Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What to do in Isolation


Okay, since March 13, 2020, Canada has changed and most of us find ourselves with much more time in our homes. How do we survive mentally, physically, and spiritually in this present state of affairs? I do not claim to be an expert, but here are some things I have found helpful.

1.     Now is a great time to read that book you have been meaning to read that will make you better at your job. There may also be a novel or a self-help book that has been sitting on a shelf just waiting for a time like this.

2.     Do those job searches you have been meaning to do. Is this the time to choose to work at something for which you are passionate?

3.     Take an online course. Is there something that will make you more employable when you come out of isolation? Many schools have switched to online delivery. Perhaps now is the time to get on board.

4.     Rest. Most of us do not need this reminder but it is important to say, keep good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at the same time every night and especially get up at the same time every morning.

5.     Not only could you read, but you could write. Have you dreamed of having time to write a blog, a book, a song, or poetry? Now might be the time. Writing a blog, book, song, or poetry is not for everyone, but you could take this time to hand-write letters or cards to friends and family.

6.     Keep to routines. Not just sleep routines but all routines of the day: take out the garbage, check for mail delivery, walk the dog, and many more things can be part of your daily routine.

7.     Eat and drink in moderation. Remember, you are likely not getting your usual amount of exercise.

8.     Schedule times to talk with people in your home. Perhaps you might do this while playing a game together.

9.     Schedule times to talk with extended family through phone calls and video calls.

10.   Although we must maintain good social-distancing, watch for ways to help others. Is there a fragile person in your neighbourhood that could use something left on the porch? Can you put something in the window to encourage those who are out for a walk?

11.   If you have the supplies, build something.

12.   Stay spiritually healthy. Do the things that keep you connected with God. Listen to sermons online, read your Bible and good books, pray with others online.

There are a few ideas. I am sure we could all add more. Let’s do our best to stay heathy in a complex world.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Of Moral Compasses and Society



In the Garden of Eden, one of the choices which faced the first humans was a choice between what is good for the community and what is good for the individual. Adam and Eve faced a moral choice to either obey God’s community standards or obey the voice of selfishness personified in a snake. We know very little of the thought processes of Adam and Eve in that prehistoric garden, only the vignettes God reveals in the words of Genesis 2, 3, and 4, and we do well to learn what God seeks to teach us through their lives.

Genesis 1 begins with the Creator as a community of persons creating a marvelously interwoven interdependent biosphere.[1] The emphasis is on the blue planet, third from the sun in our solar system, but of course the entire universe is God’s creation and humans are asked to care for it all. The Creator, in his first instructions to humanity, gives them the task of caring for all that has been created.[2] There are a couple of clues that this is a community task and not the individual responsibility of one couple. First, we get an indication that the creation is so large that two would not be able to care for it all. Secondly, Adam and Eve receive the instructions to be fruitful and multiply so that there may be more people to join in the care of the garden, the planet, and all of creation. There is much more that could be said of the plan God has for the care of his creation, but most of it comes down to the fact that humans are created in the image of God and are designed to care for what he cares about. Thus, humans must care for God’s creation, which of course includes other human beings. The task God gives humans is daunting: take care of a whole planet and indeed a whole universe, but the Creator makes the planet (and the universe) remarkably self-sustaining and self-renewing.[3]

Then, going back to the Garden of Eden, we read of that first choice: to do what is good for the community of humans and for the creation, or to do what enhances personal knowledge and personal power. The temptation that is offered is devious and enticing for any human: trust that what God has said is right for his creation or take control and do things our own individual way. Listen in to the insidious temptation: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ … You will not certainly die, … when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Confusing words for any listener. “Wait, what did God say? What did the snake say?” Ultimately, a choice is made between following the instructions of the One who knows how the universe works (following the manual – so to speak) or choosing to do what enhances the individual.

Ever since that first inflection point of choice, we have seen humanity come to similar places of decision over and over again. When tribal families in geographic areas face a new group of families with similar or different lifestyles, they must decide whether they will fight against them for the resources of that place or collaborate together in an expanded community. When the great empires and kingdoms of the world rise up, the individual must choose between obeying the community/kingdom laws or choosing what is good for themselves/their small family. When democratic governments rise to the forefront and recognize the tensions and balances between the individual, the society, the family, and world cultures, the individual must again make choices between personal pursuits and the pursuits of the society at large. In current vernacular, the individual must ask, “Should I work to ensure there is enough hand-sanitizer to meet the needs of the community or stockpile the product and sell it for a profit?”

Keith Boag, an opinion columnist for CBC News, recently wrote an article which describes the tension in our world today: the right of the individual to pursue happiness and the obligations of those who live together in society. Boag’s examples are taken from recent incidents in the United States of America but are written as a caution to all people and particularly to Canadians. His words are more political than theological, but I would suggest that the roots of the tensions go back to the moral choices of the Garden of Eden.

Boag gets to the heart of the matter when he quotes Christopher Beem, director of the McCourtney School of Democracy in saying that “… Americans need to challenge the idea that everyone is just pursuing their own happiness as individuals…. When we live together in society, we depend on each other. And therefore, we have obligations to each other."[4] Truly, this is a very old tension: the good of the individual and the good of the society. The article gives several examples of the bad behaviours that can occur when individuals take advantage of the society in which they live and pursue their own happiness as individuals (read the entire article and be prepared to be angry). Of course, the article also exposes our own hearts and our own susceptibility to making the wrong choice in any given circumstance. Both of Boag and Beem challenge us to reconsider the importance of the society or societies within which we live. They are suggesting that the happiness of a society as well as the individual is something to be pursued.

From the very beginning, God knew that we would face the choices we are facing today. He knows how societies, cultures, and planets work best and has given us his guidance. He knows that we are susceptible to the temptation of individualism, tribalism, and selfishness and yet he allows us to choose our own paths forward. Like Adam and Eve, we get to choose where we will find our moral compass.
  

[1] Granted, one must look closely for hints that the Creator is a community of persons in Genesis and one needs the larger arc of the entire Bible to understand the nature of a Creator who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see for example John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20) but the seeds of this theology are definitely sown in the beginnings of our Bible and the beginnings of creation.
[2] Genesis 1:28 says, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue (or steward) it. Rule over (or take care of) the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
[3] There are many examples of how the biosystem works in harmony. A simple example is the earth’s water cycle as explained in the article entitled “Water Cycle” in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cycle
[4] “Coronavirus puts a spotlight on the moral compass of America,” Keith Boag, CBC News, March 23, 2020, https://bit.ly/3drSMjs

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Singer and You



Key of Zed, the duo of Mike Charko and Keith Shields, has just released a new original single. For fans of Blue Rodeo and a few other bands, you will recognize the references to a few other songs in the lyrics. See how many you can catch. (At a later date I will release an annotated version of the lyrics that will identify the references.) The story of this song is that the woman in the Blue Rodeo song "Try" is now older and more introspective and the lyrics are her answer to the man who said those words to her.

The Singer and You
(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields; copyright SOCAN)

Blue Rodeo on the stereo
(And) teardrops in my eyes
Reminding me of five days in May
And how I said I’d try

Was it just bad timing?
Or something I should have done?
That keeps me looking through the crack in the window
And wishing for the sun

And the singer and you and the devil too
They want to tell me what I should do
They want to tell me what I should do

Right is right and wrong is wrong
With every move I made
I couldn’t be what you wanted me to be
Every time you played

Old songs, rehearsed to a tee
Left no room to breathe
And the spirits of tunes - left unsung
Like the ghosts in me

And the singer and you and the devil too
They want to tell me what I should do
They want to tell me what I should do

Guitar solo:

Bridge:
Bop shoo bop bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop bop bop bop she bop

My solo written by you
Was singing the blues
How could I get the rhythm from you?
There’s nothing left to do

Rising star or wounded heart?
Were you teaching me to fly?
Could the bad inside of me
Really be the lie?

And the singer and you and the devil too
They want to tell me what I should do
They want to tell me the things that I should do

Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop
Bop shoo bop; bop bop she bop

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Marc Martel, The Impersonator


Marc Martel is one of those guys for whom I have the greatest of respect. He is talented beyond the level of many in the music industry and has made music with a diverse group of people. This Christmas, I am glad to see him making music with Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. They have put together a Christmas album and are following it up with a limited tour in support of the album.

Of course, Martel has made music with many other artists including Jason Gray, Buddy Greene, Plumb, Scott Mulvahill, and Ron Block of Alison Krauss & Union Station. But beyond collaboration and Christmas music, Marc Martel was formerly the front man for CCM band downhere and leads his own Ultimate Queen Celebration, where he impersonates Freddie Mercury with great panache.

His first solo album: Impersonator contains the following title song. The entire album is filled with great original songs that speak of life on the road and the challenges of sounding like (and even looking like) another famous singer. Perhaps the most tragic song on the album is this title song. In it, he recognizes the value of impersonation but also laments that his own voice and personality gets lost in the music. And he finds himself saying that, “you would not have me any other way.” Read and listen to the words below.

Marc Martel – Impersonator

I wonder if my own eyes would recognize
Whatever I become when I live your lies
I should've made a break, for the fire escape – warning signs I didn't take
And all the things you bought – just to break

But I am the impersonator
You can be the reason for my insanity
I am the impersonator
I give you everything you want from me
Whatever makes you happy

What's done is done, this is what I become
And now you would not have me any other way – so why stay?
Let me go on, like nothing's wrong, just to keep you holding on
A flash before my eyes as I fade away – and I fade away

I am the impersonator
You can be the reason for my insanity
I am the impersonator
I give you everything you want from me
Whatever makes you happy

And so I, I put on my show with my life
I wear the weight of my disguise, to drown out the silence
So you never read the signs
I lose myself to have you, and you don't even have a clue
I am the shadow, who keeps you in the light

And I am the impersonator
You can be the reason for my insanity
I am the impersonator
I give you anything you want from me, but you know
I'll never make you happy
Whatever makes you happy.

Songwriters: John Randall Fields / Lily Kershaw / Marc Martel; © Strawberrius Music.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

In Another Light



One of the greatest songwriters of the past 50 years is Wayne Kirkpatrick. I have sung his praises before. To my knowledge he has only produced one solo album, entitled, The Maple Room, and from that album comes the song, “In Another Light.” Although the song is obviously written about a marriage relationship (“Hey, that’s my ring on your finger”), perhaps it has something to say to all of us about seeing things in another light. How often do the “shadows of our yesterday” get in the way of our love for one another? Don’t we sometimes need a new perspective that “tends to the wounds of the past” but looks beyond the wounds of the past. In marriages and other relationships there will always be “demons that rummage through the past of what” we’ve done to each other. In a highly polarized, easily wounded atmosphere, life might be better if we took a step back and looked at things in another light.

On his Facebook page, Kirkpatrick says that he has been “married since 1985 to the same girl I went to high school with and we are still rockin'!” So, despite the challenges noted in this song, he seems to know how to navigate the ups and downs of married life. Take a listen to the song and see if it rings true in one or more aspects of your own relational life.


In Another Light
Words and Music by Wayne Kirkpatrick

Standing like statues
Stubborn unmoving but breakable
You say there’s nothing wrong
But that look is so unmistakable
Angry and wounded
Well I’m sure your reasons are justified
You’re searching for changes
Oh, but there are quite a few you’ve yet to realize

And you would see things differently
If you chose to look at me
In another light
Shadows of our yesterday,
Bow to love and melt away
In another light

Changing the angle
Well baby that could be our only chance
Some new perspective on it
That tends to the wounds of our circumstance
Cause I feel like screaming
Damned if I don’t, damned if I do
Chasing those demons
That rummage through the past
Of what I’ve done to you

You would see things differently
If you chose to look at me
In another light
Shadows of our yesterday,
They bow to love and melt away
In another light

Hey, that’s my blood on your sabre
Hey, that’s my voice in your dark
Hey, that’s my ring on your finger
Hey, that’s my love in your heart
That’s my love in your heart.

You would see things differently
If you chose to look at me
In another light
Shadows of our yesterday,
Bow to love and melt away
In another light

In another light.
Yeah, in another light.
In another light.
And, in another light.

Maybe a love should be strong enough to look beyond the past.
Oh, our love should be made to last.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

BioLogos




For many years I have been a proponent of the BioLogos organization. They do a remarkable job of theological and scientific education. I encourage readers to take a tour of their site and read some of the many articles available. BioLogos represents an Evolutionary Creationism perspective on the origins of life. Here, in their own words is an explanation of what that means.

At BioLogos, we present the Evolutionary Creationism (EC) viewpoint on origins. Like all Christians, we fully affirm that God is the creator of all life—including human beings in his image. We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. We also accept the science of evolution as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.

But while we accept the scientific evidence for evolution, BioLogos emphatically rejects Evolutionism, the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discussion. Evolutionism is a kind of scientism, which holds that all of reality can in principle be explained by science. In contrast, BioLogos believes that science is limited to explaining the natural world, and that supernatural events like miracles are part of reality too.

BioLogos offers an explanation of our universe that does justice to a theological understanding of a creator God, while also giving credence to the science of our day that explains much of how our world works. I know that this is a difficult area for many Christians to grasp and BioLogos has done an excellent job of walking people through the many arguments. I encourage my readers to spend time on their website and consider a viewpoint that may not be one that you hold today. There are many opinions among Christians about the nature of the origins of our universe. Let us not be afraid to consider each other’s perspective on these issues.

Beyond the BioLogos website, I would also recommend the following books:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Uhtred, Son of Uhtred



Occasionally on this blog, I review television programs of note. When I do this, I am not endorsing the show in particular but rather speaking of a positive message within the show. One such show that I cannot endorse for all viewers is the BBC/Netflix series, The Last Kingdom (2015-2020). The show is a “blade-slinger” story set in the England of the late 800s CE and is about the conflict between the Saxon land holders and the invading Danes, Vikings, and Northmen (Norsemen) from Denmark and other points north. Uhtred is the hero (or perhaps anti-hero) of the story. He is a Saxon by birth who is born heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Bebbanburg at a time when Alfred the Great is seeking to draw together all of the Kingdoms of England under one king. Uhtred is kidnapped by the Danes and adopted into the family of Ragnar Ragnarson. Thus, Uhtred is known both as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Uhtred Ragnarson, and simply Uhtred, Son of Uhtred and he grows to become the greatest warrior of England and supports King Alfred time and time again. But Alfred cannot quite accept that Uhtred will not accept his God and so he does not fully trust him and sometimes wishes him banished or even dead. Time and again Uhtred saves Alfred’s England, only to be mistrusted by Alfred. Season 3, Episode 10 offers brilliant dialogue emphasising darkness and light, good and evil, and the struggle of the two within the various people groups.

As King Alfred dies, Father Beocca, one of Uhtred’s most constant friends says,

“All that Alfred stood for is crumbling.
You, Uhtred, cannot be dragged into the shadows.
You must become the light….”

But as Uhtred is on trial in the open court of the palace, the following dialogue unfolds,

Beocca: Do you object to the people bearing witness to justice, Lord Aethelwold?
Aethelwold: I do not.
Lady Aelswith: Uhtred, the king swore that you were to die. Why the change in his heart?
Uhtred: Because he believed that I deserved his forgiveness.
Aelswith: Is that a boast?
Uhtred: Look to his chronicle. I am on every page.
Aelswith: That is a lie. You are not named, even once!
Uhtred: But I am there. Unwritten, Lady, but I am there! The warriors of Wessex know it. The Danes know it. And it is what the king has told me himself.
Aelswith: I have heard enough.
Uhtred: I am with him from the Somerset Marshes to Ethandun and all of the battles that have followed. We were bonded, him and I. He was the man that I could never be, nor did I wish to be. He was a man that I loved and despised but it was never less than an honor to serve him. He was my king. And he did not wish to go to his God without granting me what I have earned many times over! My freedom….

At this point, Edward, the heir to the throne of England is brought into the conversation. It is his first test as king apparent.

Uhtred: Perhaps your father chose not to announce my freedom for this very reason so that the people could witness their new king, Edward, dispensing justice. Fairly, I hope.
Beocca: Will you accept the decision of Edward Rex? I will. I give you my word….

Edward: A heathen would not be trusted completely until he had embraced Alfred's god as his own. And yet it was a heathen he did trust most. It was the word of Uhtred that he respected most. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, I find the letter written by my father to be true. Alfred's pardon does stand. You are a free man, able to choose your own path.
Beocca: May I ask, Lord Uhtred, may I ask? Now that you are a free man once more, where will your path lead? I would like to know….
Uhtred: One day, Father, I hope that my path will eventually lead north to Bebbanburg, but now, I believe I am needed here….

Then as the followers of Edward prepare for another battle with the Danes of the North,

Uhtred: All of you, hear me. Yes, it is likely that the Danes will have greater numbers, but this is a battle that we can win. Though it will take all of us, every man and every sword, and we will fight with all the guile and wit that Alfred has instilled.
Edward: God is with us.

Then, to the soldiers prepared to march into battle:

Uhtred: A letter has been sent. It speaks out to every man in the kingdom, demanding that he answers the call and joins us on the road to battle. It says that this will be a battle that will be spoken of for lifetimes to come. It is a battle that no man can ignore, no man can stand by and watch. Every man must find a weapon and every man must fight! Wessex will always be the light. And no matter how heavy our swords become, we must fight. Fight! Fight and keep on fighting until the victory is ours! We march!

The episode closes with Uhtred giving a monologue:

It will be written in the Saxon chronicle that Edward did gain a great victory over the Danes, ensuring he would become King of Wessex. But other battles lie ahead, both with the Danes and within Wessex itself. A king must decide who he can trust and who he must discard. He must understand the minds of both his enemies and his friends. He must recognize that the truth of a man lies not in the land of his birth, but in his heart. A king must be a king on his own terms. He cannot be his father. He can only be himself. The chronicle will grow. Pages will be added. But Uhtred of Bebbanburg will not be mentioned. Although I, too, was victorious. My name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred. My name is Uhtred Ragnarson. Destiny is all.[1]

Uhtred is a marvelous character created by Bernard Cornwell and adapted for this television series. He is constantly torn between being Saxon and Dane. He is honourable, honest, and loyal to any vow he swears. He is not Christian, despite being baptised twice over, yet he is more honourable and shows more Christian character than most of the Christian men of England. Many of the “good Christian” men of the kingdom are horribly broken, sinful, filled with hatred, and murderous. Uhtred, on the other hand, leads well, serves well, takes life only as necessary, and is the most valuable right-hand man to both King Alfred and King Edward. He sacrifices land, wives, children, family relationships, and wealth to justly carry out the will of Alfred. At the end of the day, all of England believes Uhtred will be eternally punished in hell because of his rejection of the Christian religion, yet he is one of the truest men of his time. His fictional life, as portrayed in this series, causes one to ask questions about what it means to be honourable, just, moral, and a person of true character. May men like him call us to our best humanity and highest calling by God.