Sunday, December 28, 2014


The incredible diversity of life on this planet will never cease to amaze. A recent article in Science News shows bees and other insects up close and in full colour. The research lab that took these photos provides a service to help identify the various species of bees. "There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven to nine recognized families, though many are undescribed and the actual number is probably higher."1 This does not include wasps and hornets which belong to other phylogenic families.

Then there are the beetles. The Coleoptera order (in which beetles are currently classified) includes more species than any other order. In fact, 25% of all life forms on the planet belong to this order and about 40% of all insects are beetles (400,000 types of beetles).2 The number of beetle species on the planet prompted J.B.S. Haldane to write that,
The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.3
Some have said that Haldane was once asked by a group of theologians what he could say about the Creator from his extensive study of creation. He is said to have replied, that the Creator has “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”4

Certainly God has a great fondness for diversity and has created the universe in such a way that even here on earth His handiwork in seen in the variety of life forms created; not to mention the multiplicity of stars, planets and galaxies beyond our globe. This "fondness for diversity" gives me confidence that the same Creator who cares about all of the beetles on the planet can be trusted to care about me and understand my unique place in this world.

1 Danforth BN, Sipes S, Fang J, Brady SG (October 2006). "The history of early bee diversification based on five genes plus morphology". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103 (41): 15118–23. doi:10.1073/pnas.0604033103. PMC 1586180. PMID 17015826. Cited in "Bee" article within Wikipedia;
2 See the Wikipedia article, "Beetle;"
3 J.B.S. Haldane, “What is life?” published in the 1940s;
4; sometimes quoted as "God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Coming Back Home

One of my favourite bands is Downhere. They write great songs with smart lyrics and always challenge their listeners to think about relationships with God and with others. "Coming Back Home" from the Ending is Beginning album is a song about repentance. Here are the lyrics.

"Coming Back Home"
(Performed by Downhere) (Listen while you read.
After the longest exile
Trying to make it on my own
Aching for my home
I've been astray for much too long
Knowing I've done you so much wrong
Just makes me feel that much more alone
But in my sadness I hear you calling 
So I'm coming back home to build what I tore down
Left my world in shambles
Only this time I'll let you wear the crown
Woah Oh
Coming back home to build what I tore down
If you will forgive me
You won't fail me
You won't let me down
Woah Oh Woah Oh Woah Oh 
I've been afraid of what I'll find
I open the door to what's inside
I'm back but all's not right
'Cause there is still a mess to clean up
There are wars to fight and be freed up
But if you're there with me I will have no reason to fear
'Cause in this madness You are my solace 
So I'm coming back home to build what I tore down
left my world in shambles
Only this time I'll let you wear the crown
Oh Woah
Coming back home to build what I tore down
If you will forgive me
You won't fail me
You won't let me down
You won't let me down
Coming back home to build
Coming back home to build 
Into Your arms this wayward son is 
Coming back home to build what I tore down
Left my world in shambles
Only this time I'll let you wear the crown
Woah Oh
Coming back home to build what I tore down
If you will forgive me
You won't fail me
You won't let me down
Woah Oh Woah Oh Woah Oh
Coming back home to build
Coming back home to build 
Written by Marc A. Martel, Jason Ronald William Germaine; Published by © Music Services, Inc.

I love the part of the chorus that says, "I'm coming back home to build what I tore down, left my world in shambles. Only this time I'll let you wear the crown." That is a great description of repentance. It is turning around and repairing what has been broken. It is turning around and saying, "I have messed this up; and so, God, I need you to be the King of my life. I need you to take control."

Monday, December 22, 2014


"The ideal of authenticity is something like the ideal of perfection. All of us have some idea of what we are talking about without ever having had any direct personal experience of it."1 This is a revealing and reassuring statement from David Benner. For truly, none of us will ever achieve perfection, and neither will we ever experience complete authenticity. I know this from personal experience because I have seen how long it can take me to admit to someone that I have made a mistake.

True authenticity was lost in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam recognized that first fatal flaw. Their immediate reaction was to cover up both their sins and their bodies. It is the same with us. We cover and hide and think that we can act like things never happened as we damage our interior lives. This stanza from a song by Randy Stonehill illustrates this well.
I have a secret I can't tell
And I've learned to conceal it well
Ah, but this disturbing smell
Keeps coming from the floorboards
Under the rug.2
The goal of true authenticity, a goal which will never be completely achieved, is not to be completely sinless, something else that we will never achieve. Rather, the goal of authenticity is to be comfortable with our nakedness before God. We cannot hide from Him, and the more we try, the more we damage ourselves and our relationships with God and with others. So, as much as possible, and beyond our own capacities, we call upon God's supernatural strength to give us the courage to stand before Him while His holy x-rays strip away all concealment. That is the goal of authenticity.

Works Cited:
Benner, David G. The Gift of Being Yourself. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2004.

1 (Benner 2004, 75)
2 "Under the Rug" written by Randy Stonehill, Dave Perkins, and Terry Scott Taylor; published on the album Lazarus Heart, 1994, Street Level Records.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Interstellar 2014

Once again Christopher Nolan (writer and director) and Jonathan Nolan (writer) have succeeded in changing our perceptions with the visually stunning, Interstellar (2014). If you have not seen the movie, you may want to see it before you continue to read this blog which contains elements of the plot (in other words: spoiler alert). From the dust-bowl farmers of the "not-too-distant" future, to scenes of communication across time, I could almost taste the dirt, feel the pull of acceleration and gravity, sense the disorientation of astronauts facing challenges never before experienced, and share the suffering of the families as their lives were torn apart by time and circumstance.

The brothers have collaborated before (Memento (2000) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012); see my analysis of that Batman movie here), but their story-telling gets better each time. Interstellar is subtle; the audience is never subjected to preaching dialogue or pedantic scenes; and even the plot moves along largely through visual and musical elements. Hans Zimmer's score is perfectly suited to their method. There are times when the dialogue is nearly drowned out by the score and flood of potent images; but one soon learns to wait for the resolution of the scene to understand its implications. Many times the film reminded me of the story-telling methodology developed in the Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke collaboration, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many other contemporary writers and directors seem to believe that the audience will not understand a story told through images and so they clutter the story with explanations. The Nolan brothers have recovered an art-form as old as cave-drawings and stained-glass windows and only a few times did they stray from this style. They did choose to explain wormholes and multi-dimensional travel and I could hardly fault them in that choice.

Then there is their visual depiction of a wormhole which is one of their great innovations and one which I am sure other film creators will imitate. Any fan of science fiction will be familiar with the standard depiction of wormholes seen in the Star Trek or Stargate franchises (to mention two of many). The usual images are of a two dimensional hole or lens which opens into a multi-coloured tunnel of stretched light. The creative development in Interstellar is that the wormhole is depicted as a three dimensional sphere and the approach of the Endurance space-craft is shown in a way that resembles an object being drawn into the orbit of a planet. This imagery lends itself to several subtle variations on the theme of wormholes, black-holes, and rapid space travel. At one point the crew of the Endurance skips through the "event horizon" of a black hole to slingshot themselves across a galaxy. I look forward to seeing what other writers and directors might do with such innovations and plot possibilities.

The cast is full of big names in the movie industry and it is somewhat surprising that actors who had smaller roles seemed to be the ones most likely to fail to convince me of their character. I expect that one or two of them will look back on this movie and realize the creative opportunities that were missed.

Near the end of the movie we see a rich interpretation of communication across time and space. The imagery is somewhat reminiscent of the layering of time and space in Christopher Nolan's movie, Inception (2010); but here the key to communication is gravity and not dreams. The Nolans have rightly recognized that one of the last great mysteries of physics is gravity and that the resolution of this mystery will bring about a truly massive revolution in scientific development. They also realistically depict that mankind may never solve this mystery. Here, their art imitates life with an image that reflects perfectly back on their art. The brothers purposely and intelligently refrain from tying-up all of the loose ends and one is left with a sense of wonder and trepidation at the next years of life we may experience on this planet. In life and art, may we continue to encourage and celebrate the risk-takers and pioneers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Please don't read this blog while walking down the street. Distracted walking can be a cause of injury or even death. One article on the subject has noted that, "The combination of distracted walking and distracted driving is commonly blamed for the recent increase in pedestrian deaths . . ."

When asked for comment, one pedestrian admitted, “I’m a severe texter and walker, so I don’t know if I can quit on my own."

Several cities are considering "distracted walking legislation" to prevent serious injury. I think we can learn to put our screens away while we walk and drive. It simply takes personal discipline.

Image courtesy of Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Truth-Telling, Torture, and Confession

A US Senate committee has released a damning report on the interrogation methods used by the CIA. In over 500 pages the committee accuses "the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond its legal limits and deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records."1 The report tells of how prisoners were tortured, in some cases until they died, and that the ends did not justify the means. The report states that the methods used either did not render valuable information which would thwart future terror attacks; or, in some cases, where important information was gained through torture, other sources were available that could have led to the revelation of that same information. The report makes it clear that this was a systemic problem brought on by the fear of major terrorism such as the attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York City and the Pentagon. It was not a rogue group of operatives acting alone and the entire CIA administration and senior government leaders are found to be complicit. Even former president George W. Bush must take responsibility for this dark time in American history despite the fact that he asked not to be told about the "enhanced interrogation methods."

This has been a hard truth for the American public. Commentators speak of loss of the moral high-ground. How can America challenge countries such as China and Iraq regarding their human-rights records when this report reveals such disregard for basic human-rights? Can the CIA ever be trusted again? How do we know that such tactics are not still being used? How long must the people of the United States of America wear this label of shame? Canada must also bear some of the disgrace of this report since our intelligence agencies may have used information gained by the use of torture.

Certainly there are lessons to be learned from this incident. This report has allowed the light of day to shine into the dark corners of a system that allowed this evil to breed and grow. There is hope that this report will lead to a major over-haul of the policies of the CIA and a removal of those who continue to promote a culture of disrespect and violence. What I find particularly encouraging about this report is the fact that it exists. I am not aware of any document like this in any other country. America is not the only country in the world that uses such techniques on its prisoners; but it may be one of the few that allows officials to investigate, criticize, and report on it. When such things are brought to light, there is hope that change may follow. It also allows for the confession of guilt that otherwise oppresses.

There is a biblical principle which speaks to this. Psalm 32 is a poem about the joy and healing found in the confession of sin. Verses 3 to 5 and verse 10 in the New International Version (NIV) say,
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave the guilt of my sin. . . .
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.
You see, when sin is bottled up, it does damage. It causes psychological, physical, and spiritual harm. It takes away strength and leaves us feeling oppressed. But when sin is acknowledged and confessed, there is release, forgiveness, love, and trust. This principal works both on an individual basis and at a collective level. Truly, confession is good for the soul. The Senate Committee Report is incentive for all of us to examine our lives and see what dark tendencies lurk inside our own hearts. Then we will have opportunity to confess and be healed.
. . . the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. - James 5:15 (NIV)

1"U.S. Senate report condemns CIA harsh interrogations;" CBC News;

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where Can I Go?

The band Petra released an album in 1977 called Come and Join Us which contained the song, "Where Can I Go" written by Bob Hartman. It is another creative meditation on Psalm 139:7-12.

Where Can I Go
(Words and music by Hartman Robert M; Published by Word Music, LLC)
(Listen while you read)

I could take a plane to New York City
I could hitchhike all the way to L.A.
I could follow the sunrise tomorrow
But be as close to You as today
I'm beginning to see what You mean to me
I just can't get away from Your love

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

I could climb the golden stairway to heaven
I could catch the crowded highway to hell
If I could find a place nobody has ever been
I bet You'd probably be there as well
I don't know why I've waited so long

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

Darkness is the same as the light to You
Daytime is the same as the night
When You put Your chains of love around my soul
I know it won't be long before I let You take control

I could take a submarine to Atlantis
I could take a flying saucer to Mars
I could ride on the Milky Way someday
But You've already numbered the stars
I'm beginning to hear Your voice is so near
Tellin' me You love me again

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

Psalm 139:7-12 (New International Version):
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Praying Portions of Psalm 139

Oh God, You see me.
I can't impress You
For You have seen me in all of my circumstances.
Even if I wanted to, I could not get away from You.
You saw me in my mother's womb.
You already see me in my tomb.
You know the days and seconds of my life.

So I open myself to You.
Test me - I do not mind.
I desire to be melted and purified.
Destroy the sin
Wipe away the worry
Keep me from hurting others.
Lead me in Your truth.

Psalm 139 (New International Version)
(For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.)

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Four Views of the Historical Adam

Denis O. Lamoureux is one of four authors that contributed to the book, Four Views of the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). I am thankful to all four authors for their contributions and critique of each other's work. The four views presented represent a large span of the theological continuum regarding the historicity of Adam:
1.    No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View 
2.      A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View 
3.      A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View 
4.      A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View
I am most drawn to the words of Lamoureux. I want to be able to make his theological perspective, my theological perspective. It would save me a lot of effort to simply adopt rather than work through the arguments myself. Lamoureux is also appealing because of his everyday language, his sincere faith in Jesus, and his journey from a young-earth creation viewpoint to an evolutionary creation perspective. Yet, I have a sense that every word in this book is important. I must learn to listen closest to the voices with which I disagree the most. They provide the greatest test for my own developing perspective on the historical nature of Adam.

For some, this will be a new conversation. Lamoureux and I have been pondering these questions for many years. If we had met in 1975 at the time of my decision to place my faith in Jesus Christ, I would have espoused a half-baked idea of theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism while he might have made short work of my theology with his superior knowledge of the young-earth creationist arguments. My journey started with trust in science which led to questions about God, creation, and faith, followed by a melding of science, evolution, and creation. I honestly saw no contradiction. Over the years, I have realized how my initial synthesis was inadequate and that the theological implications of the evolutionary creation viewpoint are larger than I had imagined. Now, both Lamoureux and I espouse an evolutionary creation perspective and would find ourselves sitting down to tea and congratulating each other on our understanding of theology, creation, faith, and all things scientific. That is why we would need to invite John H. Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick to our tea party. We need them to challenge us with the awkward and difficult aspects of our shared view.

But, once the tea party was over, what perspectives would we find changed? After reading the whole book, with all of the responses and rejoinders, Lamoureux and I are still in agreement that
The fossil record and evolutionary genetics reveal that we share with chimpanzees a last common ancestor that lived about six million years ago. Along the evolutionary branch to humans, there are approximately 6,000 transitional fossil individuals. Scientists have also discovered that about 99 percent of the DNA sequences in our genes are similar to chimpanzees, including defective genes (psuedogenes). This is like our own families in that we share with relatives genetic similarities, both good and bad. In addition, the archeological record discloses that humans who behaved like us (creating art, sophisticated tools, and intentional burials) appeared roughly 50,000 years ago. . . . Finally, science has found that the genetic variability among all people today is quite small and indicates that we descended from a group of about 10,000 individuals. . . . I suspect that . . . similar to the way we do not really know when exactly each of us personally begins to bear God's Image or commits our very first sin, I believe the arrival of the first true humans is also a theological mystery.
About such things, we all wish that we could know more and be able to speak authoritatively about the final answer on all such mysteries. The truth is, we are better off allowing for ambiguity and mystery. We must speak with humility and recognize that there will be many questions that will go unanswered until we see God face-to-face.

Until that time, I will assert with Lamoureux, what I believe to be true, that "The nonhistorical first Adam is you and me. But the Good News is that the historical Second Adam died for our sins and frees us from the chains of sin and death." I will also suggest that all of the authors of this book would agree with Lamoureux's assertion that "Adam's story is our story. . . . To understand who we truly are, we must place ourselves in the garden of Eden." Who am I? I am a human, created in God's Image. I am a sinner saved by grace. I am a man who will trust in the God who created birds and fish; butterflies and flowers; dinosaurs and sharks; and Neanderthals and Humans.

Work Cited:
Lamoureux, Denis O, et al. Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Zondervan, 2013.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Follow-Up To Itching Ears

Yesterday I included the lyrics to a song that addressed the concept of itching ears, as described in 2 Timothy 3:4. This idea of people being told what they want to hear and being attracted to churches by fine words is not limited to churches that have been converted to discos. Those of us who preach and teach must be alert and constantly test what we say. We need to watch for the influence of Satan in every context. Keith Green creatively quoted the devil in one of his songs when he said, "I put some truth in every lie to tickle itching ears; you know I'm drawing people just like flies 'cause they like what they hear."1

The message of the Gospel is vital and must not be compromised by our methods or by our words. There are plenty of high profile, celebrity preachers who preach prosperity and health to those who follow their words. Would it not be better to simply speak the words of the Bible and let those words transform the lives of the people? Isaiah 55:8-11 reads,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
God's word will not return empty. Even when we do not fully understand His word, we can speak it and trust that it will achieve the purposes for which He sent it. If we are honest with ourselves and others, we will recognize that there is still great mystery in the words of the Bible. For example, how do we reconcile these two statements:
"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45) and
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
Who does God reward; the evil and the good; or those who earnestly seek Him? The truth is, my itching ears want to hear that it is only those who earnestly seek God that will be rewarded. I want to hear that if I go to church, read my Bible, and pray, I will be rewarded with health and wealth. I want to believe that. I don't want to believe that God will send His excellent rain upon the evil as well as the good. My ears are just as itchy as the next person; but, here is my commitment to myself and to others. I will seek to truly hear the word of God. I will trust that it is good and true and beneficial. Even as I struggle to understand the Bible, I will listen to the hard words as well as those that sound good to my ever itching ears.

Let us speak both of these words and trust that God will reconcile them in our lives and in this world. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. They operate on a higher plane than our own. In the higher plane, there is no apparent contradiction between Matthew 5 and Hebrews 11. Therefore, let us speak these words of truth and trust that they will accomplish the purposes of God.

1 See for all of the words to this song. You can even listen to the song while you read along:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Are My Ears Itchy?

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - 2 Timothy 4:3

This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral)
(Words and Music by Steve Taylor; from the album, "On The Fritz")
(Listen while you read)

Sunday needs a pick-me-up?
Here's your chance
Do you get tired of the same old square dance?
Allemande right now
All join hands
Do-si-do to the promised boogieland
Got no need for altar calls
Sold the altar for the mirror balls
Do you shuffle? Do you twist?
'Cause with a hot hits playlist, now we say

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the year
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where we only play the stuff you're wanting to hear

Mickey does the two-step
One, Two, Swing
All the little church mice doing their thing
Boppin' in the belltower
Rumba to the right
Knock knock, who's there? Get me out of this limelight
So, you want to defect?
Officer, what did you expect?
Got no rhythm, got no dough
He said, "Listen, Bozo, don't you know"

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the week
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
But we got no room if you ain't gonna be chic
Sell your holy habitats
This ship's been deserted by sinking rats
The exclusive place to go
It's where the pious pogo, don't you know

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the year
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where we only play the stuff you're wanting to hear
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the week
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
But we got no room if you ain't gonna be chic

Steve Taylor once gave an interview which explained how this song came to be.
I'm down in New York city, and there's this disco that used to be a church, called "The Limelight." So I did my little on-the-scene investigation and went down with some friends one night, had to pay fifteen dollars just to get in--I had to walk home (no, not quite.) We go up and it was really bizarre. We come in, and first we walk by these sarcophagi on the walls and stuff like that. I think the person that was taking the tickets was dressed like a nun or something like that. They were showing Ten Commandments on the video screens and stuff. 
We walk into the main sanctuary part, go up the stairs to the balcony--there's like two balconies--and the floor of this big church--I mean, it must have been able to seat like a thousand people--is literally jammed with probably 1,500 people dancing, and there's a video screen showing the latest Madonna sleaze on the video and stuff like that. So I'm looking down at this--scratch the Madonna sleaze--my mind starts drifting, I imagine that this is Sunday evening and the deacons have devised this as a way of getting new membership, right? [laughter] 
So it's a very satirical song, but the point is--especially like in California where I'm from you've got this country-club Christianity springing up, where Christianity is supposed to appeal to the beautiful people, and we try to get the right elements in our churches--the elements that are going to give money and everything like that. That's not the church's mission. Jesus talked about coming to heal the sick, not those who are well, and so it's essentially a song against this idea of country-club Christianity.  - Steve Taylor interview1

Have we learned anything in the last 30 years?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. - 2 Timothy 1:1-5

1 As reported at

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil

For those of you who loved Steve Taylor in the 80's, he's back; and back in style. The creator of such music as "Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud's)" (1984), "On The Fritz" (1985), "Lifeboat" (1985), and "This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral)" (1985) has released a new album. He used a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to record a studio album and plan a tour (the video for the Kickstarter is very funny). His new band, The Perfect Foil, includes Peter Furler, the former drummer and lead singer of Newsboys. Taylor and Furler have worked together for years and Taylor was behind many of the quirky lyrics of Newsboys songs. Remember these lyrics from the Newsboys song "Shine":
And try as you may, there isn't a way
To explain the kind of change
That would make an Eskimo renounce fur
That would make a vegetarian barbecue hamster
Pure Steve Taylor lyrics.

The new album is called "Goliath" and was released on November 18. Although Taylor is known for his satirical songs, he is equally adept at serious poetry. "A Life Preserved" is one example on the new album.

A Life Preserved
(Music and Lyrics by Steve Taylor on the album Goliath by Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil)
(Listen while you read)

Bobbing for air, I'm back again
A perfect ten of a dive without a pool
A perfect fool too slow to know
His wind has been knocked out till I'm gasping

Bobbing for air, been up and down
The once renown, angling for another act
Another tactical advance to who knows where
You found me there, I heard you there

Calling me out of the shallows of my world
Called to something graceful, something true
Gratitude's too cheap a word for all you've reassembled
From a spirit broken and unnerved
A life preserved
A life preserved

Bobbing for air, I've been atoned
Creation groaned to lift me as I drowned
And set my feet up on the mound of rock you crushed for me
A place to stand, whisper a command

Calling me out of the shallows of my world
Called to something graceful, something true
Gratitude's too cheap a word for all you've reassembled
From a spirit broken and unnerved
A life preserved

Bobbing for air, I have been served
A life preserved after all I'd cast away
You tipped the grayscale till the scales fell back to earth
And I saw colors, I heard a shout
Bobbing for air

Calling me out of the shallows of my world
Called to something graceful, something true
Gratitude's too cheap a word for all you've reassembled
From a spirit broken and unnerved
A life preserved

Calling me out of the shallows of my world
Called to something graceful, something true
Gratitude's too cheap a word for all you've reassembled
From a spirit broken and unnerved
A life preserved

I am very glad Steve Taylor is producing new music and getting out on the road to do some touring. The need is so great that I was about to start my own Steve Taylor Tribute Band. "Hey . . . I can do tall skinny white guy pogo-ing on the stage. Get me an "On The Fritz" suit and I am ready to go!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

"Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by."

Earlier this week, the Rosetta spacecraft reached the end of a ten year journey and delivered the Philae lander to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After a bouncy landing in the open planes, the lander came to rest too close to a cliff to recharge its batteries with solar panels. This caused the computers on the washing-machine sized vehicle to power down into hibernation mode. Mission scientists are hopeful that it may yet achieve a better position relative to our sun and charge its batteries enough to wake up. But, for now, it must slumber in deep heavenly, frigid, peace.

Meanwhile, the comet, barely perturbed by the added weight and jostlings to its orbital path, continues on in a slow arc around the sun. This trajectory will sling it close to the sun and then hurl it back out beyond the orbit of Jupiter. The Rosetta spacecraft, like a dog whose master has died, will remain close beside, looking for some sign of life. The little lander that could is now one more piece of interplanetary material circling the sun and waving to earth as it flies by each 6.5 years. As it sails past we salute the spirit of those who served her so long and so well. We greet with honour this marvel of engineering that has once more excited dreams of far off worlds and places unexplored.

"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. . . . sleep in heavenly peace."

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Prayer for Today

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
My one desire is to live a thankful life.
You have rescued me, blessed me, healed me, redeemed me.


I desire to live this life in gratitude to you.
I desire to find my place in Your will.
I desire to fulfill the role to which you are calling me.
There is a place into which I uniquely and perfectly fit.

I aspire to get as close as possible to that spot.
Forgive me when I fall.
Forgive me when I fail.
Forgive me when I stray from that perfect place.


I will trust You and allow you to guide my path into that way.
I will trust You.
Lead me into Your perfect will.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

(a contemporary prayer by Keith Shields modeled after ancient Celtic prayers)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This Journey

Together we traveled on paths of beauty. The stars were purest white, the leaves greener than we had ever known, and the rivers brimmed with life. The hills spoke of old battles fought and new battles to come; we traveled through old forests inhabited by creatures both fair and foul. Sometimes the road was straight and true; other times it was obscured by fog, by dust, or by our own sense of loathing. At times, the trees echoed with laughter, fair languages, and song; at other times we heard guttural phrases, taunting laughter, and scratches in the recesses of the woods. Yet, the weapons of the King never failed us. Oh yes there were times when I was deceived by wicked creatures in angel robes. I should have taken up arms against these deceivers. But it was then that I was most glad for the King's regiment which always prevailed.

Now, the road behind is longer than the road in front; we have entered into the territory of the enemy. Soon we must storm the gates of the great stronghold. Now, is the time when we must be most diligent, most alert, most nimble, and most prepared to use the weapons entrusted to us. The stakes are high. We must not let down our guard. For the joy set before us, we press on!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Follow-Up to Big Smoke

The Del Barber deer story and my own Blackbird story from yesterday's post led me to think of this powerful song.

I Hung My Head
(Words and Music by Sting)
(Performed by Sting – listen here and Johnny Cash – listen here)

Early one mornin' with time to kill
I borrowed Jeb's rifle and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider, crossin' the plain
I drew a bead on him to practice my aim
My brother's rifle went off in my hand
The shot rang out, across the land
The horse he kept runnin', the rider was dead
I hung my head, I hung my head

I set off runnin' to wake from the dream
But my brother's rifle went into the stream
I kept on runnin' into the salt lands
And that's where they found me, my head in my hands
The Sheriff he asked me, why had I run?
Then it came to me just what I had done
And all for no reason, just one piece of lead
I hung my head, I hung my head

Here in the courthouse, the whole town is there
I see the judge, high up in his chair
Explain to the courtroom, what went through your mind
And we'll ask the jury, what verdict they find
I said, "I felt the power of death over life
I orphaned his children, I widowed his wife
I beg their forgiveness, I wish I was dead"
I hung my head, I hung my head
I hung my head, I hung my head

Early one mornin' with time to kill
I see the gallows, up on the hill
And out in the distance, a trick of the brain
I see a lone rider, crossin' the plain
He come to fetch me to see what they done
And we'll ride together 'til kingdom come
I pray for God's mercy, for soon I'll be dead
I hung my head, I hung my head
I hung my head, I hung my head
I hung my head, I hung my head

Songwriter: STING; Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Big Smoke

Del Barber (composer and performer; album: Praireography, 2014)
(Listen while you read the lyrics
Blinded by the city lights
No one can see you stallin'
It's been so long since you've seen the prairie stars
You're not sure you can recall them
But there is something here for you to find
You may have found it once and lost it now 
We used to fly through the woods
On the backs of quarter horses
Pickin' dandelion bouquets for our sister and our mother
We felt like men but we were boys
Too young to know
But we were as free as fire 
And you're lost out in the Big Smoke
Lookin' for a way home
There are no straight paths
There's no easy way 
Brother do you remember
That one September morning we were shooting cans
With Dad's .22 without a worry or a warning
You pulled the trigger down and dropped that deer
And you looked at me with tears in your eyes 
And I never in a million years
Thought that you'd make that shot
And I picture you tonight, with your sights still on something so far off
Wherever you are I hope you're being careful
About the things you think you want 
And you're lost out in the Big Smoke
Without a fire of your own
There are no straight paths
There's no easy way 
(Last year, father and son produced 12,000 bushels. Under the Crow, they paid thirteen cents a bushel to ship it to Vancouver: $1560. Within four years they'll likely be paying twice as much and within a decade maybe five times as much. "If the price of grain would increase, I suppose a guy wouldn't feel it quite so badly; but on the horizon we don't see it, an increase." "Supposing they, ah, say that a few towns down the road - that grain should be here. There goes our elevator and I would think that 20% of the taxes in this town come from the elevators.) 
The sky is getting hazy
It's filling up with grain dust
And it could be in a year the bank finally gets the best of us
But our cows are fed and the bins are full
We're hoping to see you before the snow 
You're lost out in the Big Smoke
Without a fire of your own
There are no straight paths
No easy way 
Lost out in the Big Smoke
Without a fire of your own
There are no straight paths
No easy way

Wow, this song gets me; or maybe it's that I get it. Every time I listen to it, an artesian well of emotions springs forth. I grew up on the prairies with many of the same experiences depicted by Del Barber in this song. The words in brackets are words captured from a radio broadcast (used in the studio recording) about the plight of the contemporary farmer. It is all too familiar.

I remember a time when, out by myself, I stopped the truck, walked a few feet with the .22 rifle, took aim at a far away Yellow-headed Blackbird, and pulled the trigger. I never thought I'd make that shot. I cried hot tears for a bird that day; and asked for forgiveness from God for taking the life of something so beautiful that had done no wrong.

If I had a brother who moved to the city, I would be able to relate to all of this song. As it is, my heart strongly resonates with this song of city and prairie.

(A further performance can be heard here.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

C.S. Lewis on the Reading of Many Books

"My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.” ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy1

1. With thanks to Jennifer Neyhart ( for reminding me of this quote.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Personal Autonomy and Society

[Thirty one years ago] I could make objective observations about my kids without parents getting offended. But now we handle parents a lot more delicately. We handle children a lot more delicately. They feel good about themselves for no reason. We've given them this cotton candy sense of self with no basis in reality. We don't emphasize what's best for the greater good of society or even the classroom.1
Up until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the good of society trumped the good of the individual in the western world. A few examples will help to demonstrate this. In the United States, from 1940 to 1975, individuals could be drafted into military duty. Prior to the 1960s, most medical decisions were made by professional physicians; and, as shown in the previous quote, teachers were given the benefit of the doubt that they knew what was best for our children.

Then western culture began to emphasize the concept of personal autonomy to a much greater degree. The U.S. revoked the conscription act, the patient was given much more say in medical decisions, abortion became a matter of rights related to a woman's choice, and parents and the child were consulted to a greater degree in matters of education. Today, in Canadian Parliament, we see a debate regarding doctor assisted suicide that hinges upon the rights of the individual and, to some extent, the values of society. At this point in history it is clear that personal autonomy has a much larger impact on such decisions than ever before.

Canada's Supreme Court last debated this issue in 1993 when Sue Rodriquez argued that the laws that prevented her from receiving assistance in her death violated her charter rights. At that time, the court decided that "certain rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are trumped by the principles of fundamental justice."2 At this time it is unclear whether the same argument will hold sway.

Is it perhaps time to say that the pendulum of public opinion in the Western World has swung too far toward personal autonomy and individual rights? Personal ". . . autonomy has been criticized as being a bad ideal, for promoting a pernicious model of human individuality that overlooks the importance of social relationships and dependency."3 Could it be that we have sacrificed too much of our community consciousness for the sake of personal flourishing? As early as 1969, Emmanuel LĂ©vinas saw "The emphasis on autonomy . . . as part of our selfish and close-minded desire to strive toward our own fulfillment and self-gratification rather than being open to the disruptive call of the other’s needs."4 He challenged his readers to consider the value of heteronomy: the value of "subjection to the law of another."

How far will our culture go in establishing personal autonomy as the final trump card? Is it not time to consider whether there might be some limits upon the concept of personal fulfillment?

1 Source: an unnamed Tennessee elementary school teacher in Time magazine, 2/21/05
2 "Doctor-Assisted Suicide Sparks Debate Amongst CBC Readers," October 14, 2014.
3 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Autonomy."
4 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Autonomy."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Doing and Being

Everyone of us sets goals and hopes to achieve specific results. Yet, there is a danger in depending upon achieving results.
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” - Thomas Merton
We must spend time both "doing" and "being." Doing things, setting goals, and hoping for great results is natural and expected. Jesus told a parable about investing talents and using the abilities we have been given (Matthew 25). He also taught us how to spend time being in relationship with His Father (John 15). Our hope is not defined by our results; and we continue to hope for the fruit of our labours.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark Zuckerburg and Giving

Recently, Mark Zuckerburg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave $25 million dollars to help with the healthcare crisis that is emerging with the continued spread of the Ebola virus. This is a terrific gift and will help many people as we all struggle to comprehend the horror and pace of this disease. With Zuckerberg's net worth pegged at 33.3 billion dollars, this means that he gave away approximately 0.075% of his net worth. If your net worth happened to be $500,000 and you gave away 0.075% of your net worth, you would give $375. That helps me put it in perspective. It makes me realize that every gift counts.

Jesus taught this principle to his disciples. He watched both the rich and the poor as they gave their gifts to the temple treasury in Jerusalem. Some gifts were large amounts of money but one gift was two small coins from a poor widow. Jesus praised the widow for her sacrificial gift and pointed out that she had given more than the rest. So, even when we know how much people have given, we may not know the value of their gift, and we may not know which person has given the most.

Currently, my wife and I own our home, two cars, a small amount of money set aside for retirement, an assortment of things, and only a few debts. I wonder what our net worth might be. Perhaps I could challenge you to consider your own net worth as I consider ours. What might it look like if we gave away 0.075% of that net worth?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Consider the Birds of the Air

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
On Thanksgiving Monday I went for a run in the beautiful Parkland area of Central Alberta. The sky was large and clear as I ran down a gravel road past rolling hills and ponds that teemed with life. A small non-descript water-bird caught my eye as I ran and I thought of this passage in the Gospel of Matthew: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." All around me there was evidence of men and women reaping the grain that had been sown in the spring. Combines hummed in the distance; grain was being loaded into bins as farmers raced to beat the winter weather. There was a sense of urgency in the air. Yet, the small duck swam placidly in the slough and only briefly noticed my form running past. She was content in this puddle; and had all she needed.

For a moment I was jealous of this bird; for her life seemed so peaceful and easy. She practically lived in her own salad-bowl with abundant plant and insect life available in the pond. Then I thought of the rest of the passage: "Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew reminds us that God has a special plan for humans on this earth. We are more important to Him than the birds of the air. He cares so much about us that He has given us the task of sowing and reaping. We know the adage: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." God doesn't simply provide us with fish, He is teaching us to fish.

God knows that we would rather be given an abundance of food and the pleasures of life; but He has a better plan for us. He is building our souls and preparing us for a grateful life in a new heaven and a new earth where one day He will reign and we will rejoice in His will for our lives.

On the Tuesday following my run, the stock-market took a dive in North America and commentators were asked for explanations and advice. Another form of urgency was in the air. Experts asked each other about their "worry-meter," seeking to land on an appropriate level of concern for the markets. God's word goes on to say, "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" The obvious answer is "no!" In fact, evidence suggests that worry is much more likely to shorten your life! God tells us, "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." The needle of our "worry-meter" is to be buried at zero. How? By trusting that we are valuable in God's sight. By trusting in His plan for the world. By trusting in His training for a new earth beyond this one. God loves little ducks but He does not train their souls. He is training our souls for a greater life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Give Thanks - He is Worthy

(also posted at the website of Bow Valley Christian Church)
Give Thanks
Thanksgiving season is a time when we examine the gifts we have been given and remind ourselves that we are not "self-made." Douglas Wilson writes,                                                                                                 
The issue of thanksgiving is really central to the whole debate about the existence of God. On the one hand, if there is no God, there is no need to thank anyone. We are here as the result of a long chain of impersonal processes, grinding their way down to our brief moment in time. If there is a God, then every breath, every moment, every sight and sound, is a sheer unadulterated gift. And, as our mothers taught us, when someone gives you presents like this, the only appropriate response is to thank them.[1]
A God who exists and created the universe is a worthy recipient for our thanksgiving. To whom does the atheist turn to give thanks? If there is no God, there is no thanksgiving. Oh sure, you could thank your forefathers and foremothers for outrunning the predators so that they survived long enough to reproduce and ultimately brought you into this world. But that would be hollow thanks. When we give thanks, there is always someone to whom it is given and the receiver must be worthy of our thanks.

I am glad to know the God who deserves our thanks. He is the one who has given us the gifts we have in this life. It is to Him that we respond.
Rev. 4:11 'You are worthy, O Lord our God,to receive glory and honor and power.For you created everything,and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.'

Saturday, October 4, 2014

George Harrison and Copyright Law

There is a common misconception about copyright law. It is often said that one song-writer can sample three bars or less and not infringe the other song-writer's copyright; but this is not the case. As Alan Korn, an expert in copyright litigation says,
"in determining whether one song infringes on another, it is common for courts to look to whether the 'heart' of the song was taken. The heart of a song may be a memorable melody, or an identifiable 2-chord guitar riff or just a few words taken from the chorus. As a result, there is NO truth to the rumor that sampling less than 4 bars is OK."1
The courts may also rule that infringement has occurred without proving that the infringing writer had access to the original song.
"One of the more famous U.S. music infringement cases involved ex-Beatle George Harrison, who was found by a jury to have 'unconsciously' copied the . . . composition 'He's So Fine' in his 1971 hit 'My Sweet Lord.'"2
Take a listen to the two songs involved in this famous lawsuit. "My Sweet Lord" was deemed to be "strikingly similar" to "He's So Fine." What do you think? How similar are the two songs? All of this has become suddenly very interesting to a little known band named "Key of Zed" as we consider how similar our song is to "Angel in Blue Jeans?"

(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields - SOCAN 2013)
Written March 16, 2013
Published on Thirst Website ( on April 13, 2013.
Published on ReverbNation, Key of Zed ( on April 13, 2013.
Performed at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on June 3, 2013.
Performed at the Rusty Gull in North Vancouver on June 20, 2013.

Angel in Blue Jeans 
(Lyrics and Music © 2014 Sunken Forest (ASCAP)/EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP) Stellar Songs Ltd. and EMI Publishing UK Ltd. (PRS). Written by Pat Monahan, Espen Lind, and Amund Bjorkland.)


Friday, October 3, 2014

Homes and Angels

My friend and fellow song-writer, Mike Charko, was in a store the other day when a song came over the system. He heard the melody of the hook and thought to himself, "That sounds a lot like one of our songs!" He didn't hear the name of the band and so after a bit of searching he realized that it was the new single from the band Train: "Angel in Blue Jeans." The hook of their song matches eight bars/ten notes in the heart of our song: "Home."

On the one hand, it is kind of flattering that we (Key of Zed) came up with a melody in 2013 that the authors of "Angel in Blue Jeans" came up with in 2014 and now it is playing on the radio. On the other hand, it kind of feels like copyright infringement. I will post links to both songs and let you be the judge. How similar are these two melodies? Do we have a case for conscious or unconscious copyright infringement? Should we contact the band? Should we just have fun knowing that our song is a lot like their big hit?

Home Angel in Blue Jeans

(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields - SOCAN 2013)
Written March 16, 2013
Published on Thirst Website ( on April 13, 2013.
Published on ReverbNation, Key of Zed ( on April 13, 2013.
Performed at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on June 3, 2013.
Performed at the Rusty Gull in North Vancouver on June 20, 2013.


Follow this lane to the clothes on the line
The garden, the trees, and the hills that we'd walk
The buzzing of summer, the ponds, and the hay
Blossom of thistle, and sweet evening stalks


Driving left hand roads to rivers and sheep
The heather, the wind, and the salt of the sea
Ruddy complexions and hair of light red
This lonely shore she is calling me


Turn up this way 'til I see your sweet face
Gardening gloves and your hair out of place
A smile, a kiss, I'm lost in your arms
Right here with you I have built this space.


(Click on thumbnail image for a larger picture.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Two views on availabilty:
"Why on God’s green Earth would you be on Twitter? Because first of all, the worst thing you can do is make yourself more available, right?"1 —George Clooney speaking to Esquire 
"Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need."2 Gillian Anderson

These opinions of George Clooney and Gillian Anderson are not necessarily in conflict with each other; but perhaps they show a difference in their personality types.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Can't Help Myself

Words and Music by Sandra McCracken; from the album "In Feast or Fallow"
(Listen while you read)

I confess the things I am afraid of: thorns and danger just around the bend
I pray for tongues of fire and bands of angels to come and circle 'round me like a fence
I lift my eyes to the hills, where comes my help?
I lift my hands--empty hands--I can't help myself
I can't help myself; no, I can't help myself

My enemies surround me like an army--within, without, the battle's raging on
I pray the Spirit will be strong and mighty for courage through the night until the dawn
I lift my eyes to the hills, where comes my help?
I lift my hands--empty hands--I can't help myself
I can't help myself; no, I can't help myself

Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Ooooh, oh oh Oh, Oh Oh

Oh trust the Lord--my soul and all that is in me--oh trust the light to show your darkest parts
With wounds of truth and love, a friend who has known me; a fool would keep his secrets in his heart
I lift my eyes to the hills; here comes my help
I lift my hands--empty hands--I can't help myself
I can't help myself, can't help myself
Can't help myself; no, I can't help myself; I can't help myself

Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh
Oh, oh oh Oh, Oh, Oh Oh

To my ear, this song seems to be Sandra McCracken's targum on Psalm 121:1, 2.

Psalm 121:1-2
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Targum on Psalm 121:2

A targum (see the definition here) continued.

Psalm 121:2.

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
The Lord, who has the resources
The Lord, who is just
The Lord, who has the power
The Lord, who has the plan
The Lord, who has shown His love
The Lord, who knows me better than I know myself
The Lord, who will walk with me

The Maker of heaven and earth
The Maker of angels and humans
The Maker of spirits and bodies
The Maker of super novas and volcanic moons
The Maker of hurricanes and earthquakes
The Maker of jungles and tundra
The Maker of wombs and heartbeats
The Maker of me.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Targum on Psalm 121:1

In the first century AD Jewish Rabbis would give spoken explanations and expansions of the Jewish scriptures known as targumim (singular: "targum").1 A targum was given in the common language of the day because the Hebrew language was in decline and the people needed an explanation of material that they could no longer understand. There are many today who have lost the ability to understand spiritual texts and biblical language. Perhaps it is time to revisit the targum. I offer here a targum on Psalm 121:1.

Psalm 121: 1,2 New International Version (NIV)
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

I lift my eyes up
I lift my eyes up from my iPad
I lift my eyes up from my collusion with consumerism
I lift my eyes up from the sand where I have buried my head
I lift my eyes up from my Canadian perspective on the world
I lift my eyes up from my rational view of the universe that leaves no room for the spiritual
I lift my eyes up from my isolation from those around me
I lift my eyes up from myself

I lift my eyes up to the mountains
I lift my eyes up to the sunrise
I lift my eyes up to planets that keep their place in the solar system
I lift my eyes up to galaxies that speed through space
I lift my eyes up to galaxy clusters and black holes
I lift my eyes up to gravity and tides
I lift my eyes up to atoms and quarks and Higgs Boson particles
I lift my eyes up to creation

Where does my help come from?
Does my help come from the economy?
Does my help come from the government?
Does my help come from the military?
Does my help come from my fists?
Does my help come from my guns?
Does my help come from my intelligence?
Does my help come from my retirement plan?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Vote

Regardless of today's outcome, I am very proud to have Scottish and English ancestors when I see how non-violent the campaign for independence has been. As Nahlah Ayed, a reporter for CBC says,
. . . this isn't Braveheart. "There hasn't been so much as a bloody nose in the modern fight," says Luke Skipper, a polite though savvy backroom adviser — from Canada, no less — who works for the pro-independence Scottish National Party. Some of its supporters compare their movement to a "peaceful revolution." "I think there's something, not necessarily cold-blooded about the Scottish mentality, but it's very 'sit back, weigh it up, keep it close to your chest'," says Skipper.1
The Scottish and English people could be a model for other countries like Ukraine, Syria, and even Canada and Quebec as they each debate independence issues. Independence does not need to be bought with blood; nor does the language of debate need to be malicious. We can say "Yes Please" and "No Thanks." So I say to all living in Scotland and the UK: "Slainte mhor agus a h-uile beannachd duibh; Good health and every good blessing to you!"2


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Longing To Reach Home

Part of what attracts me to the writing of C.S. Lewis is the transparency with which he writes. He was a person of immense intellect, but also, immense emotion. He shared these emotions in his writings and prompted his readers to experience similar sentiments. His awe inspiring book, Til We Have Faces, was published in 1956. Towards the end of the book we read these words.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
Lewis is expressing his own emotions through the longings of a character he has created for the story. He willingly shares his journey of discovery and the longing that is there in his soul. Perhaps this is what separates the poet from the ordinary person: a willingness to be vulnerable and express emotions, longings, joys, and embarrassments in their own words. In these particular words, Lewis shares that all of his life has been a quest for home and that he will never be truly home until he has left the place that has substituted for home.

I can relate that I have sensed such emotions as well. I have longed for something more than the experiences of this earth. I have recognized that there must be more. I suspect that this might be true for many others even if the sensation has not yet risen to the surface. We long for another place; a better place; a far away country. See if Lewis' emotions stir similar emotions in you. Perhaps today is the day to set your eyes upon the far away country, to set your eyes upon hope.

Follow-Up to Gravity

“I have no reason to believe that the human intellect is able to weave a system of physics out of its own resources without experimental labour. Whenever the attempt has been made it has resulted in an unnatural and self-contradictory mass of rubbish.”
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Friday, September 12, 2014


I admit that my "nerd quotient"1 may be higher than the average found in the general population and so this post may go beyond concepts you have thought about or wish to think about. (I have at least saved you from reading the formulas that I considered writing into this blog.) Yet, even those who do not give it much thought will recognize the mystery of gravity.

Gravity is truly one of the most enigmatic forces in the universe. It is weak enough that its effect is negligible to a human body at 10,000 km above the earth's surface and yet a black hole, an entire galaxy away, still has some influence on each of us.2 We are familiar with the concept of "weightlessness" inside the International Space Station because of videos of Chris Hadfield and others floating through its various chambers. However, the earth's gravitational influence still has an effect inside the International Space Station (330 km altitude). The apparent weightlessness is due to the fact that, technically, the station is in a free-fall relative to the earth. Centrifugal force from its rotation around the earth nicely balances out the gravitation of the earth giving a relative micro-gravity environment.

On the practical side, gravity is what holds us onto this planet as Earth spins and travels through our portion of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is what gets us into trouble spots resulting in skinned knees and broken bones when we take a big risk on a bike or skateboard. Every object that has mass attracts all other objects that have mass. So, if I stand on a ladder to paint a room and lean so far that I lose my footing, my body, which has a small mass, pulls on the enormous mass of the earth and the mass of the earth pulls on my body. The two masses try to pull each other toward themselves; but, because my mass is small relative to the earth, my body quickly moves toward the large mass of the earth until there is a collision between the two. The collision will most likely be painful for my soft biology but will very likely not harm the floor.

Gravity can also contribute to the "thrill" in our stomach when we ride a roller-coaster at high speed or a car on a hilly road. It both helps and hinders us when we are one year old and learning to walk: it holds us on the floor so that we don't drift into the walls or ceiling; but it also sets us down on our butts when our feet are not in the right place relative to our centre of gravity. It is also what we feel pulling on us as we inch that bicycle to the edge of a ramp and sends us shooting down a ski-hill as we glide off of the chair-lift.

Gravity is something which even the best physicists have trouble conceptualizing, explaining, and fully understanding. For all of its effects that can be measured, experienced, and predicted, we still know very little about what it is and how it has its effect. Some physicists propose gravitons as the mediating particle while others postulate gravitational waves; yet neither has ever been detected. Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer and writer has said,
“Having gone from basically philosophical understandings of why things fall to mathematical descriptions of how things accelerate down inclines from Galileo, to Kepler’s equations describing planetary motion to Newton’s formulation of the Laws of Physics, to Einstein’s formulations of relativity, we’ve been building and building a more comprehensive view of gravity. But we’re still not complete, . . . . We know that there still needs to be some way to unite quantum mechanics and gravity and actually be able to write down equations that describe the centers of black holes and the earliest moments of the Universe. But we’re not there yet.”3
We are often unaware of gravity in our day-to-day lives; but watch for it, and you will notice its effects all around you. You too may find yourself pondering the mystery of gravity.

1 Some of you are wondering if there even is such a thing as a "Nerd Quotient Scale." I assure you there is. Google it.