“A Great, Transforming 2020 Vision”

DSC03091We were challenging our students at the start of this year along the lines of the twelve men of Israel in Joshua 4: they took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan river, and planted them in the Promised Land.  It was a statement, symbolizing their arrival.  These stones became a memorial.  It said, “This is us and we are here to stay!”

So we asked our students: “What kind of new territory are you claiming this new year?  Are you taking up some stones this year?  Are you making a statement?  Are you placing a marker?  Are you planting something firmly on new territory?  And are you here to stay?  What is your five-year plan?  Where do you want to be come 2018?

Then suddenly we realized that, hey, this is 2013!  And 7 years from now is 2020!  Why not draft a 7-year plan and call it, “Your 2020 Vision!”

It was a bit bold.  Most of our students are in the middle of a seven-year plan already!  They’ve set their hearts on ministry! And sacrificed a lot to be here.  But we were projecting further into the future and asking, How’s your 2020 vision? What about that place you have dreamed of that God has awaiting? Hey, it’s time to take up some stones!  To make statment about your life!  “I am committed.  God has made a way for me and I am here to stay.” Plant some stones on new ground today!

SO, that was our big question at the start of a new year: What is your 2020 Vision?  And how do you intend to get there?

(1) The first thing we suggested was the traditional five-year plan: make a list of the goals you want to achieve over the next seven years, and beside your A-goals, write down your possibilities, every possible way you can achieve those goals.  Then begin to work your plan.

(2) But, I kept thinking of great Joshua, the leader.  He no sooner crossed the Jordan than he encountered “the Commander of the Lord’s armies.”  He fell on his face at the sight.  He began to  talk to God about his goals.  Suddenly his plans became secondary to the “Master Plan.”

He began to see the future with the eyes of God.  And his program was redesigned.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

Jasper at ChristmasWhen it’s all been sobbed and shouted, When the would-be stars have touted, When the tenors rest from soaring, and the people stop ignoring All the the silver bells a-tinkling in the stillness of the evening; One thing is uncontested, with our fondest dreams express-ed, Amy’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Eclipsed by a Text-Messager!

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I was just snapping the picture — a bright summer shot of Ruth under hanging petunias in North Vancouver — when a UFO floated into my space. An Unidentified Female Object.

She was in a slow orbit, quite oblivious to her immediate environment — communicating with some headquarters far away, texting and receiving messages while sipping on a smoothie! She was walking toward the harbor, which was a bit scary. But she could have been most anywhere.

“Oh sorry,” she said, when she heard the camera click. Then she drifted off along the boardwalk, by the cafes and market, down toward the harbor. I waited for a splash.

I thought, there must be some kind of penalty for invading someone’s photographic space like that. If so, she was caught on my photo radar. Texting-in-motion.

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“It’s Only Beauty is It’s Song.”

We are blessed with a boisterous African Bulbul or two around the property, Pycnonotus barbatus, one of the world’s great songsters.

The tunes start at daybreak: “Mogadishu! Mogadishu!” … as though to remind us that the two-million citizens of Somalia’s capital need some prayerful thoughts today — which most days would just have to be true. But this bird gets bored with regular lyrics. Before the morning is bright, the song has changed to “Sarajevo! Sarajevo!,” just so we don’t forget the once-besieged capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This capital is heralded, all over our neighborhood, with the sunrise.

The tune I like best may break out just as one leaves the gate for a morning constitutional: “Lift your feet, Gregory! Lift your feet, Gregory!” “I’m trying! I’m trying!,” you answer back. It’s like having your own personal coach on the premises.

Some days we dash for the car and the bird has a timely reminder: “Where’s your keys? Where’s your keys?” Thinking about the college? It harks up the name of a lecturer: “Chris Lupia! Chris Lupia!” Getting too much sun? Our friend wants to know why: “Where’s your T-Shirt? Where’s your T-Shirt?” This music-maker seems to get his material from whatever is happening on the ground.

So much music from one small bird! Even in this dry Southen African region, which hasn’t seen rain for five months, our Bulbul must have the most extensive and effervescent musical repertoire in aviary files. And here’s the amazing thing: the common Bulbul is an uncommonly ugly bird. It’s as though the most beautiful music is produced by the most homely herald! This is your basic dusky sparrow with a tuft on the head and an elongated beak. In Africa’s small-bird population, it more or less defines “drab.” It has a coat so much the colour of dirt that when it shakes its way through the bird bath or under a sprinkler, it emerges virtually unchanged. The Bulbul is not at all like the Red and Yellow Barbet or the Baglafecht Weaver which fan the water upward in shimmering showers to emerge with glistening red heads and radiant yellow breasts.

But God seems to have made this homliest of birds the greatest of songsters. Indeed, the Bulbul’s only beauty is its song. And this makes it a symbol of many a weathered-yet-melodious person of faith, of all the Paul and Silas’s who lie bruised and ragged yet raise a song — a great cascading song that sets off tremors, that awakens the world to faith and hope, even when life has dealt them no favors!

No matter what, our Bulbul never seems to have a down day. It’s music is as sure as the sunrise, regardless of the weather. And it is never muted. This bird assumes, whatever the day or the hour, that all the world is ready to cut loose with some joy!

The closest he has ever come to complaining is with the intricate cadences of “I need a breakthrough! I need a breakthrough!” But we give our friend a “break” on that.

For it seems no matter how constant your song, amid the swirling dust storms of the dry season, when feathers are dull and the sky a haze — you still need an occasional breakthrough. As the great prayer-song of Jabez puts it, “Enlarge my territory! O Lord, bless me indeed!”

“Canada and The White Rhino” — Canada Day, 2016

P1000358Canada Day, 2016 — “Canada is Like the White Rhino.”

When you don’t live in Canada much, you appreciate it all the more when you drop in.  A place where things work.  Where you can take something back if you don’t like it.  Where you know the law protects you against wrongful arrest and a “softening up” by the state police.

Even if you live elsewhere, it’s nice to know Canada is there: a bastion of decency against decadence; a bulwark of good-will in a world of suspicion and treachery; a centre of respect and affirmation against the forces of contempt and abuse; a place where a person has fundamental rights before the law, regardless of race, creed, status, or gender.

Oh, I suppose these values get eroded with time.  Within its lovely borders Canada witnesses the barbaric often enough these days: parents murdering their teen-agers out of religious fanaticism; young men killing each other in parking lots over trivial disputes; serial killers on the loose like wild creatures of prey; worst of all, people taking advantage of the nation’s amazing tolerance and trust to abuse the very system that serves them: mafiosos plying their underworld trade like subterranean larvae, the “vivos” of this world who think a day ill-spent when they don’t get away with something.  For this repugnant horde, laws exist to be broken.

But for all that, Canada’s lovely values endure.  It’s like they are built deep into the Canadian shield and can withstand the most wild and violent of storms.  Never have the words of a national anthem seemed so prophetic: “God keep our land glorious and free.”  Preservation is the amazing thing in these tumultuous times.  The great values of the British North America Act have endured.  Coming over from Britain, shedding their light across an untamed land in the 19th Century, supplemented and updated as the nation matured — these values, inherited from the Reformation, must have sunk so deep into our bedrock social structures that today’s liberal democracy is like a “rock undaunted mid the raging storms of time.”

What can you say to Canada on it’s special Day, 2016?  First of all, the admiring world might say that Canada should recognize how unique and amazing and greatly-to-be-cherished its values are.  She is like the White Rhino: exceedingly exotic and rare — and thus endangered.  When you flee to Canada from say Zimbabwe, where you can be roughed up, even mutilated or killed, for being numbered among “the opposition,” it’s almost unbelievable to step into Canada’s world of civility and democracy.  Canadians should not kid themselves: our values are as rare as Zimbabwe’s White Rhino.  And thus they need protection.

When it comes to the Rhino, you arm the wardens, for starters, and pay them well.  You shoot poachers on sight.  You protect the majestic creatures as best you can against the madness of backward cultures which put a premium price on the Rhino horn as an aphrodisiac.  You spread information.  You raise consciousness.  You try to banish a few of the many diseases which afflict the human brain.

Canada needs to be equally vigilant about its rare and exotic values.  As John Stuart Mill said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  In a world like ours, where the forces of barbarism are on the march, it seems a nation of almost infinite tolerance needs some intolerance for its own protection. Selective capital punishment comes to mind; and regular deportation.  Of course nobody wants to override the very values we wish to preserve: tolerance, mutual respect, empathy.  But as Barbara Kay said about one particularly virulent criminal, “keeping such a person around for the good of the whole society is like keeping a tumor around for the good of the body.”

Secondly, I think the world might warn Canada that, like the White Rhino, our values are not eternal and should not be taken for granted.  In fact, apocalyptically speaking, we need to imagine a time when such bulwarks of democratic values are “taken away.”  That’s when the world can expect a dictator who combines all the power with all the forces of evil.  Human rights?  Equality before the law?  This autocrat will trample such ideals as a rhino does young plant.  For him, the law amounts to his own will.  One of his ominous titles is “The Beast.”

Francis Schaeffer raised a pertinent question for we, the privileged citizens of liberal western democracies: “How Shall We Then Live?”  His short answer would be, we should defend and share our values with all our strength.

We should also seize the day.  We should maximize our God-given potential in this time of unlimited opportunity.  We should do our best to bless the admiring world.

“Chili Peppers!”

DSC04435“CHILI PEPPERS, CAPPUCCINOS — AND A TIMELY SUNDAY TEXT”

We were at Cappuccino’s, the only establishment open that Sunday evening at the Brooklyn Mall, Pretoria. Their Romana pizza looked like the perfect end to the day.
But not so fast: under the pepperoni on this Romana lies a land mine of trouble. Chunks of hot chili pepper, seeds and all, ready to explode inside your mouth.
One such chunk lodged straight in the back of my throat, and started screaming, “Welcome to Cappuccino’s!!” I tried to answer back, but my voice was totally gone. Once a chunk of red hot chili pepper settles back there, it begins its gruesome work by cutting off the vocal chords. The victim is left speechless, arms flailing, eyes bulging, tears running. You hack, you rasp away, you bang the table — anything to get some help!
Of course the secret is to cough the infernal kernel up, into a napkin — or almost anywhere! On this day, no such luck. This one was dug in. Then suddenly, the assailant broke free and darted straight down the oesophagus!
This was actually worse! The villain had now spread his fiery attack from the region of the epiglottis to the stomach and across the chest. You start to think heart attack!
Surprisingly enough, no one at our table seemed interested. I was screaming, but no one was hearing! I looked for a man. Why was their no one to heed my paroxysms, those speechless cries for help, someone to stand in the gap, as it were, and pour a cup of cold water down the fiery channel? I might have been crashed out on the patio stones before my companions, well into their own mild slices and casual Sunday chat, would have noticed!
I lunged for a bowl of ice that mercifully had come with the drinks — and gulped down the freezing water in the bottom. Then I popped two small ice cubes, then four more. Eight, ten, twenty — every bite-sized chunk of ice was like a kind of frozen, heavenly manna. I scooped it up and sent it off on its fire-fighting mission.
Finally, when I stopped shaking, I placed an early order for the mango sorbet. Then I followed it up with a tiny slice of very mild Hawaiian pizza, double cheese, laced with lovely pineapple, the meekest and mildest of pizzas. The words of the psalmist came to mind: “I shall not die, but live!”
Mercy, I said, when I recovered my voice: it is getting to be a dangerous world out there. Chilli peppers, like other deadly things, lie concealed beneath the pepperoni. It’s one thing to moderate one’s pizza orders toward the mild side, which I now highly recommend: Four Seasons without the onions; Thika Chicken without the peri-peri; Ham, Green Peppers very mild, and Mushrooms. Mushrooms, mildest, assuaging ingredient — I now double mushrooms on everything.
But what about the larger issues of life? Do they not too often conceal a deadly kernel beneath a bland surface?
Indeed, for them I have adopted a text, that passed before my watery eyes at Cappuccino’s: “Shun the very appearance of evil.”