When we engage in civil dialogue, we will discover that the “other” is rather a lot like we are, with similar foundational goals and fears and perceptions and weaknesses as we have, even if on the “issues” we disagree. And when we discover this, we discover that we are dealing with fellow human beings. With neighbours.

Instead, what I saw was a lot of plugged ears while screaming out personal points of view mixed with prejudice, mockery, and hatred.

2. Theological grounding. What didn’t come across my Facebook feed was anything that remotely suggested that what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ has any bearing on what we think are important election policies. (And I don’t think that the only faith-based issues are abortion—which none of the major parties are interested in addressing—or marriage.

Based on my feed the election was all about the economy, taxes,  and what is best for me personally, irrespective of my neighbours’ needs. (And also half-truths and lies about the politicians we didn’t like).

But where did Jesus’ teachings come into play? Where did God’s heart and character (love, grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness) come into play, not only in policy but in the conversation?

Christians are called to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, MIND, and strength. I feel like politics has a knack for turning all of those things off, not least the God-loving mind.

A Walk in the Woods: a (terribly written) review

On a whim, Dixie and I decided to go and see A Walk in the Woods in the theatre yesterday. It’s based on Bill Bryson’s book about his hike through (much of) the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States. I am huge fan of the book, which was what got me hooked on Bryson, who is one of my favourite authors (new book coming out in October, YAAAAY!). I knew from the trailer that significant elements of the book were changed for the purposes of the movie, so my hopes weren’t high.

Below are some brief thoughts on the film. But before I do that, I feel that I should mention that Dixie, who has not read the book, as I have (several times), enjoyed the film.

– The book is a travelogue, a sort of section by section account of Bryson’s journey through a large portion of the Appalachian Trail. The film is more of a memoir/”spiritual journey” story, which isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of the book, but then I’m not sure any adaption of the book could have been true to its spirit. But in order to make it what it is, the characters were made more advanced in age than Bryson was when he hikes the trail. Bryson was, I think, in his early forties when he did the hike, the character in the film of (at least) retirement age; Bryson was approaching the peak of his fame and powers as an author when he wrote A Walk in the Woods; in the film his character is at the end of his career.

– The biggest disappointment for me was that the film felt empty. That is, nearly every page in A Walk in the Woods has fascinating anecdotes and tidbits of information, sarcastic quips, and hilarious incidents (and often a combination of all of those things at once). The film was light in all those areas. The difficulty for any adaptation of an author whose primary appeal is his way with words is that what works in print often doesn’t work in film. Humour written for the page is not the same as humour written for the screen. (It’s the same with P.G. Wodehouse. As good as Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were as Jeeves and Wooster, the TV adaptations couldn’t touch Wodehouse’s written page. And in my mind Bryson, particularly in his earlier work, is a sort of modern-day nonfiction Wodehouse.)

– The film was too light (which is probably related to its emptiness). I wasn’t drawn in. It showed potential at the very beginning, and even greater potential with the arrival of Kristen Schaal’s naively overconfident character. True to the book, they ditch her after a day or so, but if memory serves me right, in the book she shows up again. She doesn’t reappear in the film and she was gone far too quickly. Even if she didn’t reappear in the book, they would have done well by having her reappear in the film (since they were mucking about with the story anyway).

– The character of Stephen Katz was true to the book.

I realize that this has turned into a “the-film-wasn’t-like-the-book-so-it-sucked” sort of review, and for that I apologize. A film should be judged on its own merits, not on how well it represents the book on which it’s based (though if that really is true, I wish they’d stop putting “based upon…” in film advertising). Unfortunately, I can’t separate the two, so perhaps you should just go with Dixie’s judgement on this one. I do think the film was “light”: a story that doesn’t really go anywhere or land.