“You Still Drive That Thing?”


We drive a Buick.  It doesn’t really feel like it, but it’s getting to be an “old” Buick.  Getting close to 300,000 kms on the clock.  It’s a 1996, inherited from Ruth’s late parents, Myrrl and Ethel.

I keep a supply of answers ready for the ever-new crowd, always upgrading everything from iPhones to counter tops: “Like, are you still driving that thing?”

“We’ve got our sights set on 300,000 kms,” I say.  “It’s so quiet and comfy on a long trip… we just can’t bear to part with it.”  “We like the cushy velour.  There’s nothing better for a comfortable snooze in the back — as long as Ruth stays off the rumble strips!”

But my favourite stock response is, “Unless somebody decides to be counter-cultural, H. Richard Niebuhr will have laboured in vain.”  I like the way eyes glaze over at this one.  Plus, it harks up a favourite old text, Christ and Culture, which we treated as inspired back in college.  While H. Richard doesn’t extol a rabid Christian anti-culturalism, he does call for a kind of prophetic stance against culture.  Like, we can’t just allow the culture to call the tunes for the Christian community.  And that could include the “planned obsolescence” of our western economies.

To put it in the man’s own words:  “The disorder of secularism is perhaps nowhere more apparent in our contemporary Church than in the extent to which we have permitted the order of the world to creep into the order of the Church… That the church should carry out its mission to the men in the middle classes of capitalist society is doubtless a part of the it’s calling; but that the mission should result in the formation of a middle-class church which defends the secular outlook and interests of that class is an evident corruption.”

Maybe I need to put that on a Buick bumper sticker.  Condensed version of course!



“Montaigne on The Most Illustrious of Your Occupations”



“Our world is formed only for ostentation; men inflate themselves with wind and go bounding around like balls.

“We are great fools. ‘He has spent his life in idleness,’ we say.  ‘I have done nothing today.’  What have you not lived? That is the most illustrious of your occupations.

“‘If I had been placed in a position to manage great affairs,’ we say, ‘I would have demonstrated….’ Have you been able to think out and manage your own life? You have done the greatest task of all.  Nature has no need of fortune to show and expose her resources; she shows herself equally on all levels, behind a curtain as well as without.

“To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books; and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building are only little appendages.

“There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to live your life well and properly, no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live life well and naturally; and the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being.”

“Sheathed With Silver and Shining Gold”

IMG_2588“Even while you lie among the sheepfolds,
the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
its feathers with shining gold” (Ps 68:13).

I always like this promise of divine favour.  You may not be on the scene. You may not be dressed for battle. Quite the opposite.  You might be in “recline.”

But God still cares for his “dove.”  Those on your heart, his chosen ones, are lustrous under his divine care.

From Curling to Hockey in One Tense Night


Happened to watch some Final-Round Curling and some Play-Off Hockey on the same night. Yikes. The one puts you into a lethargic Lotos-land of pleasure. Pass me another donut. The other is so fast-paced it leaves you gasping for breath! And on this particular night, as they carried the wobbling wounded off the ice, it was just a touch sadistic.

I read UBC’s Del Paulhus’ comments on Canada’s game: “There are only a few walks of life where you can be rewarded for being more sadistic than the next guy. Hockey is an ideal vehicle for everyday sadists. It has the highest ratio of intimidation to skill. It’s the only sport with enforcers, the only one where you’re required to finish your check on a player who has made a pass. Hockey is sending a message: Be as violent as possible.”

On this particular night, as they carried the fallen warriors off the ice, I had to believe the professor was right.

“Failure to Surrender”


I was stopped by the police on the way to church one Easter Sunday!

“Doing a hundred-and-six,” said the officer, “in an eighty.” That’s kilometres. Officer Gallagher picked it up on his reverse radar.

“But where was the sign?,” I asked, instinctively. I’m from Zambia, where the signs are largely invisible.

This officer ignored such a stupid question.  So here I am, sitting by a side of the road.  Visiting the in-laws, we are, out by Lake Bonavista. And this is a highway.  I mean, it looks like it is built for at least a hundred k’s-per-hour. And this is Easter Sunday morning!

But this officer is all business. Not like those friendly, cajoling police along the Lusaka highway, always ready to consider a lesser offence, or even forgive. Especially in exchange for the morning newspaper. And especially when one is on ones’ way to “the house of God.”  I’m thinking all police should be like Zambia’s.

Things were moving slowly.  Fifteen minutes, twenty-five…. I got out and started back to the cruiser, thinking I might move things along a bit. But two steps back, and the officer slammed the cruiser into reverse, sending gravel flying in my direction. I took that as a message to get back in the Buick.

“Never do that!” he said, when he finally came to talk to us, hand next to his gun. “Keeping you in the car is our protection. You come back at me like that, how do I know you’re not carrying a gun under that jacket of yours?”

Ruth laughs. But this officer is dead serious. “It’s not funny,” he says. How little we know of how the constabulary lives!

No, I do not have my licence. It’s sitting in the drawer back at the in-laws. Yes I can sign my name to confirm ownership. Yes, I do live at that address. Gallagher is back to the cruiser.

It is now forty-five minutes.  Sitting by the side of the road, Sunday morning coming down. It took me back to another incident, back in the sixties in Montreal, pulled over with a street-smart friend by the police. Ralph jumped out of the car when we were pulled over and demanded action.

“Are you going to give me a ticket?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Well then give me the ticket and let me go. I’m in a hurry.” So rude, back then. I can’t imagine our Constable Gallagher putting up with that today.

No, on this bright Easter Sunday it was politeness that won the day.  He finally came back with something like a proposal.  “If I charge you with speeding, it’s going to be $240 and three points,” the officer said. “But you don’t need those demerit points. Instead, I am charging you with ‘Failure to Surrender your Drivers’ License.’ That’s $110 and no demerits. And I’m warning you to watch your speed.”  It was the Zambian approach! “Failure to surrender.” The lesser offence. You apologize. You ask for “consideration.” You are on your way.  These Canadian police are not all bad after all.

Thus we were finally off to church, to enjoy a very uptempo and stimulating time. We were most inspired by the choir with the lively songs of resurrection! And the illustrated sermon was engaging… just nice to be with God’s people on Resurrection Sunday!

But I was still thinking about “failure to surrender.”  I asked myself, on the way back to the Buick: “Do I not emerge from church much the same as I entered?” Isn’t it all about “failure to surrender?” Maybe this is what church is all about. Maybe we should be “ticketed” for anything less! Surrender… surrender. Let the powerful Word do its work as a double-edged sword, piercing deeply into the regions of our emotions and the will. “Take my will and make it thine….” Let the worship and music break us and melt us and wash over us like waves of the Indian Ocean.

Driving back the Bonavista road, past the scene of my crime, I am singing softly: “Holy Spirit, I surrender to you.” That is the thing.  If I have opportunity to surrender in the house of God, preferably for five or ten minutes of prayer in the Spirit — as long as I have surrendered, I know that all is well. If the preaching breaks down my internal rock a bit and makes me malleable again, so much the better. I know it has all been worthwhile.

I just need to regularly raise white flags. To loosen my grip on “my way.” To sing those prayerful songs of surrender.

For me, church is surrender time.

“Good-Friday 1613, Riding Westward” (John Donne)

But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that shines with life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?



“FB is a lot Like a Grapefruit”

P1000292Another year of Facebook! Think about it… the “social network!” Such a cool invention, a place to be sensitive and insightful, to bless all your friends with your fresh inspiration and ideals! Or, on a given Monday, you can even be out of sorts and garrulous, grumbling and contentious about this and that… blights and pests, mad dogs loose on the streets, your digestion. No one will hold it against you. Facebook is kind of like family. It allows people the freedom to be themselves.

The worst that can happen is that your friends may say, “What side of the bed did YOU get up on, spewing such vitriol at this hour….?” But don’t worry. Excommunication is not a FB option. You will not be “turned over to Satan” to “learn not to blaspheme.” Mr. Zuckerberg did not provide for that.

Still, FB is a lot like the church. It can bring people together around a serious need with a lot of concern and prayer. How good is that? In fact, a lot of love flows through the social network. Some say it is superficial — a thin veneer, a mere filament substitute for “real” relationships. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Facebook is like a grapefruit. If you try to squeeze too MUCH out of it, it will squirt you in the eye! There’s only so much it can give. But with a cup of Italian coffee, medium-roasted, and a fresh slice of Mbukulu bread… real butter… apricot jam — it can be a pretty nice start to the day!

In fact, even though I can’t find any real butter right now, I want to wish all my Facebook friends a very bright and happy day. Not to worry. And a really bold wrap up of the year 2013. “The waters of the Jordan will be cut off… and all Israel will pass over on dry ground!” (Jsh 3:13-17). Amen and amen.

“A Herd of Elephantine Needs”

DSC_0190It’s very fascinating to watch a herd of elephants come out of the bush to a pool for a drink at the end of day. You’d think that it would take a lot of gurgling and slurping to fill those huge bodies with fluid. Adult males weighing in at two tons apiece, needing 300 gallons of water to feel good– all crashing down to the waters?

But not at all. Elephants must be the quietest drinkers in the world. They just drop that long trunk down into the water like a straw into lemonade. And they drink. That’s what makes it almost magical, to watch them from a distance while the breezes of Zimbabwe’s Hwange Game Park whisper around you; a herd of elephants at the close of day, having their own quiet happy hour without a sound.

We were also surprised at the sheer number of elephants that kept streaming out of the bush that evening, making their way down to the pond. There were maybe twenty-five to start, trunks down quickly in the setting sun. Then two herds dropped down from the hills behind them, stately and majestic in their file until the matriarch got to within five feet of the pond. Then the orderly queue gave way to a miniature stampede, to get into that lovely water, to stand knee deep in its coolness. Another large herd appeared off to our left and behind them, a huge bull appeared out of the trees to have a look. Not for him, this common cup. He was waiting until he could drink alone. By now, there were well over fifty elephants, all knee deep, sucking up water. Another herd arrived in a swirl of dust and, just as they began to nudge their way in, an earlier group packed up and left. As though to say, “No, if they’re going to allow this crowd in, we’re outa here!” At the peak, there must have been a hundred elephants, all drawing upon the resources of one large pond, in the Hwange Game Park.

It made you wonder if this pond would be sucked dry! This was like council water in our town being taxed to the limit around bedtime, when the demand on the water supply would be at the maximum. And yet, the water level at Hwange was absolutely constant. The hippos continued to wallow contentedly, snorting and billowing from the depth of water that they lived their submerged lives in. Life went on.

The scene reminded me of the inexhaustible resources of God. Infinite. I heard the distant voice of the Prophets: “Ho everyone who is thirsty, come ye to the waters!” Or as the song says, “Ho, everyone who is thirsty in spirit, Ho, everyone who is weary and sad; Come to the fountain there’s fullness in Jesus; All that you’re longing for, come and be glad.” dsc_0170.jpgGreat words! “Well of water, ever springing; well of life, so rich and free! Untold wealth of every measure, my Redeemer is to me!”

How marvelous that the resources of the Lord are infinite! Because we come to him with big needs, needs that loom on the horizon like an elephant. I still remember driving into Hwange for the first time, warthogs scampering along the side of the road. “Oh my goodness!,” someone gasped. And there it stood. Against the pink glow of an evening sky, a huge black elephant in majestic silhouette. It was like a Zimbabwean mass of granite. Some needs are like a great thirst, so great you wonder if they can ever be fully met. Call it an elephantine thirst. Indeed we might lumber along, like an elephant in a drought, never having a great thirst “quenched.” And “quenched” is such a lovely word. A great thirst is satisfied. Ahh. We have drunk deeply at the waters of life.

I think the Pentecostal movement was born out of thirst. Charles Parham, and the young William Seymour…. Donald Gee… David DuPlessis…. Who are these people if not a sample of the mass of humanity over the centuries who believe that a great thirst can be fully met? “Come to this water, there is a vast supply!”

This is the language of Pentecost. And what lovely fullness has been received!

Rise Up and Shake Yourself, as though Nothing Has Changed

DSC03293Oh Samson rises up and shakes himself as of old, “not knowing that the Lord had departed from him” (Judges 16:20). Saddest words! Oh saddest words! May it never be said of one!!

And what a sight he is, this confident, strong man. He loves this game! “The Philistines upon me? What again??” I see him laughing as he rises up and shakes himself. This is the guy who snaps ropes off his arms like a thread. He takes this stuff for granted. “He woke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.'” He did not know that he had a new shaved look up top, and his dome was visible for the first time! He did not know that everything had changed.  He did not realize that when the Lord departs, you are finished.

Much like Samson, Israel also woke up one morning, shook it’s army into gear and marched off for the promised land (Num 14:20) — even though they too had insulted the spirit of grace. They too were finished — at least for the present. An entire generation was now doomed to die in the wilderness.  Strange that they would treat their offence so lightly!  Like Samson, they assume that nothing has changed: “Here we are… we will go up…” (40). As though being now ready to obey is sufficient. As though there was no penalty for their rebellion. “Up we go…” Moses warns them against this presumption: “Why are you transgressing… that will not succeed… Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you.” Oh, saddest words again! When the Lord has departed, you are finished, washed up.

Then there is Esau who, in a wave of contempt, “sold his birthright for a single meal.” He too assumed that nothing changed. Yet later, “when he desired to inherit the blessing he was rejected, for he found not chance to repent, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb 12:17). Such a man is called “profane,” “godless.” Such people treat their sacred calling lightly, and then presume to carry on as though nothing has changed.

Such characters remind us of how we may keep “outraging” the spirit of grace (Heb 10:29). Samson’s pathetic end, his blind grinding in the Philistine prison, of all places, him the freest of all spirits — what a reminder that it is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31).  To “outrage” the Holy Spirit, to do “despite” to the spirit of grace… “enhubristo” — to treat with contempt or “to insult.”  To disregard his wooing and warnings? To treat his presence as less than most precious? To flagrantly walk in our own way and ignore the implications…. This is the worst of fates.

(1) Hence the warning: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit…” (Eph 4:30). Lypeo… sorrow, to be grieved… to offend, insult, distress, inflict emotional pain.  The same word is used in Romans for not offending a weaker brother over some morally neutral thing like food. “If your brother is distressed by what you eat, no longer acting in love” (14:15). Sensitivity is the thing. This we are called to in relation to the Holy Spirit.

(2) Again, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about “Not another painful visit to you” Enough pain already. “For if I grieve you… who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?”  Similarly, with the Holy Spirit. Offend Him, and who is there to really impart that wonderful joy? You think your productivity will be down for a day? Think about losing that precious gladness forever — when it is really all that matters, when it is your very life, your most precious possession!  As David the psalmist prayed, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me!”

(3)  Paul uses the word lypeo again: “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much greived me as he has grieved all of you” (II Cor 2:2,5). This reminds us that we do not live unto ourselves. At any moment we should be open to inspection by anyone… not just our words, but what passes through our minds. Grieving the Spirit — as other people — affects everyone.

(4) But there is some comfort in this biblical word, “grieve.” When we are grieved because we have grieved the Spirit, it is like a call to our hearts.  This is a special moment.  Now is not the time to move forward presumptuously, to shake ourselves into action with the arrogance of the great Samson.  No, when we have grieved the Spirit, our sorrow leads us to repentance (II Cor 2)

This is the proper stance: sorrow that leads to repentance.  Rather than a presumptuous forward motion, as though nothing hs changed, it is time to stop and repent.  And let it be thorough: Godly sorrow (lupe kata theon) brings repentance metanoia… a “change of mind, as one repents of a purpose formed or a deed done.”

This is our only recourse, when we have grieved the Holy Spirit.  Rising up and shaking, as in old times, will not cut it. Here is the only thing that holds great promise: godly sorrow “leads to salvation, and leaves no regret.”

Bishop Cyprian of Carthage on the Unity of the Church (248 ad)

cropped-cropped-img_00551.jpgDoes he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when Paul says, “There is one body, and one spirit, one hope of our calling…”

This unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church…. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a falsehood; let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by perfidious prevarication.

The Church is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams… so the unity is still preserved.

This sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering , is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received an an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ…. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ.

But because Christ’s people cannot be rent, his robe woven and united throughout, is not divided by those who posses it; undivided, united, connected, it shows the coherent concord of our people who put on Christ. By the sacrament and sign of his garment, he has declared the unity of the Church.

Who then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it — the garment of the Lord — the Church of Christ?