Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I want to get to know maritime people. I grew up with farmers and, even though I now live in a large city, I have a great deal of respect for farmers. Similarly, I think I would like to get to know fishermen, tugboat operators, and sailors. The few I have met show that same hard-working, willing-to-get-the-job-done attitude I have seen in farmers.

A few months ago I had the chance to visit with John Jenkins, a tuna fisherman who, when he is not at sea, lives in Metchosin, BC. For many years he fished for salmon until it looked like the salmon on the west coast would be depleted. He and his son converted their boats to reel and tackle systems suitable for tuna and now go out for these big fish for a portion of the year. He spoke of agreements between the United States and Canada that set limits on where each country's boats can fish and the challenges of international agreements. He spoke of long times at sea perhaps as much as 200 miles offshore and three months at a time. He spoke of how a captain must always be in control of his boat and can never truly get a good night of sleep without one eye open watching for trouble.

His big boat has a hold that is equipped with a compressor system that allows him to flash-freeze the tuna at minus 70 degrees. The fish have to be handled and working in this kind of cold is demanding work. Then there is the danger of the sea, the possibility of collisions at night, and the chance of onboard fires. These hard-working people are an inspiration to me. This may be one of the reasons Jesus chose so many fishermen to be his first followers. Think about these people the next time you enjoy your favourite fish at a restaurant or sit down to a tuna sandwich.

Billy Joel captured some of the joys and struggles of the contemporary fisherman in his song "Downeaster Alexa." Enjoy the words of his song or watch the video.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Father Was A Farmer

Happy Robert Burns Day!

"My Father Was A Farmer"
Robert Burns, 1782
Song to the tune of "The weaver and his shuttle, O."

My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O;
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, O;
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.

Then out into the world my course I did determine, O;
Tho' to be rich was not my wish, yet to be great was charming, O;
My talents they were not the worst, nor yet my education, O:
Resolv'd was I at least to try to mend my situation, O.

In many a way, and vain essay, I courted Fortune's favour, O;
Some cause unseen still stept between, to frustrate each endeavour, O;
Sometimes by foes I was o'erpower'd, sometimes by friends forsaken, O;
And when my hope was at the top, I still was worst mistaken, O.

Then sore harass'd and tir'd at last, with Fortune's vain delusion, O,
I dropt my schemes, like idle dreams, and came to this conclusion, O;
The past was bad, and the future hid, its good or ill untried, O;
But the present hour was in my pow'r, and so I would enjoy it, O.

No help, nor hope, nor view had I, nor person to befriend me, O;
So I must toil, and sweat, and moil, and labour to sustain me, O;
To plough and sow, to reap and mow, my father bred me early, O;
For one, he said, to labour bred, was a match for Fortune fairly, O.

Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro' life I'm doom'd to wander, O,
Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O:
No view nor care, but shun whate'er might breed me pain or sorrow, O;
I live to-day as well's I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.

But cheerful still, I am as well as a monarch in his palace, O,
Tho' Fortune's frown still hunts me down, with all her wonted malice, O:
I make indeed my daily bread, but ne'er can make it farther, O:
But as daily bread is all I need, I do not much regard her, O.

When sometimes by my labour, I earn a little money, O,
Some unforeseen misfortune comes gen'rally upon me, O;
Mischance, mistake, or by neglect, or my goodnatur'd folly, O:
But come what will, I've sworn it still, I'll ne'er be melancholy, O.

All you who follow wealth and power with unremitting ardour, O,
The more in this you look for bliss, you leave your view the farther, O:
Had you the wealth Potosi boasts, or nations to adore you, O,
A cheerful honest-hearted clown I will prefer before you, O.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Matthew 6:9-13 (King James Version)
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

This prayer, taught to Jesus' followers, says, "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God has called us to make the world a bit more like heaven where His will is done and He is considered holy. How should we do this?

*We should start with the room in which we are at this moment and there seek to make it as much a part of heaven as we can possibly make it. Next we should expand our thoughts to those with whom we live and make our household as much like heaven as we are able to do. We should treat those with whom we live as the sons and daughters of God that they are. But we should not stop there. Next we must consider those who live next door to us and seek to give them a taste of heaven and of this God whom we serve. Do they know that God loves them and wants the very best for them? Do they have any needs that God has placed in their hearts with which we might help them? Are there any barriers that we have caused to prevent them from seeing the heaven which God is seeking to create on this earth? Again, we would not stop there, but would next ask ourselves about the community in which we live. How can I make my community a bit more like heaven on earth? What is God's will for this place? What is He already doing here? What about our country? How might we serve our country and make it a little more heavenly? What of those who live in other countries? What would it look like if more of God's will was done in their country? How might we use what God has given us to help those in other places? We might start with a country next door and expand to other parts of the world.

Of course all of this is not necessarily sequential and we can and should pursue God's will on more than one front at a time. But as we begin to feel overwhelmed by the sense of the gravity of the situation and the immensity of the task, perhaps we should read that first line again: "We should start with the room in which we are at this moment and there seek to make it as much a part of heaven as we can possibly make it." What mustard seed efforts might I make today as I start at home?

*I know that I have read something like this in a book somewhere but when I looked for it I could not find it. Perhaps one of my friends who reads the same books I do could inform me as to where I have read something like this so that I might give the original author full credit.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Living For Others

I was looking for a specific C.S. Lewis quote when I came upon these brilliant, but lesser known quotes.

"She's the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression." - C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters (p. 145).

He expands upon this concept in his book, The Four Loves.

Mrs. Fidget died a few months ago. It is really astonishing how her family have brightened up. The drawn look has gone from her husband’s face; he begins to be able to laugh. The younger boy, whom I had always thought an embittered, peevish little creature, turns out to be quite human. The elder, who was hardly ever at home except when he was in bed, is nearly always there now and has begun to reorganise the garden. The girl, who was always supposed to be “delicate” (though I never found out what exactly the trouble was), now has the riding lessons which were once out of the question, dances all night, and plays any amount of tennis. Even the dog who was never allowed out except on a lead is now a well-known member of the Lamp-post Club in their road.
Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew it. “She lives for her family,” they said; “what a wife and mother!” She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to a laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in mid-summer). They implored her not to provide this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family. - C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves (as quoted in C.S. Lewis: An Examined Life, By Bruce L. Edwards, p. 197).
Perhaps the antidote to this problem is found in this quote.
For what comes is Judgment: happy are those whom it finds labouring in their vocations, whether they were merely going out to feed the pigs or laying good plans to deliver humanity a hundred years hence from some great evil. The curtain has indeed now fallen. Those pigs will never in fact be fed, the great campaign against White Slavery or Governmental Tyranny will never in fact proceed to victory. No matter; you were at your post when the Inspection came. - C.S. Lewis in The World's Last Night, and Other Essays (1960).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In the Garden

It all started in the garden. The world was tainted by sin in that first garden when a snake crept in and marred what God had made. God had made the world in such a way that it had the potential for beauty and perfection; he had also made it with the potential for sin and disease and death. For John, it all started in the garden as well. Ever since Adam, humans have been trying to correct the damage done in that first garden: toiling over weeds and sin. Maybe John twisted a little hard as he pulled a weed, maybe it was as he lifted a tool in the garage. Even he wasn’t sure, but something popped and he began to feel his mortality. His ribs were sore the next day and continued to be sore for the next several days. Sometimes it was difficult to breathe without pain. Laughter, always an essential part of John’s life, hurt and it became difficult to sleep.

The pain in his ribs was not truly the beginning for John, but merely one of the first noticeable signs. No one knows when, or for that matter why, but deep in the marrow of his bones a process had started some time ago. As cells divided and multiplied to replace other cells that were dying in the natural processes of life, something went wrong. One of those cells lost one of its chromosomes. Chromosome 13 is a mid-sized chromosome in a very tiny world of chromosomes within a very tiny cell and yet the loss of this microscopic piece of information in one cell was enough to start the process. As this cell divided and other cells were created from it, they too were lacking a copy of chromosome 13. This change in itself was not enough to cause disease because each cell has a second copy of chromosome 13. The creator had designed the system with redundancy and just as a computer user backs up his information on a second disk, God backed up the information on chromosome 13 with another chromosome 13. But as more and more of these cells with missing information proliferated in the marrow, there was a chance that something even smaller would happen. When millions of cells with only one chromosome 13 had developed in John’s bone marrow something further did happen. When all of the genetic information was being copied so that another cell could divide and carry out its important work, a little gene, too small to even see with a microscope, was copied with an error. Perhaps one of the tiny building blocks that make up the gene was not put into its proper place, leaving a tiny hole in the gene. Or perhaps one of the building blocks that we label with C was used instead of the one we label G. The end result was that a second copy of a vital piece of information was lost. Now this cell, with both copies of this genetic information missing had an important switch missing. It was the “off” switch. This cell no longer knew how to quit dividing and making more of itself. It could no longer tell that there were already enough of its type of cell in the bone marrow. And so it made more of itself and its daughter cells made more of themselves. Each daughter cell was missing the switching mechanisms that told it when to shut off. More and more of these cells were made at the expense of other types of cells in the bone marrow. This overproduction of cells began to make John tired, even before he knew anything was going on. He began to have far too many of some cells in his blood and a lack of other cells in his blood. So many of the "B" cells were being made that there was a lack of resources to put into the production of red blood cells and other cell types. John began to be anaemic.

These “out-of-control” B cells travelled out into John’s blood stream and into his lymphatic system in such huge numbers that they swamped some of the other types of cells. Some of these daughter cells differentiated into cells with specific jobs to carry out. One of the many jobs of these cells, is the work of breaking down bone. Some of the B cells, with no “off switch,” became osteoclasts - the bone breakers. Osteoclasts lie on the bone surface or in pits where they resorb bone. Normally, this natural degrading of bone allows for periodic repair and remodelling needed for everyday skeletal health. Normally, the production of these osteoclasts is balanced with bone formation by another group of cells called osteoblasts. Now, there were far too many of the osteoclasts and not enough of the osteoblasts. There were far too few builders and far too many breakers.

John’s bones began to get weak. Deep pits began to form where bone had been broken down but no bone cells had been put back in to replace the ones that had been destroyed. The bones in John’s body began to look like Swiss cheese. And so, in the summer of 2001, as John was working to rid his garden of the corruption brought on by the fall, as he pulled on a weed that marred the simple beauty of God’s creation, another part of the corruption brought on by the fall became evident. One of John’s ribs broke.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I am continually amazed as I think about the nature of our world. We live in constant interaction with the molecules of the universe. We perceive things around us as solid objects: the keyboard on which I pound out these words, the desk on which my computer sits, and the dense mass of the mountains I can see out my window. We also perceive things in between the solid objects as empty space.

Yet, the space between the mountains and me, and my desk and me for that matter, is far from empty. That "space" is filled with molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon-dioxide. The "emptiness" also contains water vapour, trace amounts of household chemicals, vapours given off by plastics and electronics, particles of my own body as dead skin cells flake off and float on the air or bio-chemicals from my lungs are expelled into the atmosphere. (It is all of this stuff that our bodies are continually giving off that allows a good tracking dog to detect us and follow our trail through the woods.) The space between me and the mountains is also filled with dust and industrial particles from a major city, electrons sent out from the sun in a continuous solar wind, and photons of light. Physicists are still unclear on the best way to describe the elementary particle/wave that is a photon but we can see that they are there.

The things that seem solid are less solid than our perception would lead us to believe. The molecules which make up these solid items have a significant amount of space between them and the individual protons, in the nucleus of these atoms, associate with electrons that are far away from the proton itself. To get an idea of these subatomic distances, let us consider a thought experiment in which we scale up these protons and electrons to the size of things which we are used to handling.

Here, I must give a few disclaimers about how this thought experiment will work. It will not be strictly accurate. Whenever we try to describe such molecular and atomic interactions, words will fail us. Mathematics is a language better suited to describing such things and yet most of us do not have sufficient mathematical fluency to converse about these subjects. A mathematical physicist would look at my crude description of protons and electrons and find many flaws within it. So think of it as a metaphor that might poetically, not scientifically, explain some of the sizes and spaces between things.

Allow me to take your imagination on a journey down into atomic spaces. The size of a proton is approximately 0.8418 femtometres (fm) or 0.8418 X 10^-15 metres. A very simple atom is the hydrogen atom. It consists of one proton and one electron. The electron orbits around the proton and the average distance from proton to electron is called the Bohr Radius. This distance is approximately 5.29 X 10^-11 metres.

Thus, if we scale up the size of the proton to the size of a basketball, the electron would orbit around the proton at an average distance of 1.60 X 10^4 metres = 16000 metres = 16 km.* If I held a basketball sized hydrogen proton in my living room, its associated electron would be somewhere around Richmond in the south, Burnaby to the east, the North Shore mountains to the north, or out over the Pacific Ocean to the west at any given moment.

This is the simplest of atomic models. The typical distance between two helium protons is
2.5 X 10^-15 metres. In our scaled up model, this distance becomes about 0.755 metres. Thus our basketball model helium atom would have two basketballs separated by 75 cm in my living room in downtown Vancouver and two electrons whizzing around in an orbit which again would include portions of Richmond and Burnaby.

The nuclear radius of Uranium is around 15 X 10^-15 metres. This involves 92 protons interacting together in this nucleus. In the model we have been discussing, that is 92 basketballs in my living room taking up about 4.5 metres of space. The cloud of 92 electrons would be similarly scattered in orbits far beyond the protons themselves. By the way, electrons are small, but present science has not given us a very good idea of their actual diameter.

Even the massive granite of a mountain (like the Stawamus Chief monolith near Squamish BC) is a complex interaction of molecules in which individual atoms are linked together by molecular bonds and share electrons between atoms. There are spaces between the protons and electrons and the whole thing is a spinning, buzzing, hive of activity despite the fact that we see it as a lump of rock simply sitting there since the mountain range was formed.

What do we do with this sense of space and solid objects? It is beyond our comprehension. There is something beautiful, mystical, and spiritual about it. It fills me with awe. It causes me to praise a creator who could create all of this and understand all of its complexities.
He counts the stars
and calls them all by name.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
Psalm 147:4, 5 New Living Translation
*Basketball model: 254 mm Basket ball = 2.54 X 10-1 metres; 0.8418 X 10-15 metres proton; 5.29 X 10-11 metres average proton/electron distance (2.54 X 10-1 / 0.8418 X 10-15) X 5.29 X 10-11 metres; 3.02 X 1014 X 5.29 X 10-11 metres 1.60 X 104 metres = 16000 metres = 16 km.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Follow-up to Pacing the Cage

Yesterday's blog quoted Bruce Cockburn's amazing song, "Pacing The Cage." In that song sunset is a metaphor for aging and death. It is a dark and brooding song about the sundown stage of life. In this follow-up I quote Wayne Watson's "There Goes Sundown." It has some of the same melancholy and sorrow of a man looking back over his life. Yet, in this song, sundown is much more hopeful. It is a sign of God's faithfulness. Sundown represents another day that God has given us on this earth.
Certainly the song also contains the singer's mental struggle about whether it is better to be on this earth (growing old with that girl of his) or for the Lord to return and renew this life he lives. In this we hear echoes of the apostle Paul saying,
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (Philippians 1:21-24)
There is hope. God is faithful, he is good, and he knows the number of the days of a man . . . and a woman.
There Goes Sundown
(Words and Music by Wayne Watson)

Doomsday... Some day
But not today so far
Said this world wouldn't
Be here much longer
But look around, here we are.
Only God in his wisdom
Surely not me in mine
Knows the number of the days of a man
Every day he shows me a sign.

There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown again.

Some days I pray this prayer more than others
For My Lord to come
When I'm weary of fightin'
When I'm tired of runnin'.
Other days I wanna stay around
Grow old with that girl of mine
Most of the future is out of my hands
He reminds me every day about this time.

There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown again.

I Don't Believe
We've been forgotten
God's too faithful
He's too good at keeping
All his promises
He's gonna come for me
Just like he said he would.

There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown
There Goes Sundown again.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pacing The Cage

(Bruce Cockburn - 24 June 1995. Philadelphia.) (Watch him perform this song here.)

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it's pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you live too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

I've proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip's worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And every one was taken in
Powers chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage

I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing
It's as if the thing were written
In the constitution of the age
Sooner or later you'll wind up
Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can't see what's round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage
Pacing the cage
Pacing the cage

The longer I live the more I can relate to this song by Bruce Cockburn. In this world of ever changing careers, values, and practises, I sometimes feel like "I've proven who I am so many times, the magnetic strip's worn thin." We can never rest on yesterday's successes. That holds true for folk-singers, scientists, authors, bloggers, pastors, and church planters. "Sometimes the best map will not guide you; you can't see what's round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places; sometimes the darkness is your friend." All too often I catch myself pacing the cage.

Jeremiah knew these emotions as he wrote Lamentations 3:1-8,
I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.

It is unclear whether Jeremiah had truly been shut out by God. More likely, Jeremiah is expressing how he feels God has treated him and is prophetically speaking of how God will one day abandon his Son, Jesus, on the cross. Later, Jeremiah seems to realize that God is more gracious and loving and attentive than Jeremiah had made him out to be. In 3:21-26 he says,
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

So, just as we cannot rest on yesterday's successes, we must use the best map we have even if it is insufficient to the task of guiding us, and we must strike out to where the road leads even if it is through dark places. As we go, we can take a fresh measure of God's great love and his compassions; for they are new every morning and made fresh each day for every one of us. "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Hometown Band

I arrived home from a week of Christmas and New Year holidays in Alberta and was pleased to find a package with two CDs in my mail box. The albums are Flying and The Hometown Band by "The Hometown Band." They have recently been digitized from the original masters kept in the vaults of Universal Music. I first owned these recordings on 8-track tape in the late 70s and enjoyed them for hours in my 1970 Ford Gran Torino.

I pulled them out and gave them each a good listen. If, like me, you are a fan of Canadian music from the 70s you would readily remember their signature song, "Flying." But, like me, you may have forgotten some of the other great songs on these two albums. I found myself singing along with "I'm Ready" and reminiscing about how much I enjoyed this song. Shari Ulrich's vocals are incredibly strong and I remembered how much I enjoyed seeing her and the whole band perform in 1977 as they toured with the legendary folk icon, Valdy. Both "Flying" and "I'm Ready" were written by J. Mock. [I do not know this name but I must do some research to learn who this phenomenal writer is. Perhaps in a future blog I can give you the results of my investigations.]

Many of the songs on both albums show off the instrumental abilities of the band members. Producer Claire Lawrence's saxophones soar and tug at the heart, Ulrich's violin parts are mesmerizing. The concert I saw in 1977 at the Memorial Centre in Red Deer, Alberta started with a five to seven minute fiddle solo by Ulrich before the curtains pulled back revealing the rest of the band on the stage behind her; they then joined in. I remember thinking how amazing it was to see one person with a fiddle hold an entire audience spellbound for this long. The song, "Spread'm All Around," on Flying really shows the prowess of all of the band members. A strong bass line undergirds this twelve minute masterpiece while violin and saxophone duel and swoop. The song also features some great organ solos by Robbie King (I am thinking it is a Hammond B-3). The organ sound is solid without becoming overpowering like much of the music in this period known for over reliance on the organ and synthesizer as filler. Great guitars by Doug Edwards fills out the sound.

Of the two CDs, Flying is the stronger album yet the self-titled album has a few pleasant surprises. "What Would I Do" has that sound that made it a hit on AM radio in the 70s and still gets me singing along. The short but sweet "Feel Good" written by Ulrich is a great example of her ability as a writer and is just plain fun. "Sweet Emma" written by Ulrich and Lawrence has a fantastic rhythm and a New Orleans sound (is that a straight tenor sax I hear?).

The Hometown Band started in 1975 as a group of session musicians who supported Valdy but they developed their own identity on the strength of these phenomenal musicians. The music still sounds very good today. I am glad Shari put in the effort to convince Universal that it was time to digitize this important art from the Canadian music scene. I long ago lost the ability to play this music on my 8-track player. I encourage you to go to Shari Ulrich's web site (www.shariulrich.com) and order the two CDs while you still can.