Thursday, February 28, 2013

Follow-up to Recent Reading

One more book recently read: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. The following sentences are key to the story she tells.

“The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know.” - Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna.

". . . that you can’t really know the person standing before you, because always there is some missing piece: the birthday like an invisible piñata hanging great and silent over his head, as he stands in his slippers boiling the water for coffee. The scarred, shrunken leg hidden under a green silk dress. A wife and son back in France. Something you never knew. That is the heart of the story."  - Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Quiet Miracles

When Jesus performed miracles during his time on earth many people were present who did not know that a miracle had taken place. Think of his first miraculous sign in which he turned water into wine (John 2). There were many present for the wedding but only a few knew what had happened. The disciples of Jesus and his mother knew; but most of the guests did not. Significantly, it seems the bridegroom did not know; and certainly, the "master of the banquet" had no idea of the source of this choice wine. Yes, there are times when a large crowd is aware of the miracle performed; John 6:14 indicates that most of the 5000 people fed by 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish understood that a great miracle had taken place. Yet, many of the signs performed by Jesus were witnessed by only a select few who told others about the event.

In contemporary times, how often might someone today witness a miracle which only a few see? As I think of my own life I realize there have been just a handful of events that are either clearly miracles or leave me wondering if they might have been miracles. I have blogged before about the disappearance of a brain tumor which, although not irrefutable, is one of the clearest examples of a miracle from my life.

There have been others. I think back to a particular "exotic dancer bar" in Calgary by which I frequently drove. I had seen provocatively-dressed young women come out of the bar get into the trucks of long-haul drivers as they made their way through town. I made an educated guess about what was going on and then I committed myself to praying for justice in this situation every time I drove past. Two weeks later the business closed down. Was that one of Jesus' quiet miracles? When we moved to Vancouver I was told of a local bar that featured an annual anti-Christmas party that mocked Jesus. So, I again decided to bring this situation to God in prayer. A few weeks later the owners could no longer run the business and it shut down. Was this a quiet miracle?

How many other things might Jesus do around the world that go unnoticed by all but a few individuals? Are they less of a miracle because they are seen by only a few? Are there other incidents that I have witnessed without knowing that Jesus intervened? Were they a miracle that only someone else could understand?

In the gospel of John we are told that Jesus performed miracles as signs of his glory (John 2:11). Our western world needs to see some miracles that will point to the glory of Jesus. Our eyes need to be open and aware of what is happening around us so that we do not miss the miracles that may already be happening. Watch for a miracle today.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recent Reading

I like it when I discover what other people have read. It gives me ideas about books I would like to read, authors to investigate, or even genres to consider. Here is a list of some of my recent reading with some brief notations.

The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood - Atwood is one of the most (if not the most) celebrated Canadian authors. Although The Edible Woman is a novel, it makes important statements about women in western society and gender stereotypes.

A Small Death in the Great Glen, A. D. Scott - This is a well-written mystery novel set in Inverness, Scotland. The book is an easy read and keeps your interest to the end. If you have ever been to Inverness you will certainly enjoy the author's geographic descriptions.

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky - Dostoevsky demonstrates remarkable knowledge of the human psyche in this classic published in 1880. It is full of insight into our motivations and false humility.

Making The Best Of It: Following Christ In The Real World, John G. Stackhouse Jr. - Stackhouse discusses the writings and lives of C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, H. Richard Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr, and John Howard Yoder comparing their various approaches to living and acting in the world. He then presents his own best answer on how we might follow Christ in the real world.

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis - This book is a classic example of Lewis' brilliant logic and apologetics of the Christian faith. It also contains many great insights into human nature.

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard - In this collection of various writing forms, one of the greatest writers of our time describes her writing process. It is both inspiring and terrifying. All who aspire to write should read this book. All who read and buy books should read The Writing Life to appreciate the work that has gone into a well-crafted book.

Leave a comment below and tell me about a book you have recently enjoyed.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Good Wife

My wife and I celebrated Valentine's Day with a group of friends last night. We had a chocolate tasting at Xoxolat (pronounced shṓ-shṓ-lặ). Who knew there were 400 notes of flavour in chocolate? Following this we walked down the street to enjoy delicious curries at Atithi Restaurant. During the course of the evening we men were encouraged to propose a toast to our wives. Here, said better than I said last night, is my toast to Maureen.

There are many wonderful things I could say about Maureen. Some of you know her from her job where she is well-paid to pay attention to detail and make the lives of busy executives run smoothly. She is extremely good at what she does. But for many years she did her greatest work as a mother who cared for our three daughters and made our home run efficiently. There are many ways I could honour her but I think that one of the greatest tributes I could bring to her is the fact that our grown daughters love her. To have adult children who continue to love her and look to her for advice is a tremendous blessing. I too also blessed to be in love with this woman after 31 years of marriage. Please raise a glass in toast to Maureen!

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. . . . Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her . . ." Proverbs 31:10, 28.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Song For A Grandson

Becoming a grandfather has had a profound effect on me. Things that used to seem important seem less so. Other things have increased in importance. I have tried to capture some of these feelings in words and melody. I offer up these words to you with an attitude of transparency. Take a look inside this heart of mine. It is full.

Posted below are the lyrics to our latest recorded song. In keeping with the themes of yesterday's blog, it is a song with much personal substance and little spectacle. Other singers might sing it better but no one could relate to it more.

Welcome to the World (Listen to the song while you read the lyrics.)
(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields; SOCAN 2013)

Well, I want so much for you, now.
You're the first of the new line;
I hope that you will love life
Become a man in time.

I pray that you will take risks,
For the sake of little ones;
Fight for those who can't fight,
And never walk alone.

Welcome to the world little man.
Master Smith has come along.
You have made a mark on my plans.
Join this dance of life with me.

I hope you take the good bits
Of the things you see in me;
Your life will not be easy
But always will be free.

I pray that you will find friends
To walk with on the way;
Those that you can count on
And brothers in the fray.

Welcome to the world little man.
Master Smith has come along.
You have made a mark on my plans.
Join this dance of life with me.

This world is getting complex;
You will cry some tears.
Many will just give up;
But always persevere.

And pain comes all too easy;
And miracles are few.
Turn your eyes upon them;
And hold them in your view.

Welcome to the world little man.
Master Smith has come along.
You have made a mark on my plans.
Join this dance of life with me.

Cross the Jordan
Will you look for me?
Running endlessly
Our lives will always be

Welcome to the world little man.
Master Smith has come along.
You have made a mark on my plans.
Join this dance of life with me.

I pray that you will sing songs,
And always have a bed
Appreciate a fine wine
And a simple loaf of bread.

Play and laugh and make love
With the woman of your youth;
Stay with her forever,
And love a grandson too.

Welcome to the world little man.
Master Smith has come along.
You have made a mark on my plans.
Join this dance of life with me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spectacle or Substance

It is fascinating to observe the cultural shifts taking place in North America. The entertainment industry is a great place to watch it happen. Changes in the way music is bought and sold and how people make money in the business are moving rapidly. We live in the era of spectacle rather than substance. We no longer simply listen to music; we experience the spectacle of the song. The 55th annual Grammy awards were handed out on Sunday evening with much spectacle . . . and some substance. Rare were the moments of both.

One could go on about which aspects of the show were substance and which were spectacle but instead I will take us back to a time when substance was primary. Compare a performance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in August of 1965 with the opening act of the Grammy show in 2013. Both feature "break-up songs" about a woman who is leaving the relationship and a man who is sad; but there the similarities cease. Below is a sampling of lyrics and then links to the performances on YouTube.

"Ticket To Ride" (The Beatles)

I think I'm gonna be sad,
I think it's today, yeah.
The girl that's driving me mad
Is going away.

She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
But she don't care.

She said that living with me
Was bringing her down yeah.
She would never be free
When I was around.

She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
But she don't care.
"Ticket to Ride" on YouTube.  ("Ticket to Ride" starts at about 9:50 into the video but the whole 18 minutes are great.)

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (Taylor Swift)

I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying, "This is it, I've had enough," 'cause like
We hadn't seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space. (What?)
Then you come around again and say
"Baby, I miss you and I swear I'm gonna change, trust me."
Remember how that lasted for a day?
I say, "I hate you," we break up, you call me, "I love you."

Ooh, we called it off again last night
But ooh, this time I'm telling you, I'm telling you

We are never ever ever getting back together,
We are never ever ever getting back together,
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back together

Grammy performance on YouTube.

In 1965, performances were much more about standing up and singing a song. The harmonies were real and blended into a few microphones on stage (note how McCartney and Lennon blend their voices into one mic). The performers played their songs and sang while the audience listened and cheered. But even in 1965 the seeds of change were being sown. The television audience sat quietly and listened to the guitars, drums, and voices; but the studio audience screamed and swooned. The sound from the Ed Sullivan performances had to be washed to remove some of noise of the crowd to improve the quality of sound. The performance of "Yesterday" featured Paul McCartney singing and playing along with a backing track. Could John, Paul, George, and Ringo foresee the spectacle that they were just beginning to introduce? What must Sir Paul have been thinking as he watched the opening of the 2013 Grammys. It is quite possible he was not watching at all. Instead, McCartney may just have been over in the old Abbey Road Studio writing a song. Maybe even a pop song with substance.

Complete lyrics available at the following links.
Ticket to Ride
Never Ever Getting Back Together

Special thanks to Maureen who suggested I turn my living room rant into a blog post.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


The other day, I had a challenging conversation with a friend. We disagreed on something. This will happen. It is good and it is right that we disagree with others from time to time. At the end of the conversation we affirmed each other as people and spoke of our respect for each other and the roles we carry. We need to hear other voices and seek to see things through different eyes. Neither of us changed our stance on the particular issue.

Franklin Littell once pointed out the irony that churches have tried to impose certain ideas upon all people. Such issues as prohibition and resistance to evolution would be recent historical examples.

Politicians in the churches attempted to secure by public legislation what they were unable to persuade many of their own members was either wise or desirable. . . . Lacking the authenticity of a genuinely disciplined witness, the Protestant reversion to political action was ultimately discredited, and the churches have not to this day recovered their authority in public life.1

We must not seek to legislate our opinions when a large number of people would not support those opinions; and, another equally important truth lies along side of this one: we cannot affirm everyone else's difference. Despite what some might say, we cannot tolerate evil. As John Stackhouse points out, "The absurdity of such an attitude [that we can tolerate everyone's difference] emerges immediately upon one's refusal to affirm this or that idea, behavior, or group with which one disagrees: one is then condemned (note: not affirmed)."2

This gives us some helpful language for how to speak of such things. We want to listen to one another and learn from other people's perspective even when we know we cannot move to their same conclusions. We must not legislate our morality or ideas when we know that there is broad disagreement with the ideas. A mature version of tolerance must go beyond a fierce judging of all who will not play the same game.

1 As quoted in (Stackhouse 2008, 326, 327)
2 (Stackhouse 2008, 329)

Monday, February 4, 2013