Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blogs vs. older media - who will win and how? - Denyse O'Leary


Let's talk a bit about blogging - that free news and views service you like so much.

Recently, old media have been paying more and more attention to bloggers, because we are stealing their readers. Here is something I wrote about recently at the Post-Darwinist:

Crocodile, crocodile, cry me some tears ...

Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur blog reports that
While more people than ever may be visiting newspaper websites, they are sticking around less this year than they were in 2007.

That’s the troubling problem the Newspaper Association of America failed to mention this week, when it reported that the number of unique visitors at its members’ websites increased 12.3% to an all-time high of 199.1 million in the first three months of the year.

But an analysis of the first-quarter web traffic reported by the industry association determines that, by most other key measures, the relative popularity of newspaper websites has waned in the last year in spite of the industry’s professed commitment to aggressively building online products and revenues.

Anyone familiar with today's news environment won't be surprised at the fact that many people prefer to go to blogs.

Meanwhile, the New York Times, whose circulation seems to be bleeding while mine is growing, published a story recently by Matt Richtel about the Web World of 24/7 stress of "blog till they drop" types (like me?), citing two recent deaths of bloggers:
The pressure even gets to those who work for themselves — and are being well-compensated for it.
“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

“This is not sustainable,” he said.


Funny, I would have said that about The New York Times. But hey.

Well, here's one blogger's less melodramatic tale (mine):

I make a living, am still undead, and have not come anywhere near a nervous breakdown. I prefer blogging to writing for magazines because I can usually link my readers to my sources. So if they want to pursue a story in more detail, they can follow the links. Not only that, I can link to images, audio, and video.

Improvements I would like to see: If I were a techhead, I would long ago have figured out how to offer images, audio, and video myself. But I am not a techhead, there are only so many hours in a day, and I do NOT blog till I drop. Just like you, I have a life - a family, a church, a garden, a pile of mending, and all that. And every so often a publisher wants me to write a book, too.

Problems I would like to see solved: (1) bonehead governments that make laws about the Internet which don't make sense and (2) publications that charge a fortune to view their articles - which means I can't link my readers to my sources.

But I don't see how The New York Times can help me with any of that. For all I know, they would want more bonehead laws and higher fees. So go ahead, Times, cry me a river. We need rain here in Toronto.

Okay, that's what I said at the Post-Darwinist. Now here is something for Canadians to consider in particular:

Here in Canada, where the human rights commissions have turned their attention to blog posts they don’t like, a number of bloggers have been charged or sued for libel. You can find out more about that at Ezra Levant’s site, the Free Mark Steyn site, and Kathy Shaidle’s Five Feet of Fury site. All have been charged or sued or both, along with Maclean’s Magazine (charged), and many others besides. Reforming our 14 "human rights commissions" - which operate largely outside the laws that were set up centuries ago to protect persons accused of an offense - will be a long and costly battle for Canadians who love our country. But now that the "hrc's" have decided to wade into the realm of online writing, we writers have little choice.

Meanwhile, I have disabled comments at the Post-Darwinist and the Mindful Hack. I hope to restore that service someday.

But I still blog. Here are some posts you might be interested in from The Mindful Hack, on what science can tell us about our minds and spirits:

Things we know but cannot prove: Another nail in the coffin of materialism.

The fours be with you! (You will be "fours"ed to cooperate with this words/numbers game. (Hey, it's Friday night!)

Altruism: Why it can't really exist but why it does anyway

Evolutionary psychology: Eliot Spitzer is a kludgebrain!, psychologist opines (but so are we all)

Mind and medicine: The placebo effect - Did your doctor just prescribe you a quarter teaspoon of coloured sugar? Maybe ...

Materialism: When the store is on fire, hold a fire sale:
Excerpt: So this is the latest pseudo-explanation of the soul? I could do better myself! How about this: Minds that are accustomed to think in terms of a future have difficulty grasping the idea that there is no future after death.

Way simpler, to be sure, but materialists wouldn't buy it because I forgot to drag in the Paleolithic cave guys telling stories around the fireside - the staple of evolutionary psychology.

Fitna: A thoughtful Muslim's response The predicted riots largely didn't happen, but where to go from here?
Excerpt: And while we are here: Dial-a-mob/rent-a-riot behaviour is NOT copyright to Middle Eastern Muslims. I ran into the same thing among the American Ivy League elite in May 2005, when the New York Times bungled a story I broke on my other blog, The Post-Darwinist, claiming that a film about to be shown at the Smithsonian was "anti-evolution." It wasn't; it did not even address the subject. But zillions of Darwinbots, as I called them, behaved exactly as if it had. It's a good thing that no one gives them sharp objects to play with.

Rupert Sheldrake's guide to New Atheism (which makes it sound like New Coke, really)

Can a transplanted heart lead to transplanted thoughts? Well, maybe, but the mechanism might be fairly conventional.

Why science without God destroys itself: Because the alternative idea of a multiverse is a step into magic, that's why

Art produced by animals: Is it really art?

Are there really innate ideas about God?

Why can't philosophy alone kill off materialism? Why do we need evidence from science?

Civil rights protests force extinction of Olympic flame

Mayo Clinic co-sponsors Dalai Lama's 16th Mind and Life conference, on benefits of contemplation or meditation

Artificial intelligence: A look at things that neither we nor computers can discover

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Attitude of Gratitude -Hird

Pecos Higgins was born on the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1883. At age 6, some of his associates got him "dog drunk". While still small, he began to work on cattle ranches up and down the Pecos River. He only had 8 months of actual schooling, but became one of the most colourful cowboy poets in the history of the Wild West. After two terms in the Texas State penitentiary, Pecos was invited by the Miller Brothers in 1907 to join their "101 Ranch Wild West Show' on a tour of North America. and Europe. There he met numerous royalty, and was personally invited to have a drink with King Edward 7th of England. Unfortunately, Pecos Higgins drank enough whisky over the next few years to, as he put it, fill up the Texas Dam. He married and divorced 5 times, bootlegged, cussed, gambled and shot his way through half a century. He even devised his own six-shooter before anyone in Texas had seen one.

At age 71 Pecos ended as a battered, hopeless drunken wreck, lying abandoned in a deserted Arizona Ranch. The Christians that found him said that he looked as if every bone in his body had been broken. Through the practical caring of his new friends, Pecos met Jesus Christ on a personal basis, and was filled up inside with a new attitude of thanksgiving and joy. Pecos never lost that new attitude of gratitude over the concluding 16 years of his life. Here is how he described this new-found joy: "I feel now like I imagine a little hound pup does -When his eyes first come open ... I'm as happy as a fed pig in the sunshine.

The 19th century Cambridge resident, Charles Simeon, once said: "What ingratitude there is in the human heart." It is so easy to end up as a complaining, grumbling person when things don't go our way. The best therapy for a complaining or fearful attitude is to switch from grumbling to thankfulness, from moaning to praising, from bellyaching to belly laughing. Dr. Patrick Dixon commented that someone who can never laugh is as emotionally imprisoned as someone who can never cry. Dr. Dixon notes that laughter alters the levels of various "stress" hormones such as cortisol, dopamine, adrenaline and growth hormone - all hormones released when we are tense, working hard, worried or afraid. In typical office stress, all the hormones are released but no exercise follows and the body suffers. We develop stomach ulcers, arteries clog up, we become irritable and develop a host of other problems - all because the body is pumping out hormones we don't need. Laughter, says Dr. Dixon, shuts down these hormone levels, keeping them low. Interestingly, endorphin levels (natural morphine-like substances) seem to remain the same following laughter.
(Dr Patrick Dixon photo)

More and more research is coming to the forefront, showing that gratitude and joyful laughter are connected with healthy living, while grumbling is connected with diseased living. Dr. E. Stanley Jones once said: "If you are unhappy at home, you should try to find out if your wife hasn't married a grouch." Worry, fear, and anger are the greatest disease causers. We need to prune from our lives all tendencies to fault, find, blame and put down others. Instead we need to daily practice the healing therapy of "counting our blessings." I would encourage you to take 10 minutes today to write down 10 gifts that you have received in your life that you are thankful for. It might be your children, your work, your sense of humour, your spouse, your parents, the trees and mountains, the country of Canada. Then practice saying thank you" for these wonderful gifts. It always helps to have someone say "thank you" to. That is where God comes in. As the source of all good gifts, it only makes sense to express appreciation to the Creator of this mysterious universe. As someone once said, happiness is seeing a sunset and knowing who to thank.

I am more convinced than ever that I was born to be thankful. Ingratitude is like putting sawdust into my car engine. Through an attitude of gratitude, I am protecting myself from countless diseases that could otherwise come my way. Our immune system is a remarkably delicate mechanism that just cannot handle acidic emotions like bitterness, rage, or malice. I challenge you therefore to find out for yourself whether an attitude of gratitude will improve your emotional and physical health. Over our kitchen table is a wall plaque with the words: "in everything, give thanks." May God give you the strength this moment to develop an attitude of gratitude.


Rev. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

Friday, April 25, 2008

Faith and the Life of the Writer - Clemons


Sometimes I feel God has given me a special anointing of faith.

It takes faith to be a writer. Every time you sit at a computer staring at an empty screen you have to have faith God will give you the words you need to write; you must have faith God will see what you write through to publication, and you must have faith to believe God will provide an audience to read what you’ve written.

According to scripture: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Imagine that. God wants us to have confidence that what we hope for will come to pass even when we don’t see it. Boy, I can relate to that. I left high-salaried marketing career to write novels. In my naïveté I assumed my first release would make me rich and famous. Why not? God had called me to write. He had given me the words. He would give me the audience. Not! I think my first book sold about 1,500 copies. Imagine my disappointment. “But God, didn’t you say..?”

And now, as I sit here having just completed a draft of novel number five, I wonder where I get the faith to continue. I’m reminded of the song I will praise you in the storm by Casting Crowns. Part of the lyrics were lifted from Psalm 121: 1-2.

“I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth.”

Amen!

Yesterday as I sat at my computer staring at my completed first draft I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what. I felt like Elijah sitting on Mount Carmel, dry as a river in a drought. You know the story. It hadn’t rained in three and a half years but suddenly there was this tiny little cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man’s fist, and Elijah sent his servant to tell King Ahab to get his chariot moving because the roads were about to get washed out. Now that’s faith! And just as suddenly, right out of the blue, it came to me what I had to do. A subplot needed to be added. I started doing research and the further I went the more perfectly it fit, and I knew God was speaking. That’s the way it’s always been. “I lift my eyes unto the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
God has always been gracious and encouraged me. I’ve been blessed with excellent distribution, enjoyed rave reviews, received five awards, had my books carried by virtually every major Christian chain in the U.S. and been in hundreds of independent bookstores, yet for all of that my last book sold just under 5,000 copies. Hardly a best seller.
I’ve not yet seen the fulfillment of God’s promise. But I will. God’s timing is perfect, but it’s usually a lot different than mine. So as I look at my paltry draft knowing it will take untold hours of crafting, beating it with the proverbial hammer and chisel to turn it into a work of art, I have faith to believe God will see it through to completion and that ultimately He will use it for His intended purpose. After all, I didn’t put the desire in my heart to write, He did. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 (NLT)
I guess, then, I shouldn’t be surprised that He’s already given me the plots for books six, seven and eight. And to that I can only say, “Lord, increase my faith.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fr. Tom Rosica on the pope's visit

Great analysis from Salt and Light Media Foundation CEO Father Tom Rosica of last week's papal visit at the Salt and Light TV blog:


Benedict came to America last week to bring healing and hope. His words and simple gestures were desperately needed in a nation torn apart by terrorism and wars, and in a Church split by many divisions. Only time, reflection and prayer will reveal if the healing of US Catholics begun last week, will bear fruit for the Church in America.07-beneidct-in-america.jpg

One thing is certain, however: last week the shadow of Peter fell on millions of people in America and far beyond. And many received hope and experienced healing from our many diseases. And one more thing happened last week: Joseph Ratzinger came into his own. Though elected and installed as Pope three years ago, I think his Papacy really began in the minds and hearts of North Americans last week when “Peter was among us.”

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

Read the whole thing. Great pictures over there, too.

And consider getting a subscription to Salt and Light TV. It doesn't cost much per month, and it is a guaranteed transfusion of hope every time you switch it on.

Goals and Ambitions for Writing - Payne

My writer’s group, the Writer’s Crucible, asked a simple question, “What are your goals and ambitions regarding writing?”

My goals seem very different now than they ever have been. My past ideas for books seem a distant memory. I wanted to become a famous author, writing at my beautiful retreat on the lake, travelling across the country with my family to attend booksignings and give presentations. I wanted to be well known with my name on the spine of many books.

But now, the honeymoon is over. The thought of building a platform, giving interviews, and writing to meet deadlines just leaves me with shivers. And not good ones.

I cringe when I think of the number of books an author like Jan Karon or Karen Kingsbury pumps out. I moan at the idea of travelling to unknown places with unknown people. I tire at the thought of pumping out weekly, biweekly and monthly articles. I shudder at the idea of maintaining a daily blog and website.

What started out as excitement, enthusiasm and energy to become what God called me to be has dropped to disappointment, despondency and drudgery.

But that is where the problem originated – in my thinking that God had called me to be a writer. He did not. In further reflection, I remember His call to me; “Write to bring others closer to me.”

He didn’t say, “Write to be famous.” He didn’t say, “Write to build a platform.” He didn’t say, “Write a blog, a website, articles, columns, books and novels.”

Although His call may have included those mediums, they themselves were not the ends. They would merely be a means to an end – His end.

So what are my goals and ambitions regarding writing?

I have written a novel about a mother faced with such crushing betrayal that her only hope for peace is to rely on the love of the One who first loved her. It was written to bring women closer to God through the example of the main character in this fiction.

I have written devotionals explaining God’s character and all I have learned along my journey as a new Christian. They were written to share my experiences with a loving God in every day life, with my family and with my health. They were written to bring new Christians and unchurched readers closer to God through the example of my own life.

I have written a fitness book that chronicles my experience of bringing God into the forefront of my health and fitness regime. It was written to show new believers and mature Christians that God can and should be part of our every day life – even in fitness.

I believe that my original intentions to “write to bring other’s closer to God” started out with the right motive, but somewhere I changed it to “write to become a writer.” My focus moved onto me and away from God.

I am reminded to write letters. Oh, how exciting to put pen to paper, to fold a note into an envelope and seal the letter with a stamp.

I am reminded to write emails. Emails to encourage and enlighten.

I am reminded to write cards. Cards to celebrate, to congratulate and to console.

Yes, I write but that does not mean that I need to make a career of being a writer. I simply need to answer God’s call to write to bring others closer to Him – in any way He sees fit.

www.kimberleypayne.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Festival — Martin


I am so pumped right now. I arrived home on Sunday from my biannual pilgrimage to The Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you are a literary writer, who takes your art seriously, I recommend that you start planning now to attend the next Festival in April of 2010.

There are so many benefits to going. It’s a great place to be exposed to wonderful books. Scores of authors of varying genres are there reading, teaching and discussing the art and craft of writing. During many of the time slots there were ten different options, making it difficult to choose between — say — a panel discussion on humour writing, a poetry reading, a session on screenwriting, and an interview with a famous novelist. Over the three days, my friend Henry and I hadn’t attended the same concurrent session once, until I switched one of mine last minute just to simplify things.

There are many other related things happening on campus too. We attended concerts Thursday and Saturday nights with Caedmon’s Call and Iron & Wine — although we were exhausted from the pace we’d set all conference.

This year was the third Festival of Faith & Writing that I have attended. It’s a great place to make connections with magazine editors and book publishers. Publications such as Books & Culture, Image, Relief, Rock & Sling and Ruminate were there. Publishers such as Baker, Eerdmans, IVP, Paraclete, WordFarm, and Zondervan had displays.

The Festival is predominantly, but not exclusively a Christian conference. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of a Jewish writer such as Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union) or an uncommitted seeker such as Yann Martel (Life of Pi).

For me the highlight is interacting with some of the finest poets anywhere — this year Luci Shaw, Paul Mariani, Rod Jellema, Mary Karr, Scott Cairns, and Pulitzer Prize winner Franz Wright were some of them.
It’s a great place to advance your writing. Will I see you there in 2010?

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his poetry chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed is available at www.dsmartin.ca

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When life hands you lemons . . .


or, in this case snow, try to look on the bright side. Cliche and hackneyed but when it's April 22nd and you had planned on going for a walk in the sandhills nearby to look for crocuses and the maple trees are budding, the geese and ducks are back, let's face it, it's mortal hard to see the positive when there's over a foot of snow on your deck. A deck that, only a week previous, my husband and I had been sitting on, drinking lemonade and enjoying plus 20 weather and sunshine.

Sigh. I was grumbling about the snow to a fellow church-goer on Sunday and she just smiled. "But it's so bright and white and friendly," she chirped. I wanted to hit her with my purse. But then she went on to say that in Holland where she came from, where rain is more common, the dark and dreary landscape is far more depressing than what we were looking on now. "And when the snow melts, which it will, the fields will have plenty of moisture." She underlined that with a bright, cheerful, happy smile.

Okay. I could concede that and I guess, to a point, she was right. Besides, may as well try to be positive about it. Getting grumpy is hard on the ego and, in my current situation, my manuscript. Especially when this is a manuscript that has come back to me for revisions that have been classified as a major overhaul.

When I got the revision letter I had the usual "I've failed my editor" response. I felt as if all my hard work had been in vain - I missed the mark. I go through this each time I get a revision letter. Even after some 22 books, I still look at that my editor's letter through the eyes of a failure. But this time I had some other tools to use, another chirpy voice in my head. A fellow writer of mine spoke at a writer's conference about her attitude toward revision letters. She actually gets excited! She is bubbly, over the top, happy. When I first heard her talk this way my hands tightened on the handles of my purse. But no, this was for real. Then she told me why. A revision letter comes from an editor who is a partner in excellence. A revision letter is a chance to make this manuscript better. And why not get excited about better? Why not see it as a chance to learn, a chance to make this book all that it can be? I've spent a lot of time building this story-world, creating the characters, fleshing out the plot, the conflict, the motivations. Why not make it best, instead of simply good.

I'm not quite at the chirpy stage of reading revision letters, but I am moving toward enthusiasm. Toward seeing the possibilities. Toward gratitude for the extra pair of eyes and the suggestions. I'm eye-ball deep in revisions right now and the work is, at times, a steady slog, but I see a glimmer at the end of the book. The reshaping of this story that will make it the best it can be. The same thing my editor wants.

I'm trying to do the same with the snow. Trying to see the possibilities. It's a struggle, but may as well laugh about it. May as well enjoy it. Even if the geese don't.

The pope on the true meaning of freedom

From Pope Benedict XVI's homily at Yankee Stadium on Sunday:

"Authority" … "obedience". To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a "stumbling stone" for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ - "the way and the truth and the life" - we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace".

Real freedom, then, is God's gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Canadians should pay attention to Pope Benedict XVI



I just got back from covering the New York leg of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States. It was an experience of a lifetime to actually be inside St. Patrick's Cathedral when the pope conducted the mass there, and to be at Ground Zero when he knelt and prayed for peace and healing for those were injured or lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The picture to the left shows the pope at Ground Zero with a family member of someone who died that day.

In every address, whether in Washington D.C. or New York City, the pope had important words to say not only to Catholics, who make up about 25 per cent of the U.S. population, (and about 46 per cent of Canada's) but to all Christians and all people of good will, whatever their faith, religious or non-religious.

His words at the United Nations on human rights have a special resonance here in Canada, where Christians have been under attack for well over a decade by so-called "human rights" commissions. Now human rights commissions are trying to extend their reach to encroach on freedom of the press of mainstream publications like Maclean's Magazine.

Christian publications are also facing expensive complaints processes for so-called "hate" speech.

Benedict XVI said:

This reference to human dignity, which is the foundation and goal of the responsibility to protect, leads us to the theme we are specifically focusing upon this year, which marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science. Human rights are increasingly being presented as the common language and the ethical substratum of international relations. At the same time, the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights all serve as guarantees safeguarding human dignity. It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights.


What I fear in Canada is that any idea of "natural law," even any idea of a law "written on the heart" or of the Book of Nature somehow testifying to a Lawgiver and a Designer, is now being replaced by various political elites with relativist, materialist, secularist and even neo-Marxist conceptions that are so malleable and flexible that the rules are made up as we go along. Words that have a meaning anchored in objective reality--like marriage, the rule of law, human rights, and dignity-- have become "empty containers" into which the culture pours whatever meaning happens to be the latest thinking of our "cultural elites" at the moment.

I found it most dismaying when I attended the Charter @ 25 conference last year, to find that the conversation about rights had so moved on from any natural law conception that I wrote at the time:

"The impression I got at the conference was that Canadian society has "evolved" to the point where Christian voices seem irrelevant to the conversation. The Christian point of view on rights was like the senile uncle sitting at the dinner table. When he speaks he gets a polite nod, but the conversation continues around him as if he doesn't exist."
Is North America going to treat Benedict like this senile uncle, like an old man in a white dress, whom we humor but ignore? To the very bottom of my being, I hope not.

The pope appealed to reason and to a kind of objective reality that all persons of good will, whatever their beliefs, can find agreeable and hope-filled.

He also issued a wake up call. A gentle one, but a wake up call nevertheless. He also issued an exhortation to everyone to find true freedom, which can only be found in Jesus Christ. At yesterday's mass in Yankee Stadium he said:

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality.

In Canada it is especially important, that Christians wake up to what is happening to the conversation about rights and freedoms here. I exhort you to start reading regularly www.freemarksteyn, a website by the Web Elf Binky, who provides links and, occasionally, wonderful, uplifting and humorous commentary on an otherwise troubling and darkening state of affairs concerning true human freedom.

For those of you who blog or write columns or reports on the battle for true human rights in Canada, send Binks a link and he will include it in his daily round up of all the news on this issue. His email address is displayed on his website.

Get informed, learn everything you can about your rich Christian heritage, not only from the Word of God, but also from the great philosophical traditions that fed on it.

Our very survival depends on it. Here's a little video of Pope Benedict at the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. The picture at the top shows me at Ground Zero before the pope's arrival.
video

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Curse God and Die - Hird

There is a time in every life, comments Stephen Lawson, when all hell breaks loose. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Cataclysmically. All hell breaks loose. One day, life is sunny. Calm. Clear. Predictable. Your job is secure. Your children behave. Your health is good. Then out of the blue, like a violent, angry thunderstorm blowing across your landscape, tragedy strikes. You’re hit hard. All hell breaks loose.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does tragedy strike those who love God the most? Why do the good die young? One of the most famous sufferers on Planet Earth asked all these questions. He suffered so deeply that his wife couldn’t stand it anymore. She said to her husband Job: "Curse God and die". In other words, get it over with. It’s no use. There is no future. You could almost see Job’s wife as the first Euthanasia advocate. Yet rather than choosing suicide, Job clung tenaciously to life. Often human tragedies like the loss of career, family, or home leads to an even greater tragedy - the denial of any meaning to life. This was the great temptation that faced Job, and that faces each of us at least once every 18 months on average.

Job went through horrendous suffering for 42 chapters, and yet he never once gave up. He was tormented by insults from his friends, harrassed by their insensitive advice and browbeaten into admitting wrongdoing that he never committed. Under attack, Job groaned, he wailed, he doubted and fell into deep depression, he lashed out like an infuriated animal....but he never cursed God. No matter how discouraged he was, he clung to his integrity. He never gave up his rock-bed conviction that he was not to blame for his terrible illness. Thousands of years later, we modern, scientifically-sophisticated people are still often blaming people when they become sick. Even in the 21st Century, we can too easily be just like Job’s three comforters who just made their friend feel worse. "Oh, you’re sick in hospital with cancer...Obviously you are not thinking enough positive mental thoughts, or jogging enough, or eating enough granola." One way or another, we can slip into psychosomatically blaming others for their illnesses.

Job was covered from head to toe with putrid boils that never stopped itching. His feverish body hung limp on its frame, his eyes sank back into his head, and his ribs protruded from his skin. Job’s three friends lacked the courage to feel Job’s pain, and respond rather than just react. Job didn’t need a lecture from his three friends; he needed love. He didn’t need a sermon; he needed sympathy. He didn’t need criticism; he needed comfort. When we are struck down by tragedy, we need to know that our friends really care. And we need to know that God cares, God really listens, and God will never leave us.

Why is it that so many famous writers, poets, philosophers, and scientists have turned time and again to the book of Job? Perhaps because it easily takes its place among the masterpieces of the world’s literature. The author of Job was a poet of rare genius who powerfully expressed our deepest feelings and thoughts. Sooner or later, we all identify with Job because suffering is part and parcel of life. We are bonded to Job through our common experience of pain. Many reject God, but no one rejects Job. Simply by suffering so greatly and hanging on for dear life through it all, Job has won our hearts.

As Stephen Lawson puts it, heaven is often silent. In such times, the only answer God gives is a deeper revelation of Himself. We learn that He is the answer we seek. Ultimately we must not trust a plan, but a Person. There is something about our questioning minds that longs for answers. If we only knew, we reason, we could handle our pain. Yet placing God’s infinite wisdom into our finite brains would be like trying to pour the Atlantic Ocean into a Dixie Cup. It just wouldn’t fit. It’s too vast and deep.

Job’s faith wavered. He mourned. He cried. He protested. He questioned. He even cursed the day of his birth. But he never cursed God. In the face of adversity, he remained firm in his only hope - God. When our world falls apart unexpectedly, we must not dwell on why but on who. Only God’s disclosure of Himself is powerful enough to heal the heart and relieve the pain.

Job in his sufferings, said Mike Mason, resembled Jesus on the cross. The only person who has ever endured more than Job was Jesus of Nazareth. We do not need to have nails driven into our hands and feet to know what a cross is. A cross is a cross. To be crushed is to be crushed, and we all have had a taste of this. Job in his suffering was looking for what could only be found in a manger, on a cross, in an empty tomb.

The key to Job’s sufferings, and indeed to life itself, is the cross. Jesus did not rise above suffering; he went through it. Jesus let himself be captured by soldiers, tried by legalists and bureaucrats, condemned by a mob, scourged by mockers, and finally pinned and exhibited like a specimen insect... No amount of suffering could shake either Jesus or Job from their rock-bottom clinging to God. Though he slay me, said Job, yet will I trust in Him.

Good Friday and Easter is more than a once-a-year event. Each day for a Christian is Good Friday and Easter.* Each day in our spiritual walk, we can either curse God and die, or bless God and live. May we choose Life today that we and our children may live.


Rev. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada
previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
*note: Having just returned from Crete, I was reminded that much of the Christian world, specifically our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, will not be celebrating Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) until tomorrow, April 20th!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Matter of Timing - Laycock

Last week I watched two full grown geese land on a small pond across from my home. It was quite funny to watch, because the pond was still frozen. The geese gracefully flapped their wings and extended their feet, anticipating the landing, but when they touched down they skidded sideways and plopped down unceremoniously on their bottoms. When they recovered they stomped about, seeming indignant.

When I saw them stomping around on the ice it made me think of those times when I’ve been impatient with God’s timing. It often seems that He isn’t in sync. with my estimation of when things should happen. Give me patience, Lord. Right now!

But His timing is always perfect. When my new novel, One Smooth Stone won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award, I was thrilled that it would soon be in print. Then I discovered that the word, ‘soon’ is relative. There was a delay because the publisher wanted a certain editor to work with me, and she was busy with other projects. Then there was a bit of miscommunication and I was waiting for her while she was waiting for me to get in touch. Then, when it was finally begun, the editing process took time. But finally my publisher told me the books were ready to ship. I waited - impatiently - for them to arrive on my doorstep. The book launch was to be held on the first night of Inscribe’s Fall Conference and, of course, I wanted the books in hand for that event. I was thankful when they arrived, safe and sound, a few days before the scheduled launch.

I remember lifting the first book out of the box. I knew exactly where it was going. I gave it to my friend – I’ll call her Barb.

Barb has had a hard life – her husband left her with four small kids to raise and no resources. The family struggled through. Then one of Barb’s daughters, I’ll call her Lucy, was raped. Though Barb managed to hold on to her faith in Christ, Lucy has been bitter and angry with God ever since. The day after my books arrived, Barb gave that copy to Lucy. A few days later she got a phone call.

Lucy told her that she had had no intention of reading the book – she’d thought, oh yeah, there goes mom with the religious stuff again. But that next day she got the flu and the only thing she had in the house to read was my book. So she picked it up and started to read. She said she couldn’t put it down. When she called her mom she was in tears because she said that after reading the book, she finally believed God does still love her, in spite of everything.

The timing was perfect. God’s timing. Not mine. Next time I get impatient I’ll try and remember how ridiculous those geese looked, stomping around on solid ice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Presuming to Know the Mind of God - Meyer

I regularly pray, asking God for wisdom and direction for all the little and big decisions of my year, weeks, days and moments. I trust that He will guide me. Some things are clear, of course – no-brainer decisions such as telling the truth and being faithful to my husband – the Bible’s pretty clear about God’s will for our lives on quite a lot of issues.

But there are some things that, well, I guess He leaves up to us. There’s no chapter and verse to quote about taking a job in Norway House instead of Winnipeg – or setting a book launch date for June 23rd instead of June 29th. How can I know for sure if God wants me to go to Write! Canada this year?

Recently, I made a decision that I presumed was God’s will. Apparently, it wasn’t. Where did I go wrong? Can He still make it right (the Bible says that all things work together for good)? Was it His will for me to make that decision even though things didn’t turn out as I expected? Maybe He had a better plan and I just don’t see the full picture yet? I prayed earnestly and then, trusting Him, went ahead with what I presumed would be His will. Was my own will tangled up in there somehow? Yes, likely, to some extent. So much so that I couldn’t hear the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit nudging me one way or the other? Maybe.

I was actually, well, a little upset with God that things didn’t work out as planned. I’d prayed. I’d stepped out in faith. He could have pulled things together and He didn’t. I felt let down. Disappointed. Should I pray about the next decision that I need to make? Should I trust that things will work out in the next situation? Will I blow it again? Did I blow it this time? What is God thinking about all of this? Is He disappointed that I made a wrong choice? Is He disgusted that I went my own way instead of His? Did He punish me by making things not work out?

Recently, I read through the anthology: Hot Apple Cider. Great book, by the way. It gave me a really good introduction to 30 Canadian Christian authors, most of whose work I had not had an opportunity to read before. One of these authors was Shiela Wray Gregoire. I particularly enjoyed reading her piece entitled: Romance Amid Reality. What I got out of it was that I should stop presuming to know the mind of my husband. I realized this when my husband, John, walked into the room while I was reading this book. Immediately, the thought came into my head that he would be thinking that I was lazy and should be up working instead of reading a book lying down on the couch. Now, I know that’s not true – John is always trying to get me to slow down and rest more. (What I was more likely hearing was an echo of my mother’s voice from long ago).

I quite often make automatic presumptions about what people are thinking without really taking the time to ponder how this fits in with what I know about them.

For me, I guess, the real heart of the matter is my relationship with God. Do I still trust Him? Do I still continue to prayerfully make the best decisions I can make. Does God still have kind thoughts towards me even if I’ve apparently made a “wrong” choice? Can I presume to know the mind of God?
In the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29, God is reassuring a group of people who have badly misjudged His will. Verse eleven begins: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil…”

Knowing who God is, that He loved me enough to send His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me, so that I could have a relationship with Him, is it safe to presume that I might know at least some of His thoughts?

According to Jeremiah (and many other wonderful verses in the Bible), yes, I can presume that His thoughts towards me are of love and of peace. That even if I am blowing it on a regular basis, His gentle arms are wrapped around me, carrying me through each and every small and large decision of every moment, every day, every week and every year.

Dorene Meyer
Author of Deep Waters
www.dorenemeyer.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Gift of Leadership - Mann

Godly leaders are neither born nor made, but rise from the steady flame of reflection, a longing for meaningful change, great courage and a history of shouldering responsibility and honouring others (Joyce Strong).

The other side of leadership is when it’s evasive. First, you see it—then you don’t. Or when leadership is ambiguous—you understand it one way and then it fools you and suggests a double meaning. I have become somewhat cautious of leadership over the years—even in the church. Not because of personal situations, as much as seeing vulnerable people reach out in trusting ways and be misled


Think for a moment about the word reflection. I believe this is a perfect word for leadership. How do we influence through our leadership? And what kind of influence do we want to create? Whom do we reflect in our leadership?

Perhaps the most challenging issue is not knowing when we affect change through our leadership or how much. Maybe the frightening part of this is realizing that we actually give leadership even when we’re not aware of doing it.

Our old farmhouse faces the road. Because of this southerly exposure, and the barn standing east of the house, we never see a sunrise. What we cannot miss is the effect all around us, of the sun. We watch the bush from our west window come brilliantly alive with colour. The farmer’s yellow metal barn out the west window reflects the sun’s brightness and turns radiant. Sometimes, just the tips of the treetops change before our eyes and reflect the surrounding glow. Regardless of what direction we look, we see transformation.

And more times than desired, the effect of change is gone as quick as it appears and the back yard looks beautiful, touched and fresh.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Unveiled Faces - Arends


I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard’s sprawling, profound book on The Sermon on the Mount. I just came across these paragraphs:

Interestingly, “growing up” is largely a matter of learning to hide our spirit behind our face, eyes, and language so that we can evade and manage others to achieve what we want and avoid what we fear. By contrast, the child’s face is a constant epiphany because it doesn’t yet know how to do this. It cannot manage its face. This is also true of adults in moments of great feeling—which is one reason why feeling is both greatly treasured and greatly feared.

Those who have attained considerable spiritual stature are frequently noted for their “childlikeness.” What this really means is that they do not use their face and body to hide their spiritual reality. In their body they are genuinely present to those around them. That is a great spiritual attainment or gift.
(p. 76)

Isn’t that cool? It made me think about the “constant epiphanies” of my children’s faces, especially when they were babies. When my daughter was about four months old, I wrote this:

2 Corinthians 3:18

Today the gas man came to change our meter
He got distracted by the baby
He coo-chi-cooed and peek-a-booed . . .

She smiled.

He was transfixed
Transformed
Awash in her light.

Gee,
He said, lingering at the door
That’s the nicest thing that’s happened to me all week.

People
(Relatives, friends, strangers)
Will do anything to make her smile
And when she does
Their own countenances change . . .

They are softened
Surrendered
Radiant.

She does not smile out of obligation
Or politeness
She has not yet learned to wear a mask
She doesn’t know what pretense is.

She smiles because she wants to
And that is her power.

There is something in the Bible
About unveiled faces
And how they reflect
The glory of God.

I believe it
I’ve seen it
In the unveiled smile of my baby
And, if only for a moment,
In the light of the face of whoever’s smiling back.


My smiling daughter is six-years-old now. When she wants me to rewind a video, she asks me to “back-forward” it. (I guess she learned “fast forward” first and did the math from there.) When I think about what she’s taught me about “unveiled faces”, I find myself “back-forwarding” all the way to Genesis. Genesis 1:27 tells us we were made in God’s image; The Message translation declares we were created “reflecting God’s nature.” It would seem God intended us to reflect His nature with unveiled, childlike faces.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking. Although new life in Christ involves a death to self, it's a death (the death) that gives life—only in Jesus do we discover our true selves. It’s when we know we are loved and forgiven, created in the image of God, that we can relax into our own unique personalities. We still struggle against the sin-grain, of course, but now, instead of dressing up our weakness and sin we can just go lay it down at the cross. No mask is required. We can stop worrying about ourselves and just be ourselves.

Sometimes I imagine taking the mirror I normally look into (fussing, worrying, covering, adjusting), yanking it off the wall, and holding it high above my head, symbolically using it to reflect God to the world. If I could really do that, it wouldn’t matter what I looked like, only that I reflected Him. If I could really live that way, unselfconscious, focused on Him. I could back-forward all the way to who He created me to be. Unguarded, unveiled. Like my kids, when they were little.

I wish I could have seen the grins of the little children who got close to Jesus, the ones He took into His arms and blessed. (“Be like them,” Jesus told the grown-ups, in Mark 10:13-16.) Did the kids know who was holding them? Did their hearts explode with the joy of it? Was it written all over their faces?

Carolyn Arends

(Dallas Willard quote is from The Divine Conspiracy, © 1997 by Dallas Willards, published by HarperSanFrancisco, and Carolyn Arends’ poem is from We’ve Been Waiting For You © 2002 by Carolyn Arends, published by J. Countryman, a division of Thomas Nelson)

www.carolynarends.com
www.conversantlife.com

now available: Wrestling With Angels
"Carolyn is a writer, a terrific writer. God has gifted this woman with a remarkable ability to illustrate ideas that very few writers can illustrate. If you are looking for a friend to take a journey with, this book makes pleasant company." -- Donald Miller, author

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Worship in the Land of St Titus- Hird

We had a very full Sunday visiting Heraklion, the Capital of Crete where the Apostle Paul left his assistant Titus. (Titus 1:4-5)

Sunday started with heavy rain, requiring us to take a taxi to the 7am service at Hagios Tito/Titus Church where the actual skull of St Titus is on display. As we arrived early, we ate a Cretan/Greek breakfast with a heavy emphasis on pork and potatoes. Potatoes in Crete always mean 'french fries'!

The Hagios Tito service lasted 3 and 1/2 hours. We became somewhat weary standing for much of the service. For the first hour, there were more clergy and robed choir than congregation: about 8 including us. Time is no concern to Cretans. Every hour, more people wandered in, until eventual the church building was 80% full. Even the choir members wandered in and out over the three+ hour service.

There were no instruments at all in the service. Instead the male choir, with two lead singer/cantors, used microphones, singing the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (the golden-tongued) in minor keys. The congregation never sang.

At the end of the service, any of the people who did not take communion were invited to receive a blessed piece of bread to eat on their way out. All the children took communion, plus many of the adults who felt spiritually connected that day.

The visiting Cretan Archmandrite Makarios invited us to have Greek coffee with him after the service. Having studied for three years in Boston, his English was excellent, so we had a great conversation. I was able to give him a copy of 'Battle for the Soul of Canada' as a gift, which he seemed pleased to receive it. In return, Fr Makarios, an Orthodox priest and medical doctor, gave me a copy of his new book on Christianity and Bioethics.

After Church, we went for lunch with one of the young couples. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Christians in Crete, about Titus, and how to not butcher the modern Greek language. For some reason, Greek has apparently changed a bit in two thousand years since the New Testament in some of its pronunciations ;) The 'u' in Eucharist/Thanks is now pronounced as an 'f' as in 'Efcharista', and the 'g' in 'evangelism' is pronounced as an 'h'!

In the afternoon, we went by bus to the famous Knossos archeological palace, where the Minoans had their headquarters. After that, we went to the Venetian Port at Heraklion where the wind on the windbreaker was so strong that it almost blew us off our feet. We can understand how Paul warned the ship captain not to leave Crete because of the winter danger of shipwreck. Even today Cretans do not do fishing in the winter.

So many rich experiences packed into one Sunday. All this confirmed the value of visiting Crete as part of birthing the new Titus book 'Restoring Health in the 21 Century.'

The Rev Ed Hird+
Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada





Friday, April 11, 2008

The Best Surprises - Harris


Last Sunday we had a plan.

We would head to the coulees and walk to down the red shale path toward the river. Perhaps we'd find a crocus. Or a robin. Or a few white tailed deer. We'd stand on the foot bridge and look down at the water.

As I opened the front door, I noticed the slightest hint of a bonfire in the air. Saw the slightest cloud of smoke to the west. "Must be spring. Someone's starting a fire in their pit," I quipped.

As my husband locked the front door, two fire engines whizzed past us. Smoke billowed over the horizon. We managed to slide in front of the jam of cars forming at the traffic lights. But, as we headed toward downtown, three more fire trucks and two police cars roared down the other lane. Lights flashing. Sirens blaring.

The coulees were on fire.

So we drove toward the mountains.

An hour and half later, we entered the empty Town of Waterton: An enchanted winter kingdom that comes to life when cottagers and tourists return every Victoria Day.

But we were welcomed royally: Dozens of deer grazed on the meadows beside the town's entrance, more raised their heads in surprise as we passed by the snowy streets. Canada geese bugled from the lakeshore.

As we stood in the centre of town, under a snowy mountain, amazed by the half frozen waterfall, we realized that we had not planned this adventure.

This was God's little surprise. A treat for his kids.

His surprises & opportunities come when you least expect them. And when you're ready to heed that little voice that says: "Stop That. Go here. Now. Take a look. And see."

As we headed back to the prairie, we slowed our car for the elk grazing on along the road. At least one hundred of them. Warily watching us, perhaps wondering how we came to be in the park when humans were out of season.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The sign just said "Books" - Grove

The sign outside just said, “BOOKS”.

The shop is on Main Street, which isn’t really main at all anymore.
Inside, the place inspired both awe and a vague sort of horror.

The owner, Wayne, stands at the front of the store surrounded by heaps of books that are stacked haphazard around his knees. He stays there, behind his ancient desk, looking like a prisoner of literature. He seems content enough, though, as he hollers out a conversation with another customer. Yelling that French Canadian Hockey Players are the best in the world and how Don Cherry taught him to watch TV with the sound off.

I tune him out and venture deeper into the place. It seems to go on forever. Room after room of yellowing books stacked as high as the ceiling. Boxes of unsorted books trip me and grab at my pant leg. I can’t seem to find the back of the store, the last room. For a surreal moment I feel like the star of a BBC children’s special; Bonnie and the Book Store, and I wonder if I will find a magical portal, or a talking dog, or a secret door that leads to outer space.

Rambling, ramshackle shelves stacked upon even more decaying shelves. Shelves that defy gravity. At one point I move my young daughter away from a wall because I can see with perfect clarity what it will look like when the whole thing just gives way. All the shelves are like this. Lilting to one side or the other; dilapidated, frightening.

It feels as if it has been here forever, as if it had sprung from the ground at the time of creation from some bad seed left to sprout on the wrong side of the gates of Eden. But I hear Wayne holler from the front, as if reading my mind, but I know he’s talking to someone up there, he says, “I’ve been here since 1991. . .” I don’t catch the rest, and I don’t mind. Seventeen years. Not all that long when you consider the depth, the breath of the place. The sheer mass.

I peruse the titles. Everywhere I look I see gems like The 1978 Art & Craft Market. Surely someone, somewhere is in need of the answers found in this book. I picture some desperate woman draped in a brown macramé vest with matching hat throwing herself on the mercy of Wayne, “Please! I need to find a place to sell my knick knacks! My home is over run! My husband is threatening divorce!” And Wayne will give her a calm assuring nod and motion her to follow him.

I found The New Sexuality (published in 1972. Does that make it the old sexuality?) in the sociology section. Judy Blume’s novel Smart Women nuzzled against a hard cover edition of Curing Fatigue.

Around another corner, through yet another doorway, I find a puzzling (and tiny) section with the mysterious distinction of “Women Novelists”. As if Wayne considered all the female writers in the fiction section merely girls. Doris Lessing made the cut, as did Daphne de Maurier. Janet Dailey did not.

I make my way to the front of the store, happy to see it again, happy to know it’s still there, that there’s an exit. But before I go, I plunk down two books and hand Wayne cash money for them. Two gems, real ones that, when I spotted them, made me grab them fast, like at a Boxing Day sale at Bloomingdales. One, a hard bound beauty, a piece of Americana that even a Canadian like me cannot help but cherish; a 1957 pressing of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things. Illustrated by Charles Shultz, forward by Walt Disney. And the other was a book I’ve been searching for nearly 20 years; Book 3 of The Book of Lists.

I left that place with a smile on my face. And I knew I’d be back. Because, no matter the place, no matter the mess, no matter the bad service, no matter the perilous placement, books, good books, great books, are always worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fashion Show Anyone? - Meyer

Fed up to my proverbial eyeballs
with resentment toward my co-worker
for once more derailing my carefully laid plans
was not the perfect timing to read Colossians 3.
Especially not if I wanted a quick fix to make me feel good
—and holy didn’t quite describe how I was feeling!

That God should choose me to be holy,
is an almost overwhelming idea at any time,
but God did choose me to be holy
even in the tough times.
Thank God that I was also told he chose me to be holy,
because he loves me.
But right now, I didn’t even feel that loveable!

I was being asked to clothe myself with
tenderhearted mercy and kindness,
with humility, gentleness and patience.
My daily “fashion runway”
was presenting me with an immediate opportunity
to model these clothes.
Did I have what it took to rise to the challenge?

“Allowance for each other's faults.”
—did that even mean my co-worker?
At the moment, it felt like almost too much!
Didn’t I have some rights too?
Shouldn’t she be held responsible for inappropriate behavior?
After all the verse said “each other’s.”
Shouldn’t she make allowance
for my need to carry out my carefully laid plans?

Unbidden, my memory files popped up a forgotten item,
—a nurse who came to my dear mother-in-law’s funeral.
She shared how much they enjoyed having her in the nursing home
—how much they enjoyed her wisdom,
her patience,
her concern for others.

Then she had the courage and grace to tell a story about herself.
One morning she had come to work
feeling taxed and overburdened.
Life seemed almost too hard.
She didn’t really want to be there.

Although she usually liked her work and those she cared for in her rounds,
that morning, she had been short with quite a few of her residents,
including my mother-in-law’s roommate.

“When I came to her bed,” she said,
“those big brown eyes looked at me with utter kindness as she asked,
‘Did something go wrong at home before you came to work this morning?’
“I had to admit that it had been a hectic morning.
I left home with both my husband and my children
upset and angry with me.”

The nurse’s eyes held tears.
“Your mother just said,
‘I am so sorry!
You will have to make things right when you get home.
But you know it isn’t fair for you to take it out on us.
We had nothing to do with it.
I hope the rest of your day goes better.’

“I have never been so lovingly reprimanded!
I felt absolutely repentant.
The rest of my day did go better,
for I had also received her understanding and forgiveness.”

Ahh-hh!
My mother-in-law had often been my coach while she was alive
and now she was training me once more!
Perhaps I could find a way of letting my co-worker know
that I felt my needs had been trampled,
speaking frankly but with love
—genuine love,
clothed in tenderhearted mercy and kindness,
with humility, gentleness and patience.

Ruth Smith Meyer

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Story of Hot Apple Cider - Lindquist

Last night, the first copies of Hot Apple Cider, edited by myself and Wendy Elaine Nelles and written by 30 authors who are members of The Word Guild, were given out in the gift bags at a Girls Night Out event in Dorval, Quebec. Thus ends Part 1 of the saga of the little book that could.

The decision to create the book began in March, 2007, when I was talking to someone from World Vision Canada about their Girls Night Out events and their need for a book for the gift bag each woman receives. “We’re always looking for ways to let people know that there are some wonderful Canadian author who are Christian,” I said. “What about a compilation book?”

He thought it was a terrific idea, but since neither of us had any idea where we would find the money to produce such a book, the idea went on the backburner along with a number of other, “Wouldn’t it be great?” ideas I’ve had over the last few years. Then, in mid-September, he asked me if there was any way we could do the book. And for some reason, I knew beyond any doubt that we had to do it – had to take this opportunity. “We can only do it,” I said, “if the authors will donate the money to pay for the publishing.” My calculations led me to think we needed 20 people to make it work.

On September 19, 2007, the first call went out to authors to find out if any of them were interested in participating in a project that would result in 30,000 books going out to women across Canada, beginning in April of 2008. (April 7th as it turned out.) The catch was that the authors would not only have to send a contribution, but would also have to commit to sending a donation to help pay for the printing of the 30,000 books along with the costs for cover design, layout, etc.

By September 25th, 18 authors had shown interest. On September 29th, with another 3 authors showing interest, we made the call to go ahead.

Our first priority was the title; the second was the cover design. Both came together quite readily. The authors had until October 24th to get their submissions in. Then began the process of reading and editing the submissions, a process which in some cases was quite minor and in others more intense. Both Wendy and I read and discussed each item, and then whichever of us felt more passionate about the contents did the first edit, using track changes. We then rotated items, and after the second edit, emailed the work back to each author, beginning the editing process which in some cases took only a few back and forth emails, and in others more. In the end, 30 authors committed to the project, and bestselling Canadian author Janette Oke agreed to write the foreword for us. We had hoped for a 200-page book; we ended up with 296 pages.

Back in September, I had jotted down tentative dates by which we needed to complete each step of the process. As the weeks went by, I checked off the box beside each date. Cover ready. Check. ISBN. Check. Entries in. Check. Submissions edited. Authors approved pdfs of their work. Check. Advance Reading Copies out to endorsers. Check. Layout design ready. Check. Book laid out. Check. Book to printer. Check.

Unbelievably, on March 17th, the books were ready for shipping. 30,000 books, donated by the authors, all of whom are members of The Word Guild, to the Girls Night Out warehouse. Other books, paid for by That’s Life! Communications, the publisher, went to various distributors’ warehouse in Canada and the USA. Six short months from the day we first asked if there was any interest to the day the books shipped.

And last night, Part 2 of the story began as the first books were given out to women in Dorval.

For more information about our book, Hot Apple Cider: Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul, and to get to know the authors involved, go to www.hotapplecider.ca

Friday, April 04, 2008

Journaling toward Authorship – Lawrence

A couple of years after beginning my writing career, I started a writer’s group and found it very beneficial to my writing. I learned to write on a given topic every week, bringing it back to the group for critique for the following week’s meeting. My writing improved a great deal over the time I met with this group. It was one of the members of this group who introduced me to Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, and I began to journal for the first time.

Through The Artist’s Way, I was introduced to journaling in the form of three pages of long-hand each morning; and over ten years later I continue to do this. That is not to say that I have not lapsed from this daily morning ritual for periods of time—sometimes for long periods of time—but whenever I find that my writing is languishing I take up the discipline with renewed vigour and my writing flow returns.

Most of my published writing had its beginning in these morning pages and my current writing, mostly for my website and this blog, starts with a planted seed in my journal where it roots, grows, buds, flowers and matures into its final fruit. I write these morning pages as a written prayer to God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me and give me the words that I should say.

It was in my morning pages that I wrote my prayer/poem, which I prayed daily during the writing of my first published book: Prayer Companion: A Treasury of Personal Meditation.

The prayer/poem that I used daily is:

My Inspiration

I open myself to You, O Holy Spirit
From whom comes my inspiration.
I will listen to Your word, O Jesus the Son
And write it as You tell it to me.
May the words go into the world
O Father, to glorify Your name,
And let the blessings of thanksgiving
Return to Your throne,
And join with the voices of angels
To praise and glorify the Triune God.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity.

Whenever I find my writing is beginning to bog down, I usually realise that I have been remiss in doing my morning pages; and when I get back in the groove of writing three pages of long-hand in my journal, my writing life picks up momentum once again. I recommend Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, to anyone who is starting a writing career.

© Judith Lawrence

Author of Glorious Autumn Days: Meditations for the Wisdom Years; and Grapes From The Vine, Book of Mystical Poetry. Both available at www.lulu.com

Author of Prayer Companion: A Treasury of Personal Meditation, available at Chapters and www.pathbooks.com

Web Site: www.judithlawrence.ca


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Coming Home - Shepherd

We are enjoying settling into our own home after nearly thirty years of living in accommodation provided by our employer. We have come back to the city that we consider home. We chose to purchase our very own condo. That means no snow to shovel, which this year has been a great relief. There are no gardens to weed, but in the next few weeks we will begin to enjoy the lawns and gardens tended by others. This will give us time to gaze out of our living room and master bedroom windows that provide a spectacular view of the bay across the street from our home. We feel like we are living our dream.

Coming home to a place where we spent so many years when we were young has enabled us to once again nurture the friendships we valued as young adults. Over the years we have fallen into and out of each other’s lives as we have moved around from one place to another, always touching base at Christmas and whenever we happened to find ourselves in the same city. In spite of our geographical separations our hearts have remained in tune with one another. Now we can arrange to have coffee on the spur of the moment or decide at supper time to take in a movie together the same evening. What a treat!

In addition to the joy of these long standing friendships has been the profound experience of mending some broken relationships. Being away and only visiting from time to time, meant insufficient occasions were available to invite over a couple who through misunderstanding were alienated from us. We were unable to have them over for coffee or a meal to try to begin to build with one another, once more, the trust that unfortunate circumstances had eroded. Now we are home and we can create opportunities to open our home and our hearts, and choose to put aside whatever it was split us apart on that day long ago.

I wondered if it would seem strange to leave my children behind, as we returned to the location that once was home for all of us. Yet the place where they are in their own journeys means that they cannot come home just now. Even that somehow seems right. They need the space to make their own lives and their own homes, so that when they come to ours they will not have to resort to a role that no longer fits them. It was clear when we left and they were so busy that they did not have time to linger in visiting with us, that they had taken wings and were living their own adult independent lives. After all, that was what we raised them to do.

The other reality that brought some trepidation was to leave elderly parents, no longer able to completely care for themselves and thus dependant on the caregivers at the long term care facility where they live. The grace they offered in giving their blessing to our decision to return to the place that is home for us, touched me so deeply. Their unselfishness drew me closer to them in heart while the miles separating us increased.

Coming home has always been a beautiful concept in my imagination. It is returning to the place where dreams began, where hope was palpable and where love ideally and for many of us in reality was the atmosphere that nourished us.

In the intervening years many early dreams shattered to subsequently be replaced by dreams we could never have anticipated. Over time, hope has been buffeted and almost extinguished some days, yet it bravely continues to face each new dawn. Love has matured from a secure refuge to a giddy feeling finally metamorphosing into a deep commitment that holds steady when all else is brought into question.

Coming home is much more that physically relocating Coming home is finding again the place where my heart and my mind are attuned with who I am and where I am. With the Apostle Paul, I can say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….” When that is so, I am home, wherever I am.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Are We Writing Classics? - Gregoire

This spring I have decided to read through some classic works that I have never actually perused. I thought I'd start with C.S. Lewis. I've read all the Narnia books about 8 times, with at least 4 of those times being out loud, but I haven't actually read his other ones, with the exception of A Grief Observed, which I used in my book How Big Is Your Umbrella.

So I started with Surprised by Joy. Boy was I surprised. Not by the fact that it was good, mind you; simply by how profound it was and yet how simultaneously beautifully it was written. Reading it was like staring at a Claude Monet painting, though I tend to read in a bubble bath with chocolate, an environment which is a little more difficult to achieve in an art gallery.

Anyway, it started me thinking: if these were the classics from fifty years ago, which still speak so loudly to us today, what classics are we writing? And can what we write even be classified in the same category?

I am not trying to criticize today's writers. The way that we use language has simply changed. Surprised by Joy, for instance, was written for a general audience, and yet I am not sure that a general audience today would be able to decipher it. I do not mean to disparage writers in this; I think the way that we have used language has changed so significantly in the last few decades that writing beautiful works like that is now much more difficult. We don't have as many words at our disposal, for people do not understand as many. And because our level of conversation has been reduced to soundbites, it is even difficult for wordsmiths, who make their living with words, to use them in the same way that Lewis, who had much more practice with making succinct yet insightful arguments, had.

So I wonder, have we lost something important, or are we just transforming language into something different, but equally capable of touching people's hearts? I'm not sure. I think I'm an agnostic on that question.

I wonder if part of the problem is that people don't like the written word anymore. When I speak, it seems that people would much rather buy audio books of my books than the paper copies that I sell, which reminds me that I really must get around to recording them. But people are turning away from long treatises in favour of short reads off the internet.

That means that we have to adjust, to find ways to get our words to reach people at a far different level, because people do not have the patience to wade through Surprised by Joy anymore. That is our challenge, and I believe we will rise to it. But I still worry that we have sacrificed some beauty and even majesty in the process. And perhaps even a little bit of joy.

Sheila is the author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. You can find her here, or read her blog To Love, Honor and Vacuum here.

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