Friday, September 30, 2011

A Week of Joy and Laughter

     Last Thursday Josh, Joel and I went to the Centre in the Square to see "Whose Live Anyway?" (David & Rachel were also there with friends). It was kind of expensive but definitely hilarious. These 4 guys are great improv artists and it was pretty much non-stop laughing. We had great seats too, except we couldn't see the pianist.
     On Friday I left for the Westheights Men's Retreat which was held at Camp Edgewood (in Eden Mills, just west of Guelph), a place I've been to quite a few times in my life (youth events in the 80's, Evangel retreats in the 2000's). It was a wonderful weekend - 15 guys in one cabin meant lots of fun, and we had some great discussions as well. The weather was supposed to be wet but (as is often the case) the reports were way off and we had sunshine and warmth - what a blessing! Ten of us even played some touch football on Saturday afternoon. I led a bit of singing - I tuned my guitar down a half-step and pitched most songs lower than usual - it's kind of powerful to hear only men's voices raised in worship. It was great to get to know a number of the men of the church better, and there were a couple guys that I didn't know very well at all. They're a great group and we hope we can build on what began on the weekend. Tom, our youth pastor, based some of our discussions on the movie "We Are Marshall," which is a moving true story of a small U.S. community who lost their entire college football team in a plane crash in the 70's. I thought it was a very interesting study of grief, coming to grips with loss, and moving on in life - topics which are near and dear to me because of what I've experienced myself. Tom also quoted from a Don Miller book - an author I realized really should have been on the list I made last week, as I have read everything he's written. We had a couple of campfires, and my friend Matt led some excellent group-building activities, including a reading of the classic kids book "Everything Poops"! The weekend was also just a really nice relaxing break - had time for some reading ("The Next Christians"), listened to Jason Gray's new release, played some games (Wizard, Cribbage, Monopoly Deal - the Hong Kong version!). However I did go to school for over 2 hours when I got back on Sunday, to catch up on some marking.
     And then on Tuesday I saw an update on musician Randy Stonehill's Facebook page that he was hanging out in Toronto wondering if there might be any opportunities to play before a tour begins later in the week. I decided to see if he was open to do a house concert and when he responded that it was a possibility I emailed as many people I know (and have listed on my hotmail account) to see if there would be enough interest. Within 24 hours there were over 20 people who said they'd come for the next night (Thursday), so we moved the furniture around in the living room, added some chairs and found that we could comfortably seat 30 people in there.
     I rushed home on Thursday to help Beth put the finishing touches on setting up and helped my friend Dan to get the sound system ready to go. Around 6:00 Randy showed up with his wife Leslie and their friend/driver Steve Burchell, who I recognized right away as he has done lots of concert promotion over the last 30 years. They got settled in and folks started arriving shortly thereafter. In all, I think there were about 29 people in our living room and it was neat that I pretty much knew everybody (just a few people I met for the first time). Randy was a wonderful performer - honest, funny, and musically gifted (great guitar work, awesome voice, excellent songwriting). I just sat right up front and soaked it in. And of course it was a special treat just to get to hang out a bit with him and get to know him as a person. Everyone I talked to afterwards (Beth had baked cookies and offered drinks so it was a great time of visiting) was so positive and thankful for the chance to participate in an intimate setting for such a great concert. Our friend Mimi wrote an amazing review for our church blog (check it out at: Stonehill Review). I think I was still in some sort of shock by the time it was all over - all I could do was keep repeating how awesome and fun and amazing it was to see this come off so well in just 48 hours. I've been listening to Randy's records/cassettes/CDs since 1978(!!) and he's created a lot of fantastic music over the years. To have him play in my living room was certainly a special treat. And now that I realize how many people we can hold, who knows, maybe we might try it again sometime.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Top 12 Authors

     It's been a busy week but only with routine things like work (Beth and her 12 hour shifts - blech!), church, and visiting - no real special events or anything, though Beth did have laser surgery on varicose veins on her right leg on Tuesday. It went smoothly and now she has some extra days off as part of the recovery process. We had some friends over for Wizard last Friday - interestingly Beth and I both tied for first place in the 2 games we played. Sunday was an exhausting (but good) day, with leading music, a barbecue & meeting after church, dropping in on a neighbourhood get-together, then deciding to walk downtown to a movie ("Our Idiot Brother" - yeah, whatever).
     I've had my iPad for about 1 year now and really like it. I don't use it to anyway near it's full capabilities - I bought it (with last year's birthday money) mainly as an ebook reader because I really have no more space to put books/bookshelves in my house and felt this would be a way to continue to purchase new books when I wanted, without the need for a physical copy. That's worked out well, and I've read about 17 books on it so far. It's also pretty convenient for checking email or Facebook, and I did purchase the Glo Bible application last week (it was on sale and has lots of extra study-type material available). Otherwise my Macbook Pro really is more useful for the photo, music, word processing, etc. kinds of things I need.
     I've read a lot of books over the years and as I lay awake one night this week I thought I should try to determine my personal favourite 12 authors (kind of like counting sheep I guess). These would be writers that have written a number of books of which I've read a significant percentage:

  1. Wendell Berry - only his fiction so far, his series focussing on the rural community of Port William is really some of the best writing ever, I think.
  2. Walter Wangerin Jr. - beautiful, sensitive, poetic writer/pastor. Have read pretty much everything he's written. Often his writing is so moving it makes me weep.
  3. Frederick Buechner - wonderful fiction (especially love "Son of Laughter") and nonfiction - memoir or spiritual reflections
  4. Philip Yancey - lots of thoughtful, honest spiritual writing. Best book of his: "Soul Survivor"
  5. Thomas Lynch - laugh out loud funny and yet amazing insights into life and death (he also works as an undertaker). His "The Undertaking" is one of my most favourite books.
  6. C.S. Lewis - one of the best minds of the 20th century. Some of his stuff is too scholarly for me ("Pilgrim's Regress") but lots is just right (like "Mere Christianity" and his science fiction trilogy) and I find the Narnia chronicles delightful (and deep).
  7. Stephen Lawhead - prolific scifi/fantasy writer (often with some sort of spiritual/christian take). Light but usually well-written. Think I've read everything he's come up with.
  8. Brian McLaren - a challenging yet gentle voice trying to bring Christian thinking into the postmodern age. Always thought-provoking with some very valid points.
  9. Oliver Sacks - I don't agree with all of his science but his real-life neurological case studies are fascinating. Top pick: "An Anthropologist on Mars".
  10. Bret Lott - mostly beautiful fiction stories ("Jewel", "I Knew You By Heart") but I liked his memoir a lot too.
  11. Edward Rutherfurd - captivating, intricate (and long!) historical fiction. Want to reread his "London".
  12. Tolkien - he just barely makes the list because he didn't write loads. But it is great stuff after all!

    Music listening this week: The Choir (just love this band!) - Flap Your Wings, Wide-Eyed Wonder, Chase the Kangaroo, O How the Mighty Have Fallen (can't listen to this without thinking of my hospital stay after heart surgery in '06 - it was something of a soundtrack for that time); Bruce Cockburn - Salt, Sun & Time, Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, The Charity of Night; Randy Stonehill - Can't Buy a Miracle, David Edwards - Dreams Tales & Lullabies

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Blues?

     It was interesting to see the various reactions online to the 10th anniversary celebrations of the 9-11 attacks. They sure run the gamut - some, like Ezra Levant, were upset that political correctness stopped leaders from speaking truthfully about Islamic terrorism; others lamented the lack of spiritual/religious participation (yet Barak Obama recited Psalm 46); people like Tony Jones felt the observances were just given way too much importance; militants want to "never forget" and some Christian leaders remind us of the message of forgiveness (that last one sure doesn't go over well I'm sure). I put a bit of a pointed message on my Facebook page bringing up the (greater) tragedy of 30 000 (actually I think it's closer to 25 000) children who die each day of preventable diseases. It was really a reaction to the U.S.-centric media and how they put so much emphasis/coverage on this kind of thing. I think of the much greater loss of life in things like the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed over 200,000 or the Haiti earthquake where more than 300,000 died - yet they received minimal coverage after the first few weeks. People talk about where they were when the planes hit - I happened to be at church practising for the funeral service for Pastor Ed Winker who had died tragically in a motorcycle accident the weekend before. So 9-11 really didn't impact me as much as some people it seems, as I was already deep into grieving for someone quite close to me. We had an interesting discussion about some of this stuff last night at supper, and Josh made the important point that most Muslim people have nothing to do with this kind of terrorism. Then later I saw a good article by Jim Wallis (10 years after 9-11) about how many have used the 9/11 remembrance day to help build bridges with Isamic communities.
     Last weekend we attended the Westheights BIC Corn Roast at a small farm near St. Clements. It was a great event and we got to know some people from church who we hadn't had a chance to meet yet. Beth even found someone who grew up in Zurich (Ontario) as well.
     This week Beth had to had some medical tests (scope of the digestive tract, top to bottom, if you know what I mean). The preparation ended up being more stressful than the test itself - 24 hours of only fluids and 3 doses of medicine to clear the digestive system. It was kind of a drastic way to lose weight but Beth was pretty amazed when she got on the scale;)
     The first week of school has been typical - busy, tiring and good. It definitely takes some time for students to get used to classroom routines and expectations, along with patience and consistency needed on my part. I appreciate getting back into a routine as well - more regular workouts at Good Life, meditation times. I finished re-reading Philip Yancey's "Disappointment with God" which is an excellent and honest look at some tough questions dealing with God's seeming silence/absence.
     Saw a couple of movies in September: "Captain America" was entertaining comic fare, but "Contagion" was pretty disappointing - it's being promoted as a 'thriller' so I thought Beth shouldn't attend, but it was pretty slow moving with next to no real tension (someone compared it to 'Jaws' but there was never that huge sense of dread they played up so well in that old movie).
     Over the last couple of weeks I've mainly been listening to new music from Sara Groves - "Invisible Empires", Proto~Kaw (Kerry Livgren) "Forth", Ben Shive "The Crashing Cymbal Clouds", The Hawk in Paris (with Dan Hasseltine from Jars of Clay) "His + Hers". However I still have fit in some older stuff (to check off my listening list) like The Choir - Kisses and Killers, Circle Slide, Free Flying Soul and The Police - Synchronicity.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two Special Trips

     Last Tuesday Beth and I travelled up to Hanover and I got to revisit some of the areas that were important to me when I was growing up. I was born there and like to call it my hometown even though we moved to Kitchener when I was 4 or so. However because both sets of grandparents lived there, we visited many weekends - it seems to me it was about every other weekend but Mom says it wouldn't have been that much. At any rate Hanover has a special place in my heart and memory since there's nothing like the unconditional acceptance of grandparents to make you feel loved. Plus on my Mom's side I was the first grandchild so I was probably spoiled from early on (at least that's what Aunt Marilyn claims about my Grandpa Bieman's relationship with me). Sometimes when I can't sleep at night I'll try visualizing their houses and find a peaceful, happy place.
     We visited the cemetery on the edge of town and when we got into Hanover we parked at the church which is across the street from Grandma & Grandpa Bieman's house (I remember going there often, including Sunday School). We walked from their house to Grandma & Grandpa Kreutzkamp's house which is a few blocks away, and it was a stretch of road I can remember walking along many times as a boy. Then we doubled back down the Main Street which still has a few famous landmarks (Norm's Restaurant, the movie theatre) but has also seen lots of changes - brought back many memories. Of course we had to visit Shultz's bakery and pick up a coffee cake (my mom used to work there many years ago). Then we met up with Mom & Dad and mom's two sisters and the brothers-in-law who were in town for a mini-reunion. We had a nice time with them for lunch at Cravings Restaurant, a favourite place of Grandma Bieman's in her later years.
     This past Labour Day weekend was our 3rd annual canoeing trip into the Frost Lake area with my sons and friends. We paddle for under 2 hours, with only 1 portage, so it's not an arduous trip by any means, and then we camp for the weekend on an island. First, on Friday night we headed for the Wiseman cottage outside of Huntsville and I was surprised with a nice ice cream cake and 14 people singing Happy Birthday to me (along with over 30 Facebook birthday greetings I felt very blessed). After a Tim Horton's stop Saturday morning, we put in at Raven Lake. It was a beautiful, sunny, and hot day, and somehow David and I ended up well in front of the other canoeists so when we arrived at the site we quickly jumped in the water to refresh and greet the rest of the travellers. On the portage in I have set myself the challenge (as the oldest guy on the trip) the last couple of years to carry our (heavy) Coleman canoe by myself, and I was happy that I was able to (barely) accomplish it. We had a super weekend together - it was great that my 3 boys could make it, along with my good friends Bruce and Steve (Daryl couldn't swing it this year) and sons Adam, Ben and Jesse.
     We had wonderful weather on Saturday but about 4:30 Sunday morning a terrific thunderstorm passed through (as in it seemed to pass right through our campsite). Steve said he timed it as lasting only 10 minutes but it sure felt longer - the lightning was almost relentless and the thunder was shaking the ground. Fortunately there wasn't much rain left by the time we got up in the morning, but we did put up 2 large tarps just in case. Each family took care of a meal so we (as in David) made steaks over the fire for supper on Sunday. It was pretty cold getting up Monday morning so I got the stove going with hot water for oatmeal and hot chocolate and started up the campfire for warmth (and burning the last of our garbage). We were packed up and away from the site before 10 o'clock and arrived back in Kitchener by four. Then we headed over to Mom & Dad's for a meal to celebrate my birthday, Alison's birthday and our 30th anniversary. My family got me a new digital camera which I really need as my last one is having a few issues. When we got back to our house I snuck over to the school for a bit to make final preparations for the first day of classes. So it was a pretty full, but obviously wonderful, weekend!