Category Archives: life online

Blogging and more books!

Haven’t posted in almost a year and a half. I haven’t given up on blogging. Let’s say I needed a break and that this was a hiatus, like the professionals have. I’ve been thinking about getting back to this again. I do like writing, or the idea of writing, and lately I’ve had the urge to get back to it. Being notoriously undisciplined with this sort of thing, we will have to see how this actually turns out.

My IP guy is shuttering his business at the end of this year, so I will need to move this to some other platform. seems like the natural choice, blogger the more permanent—but then Google has unexpectedly shut things down before, so who really knows. Maybe I should go with something trendier, like SquareSpace.

In the mail today was my copy of Remainders of the Day: More Diaries from the Bookshop, Wigtown by Shaun Bythell. He’s a man about my age who has been running a used bookshop in small-town Scotland for more than 20 years. This is the third instalment in this series of books and I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. (I bought it from, where I can get books on the UK release date, which is usually a couple of months earlier than the North American release date.) Each book is a year’s worth of diary entries, reflecting on the work, commenting on quirky and annoying customers and employees. Witty. Sarcastic. Quite enjoyable.

I realized that three out of the four books I’m actively reading right now are a sort of book version of social media. I’m reading the bookshop diary, which is a series of relatively short entries, which I can read in fits and starts. I’m also reading In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin’s travel book from the 70s, which has short, episodic chapters; and Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, which is also a series of relatively short entries, being a collection of his letters. Bite-sized reading, like Twitter, or watching YouTube. It’s easy to read this way, but it doesn’t make deeper, longer reading—a skill many are losing—any easier.

I suspect I read these kinds of books as a kind of escapism, even though they are all non-fiction and reflect real life. I imagine what the lives and experiences of the narrators are like. World travellers fascinate me, though I’m not sure it would interest me as something to do unless I had all the time and money in the world to do it leisurely and comfortably. No long-term backpacking and hitchhiking for me. Writers also fascinate me, but so far Kurt Vonnegut’s life, at least according to his letters, is very ordinary, which is as it should be, I suppose. Of the three, used bookshop owner is the one that appeals most to me—especially if it’s a used bookshop somewhere in small-town UK, is a sleepy one like Shaun’s that also somehow pays the bills, and also involves writing bestselling diaries (best of both worlds!)

I’ve been on a bit of a book tear, recently. Somehow I ended up reading a list of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and several stood out to me. I’ve had good enjoyment luck with Pulitzer-winning books (exception: Empire Falls was underwhelming, but I didn’t read it because it won the prize, but because a “If you liked this book, you’ll like that book” website recommended it, based on my love of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Turns out that’s not necessarily how things work.) Anyway, I wanted to find some new novels to read and the list of winners seemed as good a place as any to start.

I made a list of books I’m interested in and added them to my birthday wishlist. Then I also came across a “Best Travel Books” list on Goodreads. Wanting to expand my travel reading out from Bill Bryson and John Krakauer, I added more to the list. Then I remembered I wanted to clear out my bookshelves a bit, which I did, and traded for solid credit at George Strange’s Bookmart, as used bookstore in Brandon, the nearby city. There I found quite a few gems—novels, travelogues, some of which were on my list, and an account of some 17th or 18th century disaster at sea. Somewhere in there, after seeing Beyond Van Gogh: the Immersive Experience and being quite moved by the whole thing, including his written words, I acquired a copy of Van Gogh’s letters.

And now I’m set for reading for a while. Because I wasn’t before, right?

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!

8 year anniversary

I’m in the midst of (mostly) finishing up this semesters work. Two more weeks of class, and in that time I have 3 major assignments, an exam, some paperwork, translation and quizzes to do. This ignores the 4 major assignments I have left to do for a directed study course due in early January, for which I will have to get an extension. Eep.

Anyway, in the midst of all this, I thought it might be nice to mention that today is my 8-year blogging anniversary. I’ve been at this for eight years now, since just before Madeline’s first birthday! I started blogging on this day under slightly false pretenses. I promoted my blog by emailing friends and family and saying that I was doing them a favour by posting pictures of Madeline on my blog rather than filling up their inboxes with them. Pictures of said child were few and far between in subsequent posts.

It has been an interesting journey, if I may be so pompous as to call blogging such. You might say it was a meteoric rise, relatively speaking. In less than a year, I owned my own domain name and was posting almost at an average of twice a day. My hit-count was decent. A community of sorts developed between my readers and other blogs I read. My wife, as I recall, complained about the time I spent writing on the blog and interacting with the comments.  Eventually, I settled on a once-a-day average, and my wife also started blogging, rising to “fame” and “fortune” in the lucrative “Reflective Mommy Blog” category (philosopher sub-category). And then, life started changing. I went to seminary, and it almost killed this blog.

Along the way I’ve written some stuff that I’ve truly been proud of, stuff written with passion and clarity. I’ve written some stuff I wish I hadn’t. I’ve written some stuff that I thought wasn’t that valuable, but which other people thought helpful. I’ve written some stuff that unintentionally started arguments. I think I’ve probably written some stuff that intentionally started arguments. I’ve written a lot of stuff that was speculative. And I’ve almost written a lot of stuff that never saw the proverbial light of day.

The really cool thing, though, is that I made new friends through this blog. I won’t list them all here for fear of missing someone. But we’ve made friends that we’ve visited with, eaten with, traveled to, debated with. We’ve made friends in other countries. We’ve made friends that eventually connected us with a community where we made more friends. Those friends and that community, in turn, had a big role in getting us to the place where we are now, nearly finished seminary and just about ready to enter the real world in vocational ministry.

Interesting how a seemingly simple and inconsequential choice can lead to such grand, life-changing experiences!

So here I sit at year eight, entering the ninth, without much energy at the moment to write in this space. It has become somewhat neglected. Some say blogging is a thing of the past. The world really does change quickly. But I’m not ready to give up on this medium. 140 characters just won’t do it for me and neither does the cluttered all-inclusive noise of Facebook (at Google+ seems, at the moment, to be a bit of a failure). There is still something about a blog…

So here’s to eight years of blogging and to some more.

Blogs in transition

I’m sad to see that the Philgrim has put his blog “on ice”, but good for him anyway. I am not going to announce a similar move here, but I can understand the move. Perhaps you would expect a same move from me, but I still feel compelled to keep writing here, even though I do so less now than ever. It’s a bit odd how little I’ve written here or on the “social networks” considering how much time I spend (read: waste) on them.

What I have considered on occasion is changing this blog or starting anew as I enter a new season of life after this school year. I’ve thought of going through my archives and selecting particularly journal-y or reflective posts and getting them bound as a book so that I have a hard-copy to keep with my other journals (I haven’t yet warmed up to “the cloud”). See, for instance. I could then delete the rest of this blog and start over.

Another option I’ve considered is to split up and, both of which have always directed here. would then carry on this material and would be something else.

I confess that part of the reason I’m considering this is that I’m not quite sure how to navigate this space from being the writings of a “lay person” to being the writings of someone who has a position of some degree of authority in a church setting. Yes, yes, the priesthood of all believers, we all have different roles but we’re still all human, etc. etc. Yet, the reality remains that what I’ve written here could cause unnecessary grief for me and my family simply because of my job.

I don’t intend to hide anything from anyone, but not every thought needs to be shared (even if I’m thoroughly convinced of its truth), and I am conscious of the very real possibility of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of things written, particularly online. I’m thinking particularly in terms of what I have written previously and my own spiritual progression over the years. I don’t remember everything I’ve written here; I may or may not still believe or think some of the things I believed or thought (and wrote down here) 3 or 5 or 7 years ago. This is natural, of course, but I’m not sure this notion of development is always clear to everyone.

Anyway. I’m not going to change anything any time soon, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. There are a number of things to consider as we (hopefully) make a major life transition in the next 8 months or so.

Miscellaneous Musings

After two years, I have finally figured out why I have been blogging a lot less since entering seminary. My blogging was already on the wane prior to our move, but I had expected the intellectual stimulation of the seminary classroom to fuel the proverbial fires of this blog. That did not happen.

What I didn’t account for was this: seminary friends. And not just any seminary friends, but seminary friends who enjoy few things as much as discussing theology, to the point that almost anything we do together (such as a poker night) inevitably turns into a theological discussion.

The discussion I would normally try to generate on this blog, I am now having in the seminary classrooms, hallways, and in my home. I therefore feel less inclined to post my thoughts here.

This has made me realize that in this respect seminary is certainly a bubble. Nowhere else will I find so many people interested in which theological book I’m reading, or what Barth or Bonhoeffer or Wright has to say about something. I suspect I will be in for a sort of “culture shock” once I’m finished here. I expect my blogging volume will increase correspondingly.

* * *

There was a time when I thought “best of” and “favourite” lists were fun exercises. “Best album of the 90s”; “Favourite albums of all time”; “5 Desert Island Books”; etc. I am now at the point where I usually think this is a useless exercise, because the details of those lists change almost weekly, depending on mood and current taste.

It occurred to me, however, that a more objective approach to this list business is the “25 Most Played” feature on my iPod. I got quite excited about the potential results–what are my favourites based on actual frequency played rather than on nostalgia (which allows a favourite even if the CD hasn’t been played in years).

Last night I checked my iPod’s stats and was sorely disappointed in the results. Of course I should have expected this.

#1: “Grace and Peace” by Fernando Ortega, which we wake up to every morning.

The other 24 were the songs, sometimes duplicate, from the Barenaked Ladies’ children’s album, Snacktime, which Olivia goes to sleep to almost every night.


* * *

I sometimes come up with strange ideas, ideas which probably seemed hilarious or brilliant (or both) at the time, but now seem more embarrassing than anything.

Consider, for instance, a note I wrote some years ago, presumably as an idea for a possible blog post. Dixie found it this morning as she was cleaning out some clutter. It was in a small box filled with notes and old receipts which we for some reason thought necessary to bring with us on our move to Manitoba.

I don’t know how long ago I wrote this, but here it is:

What would a world of uninhibited flatulence be like? A world in which we could fart freely, without embarrassment or fear of social recriminations? A world in which Dutch ovens would be given as loving gifts


Post of the Year

Who am I to say what my post of the year is?  I suppose that should be decided by my readers.

We’ve arrived in Prince Albert and I’m fully into the early stages of the flu: runny nose, aching body, chills, headache. What a way to start the Christmas break!  I suspect it’s as a result of my trying to dig out the van when we hit the ditch the other day. I didn’t have proper snow pants on and spent quite a bit of time out there. Plus, my adrenaline probably ran out when I handed in my last assignment of the semester on Monday.

But I digress. I confess I have neither the will nor the strength scan through all of my 2010 post. No matter–I’m convinced this is the best one. In fact, it may well be the only post I wrote this year that I think is worth reading.

Written on February 19, 2010, it’s a reflection on good, evil, and God, prompted by a Bruce Cockburn song I was listening to at the time. This isn’t a post putting forward tentative theological ideas, as I usually do. These words came from my heart and my guts, which is why, I think, they continue to resonate with me.

* * *

how faint the whisper we hear of him! (Job 26:14, TNIV)

* * *

is bigger than you can imagine
is forever (Bruce Cockburn)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about pain and suffering and genocide and natural disasters and…God.  Without diminishing the pain and horror, and without denying the legitimacy of our incredulity, our anger at God for allowing these things to happen, I do have the strong sense that we humans are awfully short-sighted in our assessment of what God is or is not doing in the world. What truths can we derive from our suffering when it is but a blip of an event in the continuum of history?  What do we, with our short lives, know about how these things fit in the great scheme of things?

And what of all the beauty and goodness we see in the world?  Should God get any credit for those things?  Should the bad things outweigh the good?

Perhaps it is easy for me to say this sitting comfortably in my Poäng chair at home, surrounded by books, family, love, health and…a roof and walls, but there runs inside me a deep vein of hope.  There is good in the world and it will prevail. I believe this deeply.

Hope does not do away with the pain and suffering, and neither does it justify or excuse it.  Hope does not mean we cannot or do not weep, grieve, shout at God in anger.  What hope does is see, if faintly and uncertainly, beyond pain and suffering to the time when, in Julian of Norwich’s wonderful words, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”.

Tonight I had Bruce Cockburn’s album You’ve Never Seen Everything playing in the background as I worked.  The title track is quite a powerful song.  On first listen it comes across as a heavily political song, which is not unusual for Cockburn.  It is a dark song, sparse instrumentation, with lyrics spoken in a low, tired, almost pained voice.

The listener is presented with a series of vignettes showing the dark underbelly of the world: viruses, suicide, murder, drug trade, sexual harassment, consumerism, poisoning of women and children, rage, greed, and so on.  After a couple of these vignettes, the words, “You’ve never seen everything”.  For example:

And a car crashes and burns on an offramp from the Gardiner
Two dogs in the back seat die, and in the front
a man and his mother
Forensics reveals the lady has pitchfork wounds in her chest –
And that the same or a similar instrument has been screwed to the dash
to make sure the driver goes too

You’ve never seen everything

The listener is shaken out of his or her stupor: there is so much darkness beyond that comfortable little world you’ve created for yourself, he seems to be saying. You think you get it?  You think you understand the world–like watching the nightly news gives you any sense of what’s going on?

For the longest time I would simply skip over the song.  It was too dark, too discomforting.  And the only reason I did choose to listen to it was to get to the chorus, which is a rich, beautiful melody dropped in the middle of those dark vignettes:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around

Until tonight I wasn’t sure what to do with that chorus, other than enjoy it as a brief reprieve from the dark images being spoken around it.  The song is the shadow, it seemed to me, and the chorus but a thin ribbon of half-light running through it.  But suddenly, tonight, perhaps in confirmation of the things I’ve been thinking about hope, I realized what the song is actually saying.  It ends with the chorus and repeated mantra:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around
Never feel the light falling all around

You’ve never seen everything

It’s not the darkness we haven’t seen around us, it’s the light!  We think we’ve seen it all when we see the pain and sorrow of the world, but we haven’t seen everything: we haven’t seen the light falling all around, filling all the infinite space in which the ribbon of shadow moves.  We choose to ride the ribbon of darkness when we could just as well ride the light if we are willing to see it.

In fact, the album ends quite abruptly a few songs later on the word “hope”.

* * *
The original post is here if you want to follow the discussion that went with it (comments there are closed, but they are open here).

I will survive. Right? I will, won’t I?

Another apology for my lack of blogging is coming your way, dear readers. It frustrates me more than anyone. I’d love to have the inspiration, time and energy to write in this space every day.

A combination of program requirements and my own wishes in terms of study focus led to a semester of 5 classes. This is technically the rate at which a person is to finish an M.Div. in the alloted 3 years. I had hoped to be able to take a maximum of 4 classes per semester by supplementing my regular semester classes with May week-long courses. I still plan on supplementing, but this semester I had to take five classes anyway.

It gets tricker to fit in the required courses with each year I advance in this degree. Not only do I have requirements to worry about, but I also want to take all the Hebrew and Greek classes I can, which means some of my biblical studies electives, normally used for, say, a class on one of the gospels or Romans, will be used for languages. I insist on taking all the Greek and Hebrew I can because I can see myself reading books on Luke or Romans outside of the seminary setting, whereas I cannot see myself picking up a Hebrew or Greek grammar for intensive study on my own time. This, in turn, narrows my options for elective and required courses, making class scheduling each semester that much trickier. (Only 1 required course not taken out of some 25 is available next semester.)

But I digress.

This semester has been good, but busy. On top of an unusually high amount of reading and papers, I regularly lose almost an entire weekday of potential study time in order to fulfill the practical requirements (visitation) of one of my pastoral classes. I do enjoy this time and wouldn’t change it, but I sometimes wonder how much difference one extra day of study and reading could make.  (If I’m honest with myself, it wouldn’t make much difference at all, given my work habits.)

Today I had another look at the syllabi for next semester’s classes. They’re all pretty much sorted out (there will be only 4 of them, for one), but I have to make a choice between two theology electives: either “Being Human” or “New Testament Theology”. I’m leaning more towards New Testament Theology, because I’m thinking that it might be a good thing for me to spend more time in the biblical texts themselves, rather than exploring a more general theology. The problem, however, is that the New Testament Theology class is heavy on reading.  The required reading includes the entire New Testament and a nearly 600-page theology textbook, among other things. This will all be beneficial to me, I think, but it also means fewer assignments worth a larger portion of the final grade, which means a smaller margin for sloppiness/error/just getting the dang paper done.

Looking at next semester’s syllabi hasn’t helped my stress levels at all. I’ve got 13 assignments and papers of varying difficulty to complete by December 17. That’s stress enough. I shouldn’t add the stress of next semester on to current stress. I’m nearly at the point of I-don’t-care-anymore-I-just-want-to-finish-this, which isn’t a good place to be, in my mind. Marks aren’t everything, of course, but in this work mode learning suffers as well.

What this means, though, is that, if I’m smart, over Christmas I will not do much “free reading”, but read ahead for class. So much for Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, Brueggeman’s The Prophetic Imagination, Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, or possibly getting through a good chunk of The New Testament and the People of God. The funny thing is that yesterday I thought to myself that it might be more profitable for me to not read more books and novels, but just read the Bible for a while. Maybe that should tell me something, I suppose.

Alas, it also means less time to write here.

And so, friends, one day I will tell you more about our trip to England and maybe something cool Miroslav Volf said about faith in Free of Charge. But not today.

Community theology blog

Last year, Hendrikson Publishers bought the rights to the old printing of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and has made the 14-volume work available for $99 (US). A number of seminary student pounced on the opportunity and purchased the set, which has now shipped!

Several of us were talking the other day about having a Barth bl0g to reflect on our reading of Church Dogmatics. And so I went and set up a group blog: I Heart Barth.

The blog won’t be just about Barth, though. It will be a blog of theological reflections based on a range of theologians.  There are four “authors” at this point, all of them Providence Seminary students, with more authors possibly to be added as time goes by.

I just created this blog last night and have written the only post there at this point. It kind of gives the story of the blog and its intent.  But keep checking back for updates. [UPDATE: Joel has now posted as well.]

Read it, subscribe to it, comment.  It should be fun!

(PS. I haven’t been updating much here lately, especially and unexpectedly not in terms of theology. Hopefully this other group blog will inspire me to write more.  I’ll likely cross-post between the two blogs, or link to new posts there.  But read that blog anyway, because there are other writers there.)

Technical difficulties

(Warning: mildly boring post ahead.)

It occurred to me tonight that it’s high time for another England post. However, we’re experiencing some technical difficulties with our desktop, which holds our photographs. I suppose I could just use a memory stick to move them over to the laptop. Maybe I will.  Maybe.

So a couple of weeks ago our flatscreen monitor, which we bought a couple of years ago, started acting funny. Normally, when the computer shuts down, the monitor goes into power-save mode and a blue light flashes around the power button. When the desktop is turned on, the monitor also turns on. However, a couple of weeks ago things changed. When I turned on the desktop, the monitor wouldn’t turn on, but would actually do the reverse: the blue light flashing around the power button would turn off completely and the screen would remain dark even after the computer had booted up. Only by a repeated sequence of unplugging the power to the monitor, plugging it back in, waiting to see if the blue light turns on and if so letting it sit for a while, then unplugging it and plugging it in again would the monitor eventually stay on. It’s almost as if the monitor has to warm up.

This began after a week of storms during which our power repeatedly turned off while the computer was on.  Everything is plugged into a heavy-duty surge strip, but I thought perhaps the monitor’s hardware had been adversely effected by the frequent power surges.

Today I plugged the monitor into the laptop and bing-bang-boom, it worked fine.

Not long after this (or possibly at the same time), our internet connection starting acting up.  Suddenly, the computer was giving “weak or no signal” alerts on its network connection. The wireless network adaptor (an alternate option on the desktop) was picking up the campus wireless, but only a very weak signal, which it constantly dropped.

I had one of the school’s computer people over to check it out, thinking it was a problem with the line coming into the house.  But the land line works well and is very fast when connected to the laptop. So the problem is the desktop.

It’s either hardware or software.  I’m not aware of any major software updates or changes in the last couple of months. Thinking my ethernet card was worn out or broken, I borrowed an ethernet card from the school to see if that would make a difference.  I haven’t installed it yet, but I’m not holding my breath.  After doing some online reading today and speaking with one of the school’s computer technicians, I’m worried that perhaps it’s the motherboard going.  There seems to be some kind of power loss going on.

I know nothing about motherboards.

However, I would consider buying a new motherboard if a) it would be cheaper than replacing the whole desktop, and b) it’s not too complicated to install.

I’m looking at you, Toni–what do you make of this?

At any rate, I’ve started transferring about 80GB of data from the hard drive to the external hard drive, just in case things go bad.

Am I doing some kind of cyber cross-pollination by suggesting you read @XIANITY on Twitter?  I just found him/her via @boydston and it’s absolutely gold material. GOLD, I tell you!  I’ve just started reading the nearly 600 Tweets.  Here’s my favourite so far (they’re posted as news items by various categories):

PURITANS: Jonathan Edwards to @JohnPiper “You complete me”. John Piper to Jonathan Edwards “You had me at Hell”.


(Also, I’m a sucker for a good pop culture reference.  Here’s another one: “CHURCH: Seeker friendly ‘There Will Be Blood’ communion service goes too far after use of milkshake for the cup.”)

(OK, just a few more:

“TULIPS: Unpublished reformation manuscript confirms 6th point of Calvinism that many suspected existed all along: Smug Superiority”

“PROPHECY: Touring Israel & out of his mind with hunger, John Hagee unwittingly delays rapture by eating the red heifer.”

“MUSIC: “I’ll Fly Away” with Tuvan throat singers last straw for creative but troubled worship leader.”

“TECH: Steve Jobs descends from Mt. Sinai and smashes Apple Tablet in anger upon finding impatient mac users worshiping Kindles”

“THEOLOGY: Feuding nerds come to agreement that regular orcs could become Christians, but the Uruk Hai are beyond redemption.”

“THEOLOGY: Young Earth & Old Earth creationists agree to Middle Earth compromise, Hobbits object.)