Category Archives: General

Three Books that Profoundly Influenced Me: Book 2

I was going to title this series “Three Books Every Evangelical Should Read,” but that seems more than I can rightly say. “Three Books I Wish Every Evangelical Would Read” is a more accurate title. But ultimately this is about books that have influenced me, so we’ll leave it at that.

I’ve read a number of good books over the years, but these three books were so profound to me that I think others could benefit too. I’ll point out the obvious: this is a subjective list. However, these books cover issues that I think can have deeply positive influence in the evangelical church.

Book 1: The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright (HarperOne, 2008)

I put off writing this second entry because I needed to think through what it was that was so profound about this book. It keeps creeping up in conversation and thoughts and even sermons, but it has been so long since I read it that I couldn’t remember the specifics without giving it some thought. But here is my conclusion: Surprised by Hope gave me a theology of creation, which in a way also saved my faith. This is not what a person would think they’re getting when they pick up the book, but that is what I received in the end. I think the process for me actually began when I read Paul Marshall’s Heaven is Not My Home, but it was really brought home in Wright’s book. Our theology of creation has ramifications on various different aspects of life and faith, so this books influenced has cropped up in all sort of places.

I was brought up in a conservative Christian home and my parents as well as the circles in which we lived worshipped were also conservative Christians. That can mean a lot of things, and not necessarily bad things (in many ways I’m still a conservative Christian), but I mean something specifically: dispensationalist Christianity. This is a (relatively) new understanding of scripture particularly in relation to prophecy, the book of Revelation, and the end times. The Left Behind series of books is deeply dispensationalist. Dispensationalism in my experience is almost obsessed about prophecy and the end times, and the core element is the rapture: the idea that at some point in the future, Christians will be whisked away from earth to an eternity of disembodied (“spiritual”) existence in heaven. In one way or another this is what it meant to “go to heaven when you die”: you either go when you die or when Jesus comes again.

At the time I didn’t have a problem with this theology per se, but there were other things I was thinking about in life that had me wondering. In dispensationalist thinking, the earth and creation in general are not something to be concerned about since it will all be destroyed someday anyway at the final judgment. I have always loved nature and there was a part of me that thought it was a shame that in the long run it would all disappear. As I got older I started wondering about why God created the world in the first place: if he knew it was going to fail, or if it was a mistake, or if it was just intended to be temporary. Why not just go straight to eternal disembodied bliss? Why the hassle with physical creation?

Enter Paul Marshall and finally N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope made sense of the world because it affirmed creation as good. When God created he said that it was good and when he had created humans and finished it all, he said it was very good. When God entered his creation as the Word-made-Flesh—as Jesus—he affirmed creation again taking on the embodied existence of human creatures. When Jesus died and rose again, creation is once again affirmed as good because Jesus rose again bodily (albeit a new body). What Wright’s book made clear was that creation was meant to be and will continue to be. The hope of salvation is not “going to heaven when you die”, but resurrection in the new heavens and the new earth. The story of salvation is not just about forgiveness of sin, but of renewing and restoring all of creation.

This put the pieces together for me again. Suddenly the world and the cross made a great deal more sense to me, and I was given a vision of creation and hope that was clearly consistent with scripture (where dispensationalism seemed to me to do a lot of weird and unclear things with scripture). Suddenly we all had a reason to be here on earth—we aren’t just biding time until we get to heaven; we aren’t just passing through, this world is our home.

All kinds of other things have been unfolding from this: work is good; creation needs our stewardship; our bodies are good and are essential to being human (mind, soul, spirit, body are not independent things), and the list will continue to grow.

Wright’s intention, as I recall, was to correct our understanding of heaven and the afterlife, but in doing so he also showed how and why this life matters, too.

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.

Narnia, memory, and heaven

I’ve only read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the Lewis’ Narnia series (I started The Horse and His Boy, but never finished). What I have always found particularly fascinating is what I suppose you could call the questions of time and memory in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The kids stumble into Narnia and then spend at least a decade in Narnia, growing into royal adults, before accidentally stumbling back into the wardrobe as children once again.

I can’t recall: do they remember their time in Narnia? If so, what would it mean for a child who has experienced adulthood to once again become a child (but with adult memories)? Is this explored in later books in the series?

I started thinking about this because for some reason I was thinking about heaven (one of those streams-of-thought moments in which I can’t remember how I got from A to Z). From time to time I talk to our church’s youth about heaven and the Kingdom of God, emphasizing the notion that heaven isn’t out “there” somewhere (in space maybe? beyond the universe?), but in some sense all around us. N.T. Wright uses, I believe, the language of another “dimension” in which God rules (where his Kingdom exists and his will is done). At Christ’s return (and the descent of “heaven” to earth, cf. Revelation 21), it will be like a lifting of the veil between heaven and earth. This is helpful if uncomfortably science-fiction-y for some.

At the moment I’m wondering if Narnia is a helpful illustration of this as well (and perhaps Lewis meant it to be). To get to Narnia, the children don’t go more than a few footsteps through the wardrobe to get to Narnia. In a physical sense, Narnia is already where they are: stepping through the wardrobe was technically like stepping into the next room or through the outside wall of the house. They haven’t gone anywhere else than where they already were, other than into a different dimension which at the moment only they can see.

Is this a helpful or accurate way to describe the “location” of heaven? I don’t know. But it at least seems more accurate than the popular images and ideas of heaven “up there” somewhere.

Coffee culture

My blog has been so quiet these last few years. Such a shame. It occurs to me now that my recent trip to Ecuador would have been a wonderful opportunity for some posts and reflections. Having so little to do with this blog lately, I guess it just didn’t occur to me.

I’ve been watching Call the Midwife with Dixie. There was a moment in which the main character said something like, “I would love to have some Nescafé; all we have at our place is tea.” (Confession: I’m always a little surprised and disappointed when characters in English novels, movies, and TV shows opt for coffee over tea. I guess I’ve got some cultural prejudice.)

It occurred to me that we have some Nescafé in the cupboard (mom uses it to make half coffee/half hot chocolate). So I made myself a cup. (Fact: TV and advertising does influence us.) It wasn’t very good.

This relatively bad (though not undrinkable) cup of instant coffee reminded me of another fact that surprised me (due to, again, cultural prejudices). Ecuador borders on Colombia, which is, of course, known for its drug cartels. Also for its coffee. So it didn’t seem unreasonable to assume that the Ecuadorian people would be coffee connoisseurs.

Well! In fact, most people in Ecuador drink instant coffee! Can you believe it?

This memory, in turn, had me thinking about our coffee culture and how we define a “good” cup of coffee. We might be inclined to dismiss the notion of the Ecuadorians being coffee connoisseurs, because how could instant-coffee drinkers be? But who’s to say, really?

I think of my own journey into the coffee world. It begins as a toddler sipping the coffee dregs from my dad’s mug. It was pretty gross. My dad made strong coffee like a good European (“So strong that my spoon stands up in it”) and didn’t use sugar. Then in junior high I started drinking weak church coffee loaded with condensed milk and sugar. Then generic (and still weak) restaurant coffee. Then Tim Hortons double-doubles and my own drip coffee. Then Starbucks (which I still haven’t fully embraced: their beans are over-roasted or something) and my own preferred fair-trade coffees from smaller companies (Level Ground out of Victoria is my brand).

I liked all the coffees along the way, but I don’t think I can go back to generic coffees, except in social contexts where it’s offered to me. I will always prefer my own brew, and I am willing to say that one cup of coffee is better than another. But does that make my home-brewed cup objectively better than church coffee or generic/big-name brands? Isn’t it just a matter of taste, which is acquired? When we say Starbucks coffee is better than Tim Hortons (as Starbucks drinkers are inclined to do), aren’t we just talking about preference?

But if that’s the case, what am I to make of these professional coffee-tasters who roasters use to make sure each batch of beans will make the best coffee? Those guys seem have it down to a science, though an entirely nose and tastebud related one. Is that all just a farce?

How much of our notion of a good cup of coffee—and by “our” I mean coffee snobs who insist on Starbucks, artisan roasts, and/or fresh hand-milled grounds, rather than those who will happily brew coffee from a yellow no-name brand bag—is all advertising, “brainwashing”, and a dose of the myth of progress (i.e. every new discovery is inherently good and even better by virtue of being new)?

10 Years of Blogging

Today is my 10-year blogging anniversary. That should be a pretty significant milestone, but it doesn’t feel like it. The last 5 years have seen a sharp decline in how much effort I’ve put into this space. I haven’t maintained it well for half of the 10 years The Eagle & Child has existed. In the last two years I posted as much as I did in one month in 2005 (no wonder my wife had issues with my blogging back then).

I don’t want to give up on blogging just yet. But I’m not sure what direction to take it in. I looked back at random months in my archive and I had some fun with it back in the day. These days I start writing something thoughtful and serious and it doesn’t take long for me to lose interest or feel like it’s not worth posting here. I have 128 draft posts of various lengths, 26 of which are from the last year.

I need to find the fun again.

I write a reflection for our church bulletin almost every week. Maybe I should post those here. But that’s not the kind of fun I was thinking of.

At any rate, over the years this blog has made me some new friends and in some respects helped get me where I am today in the church in The Field. It has been an interesting ride, old friend.

Anyway… here’s to 10 years of blogging! And here’s to increased fun and creativity here!

Holiday! Celebrate!

It’s amazing how set plans can positively influence your feelings. I’m on holidays at the moment. We’ve been trying to decide for months what we would do with the time I have off work and either things didn’t work out or we couldn’t decide. We sometimes get into funks that look like this:

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

Etc.

I’ve been wanting to do something a little smaller scale for years now, because it seems we always come back from holidays in need of another holiday. We often leave the first day off and return on the last. So there’s been some talk of having a staycation (though not quite like this) and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of days, though somewhat listlessly.

There’s a strange internal pressure to DO something with the precious holiday time I have, as if staying at home and resting isn’t a legitimate way to spend one’s down time. But I’m realizing that there is something to be said for planning some away time. A change is a rest, as they say.

Some of these days at home — for me, at any rate — sort of plod along without direction. And if they have no direction, they feel like a waste. Reading a good book would be direction enough, but I’m not always in that place (being instead in an in-between-books stage). On these days I’ll hit some kind of emotional wall around midday and I’ll have a heightened sense, for example, of the things that need doing around the house (which I don’t feel like doing). I won’t feel like doing much. I’ll oscillate between wanting to go away on a trip and not wanting to go anywhere.

Maybe that’s just low blood sugar. Maybe it’s low-grade depression. Maybe it’s not being able to handle un-busy-ness and the sort of “quiet” that comes on the slow days of summer. Maybe it’s something else. Often a cup of tea will improve things (low blood sugar it is, I guess…), or maybe some lunch.

But the other day we finally settled things in a way Dixie and I are both happy with. We’ll stay home for the rest of the week, maybe make some day trips somewhere. My brother and two of his kids arrive sometime Saturday for the better part of a week and then after that we’ll head to the mountains for a couple of days.

That’ll be good: some staycation and some vacation. Something new to try without it being too different.

Another geek post: fountain pens

Not too long ago, I made mention of my love for the traditional woodcase pencil. There was a brief period of time in which I contemplated (somewhat seriously) giving up on ink altogether, except in the most necessary places (such as legal documents). Well, that never happened. Instead, I’m starting to use ink in a new/old way. I’m starting to love fountain pens more and more.

(Dixie rolled her eyes when she saw that I was writing about pens. But she can’t say anything, because she once learned all of Gloria Gaither’s “schpiels” and dressed up as her for halloween.)

It all begins with this pen (but see below…):

image

This is a Parker 51 “Special”. My dad got this pen in the late 50s or early 60s and used it when he was in Bible college. This pen has great sentimental value to me for that reason alone. I inherited my obsession with writing instruments from my dad. I inherited a love for the Parker Jotter from him and, as a result, my love for the Parker brand in general.

It turns out that the Parker 51, and to a lesser degree to cheaper 51 “Special”, is a pen highly sought after by collectors. 51s in good condition will sell for hundreds of dollars. It has been dubbed “the best pen ever made”, for a combination of reasons: design, durability, smoothness of writing. I’m not looking to sell this pen, but it adds to its mystique.

It works very well after all these years. One of the inner parts (breather tube) needs to be replaced (though it doesn’t prevent it from functioning). It’s a bit scratchy, due to misaligned tines in the nib, which I’ve been trying to fix, but it’s generally a fine writing instrument.

My dad gave me this fountain pen maybe 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until the last year or so that I began to appreciate writing with it. Somewhere in the last couple of years something clicked and I began looking into fountain pens more. I checked ebay for another 51 — something without sentimental value that I could comfortably take with me out and about in the world. There are lots of 51s out there, but unfortunately they don’t seem to sell for any less than $50 on ebay (and generally sell for much more), and I’m not prepared to pay that much.

The Parker Frontier, which is now unfortunately no longer in production, is in some respects quite similar to the Parker 51. Its cap and barrel have a similar look. The grip and nib are different. But still, a fine writing pen, and for $12-$15 not too expensive (though they’re no longer in production). I bought this one as my take anywhere pen:

image

I then got it in my head that I would like something less breakable than this relatively cheap plastic pen. I found a matte-black metal Parker Frontier on ebay. It was from a seller in India (top-rated seller). For several reasons, I suspect strongly that it’s a fake, but I can’t be sure. Either way, it is a disappointingly hit-and-miss writer:

image

I started to do some reading on fountain pen forums (yes! fountain pen forums!) about inexpensive fountain pens that write well. What I discovered there was the Lamy Safari:

image

It’s a German-made pen. My understanding is that it’s made for young people learning to write: it has a formed barrel and a stiff nib for the novice to learn proper writing technique and fountain pen handling. However, it’s a very popular fountain pen among enthusiasts. German engineering!

I was pleased enough with the matte-black fine-point Safari I purchased that I bought a red one as a backup and a blue one for Dixie! It writes smoothly and comfortably and is my main writing pen.

The Lamy isn’t exactly a cheap pen, of course. $15-20 a pop is not what I would call a throwaway pen. But it’s well built and will last a lifetime if I treat it well.

Then I purchased a cheap Japanese Pilot 78g:

image

It writes very well for an $8 pen, although I made the mistake of purchasing it with a fine nib. Western nibs are often too broad, so that I will buy one nib finer than I think I want (e.g. fine instead of medium), but Japanese fine nibs are too fine.

Apparently there is quite an industry of “homage” pens in China. They’re not exactly fakes, because they keep their own brand name on their pens, even though they are imitations of other brands. $10 bought me this Jinhao 159, a knockoff of a Montblanc pen that sells for hundreds of dollars:

image

It is perhaps my smoothest writer, but it’s MUCH too broad for a medium nib. Apparently Chinese fountain pen nibs, contrary to those of their Japanese neighbours, are broader than normal.

I recently discovered that there is an homage to the Parker 51 made by Hero. The Hero 616 is an almost exact replica of the 51 and can be purchased for as little as $5 apiece. And apparently if you get an authentic Hero 616, they are quite pleasant to write with. I say “authentic” because apparently even a fake $5 pen is being faked in China. A fake of an homage to a pen!

I said above that it all started with the Parker 51, but the first fountain pen I saw as a child (that I can remember) was an old orange fountain pen in my dad’s office. I seem to recall him saying that it was his dad’s or his grandfather’s and that he wasn’t sure if it still worked or not. I didn’t know what it was until the last couple of years when I started reading up on fountain pens. Turns out that it was a Parker Duofold, another legendary pen in the Parker line. I didn’t think it was around anymore, but my mom found it among dad’s effects:

image

She sent it to me. It’s a Parker Duofold, Jr., which is a stubby version of the Duofold. I think it dates from the 1920s or 1930s. It belonged to my great-grandfather on my father’s side, who was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland. It has “A. v. d. SLUIJS Dz.” engraved on the side. That’s pretty cool!

The ink sac was completely dried out and brittle (new one almost on order), but everything else *looks* to be in working order. Unfortunately, I may have done some permanent damage to the orange finish. I had put all of the parts in very hot tap water in order to clean out the old ink. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that with old fountain pens in particular. The black ends, made of a kind of rubber, turned brown, and the the orange barrel and cap now have a bit of a white haze, which I hope can be polished off.

And just the other day I bought this Noodler’s Ink Standard Flex Nib pen:

Noodler's Ink Standard Flex Nib

It’s interesting because it has a piston ink converter. It sucks ink directly into the front of the barrel by twisting the back of the barrel. I’m having some issues with the ink “feathering” (too much ink flow?), but these pens are apparently made to tinker with, so hopefully I can fix that.

I’m almost ready to give up on ballpoint pens altogether, except for the fact that they are very convenient when on the go and for the fact of my ongoing love affair with the Parker Jotter. My dad always had one in his pocket. As a child at church, when it was time for the sermon, I would turn to dad and whisper, “Do you have a pen?” He always did. He’d pull a Parker Jotter from his shirt or suit pocket, click the pen “on” and hand it to me. I’ve purchased and been given a number of these over the course of my life:

Parker Jotters

The one on the far right with the green barrel is commemorates Parker’s 125th anniversary. Just purchased that one a month or so ago. Next to it is a newer “luxury” Jotter. (Both are stainless steel.) It seems like Parker is moving more towards the luxury pen market. I don’t like that very much myself, but perhaps it makes business sense in a market flooded with cheap but well-functioning pens. Next to that (black barrel) is a standard Parker Jotter, followed by two newer models (light blue barrels) with a rounded “clicker” (one was a gift from my aunt and uncle in England, the second time in my life they’ve given me a Jotter!), and then a couple more older models.

And since I’ve plunged right in, why not throw in two additionally “special” pens:

Bic Clic pen from the Monterey Inn Resort

This doesn’t look all that special. A Bic Clic pen from a hotel. Except that it’s from the “resort” (I use the term VERY loosely) we stayed at for part of our honeymoon. Each evening I would pocket the pen on the nightstand, which would then be replaced by another the following morning. There are several of these floating around our house, but I’ve kept this one set aside.

An Assman pen

This is “The Assman Pen”. You remember Dick Assman? He was a Regina gas station owner made famous (for his name) by David Letterman in the mid-90s. I purchased this pen at his gas station in Regina at that time (the Wikipedia article says it was the Victoria Square Mall, but I’m pretty sure it was the Golden Mile Centre). I’m not sure why I’ve been carrying this one around — largely unused — all these years. I guess it’s just one of those things.

And there are other pens, too. But I won’t bore you with those (I assume if you read this far you weren’t entirely bored by this post).

So we stared at each other for a while.

I had an odd experience at a place of business today. I was sent to buy something at a certain establishment. I was redirected to another area of that establishment, where two women were speaking to each other: a superior giving instructions to an underling. They carried on for a while as I stood at the counter; they did not acknowledge me. After a few moments, the underling left and the superior turned and looked at me. She said nothing.

At this point in my memory the events slow down. I had a mental debate about whether or not I should initiate speech in this situation. Dixie told me recently that I’m not gregarious. I also know what kind of negative first impression my dad would often make on people and I sometimes wonder if I haven’t inherited something of his “ability”. Those two thoughts pushed me towards initiating the conversation.

However, I was at the same time intrigued that this woman would simply turn to me and stare at me without saying a word (perhaps an attempt to communicate telepathically?). Since I was in a place of business, another part of my thinking — the part that eventually won the mental debate — was that courtesy and customer service would have her initiate dialogue, perhaps with a gentle “How can I help you?”

Instead, neither one of us spoke for some time. It was probably less than five seconds, but when you’re staring at a complete stranger, expecting them to speak and wondering what they’re thinking, it seems much longer.

So we stared at each other for a while.

The silence was broken by a curt “Yes?” from the lady and time returned to its normal speed. The transaction was carried out without further incident, other than a perhaps edgy subtext (not much more was said between us during the transaction).

Reading (and not heeding my own advice)

I’m not heeding my own advice. I’m still reading several books at once. That’s what happens when I’ve suddenly landed on several enjoyable books.

Currently active active reads:

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphry Carpenter (and Christopher Tolkien).Who would have thought someone’s letters could be so fascinating? Granted, most of the personal details that wouldn’t interest anyone but immediate family and friends have been edited out, but still. There’s something about the image of Tolkien sitting in his Oxford study writing drafts of letters (a draft hand-written letter! such a thing had never occurred to me!) and then writing final copies in ink. And he’s probably wearing a three-piece tweed suit, smoking a pipe, and drinking tea all the while. Wonderful!

It’s not just the setting in my imagination that makes them interesting, however. The letters include discussion of the development of the sequel to The Hobbit as well as the characters of his already developed mythology.

And he writes with such skill! These letters are not just dashed off, but are clearly written with much care and attention to form and content. The book puts me in the mood to write a hand-written (with a fountain pen!) letter to someone. (Who wants one?)

Long Wandering Prayer: An Invitation to Walk with God, David Hansen. This is perhaps the most refreshing and honest discussion of prayer I have read (not that my reading in this area has been extensive). It caught my attention because the title implied the sort of prayer that seems to fit me best, but there is much more to the book than simply walking and praying. There’s nothing sentimental here, just raw thoughts and advice and opinions on prayer.

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, Richard Foster. Not bad so far, though perhaps not quite what I had hoped for expected. That might change. I continue to find Foster’s prose rather dry, making it difficult to read the book with much enthusiasm (I never did finish his most famous book, Celebration of Discipline for this reason). This is unfortunate, because Foster seems have been quite influential in terms of the “spirituality” of the evangelical church.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. This is my second time through this book. Fascinating, informative, well written, and hilarious as usual. A lay-person’s book about science and origins.

And then there are the inactive active reads and actively inactive reads which I won’t list here…

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

~ Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997