The unchanging God who changes.

“Several centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Greek philosopher Aristotle had insisted that God was unchanging and utterly indifferent to the affairs of the world. If God cared about the world, he argued, then God would be subject to shifts of mood from every passing change in the world’s affairs. Having passions would destroy God’s perfection, for God would bend to the world’s every joy and pain.

Many Christians have accepted Aristotle’s conclusions, but I find myself agreeing with others, like fourth-century poet and theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who disagreed with Aristotle. Gregory denied that getting involved with the world would be a weakness in God. “God’s transcendent power,” he wrote, “is not so much displayed in the vastness of the heavens or the luster of the stars or the orderly arrangement of the universe or his perpetual oversight of it, as in his condescension to our weak nature.” God is, oddly, most powerful in stooping to our weakness.

Loving in this way, after all, is not a form of weakness but a manifestation of strength. Really loving involves taking risks–the risk of rejection, the risk of having to give of yourself to help the one you love–and real love takes those risks recklessly….

What then about Aristotle’s worry? Is such a God changing, altered by the changing circumstances of the objects of divine love, and therefore imperfect, even unreliable? It depends, from a Christian standpoint, what you mean by “not changing.” Love, after all, manifests its utter consistency precisely by changing. If I love you, and I do not change (grow sad, seek to help) when you fall ill or get into trouble, then my love has changed. True love stays the same by adapting to the changing situation of the loved one. We can be constant in love only by altering our moods and responses according to the circumstances of the object of our love. In that sense the loving God stays ever the same.”

(William Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christian Faith, 20-21)

Closed hands and self-reliance.

“Yet so many religious people are in bondage to their religion! They are like John Wesley in his post-graduate Oxford days in the Holy Club. He was the son of a clergyman and already a clergyman himself. He was orthodox in belief, religious in practice, upright in conduct and full of good works. He and his friends visited the inmates of the prisons and work-houses of Oxford. They took pity on the slum children of the city, providing them with food, clothing and education. They observed Saturday as the Sabbath as well as Sunday. They went to church and to Holy Communion. They gave alms, searched the Scriptures, fasted and prayed. But they were bound in the fetters of their own religion, for they were trusting in themselves that they were righteous, instead of putting their trust in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. A few years later, John Wesley (in his own words) came to ‘trust in Christ, in Christ only for salvation’…” (John Stott, commenting on Galatians 4:1-11, in The Message of Galatians).

Yes indeed. Salvation through faith as nothing more than open hands and surrender.

The things Wesley and his friend did were all good and admirable and appropriate to do. It’s the motivation that’s the problem. All of those things should be a response to a salvation freely offered, an act of gratitude for God’s prior gift to us, rather than a “necessary” act to earn something from God.

Faith as surrender (and Garrison Keillor as theologian)

Several years ago I posted about Miroslav Volf’s definition of faith, which goes as follows:

Faith is not something we give to God. In that case, faith would be a work, and a silly kind of work because it would be work we do even though it doesn’t benefit anyone. But exactly the opposite is true. To have faith in God is to be “without works” before God (Romans 4:5). Faith is the way we as receivers relate appropriately to God as the giver. It is empty hands held open for God to fill.

On the way home from some care home services this evening, I listened to Garrison Keillor’s “News from Lake Wobegon” podcast from August 31, 2013. He concluded the week’s story with the following reflection:

“I used to think that faith… was sort of like a building block and you’d put all these blocks together and you’d build a house, sort of like the one the little pig built that the wolf could not blow down. And now I get older and I feel that faith is a matter of surrender, it’s a matter of just giving up and leaving that house and just walking out and experiencing the cold and the rain and doubt and confusion and trying to keep up your hope and some sense of gratitude. If you just keep up hope and gratitude maybe that’s… all you need…”

Not exactly the same thing as what Volf said, but then Keillor’s a storyteller first, theologian second. But open hands held open for God to fill and the notion of surrender to God run along the same lines. I like it.

Strange ideas in Algonquin Park.

I realize that hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and I don’t want to adopt that annoying “we are are so much more advanced now” attitude, but this sort of thing nevertheless makes me shake my head in frustration and disbelief:

“In the early days government officials were unsure of what [Algonquin Park] should be that they sent one James Wilson north to make suggestions. He was head of Niagara Falls’ very tame Queen Victoria Park and, perhaps in keeping with his station, quickly recommended the eradication of the common loon — now a commonly recognized symbol of the Canadian wilderness — on the grounds that the bird was consuming the fish that would attract American sportsmen. The park’s first superintendent made a similar recommendation — that all bears and fox “be destroyed without mercy” so that people would have no fear of coming to the park. George Bartlett, the walrus-moustached bureaucrat who became superintendent in 1899, felt the same way about wolves and encouraged early rangers to shoot them on sight and leave poison out for them. (Today, the “wolf howl” is the most popular tourist attraction the park has to offer.)” ~ Roy MacGregor, Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him, 53.

On a semi-related note, I’ve always thought that Park Ranger would be a cool job to have.

The beauty and hardness of the prairies

“The prairies are not an easy landscape. It is a natural reflex to be awed by mountains; huge and overpowering, they are a beginner’s landscape. Coastlines roll a rich variety of life and change before the lazy eye. Domestic landscapes of gentle hills, wooded groves, and small farms enfold a timid soul in warm security. But the prairies–like the high seas or the desert–are a challenge and a reward for the strong of spirit only. You may sicken and tire here, fall prey to loneliness and melancholy, and be driven out to seek refuge in softer lands. Or you may meet the challenge, your senses may sharpen, strengthen, and thrill, as space and landscape subtlety stretch you out like a transcontinental train at full throttle. You may rejoice in the powerful exhilaration of moving over the prairies, akin to sailing the seas, an experience of freedom bordering on intoxication. Yet this great freedom is only ever a hair’s breadth away from deepest loneliness.”

~ Norman Henderson, Rediscovering the Prairies: Journeys by Dog, Horse, and Canoe, 7.

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?”


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…):


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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).

Canada Day 2013

Canada day 1 Yesterday — Canada Day — was a pretty good day. The day started out with some indecision and uncertainty about our plans. Fooling around with our new above-ground pool to get it sitting and working right. We left late for an informal church-family gathering in Edmonton, which involved a bike-ride from the Alberta legislature to a park 10kms away. Some mild panic and anxiety and uncertainty ensued.

You see, we’ve experienced enough major non-successes — I say it that way because they weren’t failures as such, but maybe “disappointments” would be sufficient — to make us second-guess getting involved in big official public celebrations. There was the year in which after some effort to get to them, we missed two fireworks displays — one due to rain, one due to unanticipated poor positioning.

Then there was the year of Santa Claus parade in Winnipeg, which neither Dixie nor I have spoken of on our blogs. It was a dark day in the history of the Vanderfamily. We drove the hour or so into downtown Winnipeg and found a decent parking spot near Portage and Main, where the Santa Claus parade would be passing by. The parade, as I recall, was a disappointment (but maybe that’s just the adult in me speaking — I don’t remember what the kids thought), but we were all looking forward to the fireworks afterwards.

The mistake was not watching the fireworks from an area near where we had parked. We were near the river and the location where the fireworks were to be held, but for the sake of a better vantage point, a bite to eat, and a bathroom break we decided to give up our parking spot to try to make our way across the river and out of the downtown core.

The problem was that due to the Santa Claus parade traffic was heavy and many roads were blocked off from traffic. For people unfamiliar with Winnipeg’s downtown, in the dark, with a number of one-way streets, this is problematic. We ended up driving in circles for an hour or so, trying backstreets and parking-lot shortcuts, never actually leaving downtown or crossing the river. Tensions rose to a crescendo and burst forth into marriage-high moments of yelling and anger and frustration and steering-wheel pounding.

By this time the fireworks were well underway. Whenwe finally found a bridge to cross the river we looked to the east through a gap in the office towers — and in my memory’s vision this is all in slow motion — we looked to the east and saw one faint red firework burst in the distance, just above the horizon.

And that was it. We saw no more fireworks that night.

Canada day 2 2013

We look back now and laugh at our anger and that one, lone firework we saw, but with that memory bouncing around in our minds, you can understand our reluctance to commit to driving into Edmonton’s downtown core with an additional 80,000 people driving and walking about there.

But it turned into a very good day. Madeline and I enjoyed a nice bike ride through Edmonton with some of our church people. In parts of the trailwe could have been in the Rocky Mountains for all we knew. Then we gathered for a picnic and conversation, followed by some games with the kids and flag-football. And then we made it, right on time, to the Wetaskiwin fireworks.