Tag Archives: work

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.

How not to live well.

A robust theology of creation has a bearing on our view of work, I think. Work is not in and of itself the result of the fall. I won’t get into the details of such a theology, but simply say that it results in an understanding of most work as good and profitable and in keeping with our design as human beings.

But conceptually, what does this work look like? Does it simply mean “work hard and do your work well”? What does “well” mean? I’m sitting here huddled in a study room in the library. I should be finishing an assignment–one of three technically due by next Tuesday–and I’m caught in a tension I’ve created for myself. It’s between wanting to do something well and recognizing that I cannot do it all.

Before I came to seminary, I was told by someone in our denomination not to worry about marks so much. That’s difficult for me. I feel like the grade I receive on a paper reflects whether or not I did the paper well and right.

I’ve also been told on a number of occasions by one professor at least that I should not read my books word-for-word. That’s also difficult for me. If I’m going to read something, it seems to me that I should read it all. But that can get me into trouble. Sometimes the reading never ends, but my time does.

There are some maxims that float around the seminary. “Sometimes finishing well means simply finishing” (or something like that). In terms of work (including study) as an act of worship and as a part of an integrated life that includes other things like family and physical needs, “Sometimes getting an A on an assignment means getting a B from the Lord.” They might sound like trite platitudes, but they are true in many respects. Because doing something well is something much more holistic than simply getting a good grade or creating the best product or learning the most stuff. Life isn’t a compartmentalized thing, made up of individual units that can be measured in isolation from the others. My family life factors in to doing school well. So does my spiritual life. I may get A’s (As?) in my classes, but I’m not always (ever?) getting A’s in terms of a well-integrated life.

What this means is that sometimes simply getting things done is more important than doing that thing as well as possible. At least, “as well as possible” can only be measured truthfully in relation to every other aspect of my life. To measure my best for something in isolation from the other aspects of life is to create impossible expectations for myself, because my best in this sense–that is, any one thing in isolation–will always crowd out everything else.

And that, friends, is not how we live well.


What I need more than anything these days is time and space to think.  And maybe breathe.  Think and breathe.  Right now is the time that I’d like to claim last year’s birthday present from Dixie: a silent retreat or a weekend at a retreat centre of some kind.  It feels like life is barrelling forward and I’m just a passenger.  It’s heading in a good direction I think, but everything is whizzing by and it would be nice to stop and think and evaluate where I’m at and where I’m going.

Seems most of my spare (i.e. non-job-related) moments are focused on the seminary course I’m to complete by June 10.  That’ll be here before I know it and there is so much still to be done.  Some days I feel confident that I can complete the course, other days I feel like it’s impossible (and I start thinking about asking for an extension, which I really don’t want to do).

I’m neither a multitasker nor someone who can effectively divide his day into segments for this or that.  If I have something that needs doing, it’s on my mind exclusively (the corollary may just be that if I don’t foresee having the time to focus on and complete a task, I’m reluctant to start it).  So my spare moments are consumed with “I have to do read this” and “I have to write that” and “I have to research the other thing”.  I’m paying for the last three or four months which sort of disappeared without a trace.  And my family pays for it, too–with my lack of time or focus on them.  And I pay for it, because there are few clear moments.

I cherish those few normal, unencumbered, “present” moments.  Like at supper time I was looking at the ingredients of the “Real Fruit” popsicles.  I noted that they are largely made of fruit, but “hmm, it does contain sugar”.  Pretty unremarkable moment by any standard, but for a split second after I had said that I realized that I was really in that moment, I was really there, really present–nothing else was on my mind.  It was the pure joy of simple, every day, carefree inquiry, nothing else to worry about.

But if I do that too much, I won’t finish the course.

And because I don’t have much time to smell those proverbial roses, I find myself unsure of just what I’m thinking.  And some days I feel like I’m teetering on the brink of something.  I’m not sure that it’s a crisis of faith, exactly–or maybe it is, I don’t know–but I think regularly of those words by Robin Mark (which are likely just a rephrasing of something from the Psalms): “Make these broken, weary bones rise to dance again/ Wet this dry and thirsty land with a river”.

One of the workshops at the conference I attended in Chicago in February was on “The Spirituality of Preaching”.  The workshop leader said that it’s common for pastors/preachers to have times of feeling unqualified inadequate or fraudulent.  This was comforting to hear (that even people who are trained for that sort of thing have those feelings), except that I feel this not just sometimes, but often.

(As an aside, Dixie’s watching A Prairie Home Companion behind me as I write this [she wants me to say that she has it “on”, because she’s cleaning with the movie on in the background].  What a brilliant movie.  It brings joy and laughter.  Brilliant cast.  I’m thinking particularly of Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep, but everyone is really good, even Garrison Keillor as himself.  You should rent it.)

At the same time, there is hope, though I’m not quite sure what to make of the type of hope.

In his book, The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight posits that the general arc of the Bible is from oneness (Adam & Eve) to otherness (from the fall to Christ) and oneness (Christ as oneness, to be followed by universal oneness when Christ returns).  This oneness is relational: my relationship with God, with myself, with others, and with the world.  How God works out his redemptive plan (that is, fixing the “otherness”) is through and in covenant (!) community, first Israel and then the church.  This struck me as such a beautiful way of expressing things and such a beautiful picture of our past and our future.  And I see evidence of this community-as-redemptive-vessel in my life.

It seems that I feel lowest as the week progresses and I’ve spent much time in my own scattered, mixed up thoughts–when I’m left to my own devices.  But meeting with people, particularly on Sunday mornings, is always a great encouragement.  I find hope in that community.  Maybe it’s just psychological, in the sense that they affirm me in what I do when I preach or whatever.  But I think it’s more, too.  I was thinking tonight about how I am not expected to be anything but me in that community–I’m not expected to be more “spiritual” or to behave a certain way.  Of course as a community it has its faults, as any community does, but there is love there and there is hope.  And somehow that restores me, if only for a time.

Doing more than you are able

Be careful to preserve your health. It is a trick of the devil, which he employs to deceive good souls, to incite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything.

— St. Vincent de Paul


A lesson many of us could learn.  People these days seem busier than ever.  A lesson for me, too, being one who has difficulty saying “No” when asked for something.

Week the second

I’ve been wearing my Cross Mr. Grumpy Face (Adrian Plass) for a couple of days, due to a combination of fatigue, stress, and being fed-up with the kids’ behaviour (and each cause accelerates the next).  For a while I felt like I had been yelling at the kids for two days straight.  However, I received some good news today, which lightened my load and thereby my stress considerably.  The news is this: I can choose which seminary assignment is due at the end of November.  I was under the impression that the lecture/reading/questions portion of the course was due then.  After putting together a schedule I realized that I would be spending most of my spare time for the next month on that assignment in order to finish it on time.  Now I can read one of the other textbooks and do a short reflective/critical paper on it or do a word study on a series of Greek terms.  Both of those feel much more manageable.

I’ve been adjusting to the my new work arrangements.  I recognized that I needed to take some time in the mornings at the church to decompress, which this morning consisted of reading the Psalter and a little prayer (all legitimate work, folks!).  I’m a fidgety person at the best of times and combined with the go-get-’em pace at the law office I find that at the church I constantly feel like moving on to something other than what I’m doing at the moment.  The pacing is so different.

Spent some time visiting people today, which was nice.  “Visiting people”.  “Visitation” sounds more official.  Visitation was probably my biggest fear about working at/for the church, but it has gone well so far.  I was told to just be myself, not try to be pastorly and that seems to work.  Everything else just happens.

Part of my concern with visitation was that many shut-ins wouldn’t know me from a hole in the wall.  And vice-versa.  The other concern was that they would think that I was only visiting them because I’m paid to do so.  I suppose that’s true in a sense, but I don’t like the negative spin there; it’s true in the sense that my position at the church gives me the time and freedom to do that sort of thing.  And I’ve enjoyed it so far.

I’ve mentioned before (maybe not here) that it’s a shame that our church building sits empty most of the time.  Since starting my time at the church, this has become more pronounced: just me in a several thousand square foot office—or, rather, just me in a moderately-sized room inside a gigantic unused space.  In general it only gets used a couple of mornings per week.  It’s a great space, but it’s a shame to put so many resources into a mostly unused building.  It’d be nice to fill its halls and rooms on a daily basis somehow.

That’s the news from Prince Albert, where the Tim Hortons’ are slow, a diamond mine may or may not be a pipe dream, and the number of dollar stores per capita is well above average.

What have I gotten myself into?

The material for my Patristic Fathers seminary course has arrived.  I’m looking at 2,000 pages of reading (which all looks interesting), not including whatever I’ll be reading for the research paper , plus lectures (on CD) and assignments.  I have 8 months to complete everything, but it still looks a bit daunting at this stage.

Then next week I start my bi-vocational life.  On Wednesday and Thursday I’ll be working at the church.  So I’ll be juggling two-part time jobs and all that entails.  My current job I can leave at work; my second job at church will spill over into “non-work” time.  I guess that’s one of the things I’ll face if I “go into ministry”.  There was a time in my life when all I wanted was a 9-5 job, something I could forget about at 5p.m. sharp.  I’d still like that, but it may no longer be in the proverbial cards.

So, two big things landing in my life at approximately the same time.  I can handle it.  I’m looking forward to it.  I’m terrified.  It’ll be great.  I’m feeling like adult responsibility is suddenly upon me (what children?) and it scares me: what if I’m not ready?  (Yes. I know. I’m nearly 31.)  What if I can’t handle it?  What if I blow it?

Now, I would be okay with all of that, because those events and responsibilities will unfold as time goes by.  However, I’m scheduled to speak on Sunday and the sermon just isn’t coming together, which makes everything else seem that much worse.

I’m having university flash-backs.  The knot in my gut because of a looming deadline—4 days until the due date and still no topic.*  Only, I can’t turn in my sermon late or get an extension, now can I?

I should resurrect my old motto again: “All in good time.”  Let’s hope “in good time” means before Sunday morning.

*I have a topic (or at least a passage of scripture) for the sermon, I think, but you see what I’m saying.

Man of the Cloth, part 3: Getting my feet wet.

I’ve been holding off posting about this, but Phil W. kind of outed me in his comment on my previous post, which is perfectly fine, since I had no good reason not to post about it.  I’ve simply been holding my cards close to my chest again.

So…I’ve been hired by our church to work there on a temporary, part-time basis.  I haven’t signed anything and we haven’t worked out the details (but presumably I’m still hired, even after yesterday’s sermon).  The short answer, since I don’t know all the specifics yet, is that I’ll be doing a combination of administrative things (from answering the phone to organizing the worship schedule) as well as speaking somewhat regularly. The position doesn’t have a title—the word “pastor” will not apply, at any rate—I will simply be the administrative, pulpit-supply guy.  I figure I’ll be kind of like a seat-filler, except I’ll have significantly more responsibility (rather than just sitting in a chair).

The idea, as I understand it, is two-fold: first, to have some continuity in terms of the going’s on at the church, between Randall and Lauralea’s departure and the arrival of the new pastor; second, to give me an opportunity to try things out a bit in a church setting—an opportunity for some further discernment about our future.  It’s quite cool.  (When they asked me, I said, “This is crazy.  Do people do this?”)  I’m excited and I hope it goes well.  I presume that I’ll be starting late October or early November, but as I say, we haven’t worked out the details.  It’s open ended and could last anywhere from 1 month (or less even?) to several months.

What an interesting, bizarre, unexpected year it has been. I’ve written before about going to seminary and moving in the direction of “formal ministry” (I’m not sure what else to call it), in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Man of the Cloth posts.

I’m on the brink of enrolling in a seminary class.  I’m not sure what’s stopping me anymore.  I was holding off until I got a sense of how things would go at the church, but I think I’ll start with a distance learning course, which I can finish in up to 8 months.  My plan right now is to take a class on the Patristic Fathers.  Linea is taking a Greek class, her thinking being that she may as well start with a doozy of a class to give her some clarity on whether or not to walk this road.  This makes sense, and she had me wondering if I should do the same thing, but Patristic Fathers sounds interesting and I can take 2 classes without enrolling in a specific program, so I’ll save Greek and Hebrew for when I fully commit to seminary.

So…life is in transition, along with everyone else.

In which I don’t quite get it.

Me: What is your occupation?

Client: Hairstylist…

Me: (writing) “Hairstylist.”

Client: …and esthetician.

Me: Hairstylist and anaesthetician?  That’s an interesting combination.

Client: ESThetician.

Me: Oh, I see. . . What is that?

Client: (tries to explain)

Me: I’ll just put “Hairstylist”.


esthetician: someone who specializes in the study of skin care.

anaesthetist: registered nurse and advanced practice nurse who has acquired additional education and training to administer anesthesia.

This call may be recorded

Part of my job is to pay out people’s mortgages when they sell their homes.  I request a payout statement in advance, but some banks or some mortgage types require confirmation of the payout amount on the day you plan on paying.  Today I called a bank to do just that.  (This bank has, confusingly, individual departments for several different loan types).  But I got to where I needed to get (through the phone menu) and had the following conversation:

Bank: [monotone, grumpy-sounding guy] Thank you for calling This Bank*.  My name is Roger Q. Bankguy, how can I help you?

Marc: Hi, I’d like to confirm a mortgage payout.  I’ll give you the mortgage number—I mean, loan reference number?

B: Hold on.  Is this a mortgage?  Or a Loan With A Name Unique To This Bank?

Marc: I pushed the “loan” button.  It’s a loan.

B: You said “mortgage”.

Marc: I meant “loan”.

B: I can only go by what you say.

[I said loan.]

Marc: You want the loan number?

B: OK.

Marc: 12345-6789

B: Just a minute

[I’m put on hold]

B: Which province are you calling from?

Marc: Saskatchewan.

B: Can I have that number again?

Marc: 12345-6789.  Do you want the transit number?

B: No, that’s fine.

Marc: It’s for Mrs. Jane Q. Pu—

B: Yep.

Marc: I’m looking for an updated payout amount.

B: I can’t give you the actual amount owing.

Marc: It says on your payout statement that I should call you to confirm the payout amount.

B: I can only confirm a number.

Marc: What do you mean?

B: I can only say “Yes” or “No” to a number you give me.

Marc: OK. . . The amount for September 1st, according to your payout statement, was $76,543.21.

B: No, I don’t have that here.  That’s not the right amount.

Marc: OK.

B: You have to add in the per diem.

Marc: OK.  Hold on [quick interest calculations] How about $76,553.21?

B: No, I don’t have that amount here.

Marc: You can’t just give me the payout amount for tomorrow?  Your payout statement says in big, bold letters that I should call the bank to confirm the payout amount.

B: I can only confirm a number you give me.

Marc: Can I give you another number, then?

B: Well. . . I can only stay on the line for so long.  You can’t just throw out random numbers.

Marc: It’s not random numbers, I’m just adding another day’s interest.

B: OK, go ahead.

Marc: How about $76,563.21?

B: No, I don’t have that amount here.

Marc: *Exasperated sigh* OK, thank you.

*Click* (firmly)

* * *

When Dixie read this conversation she said, “It did say ‘confirm'”, implying that saying so doesn’t mean they’ll give me an amount.  But how does that even make sense?  If they are just confirming an amount I give them, the odds are against me getting it right.  Unless I get the number exactly right, they will say “No, that isn’t right.”  So what’s the point of calling at all?

Last summer I spent probably 15-20 minutes on the phone with this same bank trying to get through to someone in a particular department: menus without the options I’m looking for, which leads to someone in the wrong department, who puts me through to the right department, who can’t find the file, who puts me through to another department, and so on.

And you know what they all say?  “We’ve made some changes to our system to improve your banking experience.”  FALSE.

There’s another bank running the following advertising slogan: “You’re richer than you think.”  Also false, unless I’m crazy and credit debt is actually wealth.  It drives me nuts every time I see it.  Could there be a more misleading and financially destructive slogan?

*grumble grumble*

Anyway. . .

*Names and numbers have been changed to protect the identity of those who were involved.  Except my name.  My name is staying the same. . .  and. . . I am. . . completely exposed.