Monday, June 27, 2011

Chasing the Wild Goose

     The bulk of the past week was spent preparing for, travelling to, and attending the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. It was a long trip but I'm glad we did it. This event was definitely different from any other festival I've attended over the years. At the same time I'm not sure I'll rush back to the next one.
     It's difficult to write about all of my reactions to the Wild Goose - it was definitely a challenging, faith-stretching and thought-provoking time. I appreciated the emphasis on peace and justice issues, but I for sure disagreed with the theology of some of the presenters, even while trying to be open to different ideas. Bart Campolo's sharing was surprisingly (and somewhat disturbingly) way outside of orthodox beliefs. Beth and I had some good discussions around the things we heard and experienced. It was really neat (and kind of shocking) to run into someone who was in the youth group we led about 10 years ago (she now lives in Toronto).
     One speaker I really enjoyed was Doug Pagitt and his talk about church through the last several hundred years - he spoke of how religious structures have changed during a) the Agrarian age [local parish churches with a pastor/shepherd of the people], b) the Industrial age [denominations, competition for adherents], c) the Information age [educational model, quest for knowledge/teaching], and d) how things need to adapt to the Inventive age that he says we are now entering.
     Another highlight was Ian Cron's sharing about his latest book, "Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me" which I read (and loved!) recently. He brought 1200 copies of the book and they were offering them for free - we ended up with 5 I think, to give away (at Ian's insistence!). And it's an excellent book - the reviewer at Hearts and Minds calls it one of the most moving book he's encountered in ages. Let me know if you'd like a copy.
     We camped for one night and it was only 10 bucks but I didn't really like having to walk all of our stuff in. We ended up leaving some things back at the car (water, table). Our mattress is comfy but man it was hot down there. The morning shower was sure nice (and needed - I stunk!). We probably pitched our tent too close to the main stage, and the sound was (too) loud, so it was hard to enjoy any quiet, peaceful times.
     Musically I only ended up seeing 4 full acts but they were all excellent: Tom Prasada-Rao, who I've been wanting to see for a long time; Andy Gullahorn, who I've more recently become a fan of - love his intricate guitar work and intelligent, creative writing (his new song about Lines in the Sand was very appropriate for this event); David Wilcox, who I continue to tout as the best singer/songwriter/performer on the planet (and he didn't disappoint, though I thought it was pretty gutsy to be so reflective and thoughtful on an outdoor stage - he also shared a fantastic new song about The River); and David Lamotte, who I'm only slightly familiar with - he totally impressed me with his set, especially as he didn't miss a beat when a parade of children marched through the field (in fact, he got them to sing along with him and used their presence to remind us of how much the young have to teach us [he also included the tidbit that many scholars feel that Jesus' disciples were teenagers - that can really change the way you think about the Bible!]). Also David's duet with his young son Mason, on "S.S. Bathtub" was pretty precious.
     As we were packing to leave for the Festival I was surprised to receive a phone call from musician/film producer Steve Taylor. I've long been a fan of his music but he's currently working on a film adaptation of Don Miller's "Blue Like Jazz" (see trailer on the right) and during their fundraising campaign they promised to contact each supporter. So it was pretty cool to chat with him for a few minutes (and thank him for all the great music over the years).
     26+ hours in the car led to more music listening than I've done in one week for a long time. I track this stuff for my own purposes so don't expect readers to bother with this list: Denison Witmer - The Ones Who Wait, Caedmon's Call - Raising Up the Dead, Paul McCartney & Wings - Venus and Mars, Michael Omartian - White Horse, Andy Gullahorn - The Law of Gravity, David Wilcox - Live at Eddie's Attic, Sara Groves - Fireflies & Songs, Tell Me What You Know, Add to the Beauty; Steve Bell - Kindness, Bob Bennett & Billy Batstone - Jesus Music Again demos, Phil Keaggy & Jeff Johnson - Frio Suite, Andrew Peterson - Counting Stars, Keith Green - The Live Experience, Chuck Girard - Written on the Wind, Tom Prasada-Rao - Goodbye Regret

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Carnivals and REVOLutions

     Last Sunday was the Westheights Carnival, which is a free event put on by our church (for the last 7 years now, but this was our first involvement). Beth and I worked the second shift from 5:30 - 8:00, she as the nurse and I helped run one of the bouncy castles. It was a lot of fun and there were over 3200 people from the neighbourhood that came out. There were games, rides, prizes, food, and a great performance by local award-winning juggler Bob Cates. It took about 170 volunteers to pull the whole thing off and it was great to be part of such an amazing team of people. Beth, David and I ended up helping clean the thousands of pieces of popcorn from the sanctuary rug - so we feel we really contributed;).
     Saw a couple of movies this week -  a few of us from the Friday night study group met on Tuesday to watch "Super 8" which is a pretty entertaining movie, though I'm not a huge fan of aliens stuff. Tonight (Sunday) Beth and I went to see "Midnight in Paris," the latest Woody Allen flick. The scenes of Paris sure brought back some wonderful memories of our 2006 trip. The main character also does some weird time travelling back to the 1920's, including scenes with Ernest Hemingway where they talk about his book "A Moveable Feast," and which I just took out from the library this week!
     Gary D. Schmidt has now become a favourite author after reading his latest novel, "Okay for Now," this week. He does such a fantastic job capturing the mindset of a grade 8 student, and creates quite an heroic character in Doug Swieteck, who faces a lot of adversity with great courage and even humour. I'm just about finished the 2nd book for the week, Shane Clairborne's "Irresistible Revolution." This is a very challenging memoir as he shares his journey of trying to really follow the teachings of Christ in a practical way - he spends time in Calcutta with Mother Teresa, travels to Iraq during the war, and lives in community in an impoverished neighbourhood of Philadelphia (to mention just a few of his adventures). I'm really looking forward to hearing him speak at the Wild Goose Festival.
      Had a nice but low-key Father's Day celebration today. Mom and Dad came over for a barbecue lunch. My card to my dad included a promise to do some golfing together this summer - I look forward to that. The kids are contributing to a new pair of Birkenstocks, but we went looking today and maybe I should just consider getting my old ones recorked. David dropped in later in the day as he was at the Hamilton airshow - and he got to fly back to Kitchener (as a passenger) in a recently restored T33 jet!
      Lots of music listening this week: Neal Morse - Testimony 2 (great progressive rock music but pretty amateurish lyrics), Monk - Quiver (cross between Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy), The Choir - Burning Like the Midnight Sun (love these guys a lot!), Denison Witmer - Are You a Dreamer? & The Ones Who Wait (new artist for me, he'll be at the Wild Goose - very nice acoustic guitar work and pretty songs but hasn't blow me away yet), U2 - No Line on the Horizon (really enjoy listening to their music), Amy Grant - Unguarded (80's pop, not too terribly dated).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life is Fragile

     Last Sunday we headed off to the beach at Grand Bend after church, with most of the family. It was a great day, feeling like a taste of summer. The water was pretty cold but Alison and Rachel both went in for a quick dip or two. Frisbee and reading on the beach, napping on a towel in the sand - nice! We went over to Sharon (Beth's sister) and Ted's and they had just returned home so offered us a nice barbecued supper (including yummy fries from Denny's).
    On Tuesday evening we had our friend Jean over for a meal and visit. We got to know Jean and Ed and their family when he was called to be the pastor of Evangel back in 2000. Beth and I had served on the Search Committee and were quite pleased when they agreed to come - he was a great preacher with a kind heart. Tragically, Ed was killed in a motorcycle accident the next year (even though he was the most careful rider I've ever seen - I've never been a fan of motorcycles, especially since working at the hospital in the early 80's and seeing the results from those accidents up close). That was a very difficult time for us - I had lots of questions for God (and not too many answers, it seemed). I ended up leading a study on grief in the next year. I think others found it helpful, I know I sure did. I kind of adapted Walter Wangerin's stages of grief in his "Mourning Into Dancing" - Shock, Struggle, Sadness, and Surrender. Jean has shown great strength in carrying on, parenting their 4 (now adult) children on her own. We now only seem to connect every year or 2 but it's always great to share some time with her [yet, tinged with sadness as I can't not think of Pastor Ed when we're together - I think it's time to relisten to some of the mp3s I made of his messages].
    On Thursday I learned that a former colleague - kindergarten teacher - who has been struggling with brain cancer since January (the principal took her to the hospital right from school when her speech and arm movements became erratic) had entered into her final stages of the battle. This was pretty shocking as I thought there had been more hopeful signs of late. The very next day I found out that she had passed away peacefully in the early morning hours. Nellie had a strong faith and was very gifted musically, serving/leading the children at her church. I didn't know her well but this has hit me hard - the tragic loss of a vibrant young woman. I hate death.
      Actually increased my voracious reading pace this week. I don't seem to be sleeping as well so have awoken early and been unable to fall back asleep, so I end up reading from 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. I think I've decided I usually read about 500 pages a week, but the past one was abnormal (more like 750):
1. The Prince of Darkness by P.C. Doherty. It was recommended online but I didn't find it to be that great. Interesting enough plot though - set in 1300 or so, dealing with Edward I and II and some murders at a convent.
2. Jesus, My Father, and the CIA, however was a fantastic book. It's a memoir of Ian Morgan Cron (author of Chasing Francis), growing up with a pretty mean, neglectful alcoholic father who also was a sometimes CIA agent. It was hard to put down and I gobbled it up in a couple of days. The second last chapter about diving from rocks at a quarry with his children is one of the best things I've ever read. I look forward to hearing him speak at the Wild Goose Festival in a couple of weeks.
3. The Wednesday Wars was another awesome read. We discovered Gary D. Schmidt at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing back in 2008. This is an older book of his told from the perspective of a grade 7 student during the 1967/68 school year. It is so well written and funny and touching that I found it very hard to put down.
      Went to see X-Men: Origins this week - do like walking to Frederick Cinemas. It was an all right movie, never a dull moment - Josh says it was too cheesy but I don't seem to be as sensitive to that kind of stuff I guess, or else I go in with pretty low expectations when flicks are based on comic books.
      Phil Keaggy's "The Song Within" and his collaboration with Jeff Johnson "Frio Suite" were my accompaniment for completing report cards this week. Other listening included Mumford and Sons' wonderful "Sigh No More," John Mark MacMillan's "The Medicine" (it's growing on me), Ken Medema's 1980 "Kingdom in the Streets" (excellent, biting lyrics), Gungor's beautiful "Beautiful Things" and Chuck Girard's "Written on the Wind" (some of his great songs kept echoing through my mind all week long).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Missionaries I'm Honoured to Know

     This past Tuesday evening I was invited to give a quick presentation about Colombia at Huron Heights secondary school. It was part of a concert put on by a student choir (around 60) from 8 high school special education classes in the region. The children have a variety of handicaps, mild to severe, but they did a wonderful job singing along to many familiar songs. It was powerful and moving to see their enthusiasm, honesty and camaraderie as they shared some excellent music. It was pretty daunting to try to give a sense of the important work going on down in Popayan, Colombia in just 5 minutes. Felt I struggled a bit but Beth says it came across well and the financial response was very encouraging. I wanted to be a good representative for Jenny and Fredy who we love and respect so very much, having gotten to know them through our visits the last 2 summers. They have poured unbelievable time and energy into helping the people in El Sendero. We've finally come to the (difficult) decision that we will not be able to make a trip down there this year. Flights have become more expensive and Beth needs to have some laser surgery on her leg for poor blood circulation, which isn't covered by OHIP.
     We went to Tim Horton's after the presentation with some friends, were reflecting on the honour of serving those with significant handicaps and Henri Nouwen's name/example came up. Interestingly, I went home and began reading Tim Madigan's "I'm Proud of You" which is a story about Fred Rogers' (of 'Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood' fame). In the first few pages it says that Henri Nouwen was one of Rogers' favourite authors! That was almost as cool as when I was sitting on our front porch earlier in the week reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" while listening to the background sounds of my neighbour mowing his lawn, when I come across a section in the book about the sacredness of the act of lawn mowing! These were both great books BTW. I'm kind of surprising myself as I've read 4 books in the past 2 weeks (albeit they're a bit shorter) - this is why I don't miss having a TV.
     At the same time I can't believe I only listened to 3 albums this week! Two by Ric Hordinski - 'Quiver' & 'When I Consider How My Light is Spent' (both creative and worth another listen), and Sparks 'Exotic Creatures of the Deep'. I used to listen to these guys (2 brothers) in the '70s when they were writing some weird and wonderful rock music with super-witty lyrics. Well actually they still are doing that all these years later - I especially like 'I Can't Believe That You Would Fall For All the Crap in this Song' and "Photoshop (me out of your life)'.
     On Thursday we attended a celebration for the mission work of Clare and Halima Fuller. Clare is a member of the church we attended for 22 years (we left last year) and after his pastoral training he went (in 1989) to teach over in Nigeria. He eventually met and married Halima, a former student, who was raised in a small town in the northern part of the country (Tungan Magajiya or TM). They settled in TM, both teaching - actually Halima became the principal of the elementary school she helped establish - and raising 3 children. We've been able to visit with Clare and his family a number of times over the years as they've been back in Canada. Clare and I share a love of books and I fondly remember a trip down to the discount book warehouse in St. Catherine's we took together a few years ago. It was great to spend a bit of time with them [we visited mostly with the 2 boys - Thomas (16) and Josiah (14)] at this gathering which honoured the influential work they've done. The Fullers came back to Kitchener last year to settle here permanently as they want the children to have access to Canadian education. We've been supporting their work for some time now and this will continue as Halima is setting up an outreach to new Canadians. Beth and I have been wanting to have them over to our house since they've been back and seeing them this week has given us renewed interest in setting that up.
     Our youngest son Joel turned 20 this week but his crazy schedule at the restaurant where he's apprenticing to become a chef is making it challenging to get together for a birthday party. However Beth did take a cake over to the restaurant and everyone there enjoyed it and sang for him (including the patrons!). At least I did get to see him on that day, about 9:30, after he got home from work, to wish him a happy birthday.