Thursday, February 22, 2007

On NyQuil

It's a few weeks after Christmas, about midnight on a weekend, and my friend and I are engaging in some theological wrangling in the living room of my home. The night is growing longer and the wind howls outside, promising a treacherous It's ok, though; he's staying with us for a few days, sleeping in our spare room, so my wife leaves the two of us to hash things out. Not that it's an unpleasant conversation; no, the reason that she leaves us to our own devices is that we are both suffering from serious head colds. My wife (bless her) had been looking after us all day, making us tea, bringing us more Kleenex, and nodding sympathetically as we bemoaned our situations. All sympathy had gone, however, when it was revealed that instead of trying to fall asleep we were going to stay up and further extend the burden on our already weakened constitutions. Something in my wife's eyes as she went upstairs led me to believe that if we wanted tea the next day, we would bloody well have to get it ourselves.

The fact is, my friend here is one of the few people who I can really, truly, and completely lay my theology on the line with. Many of my friends are more aggressive - they spot a theological weakness, and they spring for the theological jugular. All well and good, except when you're feeling vulnerable, lost, and perhaps wondering if there's anything to this God stuff after all. Why do Christians shoot their wounded?

We've been chatting most of the evening, and had arrived at the point where you know - where you can just feel it in your gut - that you've hit a vein of gold in the conversation. You folks know what I mean - when it seems like God himself has decided that for a limited time only, the talk and the love will flow from himself and there is no miscommunication, no misunderstanding, only affirmation and truth. Where two or three are gathered, there he truly is. And we've decided that continuing on in this is much more important then getting a good night sleep when a cold is a knockin'.

We aren't complete morons, however. Between us sits a bottle of Vick's NyQuil and a solemn promise - we shall go to sleep once the awesome powers of NyQuil kicks in. For those of you who don't know, NyQuil is a beautiful creation of God that takes away cold symptoms long enough for you to get asleep - and tosses in some truly marvelous sleep inducers as well. The whole effect - depending on how much you take, which will change depending on how used to it you are - is like 3 pints in ten minutes on an empty stomach. Very popular at Bible college, let me tell you.

We toss back a dose and a half each, along with a shot of pure Alaskan vodka - vile stuff that I keep for medical purposes, but the best I could do on short notice. The label on Vick's NyQuil warns away any alcohol, claiming that it will "increase the drowsiness effect" - which is what we're counting on. Colds tend to make me lay awake and fall in and out of a vague, dreamlike state, sometimes leading to amusing midnight outbursts. Amusing in retrospect, that is - my wife has never liked to be awakened by my semi-hallucinations. Very Twilight-Zone-ish.

The conversation continues, and as the minutes tick by the "Golden Moment" seems to be passing. We've been trying to sum up our beliefs, nail it down in a short creed or statement of faith that we can both agree on. Finally my friend says something very profound.

"I hate statements of faith."

"What?" I'm rubbing watery eyes at this point. "What do you mean?"

"These," he indicated a short copy of our church's statement of faith, "are facts and words and - and other stuff. It's not real - it's not alive." He waves his hand at it. "This skeleton, this dead thing, it isn't my faith. It's not what I believe. Jesus is what I believe."

I find that very profound. "But how do you sum that up? Just hand someone a copy of the New testament and say, 'it's in there, trust me?'"

We are both quiet for a few more moments. If you could have looked at us, you would have seen that we were both sitting upright very still, yet swaying very slightly, as though a breeze were coming through the room. The NyQuil is starting to do it's business, and I can tell I've got about three more minutes of coherency left. Finally he speaks up again.



"Just love. That's it."

I want to ask him to explain, but suddenly, I don't have to. It bursts into brilliant, utter clarity in my mind. The heavens are opened and I glimpse the firmament. It makes such utter, painful sense that I think I actually might cry. I'm not even kidding; this is serious stuff. The word 'epiphany' seems inadequate. Something life-changing and world-altering has entered my brain. I must write this down before I forget it.

I stand up.

Like a warm wave, the NyQuil washes over me. I grip the edge of the couch, shaking, as I struggle to remain upright. For a split, crazy second I can see the "blue screen of death" in front of my eyes - but I'm not a computer, am I?

What were we talking about?

It's gone. SO is most of my balance - an unnerving experience, to say the least. I calm down, rub my face, and say, "I think I'm about done for tonight. You?"

He nods. "yeah. Goodnight Dan."

I walk up the stairs. That was really intense - I don't remember NyQuil affecting me like that before. Must be that awful Alaskan vodka. Nobody but the Russians have any business calling what they make vodka. Wait, isn't vodka made from potatoes? What were the Irish up to for all those years? How'd they miss that?

I'm lying down now. Consciousness is an expensive commodity, and I have run out. I hope I remembered to get undressed before bed, then I hope that I'm actually in bed. It feels soft enough, wherever I am.

What were we talking about again?
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sick as a dog...

and in no shape to blog. I hate germs.

Next week - I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart. Will you come back then?
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Place in This World

No, not the Smitty song, although I do enjoy singing along to it. That is, when I can be alone with my cd player. I don't want to subject anyone else to that horror...

Warning - I'm just in a rambling mood today.

What is the church's place in this world? I have asked myself that question many times over the last few months. When I was in Edinburgh, I went one morning to an Episcopalian church to pray alone. I also got a chance to pray in ancient Catholic cathedrals, and walk through the ruins of other, more ancient places of worship. Since these places were made the world has moved on - no longer is the church the source of the art, the culture, and the philosophy of the areas it inhabits. Some of these churches, old as they were, were left empty, grey skeletons of lifeless bodies. Other had been converted for different uses; pubs, community halls, and in one case the best East Indian restaurant in town.

In North America, our churches are more commercial, more democratic. Is that a good thing? It sometimes feels like churches exist to steal members of other churches, plug them in, and forget about them. This is one of the reasons the emerging church is of such interest to folks like me.

But at the same time, it all feels so useless. Christian bookstores depress the shit out of me. Mountains of literature, all of it claiming to be the next big thing, the book you need to get to know God, the book that every good/real christian needs, whatever, it offends me. I sometimes think it offends God - we spend more money on crap like that then we do on the things Jesus told us to do - feed the poor, help the sick, visit the imprisoned. I spend more money on books in a year than I do almost anything else. The EC now has a host of books - some of them very good, I won't deny that - and now established itself as an "official" movement, complete with conferences (how's it going over there cindy?), book clubs and membership fees. Soon we'll have emerging christian music, workshops, music videos, artwork, and everything else to match the rest of Evangelicalism. Why does most expressions of Christianity in the West seem like sensationalized garbage? I get the feeling that in the West, Christians are by and large (and I include myself in this) too rich to be faithful.

Sometimes I think that if this (North American Christianity) is true Christianity, then God is either incompetant, unreal, or insane.


What brings me out of this mood? What keeps me from quitting my job and going to join a Buddhist temple in the mountains? Obviously I'm still here, and I usually don't just complain and then log off - what am I still doing here?

A few weeks ago, I was listening to an Irish missionary talk about churches in Africa and Asia. I was doing my best to pay attention because the speaker was actually quite interesting (as the Irish tend to be, even when sober), but I was going on about 4 hours of sleep and trying to unkink my back after an 11 hour van ride across the country. I was zoning in and out, but managed to jerk awake at a phrase the speaker used-

" the Majority World..."

I blinked and sat up straighter. What did that mean? Fortunately, he was just explaining what it was.

"We have a tendancy in 'developed countries' to refer to this area as the 'Third World,' or the "10/40 Window,' or 'Underdeveloped Countries,' or something that minimizes them. What we don't realize is that the 'average Christian' lives in this area. The 'average Christian' is not wealthy, he is poor. The 'average Christian' is not a business owner, he is a labourer. The 'average Christian' lives right where the 'average human being' lives," and he thrust his hand at the map behind him, "here, in the so-called Third World."

I was thunderstruck. On an intellectual level I had already known the facts he was stating, but some deeper truth was making itself glaringly obvious to me.

He continued. "Don't you see? We are the minority in the world. We aren't the ones on top, we're the ones on the bottom. The so-called 'Third World' is the majority, which is why some people have begun to call it the Majority World. And with it, the Majority Church exists apart from us. We are the Minority Church - not unimportant, just not the center of it all." He stuck his hands in his pockets and bounced up and down on the spot, poorly containing his glee. "And we've got alot to learn from them."

I re-learned something valuble from this - the Western Church is not the only church. We are a portion, a small minority, of what makes up the greater Body of Christ in the world. And you know what? That actually gives me alot of peace about the mistakes that we continually make - mistakes of greed, of pride and arrogance. They are still wrong, and I hate them, but I am reminded that we are not alone. We are Corinth - a messed up, dysfuntional family. But there's many more believers out there, and despite our differences of culture and skin they pray for us and are a reminder that Jesus came for everyone - not just the religious.

We aren't the beginning and ending of the Church. Thank God for that.

I want to share a video clip with you, and hopefully it works (first time embedding something like this), but the lyrics follow. I find this inspiring, and perhaps you will too. Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.

Newsboys - He Reigns

It’s the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It’s the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain
The song of Asian believers
Filled with God’s holy fire
It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Let it rise about the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground
Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
‘Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word

When all God’s children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God’s people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Half a Year Away

It's hard to believe how much time has really passed since I posted my last blog. I feel as though I should explain myself, give an account of where I've been and what I've been up to. At the same time, I find myself frustrated again by the medium and culture of blogging. It's just way too easy to shoot one's mouth off, to be offensive and stupid and not care who you may be hurting. It's too easy to be filled with self-importance and arrogance when you're sending your words out to the world, standing on your very own personalized soapbox. I guess I had started to get a little sick of it all, which started me thinking about this break. As always, though, there was more to it.

Our new home has not internet. This was a calculated decision, made almost entirely by the fact that we had a perfectly good cell phone - and, as such, no reason to get a land line. What get an internet connection without a phone line? Seems silly, really. So that was part of the decision.

My work schedule changed, taking up more of my free time. As the fall dragged on I became increasingly distant from the people in my life, sometimes spending more time at work than at home in a week. I worked evenings and weekends, and not because I had more work than usualy. It was because I was pushing myself, trying hard to make up for some percieved failures I had made, and trying not to give myself much time to introspect.

In addition to work becoming busier, I also started work on my Master's Degree - part time only, but combined with a work schedule more hectic than I'd ever had before it made for a semester of all work and no play. I didn't see my wife for days at a time, and I was wondering if either my job or my schooling would have to go.

We stopped going to church, my wife and I - stopped going to a church that I'd been a member at for almost 10 years. Proximity was the biggest factor; driving almost an hour to church makes sunday feel more like work for me, especially when the church population is growing increasingly unfamiliar. We've been church hunting ever since, with limited success.

In the midst of all of this, we needed to get away. We needed to get away from work, home, all of it, and an opportunity arose.


For two weeks we backpacked around scotland in the middle of December. A cold and wet country at the best of times, Scotland was experiencing flooding on a scale they hadn't see in over 50 years. It was frigid, and even the trains were freezing. It was the most beautiful place I've ever been. I'll tell you more about it later.

When I came back, things started to change. I refused to get drawn back into 60-hour weeks, instead relying on my support systems to get back on track. My wife and I picked a church to try, and we're committing to it for a few months to see how we fit in. I backed off in my schooling, and set aside more time for prayer.

Then one day I logged on to the net, and started to read.

I had been out of touch - no way I could catch up on all of the posts I missed. I had completely missed the Ted Haggard storm that swept the Christian blogs, and I felt no sadness at that. Much had happened, but I felt like I may be ready to come back. I don't know what that will look like, but I hope to contribute on a weekly basis some of my thoughts. Even if most of my friends and readers have moved on, it will be good to air my laundry again, good to say what is on my heart. Perhaps it will go unread, but then again, who do we write for?

There is one piece of unfinished buisness for me, and then I shall begin to tell you of the last six months. Expect an update mid-week, if you care to return. And to those who waited, thanks. It's good to be back.
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Friday, January 19, 2007

Coming soon...

Grey Owl's coming back, and he just might poop on your Chevy. More to come.
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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Uncertain future

Not sure if blogging fits into my non-wired lifestyle at the moment. Finding it difficult to get the stuff done i need to, let alone the stuff i want to. What does this mean for this site? Not sure yet... More next week.
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Monday, July 10, 2006

On Fantasy

You're going to come to this conclusion anyway, and I think I'd rather you hear it from me than figure it out on your own and think that, somehow, I misled you in the past. If you still feel that way when you're finished reading this, then I am well and truly sorry.

I am a huge nerd. It's not a secret, nor necessarily a surprise to those who know me, although the level to which I sometimes slide can be shocking to some. Many people like the Lord of the Rings; fewer can give you a history of Middle Earth from creation through to the end of the Thirds Age. Many grown adults collect and read comic books (the average age of today's comic book reader is in their 30's), but not many have ever contemplated using Batman's relationship with the Joker as a basis for a future thesis in social psychology. God only knows how I got married like this, but my wife actually puts up with my foibles and - most shockingly - seems to enjoy being around me. For a guy who once wore Star Trek pajamas (and had a picture of himself in said pajamas on the big screen at his wedding), this is a pretty big deal.

So. Now that the unpleasentness is out of the way, I'd like to share with you some of the books that have been formative for me. By that, I mean that they have, through their stories, characters and themes have impacted me to the point that I can honestly say I have been changed through them. I'm sharing this in the hopes that some conversation will ensue, and perhaps other nerds will feel some hope and cameradarie. Also, I'd like to point out a few places where my faith has been impacted by book that are - at least not by standard definitions - Christian.

The Fionavar Tapastry - Some people call it "Diet Lord of the Rings." I had my doubts about it when I first picked it up almost two years ago. I mean, the premise seems pretty identical. Evil Dark Lord making war with his army of very, very ugly critters against the humans and elf-like creatures. Oh yeah, and the elves sail into the west when they become tired of life, to a place prepared for them alone. At first glance, it seems to border on plagerism. Of course, you just need to dig a little deeper. The author, Guy Gavriel Kay (a Winnipegger), actually worked with Christopher Tolkien on editing the Silmarillion. He's a huge Tolkien fan. And the premise of the Fionavar Tapestry pays homage to many fantasy classics, including T.H. White's Once and Future King.

In the novel, five university students from Toronto are taken into another world - to Fionavar, the First World from which all other worlds come. This is reflected in the many similarities the book has to our fantasy and mythological classics, like LOTR and Norse mythology. Each of the students comes to appreciate and value a part of this new world - and consequently, ours as well. And each of them play a part in the war against the darkness, though the final outcome is far from certain.

The story paints a beautiful picture of sovergienty in the depiction of The Weaver, the creator god that spins the stories of all the worlds into the Tapestry. And Kay writes masterfully, drawing you in to caring about the various threads that make up his story. Like all great tales, it is both grand and sad, a bittersweet exploration of good verses evil. It's a very real book. I urge you to check it out.

The Vampire Chronicles - As mentioned in a previous post, I am an Anne Rice fan. While her most recent work does not hit the heights that some of her earlier novels, I will likely read everything that she publishes. There is an honesty in questioning, and a refreshing breath of air in her ruthlessness. When you open The Vampire Lestat, no safe church walls keep out the relentless onslaught of that terrible question - "Why?"

Through the spiritual adventures and meanderings of the main characters, Rice addresses so many of the toughest questions that we as a race have had to face. And are in some cases (especially as North American Christians), afraid to answer. Pain, suffering, despair - why do we suffer from these things? Does God truely care about his suffering children? Or - as postulated in Memnoch the Devil - is God actually confused, uncaring, or insane? Is God to be trusted?

Reading these books forced me to evaluate my preconcieved notions. With the protective coating that so often infects Christian writing ("Don't worry, all the questions have easy answers, and we'll wrap up all the problems before the end so you can sleep at night") removed, the only safe haven for anyone to run to is to God - genuinely, unflinchingly, to rest in Him and not our cookie-cutter answers. It also helped me realize one ever-important truth - God is big enough to handle whatever questioning we can throw at him. Lestat reminds me a little of Job. And a little of me.

The Dark Tower - Stephan King's penultimate work. I finished book seven only a couple of weeks ago, forcing myself to spread them out instead of devouring them in a three-week gluttonous spree. If you've ever read them - and read the last chapter in spite of King's warnings to leave it be - you'll understand what I mean when I say that the books are iconic. The vastness of the worlds he creates, and the way the stories tie into his larger body of work, is unmatched by any modern author that I know of.

King's writing has alway been very, very good. But the Dark Tower takes it to a level that I didn't expect. The way the stories draw you in, making you a part of the Gunslinger's ka-tet as they chase the man in black and then finally to the ultimate showdown with the Crimson King. When you close your eyes, you see the Tower rising from a field of red roses. And in the end, you climb the stairs yourself to the room at the top (tell God and the Man Jesus thankya).

I can't tell you everything about how it affected me, because I'd ruin it for you and I intend to make all of you read it before I die. But let me say this: you will be changed. I don't know if it's possible to read it without being changed. Good vs evil is always good to think about, but witnessing the redemption of Father Callahan, the power of Christ holding back the forces of darkness... it was better than anything else I've read on the subject. And King's ultimate statement about the heart of evil... I can't say any more. The books were beautiful, painful, and bizarrly innocent. You won't understand unless you read them.

These are just a few of the books that have so changed me. Anyone else read them? Anyone else have books to share?
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