Category Archives: General

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

Reading as mining for gold and precious jewels.

I was laying on my bed this afternoon trying to read Shusaku Endo’s The Samurai. I’m pretty tired after a 6am wakeup (amazing how much difference one less hour of sleep can make), so I had a hard time focussing. I started thinking about the reading I do. I love reading… when it’s a good book. I’m starting to realize that reading is a bit like mining for gold or precious jewels: a lot of work is done in hopes of finding a gem among the rubble. The gems are worth the wait, but when I’m slogging through the rubble it gets tough sometimes. Sometimes rocks will change into gems later; sometimes what looks to be gold at the beginning turns out to be pyrite. Generally, however, gold is gold. It just takes time to come across it.

I got up out of the bed and pulled out all the books I have “on the go”, by which I mean I still have a bookmark in them with the intention of picking them up again at some point to keep reading. Some of them I am actively reading (meaning they’ve been read from in the last couple of weeks), others haven’t been read from literally in years (but I still intend to read them!). There are eight of these books laying on my bed at the moment. I know there are at least a couple of others which were reluctantly returned to the bookshelf on the assumption that they will at the right time in the future be gold.

I’m mostly to blame for this situation: over the years I’ve purchased and been given books at a rate faster than I can read them. Sometimes by the time I get to them I’m no longer interested. Other times I get hooked by more than one book at a time. Sometimes I read a book because it feels like I should. Sometimes I read a book because I want to, but then get distracted by another book (I’m always browsing). Sometimes a book catches my eye and I read it straight through without reading anything else until it was done. That’s generally a sign of gold.

But, I need to be a bit more intentional and less haphazard about my reading. That, or I just need to chill out and walk away from a book when I’m no longer interested. Here are some rules I may want to adopt:

1. I shouldn’t read books simply because I “ought” to. Yes, there are classics. Yes, they are valuable to read. Yes, there can be rewards for pushing through the tough bits. But–dare I say it?–in the end it’s just a book. No use losing sleep over it.

2. If it doesn’t catch me (or prove useful, if it’s a work-related book) in the first 50-100 pages, abandon it.

3. It’s okay to not finish a book.

4. It’s okay to return to a book later. It’s okay to start a book over some day. It’s probably not helpful to pretend that I’m still reading a book when I haven’t read it in months or years.

5. Don’t start another book until this one is finished. Or, at the very least, don’t start another book in the same genre. Reading a work of fiction, along with a work of theology, along with a work of history, for instance, may actually be a good thing and might keep me reading. Reading two novels or two theological works at the same time will usually mean one or the other gets abandoned.

6. I don’t have to read every book out there.

7. I don’t have to rush through books. Savour them. This one is difficult to practice when I’ve got shelves of waiting-to-be-read books. If I’m ever to catch up, I feel like I need to rush.

8. …but it wouldn’t hurt to skim from time to time.

9. I don’t have to catch up on reading all the books on my shelf.

10. A friend told me that he reads what he wants to think about. This is probably a generally good policy. What do I want to think about? Read a book about that and then combine it with thinking, journaling, conversations, etc.

11. Know my genres. I tend to eat up what one might call “pop sociology” books (or perhaps “pop non-fiction”): The World Without Us or The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon or Fast Food Nation or A Walk in the Woods or A Short History of Nearly Everything? I eat those books up. Mentally stimulating, absorbing, fascinating, etc. For pure enjoyment reading, that’s the way to go for me.

12. I need to learn to read and retain. Too often I read a book and forget what I read. I like to think I internalize some of the valuable information or that it’s at least formative. But who really knows. Is there a point in reading if nothing is retained? Doesn’t that just make it escapism?

13. But then maybe it’s okay to read even theology simply for pleasure. I do that already, but I’m always concerned about remembering. But maybe escapism is okay, too.

14. Sometimes a book can be judged by its cover.

15. …but an old, worn-out cover with illegible lettering and little bits of string coming off of it is not de facto unreadable.

16. I’ve found that there is a time and place and place for every book. A book that was formative or mind-blowing ten years ago might be meaningless now. A book I tried hard to read might be just what I need a few years down the road. I guess this is a kind of mystical view of the reading process. It seems to work for me. Which means that if a book doesn’t catch me fairly quickly, I should just move on and leave it for another day.

17. Perhaps I should’ve given up reading for Lent… Maybe next year.

Blogging from the sky.

Well, I figured I’d better give it a go just to say I did it. I’m on my way to San Diego for a conference/class, and I’m currently in the air. They have in-flight wifi, which was only legendary in my world until today. $5 for in-flight access and I thought to myself, “Hey, if I can pay nearly $5 for a drink at Starbucks or to rent a movie, why can’t I pay $5 for some in-flight web-browsing, Facebooking, chatting with my on-the-ground wife, and a little online class work?”

So here I am at 30,000 feet, somewhere over America’s midwest, writing a post on my neglected blog. Just for posterity.

And I’m in a hurry, because this is going to cut out when we dip below 10,000 feet. I’m not sure when that will be, because, while this airline does provide onboard wifi, it does not provide onboard television. So no little screen to tell me our altitude.

The conference I’m heading to is an annual pastor’s conference for our denomination.  This is the first time it’s in San Diego (usually Chicago, occasionally Denver). I’m in a Covenant theology (the theological distinctives of the Evangelical Covenant Church) class all week (as part of my ordination process), so I imagine I won’t see as much sun and sand as one would like, if one found him or herself in San Diego. In fact, I may see no sand at all. Class *may* finish early on Friday, which may afford a chance to zip out to the harbor or a beach or maybe the zoo. But I’m not counting on it.

I’m feeling healthy (got a bit paranoid about possible strep throat for a while, after “hot boxing” it in a small classroom with a class of jr. high boys, one of whom, it turned out, had strep throat) and I’m hoping that my room will be bed-bug free (apparently there have been a couple of cases at the place we’re staying). It should be a good week of connections, interactions, discussions, learning, singing, listening, maybe some shopping, sleeping, resting, und so weiter.

There… now I’ve blogged from the sky.

New Year Randomicity

1. Hey! We’re almost a quarter of the way through January already! Interpret the exclamation marks as excitement or alarm as you see fit!

2. Sitting here reading with John Barry’s score for Dances with Wolves playing in the background. It’s a beautiful score. I’m not sure if it’s the same without knowing the film, but it’s gorgeous. It occurred to me that after all these years Dances with Wolves is still one of my favourite films. Other films come and go in Marc’s Film Canon, but that one has stayed at or near the top. It gets everything right, as far as I’m concerned: setting, score, plot, themes. And even Kevin Costner has a decent turn as an earnest, idealistic soldier. The Last Samurai and Avatar are poor imitations. I’m sure Dances with Wolves is itself an imitation, but it’s GOOD.

3. Last weekend I solemnized my first marriage. No big deal.

4. I don’t really have any New Year’s resolutions, other than an unofficial desire to spend at least 20 minutes a day walking. Since it’s January 8 and I haven’t spent 20 minutes walking in any of those eight days, I guess that’s not going to happen. So, I won’t walk 20 minutes every day…YET. I will walk 20 minutes some days. Hopefully more days as the weather improves and as I remember that we have a treadmill. Facing our TV. With Netflix.

5. I did write down some things that I want to spend more time thinking about this year. Some highlights from the journal:

“What do I need? Don’t buy anything I don’t need.” I’m not yet sure whether the remastered blu-ray special edition of the original 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove (starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover and Ricky Schroder and others) is a want or a need..

“What makes or should make Christians different? Is it belief? Is it action? Is it both? Neither?” I know the standard/stock answers. It nevertheless bears further thought. Things aren’t always what they seem or how I understand them to be.

“The nature of the incarnation.” That’s a biggie. It means I need to read more T.F. Torrance, for one. And scripture. Oddly enough, I came across this in the book I was reading tonight: “We cannot live as if the incarnation had not occurred.” That’s quite a profound statement. Exclamation point and star in the margin. I don’t think Christians consider the incarnation enough. God become human. We tend to think mostly about sin and forgiveness and we do this mostly without thinking about the incarnation. The author follows that up with this line: “God has taken upon himself our earthly existence and claimed it for his Kingdom.” Another good one!

6. Between now and February 4 I have to read 4 books and 33 articles for a theology class I’m taking, as well as write a short book review. I was intending to write an anxious “Eep!” after my to-do list, but now that I’ve written it down it doesn’t seem like nearly such a big deal. Mind you, that’s less than a month away and in the meantime I have meetings and other work and family.

By the way, this is for a theology class I’m taking… IN SAN DIEGO! Too bad I’ll be hunkered down in a (the cynic in me says) dark basement room in the hotel.

Pencil Geek

Dixie knows me well. On a whim she bought me How to Sharpen Pencils: A practical and theoretical treatise on the artisanal craft of pencil sharpening for writers, artists, contractors, flange turners, anglesmiths, and civil servants, with illustrations showing current practiceShe didn’t really know what it was when she bought it. It was more of a joke purchase than anything. As it turns out, it’s a wonderful, well-written and hilarious satire, hearkening back to technical manuals of yesteryear (as the long subtitle implies). Each chapter is devoted to different elements and techniques of pencil sharpening, from use of a pocketknife to wall-mounted hand-crank sharpeners.

What makes it particularly brilliant as a satire is that the author, David Rees, takes the subject very seriously. I do have a particular fondness for the simple and humble woodcase pencil (#2/HB), so I loved almost every minute of it. Others who do not share my fondness (including mechanical pencil users) may not enjoy the book nearly as much. The last couple of chapters were a bit of a disappointment, because here Rees moved away from the “serious satire” into ridiculousness (e.g., how to sharpen pencils while doing celebrity impressions). As soon as he did this–essentially declaring “Hey everyone! This book is just work of humour, but in case you don’t get it, I’m going to include some obvious material!”–the satirical edge, and it’s brilliance, was lost.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to declare this my favourite book of 2012. It was a wonderful read.

Incidentally, my fondness for pencils led me to once buy a gross of Forest Choice pencils, by far my favourite writing pencil. Smooth as butter. The lead wears down quite quickly and the ferrules (the aluminum bit that holds the pencil and eraser together) tend to be loose, but that’s a small price to pay for an otherwise beautiful writing experience. Even after 3 years at seminary taking notes almost exclusively with these pencils, I’ve hardly put a dent in the box.


I’ve got an electric pencil sharpener in my office, but it’s a loud, pencil-eating monster. I think I’ll go back to a hand-crank version.

I’m not dead!

“Yes he is,” you might be saying.

To which I reply, “I’m not.”

“Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”

“I’m getting better.”

And so on.

I see I haven’t posted in nearly two months, which is longest hiatus The Eagle & Child has ever seen. August has a big, fat “0” post count. A first for me. A lot has been going on, as you might be aware. We moved a thousand miles to Alberta, for one. I started working at Malmo Mission Covenant Church out in The Field somewhere in the middle of the triangle formed by three large towns. The kids have started school here.

My blog also disappeared for a while. Perhaps you noticed. Seems some domain renewal notifications were being sent to an old email address and expired and was turned into an advertisement for something else. For a short time I wondered if that was it for And the funny thing is, part of me was okay with that. I got that all sorted out, but wasn’t much inclined to write. Maybe this is the beginning of the end. Or maybe that began a long time ago. I hope not. As I keep saying, I just need to reimagine this place.

So we’re settling into our new home. We’re about a quarter mile or half mile down the road from the church on a farmyard house we’re renting from someone in the church.

At the end of the driveway

What you don’t see behind the house is a lot of the stuff that hasn’t been removed from the yard by the previous owner.

In our back yard

Our yard is surrounded by this:

This is where I live.

The house came with a cat, which we gladly adopted. Nobody knew what the cat’s name was, so we just started calling it “Kitty.” You know, “Heeeeere, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” Seemed to make sense. It took a while for us to determine Kitty’s gender. Apparently you can’t just check the way you do with a dog. I checked and I got it wrong. Kitty is a boy. We found out later that Kitty’s previous owner called him “Black Guy,” for obvious reasons which you’ll see below, but somehow I found that name to be within in the realm of Potentially Really Offensive and Possibly Even Racist. But maybe I’m too sensitive.

Anyway, this is a poorly shot but still kind of cute picture of Kitty:

"Kitty," the outdoor cat that came with the house. We've adopted him. I've always thought myself a dog person, but Kitty is so quiet and low-maintenance.

Aside from working at the church, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks unpacking, buying furniture–IKEA!–and waiting for furniture and picking up furniture and assembling furniture. I’ve developed some serious Allen wrench skillz (yes–with a Z!).

We are enjoying life out here, but it’s taking some time to get adjusted to living 20 minutes from town. At the moment we have only one car, so that means some careful coordinating of what needs to be done and where. Grocery lists need to be up-to-date and whatnot.

Things are more complicated in Alberta. It seems like everything is privatized and compartmentalized. Car insurance and registration, for example. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan it’s all government run, so you go to one place for your registration, insurance, and plates. 20 minutes and you’re done. In Manitoba we had to do an out-of-province inspection, so there was one extra step, but it wasn’t a big deal. Here we had to do the following:

  1. Go to the registration company for a little piece of paper that asks for the out of province inspection. The mechanic won’t do the inspection without that little piece of paper.
  2. Go to the mechanic for the out of province inspection. In our case, I drove to town for our appointment at the shop, only to be told they had overbooked and could I come back next week? Okay.
  3. Fix what needs to be fixed. I think we did well, considering our van has 240,000kms on it. We needed to replace the passenger-side wiper blade, polish the headlights, and replace one of the rear light assemblies (the light was working, but Luke had knocked a hole in it with a baseball bat a couple of years ago). Replaced the wiper blade and polished the headlights myself. Back to town to replace the light assembly.
  4. Take signed inspection to insurance company. Sign many papers. Pay some money.
  5. Take insurance back to registration people. Pay some more money. Receive plates.

The truth is that it was all relatively painless, but it was a bit of a nuisance compared to the Saskatchewan way.

Anyway…more could be said, but the morning wears on and the kids are looking for a snack and someone just opened the door and the fresh, cool autumn air blowing in beckons me on to other things.



I’m writing this in our room at the Russell Inn in Russell, Manitoba. We’ve just picked up Madeline from a week at camp and we’re meeting their Grandma and Pappa here. They are taking the kids for a week. Dixie and I will wander back to Otterburne tomorrow, maybe stopping in some quaint looking towns along the way, maybe bookstore or antique store.

We will have almost a week to ourselves at home. I don’t think we’ve ever had a week home alone since Madeline was born. We’ve had weeks away from home without the kids, but not at home. This will be something new and kind of exciting and potentially more restful than a trip. Part of the point is to pack, of course, but we’ll get some time to go to Winnipeg and visit our favourite restaurants, go to a movie, visit with friends without the need of a babysitter, etc.

We are moving in just over two weeks, which seems awfully soon. That’s not a bad thing–we’re all looking forward to moving and getting settled in our new home, community and work. It’s not a lot of time to move. The house isn’t ready. There’s a lot of work to do. And I hate packing and cleaning. And while I feel excited about everything, I also feel somewhat unprepared for what I’m heading into. A lot of that probably has to do with unknowns and uncertainties, things which will become much clearer once we get there and get living.

In the meantime, however, we take a bit of a break. I’m looking forward to a leisurely return tomorrow with Dixie.

God’s Love and God’s Wrath (Other writings)

After the discussion that arose with the post about being unwittingly Orthodox (“Unwittingly Orthodox?“), I thought it might be interesting to post my paper on God’s love and wrath, which was the last major research paper I wrote for my degree. It then occurred to me that there are a number of other papers I could make available here for posterity’s sake. I will begin to do so today–feel free to read them or not read them as you will.

The paper on God’s love and God’s wrath and how they relate developed out of a question that came to mind during one of our seminary chapels, in which Romans 5:6-11, or a portion of it, was quoted. It says this:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (NRSV)

There is a tension in this passage between God’s love and God’s wrath that I could not resolve. Not that all tensions in scripture need or can be resolved, but something about the tension between needing to be saved from God’s wrath and God saving us from his own wrath bugged me enough to pursue the question. Originally it was going to be an exegetical paper, limited to interpreting this passage, but it soon became clear that it needed to be more theological.

The response to the paper, which I had to present to the class and defend, was generally positive. While most seemed to agree with my conclusions, I sensed some discomfort (though nothing specific was expressed) at the possible implications of those conclusions. There was also a question about the way the paper was organized, which I acknowledge could have been better–my organizational choices were made for aesthetic reasons rather than for the natural/rational flow of the argument.

Anyway, here it is: “Love Wins? God’s Love and God’s Wrath in Romans 5.6-10” (pdf, 20 pages plus bibliography).

If you do read it, tell me what you think.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only tells the truth about tea and biscuits.

Dixie and I went and saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Saturday. We were easily the youngest people there. I realize that the target demographic is probably retirees, but I was nevertheless quite astounded at (impressed by?) the number of people that fit the demographic in the theatre. I felt a little out of place. Dixie felt right at home. She sat next to an older lady who thought Dixie had come with some of the seniors (from a nursing home, perhaps?). “Nope,” Dixie said, “I’m on a date.”

Anyway, it was a nice story overall and interesting setting, but I didn’t think the movie told the truth in several places. Lots of individualism and the American dream transplanted to India, and those stories are untrue as far as I can tell.

But here is one place the film did tell the truth:

Indian Man (referring to English Breakfast tea): You call it “builder’s tea”?

Evelyn (Judi Dench): Yes. We dunk biscuits into it.

Man: Dunk?

Evelyn: Means lowering the biscuit into the tea and letting it soak in there and trying to calculate the exact moment before the biscuit dissolves, when you whip it up into your mouth and enjoy the blissful union of biscuits and tea combined. It’s more relaxing than it sounds.

Indeed. Biscuits (particularly the Maria ones) are a delight when dunked in tea.

Lots of news.

I suppose it’s time for me to say something about what’s next for us. I’m generally inclined to keep things like this to myself until such time as it feels right to talk about it, and that takes time to build as I process and begin to understand my own feelings and perceptions and let things settle in me. And I also kinda sorta wanted to wait for the official letter from the church, more as a formality than anything, or maybe as something to confirm that this is really real (’cause it’s a bit surreal). It’s easier to keep things from you, dear readers, but not so easily from friends who have traveled with us on this journey and who know the stages we are at and want to know what’s happening. And information is seeping its way out into the world, by word-of-mouth, Facebook, etc. (and Dixie writing a post about it today).

So I’ve been called to The Field. That’ll mean something to some of you and nothing to others. So: I’ve been called by a church in a field quite literally in the middle of nowhere (that is, it is not in or near a town). Plopped in a field in the middle of the the Wetaskiwin-Camrose-Ponoka triangle of Alberta. It’s called Malmo Mission Covenant Church.

It’s an associate pastor position, with responsibilities for youth, families, discipleship, intergenerational stuff, etc. A pretty broad position, in my view (hold the weight jokes, folks), with room for growth and learning and change and shaping. I’m quite excited (and nervous) about that. This is a process that started last fall sometime when I put my name into my denomination’s “system.” That was followed by phone calls, interviews, prayer, votes, and so on. Well, I suppose it goes back farther than that and even farther still.

The name of the church may sound familiar to some of you. That’s because it’s the one Randall is pastoring. That’s what makes this additionally surreal. Randall was there when the stirring began and had a big part to play in my developing sense of “calling.” To work with my friend, mentor, former pastor, and someone with experience and wisdom to share is quite a privilege as well.

So, the Vanderfamily will be moving to Alberta. When we got the announcement of the church’s vote while traveling in the car a couple of weeks ago, I said to the kids, “I got the job in Alberta. What do you guys think of that?” And Luke replied, “Okay I guess. But we’ll miss you.”

Adorable! Funny! So innocent! Or should I be concerned that he seemed unphased, that it didn’t seem like a big deal that Daddy was going away while they stayed here?

In some sense we have been for some time now carrying the burden of our childrens’ grief at moving away from their friends. Particularly Madeline’s. But the kids are excited at the prospect of this new adventure. I don’t think it has quite hit us yet that we are leaving friends as well. We’ve built some lasting ones here and it will be difficult to leave them. Of course, if we weren’t leaving them, they’d eventually be leaving us. That’s the nature of friendships made at educational institutions. But I do think that I am at least subconsciously beginning to grieve, if such a thing is possible. So I’m worried a bit that this post will sound too melancholic for what is actually good and exciting news. The excitement is building with each day, but that doesn’t mean grieving doesn’t get added to the mix.

A new chapter. A new adventure. A new home. A new community. New friends. New experiences. New joys. New mistakes. New successes. New lessons. Lots of news in the next couple of months.