Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Never Know Where Reading Will Take Me

I Like To Read! Always have.

As I sit here in my armchair to write this I am surrounded by reading materials. The newspaper which I just finished reading is now lying on the arm of the love seat, waiting for Heidi to get home and do the puzzles. In the shelf between my chair and Heidi's perch are a Quest Study Bible and a couple of Devotional Booklets. On the shelf below that are Brian Mulrooney's autobiography, a John Grisham novel and another similar novel by an author I've never heard of before. Then there's my digital Complete Collection of National Geographic.

My laptop sits on a TV table in front of me and it contains a wealth of reading material. I downloaded and installed Kindle for PC several months ago and it contains a ridiculous number of free ebooks.

To the left of my chair there are 3 stacks of paperbacks with the odd hardcover book. I don't know what all is in that pile. Above these stacks I have more books sitting on another TV tray which include my Chronological Bible, Bonhoeffer's 'Cost of Discipleship', and an 'Armchair Reader' entitled "Vitally Useless Facts". Then I have a non-fiction book entitled, "The Temple Bombing" by Melissa Fay Greene. (I'll get back to that book in a bit). There's another 3 faith related books under all that and two German language magazines that my mom thought I would be interested in reading. As I look across the room to our dining room I see three books of "Classics" that we purchased last Saturday.

Our bedroom is at the end of the hall and I know there are two, possibly three books on my dresser. Our second bedroom which is currently serving as an office/storage room in which there are many more books.

As you may have gathered by now, I read all sorts of stuff. In addition to my bibles and faith related books, I have history books, a variety of non-fiction books and a fairly wide range of fiction books. I especially like historical novels, but I have everything from books addressing social issues, fantasy books, mysteries, adventure, classical literature and comedy. I still have some German language books including the books my mom used to teach me to read German almost fifty years ago. The only books I don't want let into our home are westerns, science fiction and harlequin romances.

I almost forgot; I enjoy reading Stephen King - his mind is so wonderfully twisted. 

Over the years I have given away more books than I can count. In fact, I had seriously downsized my library nine months ago prior to us moving into our current home. Somehow books keep showing up here. I have access to many more books because there are bookshelves on seven of the eight floors in our building. Tenants place books they are done with into these shelves for others to grab and read. I've helped myself to quite a few of these books already. I've returned more books to those shelves than I've taken.

Last weekend Heidi and I took our daughter and son-in-law out for dinner. We visited for a while and then wandered over to a bookstore just across the parking lot. That was a costly venture because all four of us enjoy reading and it was like being in a candy store. I'm not sure how many books came home with us but there were at least six or seven.

In the past I used to make regular trips to the public library to load up on books but I have discontinued that practice since I learned that the library has found bedbugs in its books. I'd rather not import any of those creatures into our home.

But we have come across another source of books. We have been driving by an interesting looking coffee shop and used book store for months. Two weeks ago I stopped the car instead of driving by again and we went in to check it out.  The first thing we saw upon walking in was a 30 inch wide floor to ceiling shelf crammed with books. The best part was there was a little sign on the shelf informing us that all the books in the unit were available for fifty cents each. As I was looking through the books Heidi started pulling books saying, "you'll like this , and this, and this..." I pulled out a few and when Heidi finally found a book for herself we headed to the checkout. We left with fifteen books of a variety of genres.

When I'm reading I often encounter supposedly factual information that I find questionable or suspicious as to its accuracy. Other times I just want to learn more. In those cases, which happen fairly often, I open my computer and begin researching.  Sometimes I find information that affirms my questions and suspicions and gives me reliable facts. (I never just check one source, I always look for at least four or five independent websites. (Wikepedia does not count as an authority on anything). I frequently get sidetracked for hours as I expand my knowledge base.

Back to "The Temple Bombing". This primary focus of this book is the bombing of a Reformed Jewish Temple in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958. On May 17, 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that States could not lawfully segregate schoolchildren by race. The South exploded in violence. Schools, homes and places of worship were blown up. People were abducted and brutally murdered. White supremacists rampaged. According to the flyleaf of the book it was a pivotal point in the Civil Rights movement in the US.

Not just blacks were targeted; everyone seen as non-white was at risk, including Jews.

I have only read about fifty pages but I came across information that stopped me from reading further and spurred me to do some research before I read any further.

The flame of the violence against the Jews was fed by a manuscript entitled "Protocols of the Elders of Zion". The manuscript was a hoax invented by the czarist secret police near the end of the 19th century. It was presented as evidence of a Jewish plot to dominate the world in all ways, especially through accumulating all the wealth in the world. The book goes into far more detail but it's not my intention to detail these events and circumstances. What struck me was that these Jewish conspiracy accusations spread throughout Europe, and were even spread across North America by Henry Ford. By 1920's this conspiracy had expanded  to blame the Jews for all calamities; political upheavals, financial chaos, etc. The author maintains that the accusations in this document were used by Hitler and the Nazis to convince the German people that they were in danger from the Jews.

As I read this information a light went on for me. It had nothing to do with Hitler, the Nazis, or the holocaust. It involved my maternal grandfather. All of a sudden I understood the source of some of the things I repeatedly heard my grandfather say; especially when he had a few beers under his belt.

I studied in Germany from March 1973 to end of February 1974. During my Semester break I stayed with my maternal grandparents in Hamburg where my grandfather had arranged a job for me with the Post Office. I spent many evenings sitting with my grandparents, listening to their stories. I was taken aback when I heard Opa begin to spew this nonsense about an ongoing Jewish conspiracy. I though I wasn't hearing right.

I had observed that there seemed to be four distinct positions taken by German citizens with regard to their nation's Nazi history and the holocaust. One group denied any knowledge of what had gone on stating that a person was at risk of being killed if they dared to raise questions. A second group of Germans bore the burden of national shame and guilt. The third group was busy justifying what had gone on. The fourth wanted to forget and just move on.

I was stunned when I heard Opa spout this anti-semitic nonsense. And he was so agitated about it. He went on and on about Jewish bankers and businessmen who were monopolizing the market in whatever endeavour they were involved in. There was nothing I or anyone else could say that would change his belief in this conspiracy. I kept asking myself, "where is this coming from?"

This book had just answered my question from almost 40 years ago. I needed to explore this further so I googled "Protocols of the Elders of Zion'. The search results boggle the mind. There were 552,000 results!

The manuscript is available all over the web in book format. You can buy it at  There are websites that put forth detailed evidence that this document is a fraud, a hoax. There are far too many websites that preach these protocols as authentic evidence of this Jewish conspiracy. There are incredibly extreme websites that use this argument to proclaim that the Jews were responsible for 9/11. The level of anti-semitism and hatred is frightening. The conflicting arguments for and against cross all racial lines. There is so much more going on in this world than what I'm aware of.

Lord God, have mercy. Protect us! Save your people!

If you want to see a video exposing details of how this fraudulent document plays out in our world today, follow the link below.

Be warned. It's not easy to watch. It's roughly an hour in length.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Today's Ramblings

Went for a bike ride for the first time in four days. My bike had been at Gooch's Bicycle and Hobby Shop for the third time this season. My bike needed some repairs again, worn out parts needed to be replaced. I guess that happens when you ride more frequently. I immediately noticed that I hadn't ridden in a few days. I was really sucking for air almost as soon as I started. I also have to remember not to wear a black shirt when cycling on a warm and sunny day. It sure adds to the heat.

This summer has been so very enjoyable with all the sunshine and dry, warm weather. I hope it continues for many more weeks. Especially the first two weeks of September when my wife, Heidi, is taking vacation. We'd very much like to spend a lot of time outdoors, exploring our city.

This morning I was drinking my morning mug of coffee (small jug actually) and reading the newspaper. It seems every day I read about more and more violence. Stabbings, shootings, muggings, missing women and children, bodies discovered. So sad and disturbing. When we have our  windows open in the evening and at night we hear so many sirens. We also often hear the police helicopter as it patrols our city's sky at night. Why is there so much violence? Why do people reach for weapons so quickly when there is a disagreement? Why are people being knifed for a case of beer? Why are our aboriginal youth killing each other? Are people no longer taught right from wrong? Are they no longer learning to respect life; to respect other people? What kind of community and society will our kids and future grandkids live in? How can we turn things around so the violence decreases? How can we restore some respect for the sanctity of life in our community?

When I read the newspaper articles, editorials and letters to the editor I read about so many people calling for harsher penalties, longer prison sentences. Our federal government wants to build more jails. Some people have been calling for the return of the death penalty. I have difficulty believing that these consequences will change anything at a fundamental moral level. On the one hand I think young offenders need to be held more accountable for their criminal behaviour. I don't believe for a minute the young offenders under the age of 12  (some as young as 8) don't know right from wrong; that they shouldn't face consequences for the choices they make and the criminal acts they participate in. But I wonder where their parents are. Where are their grandparents? Where are the family circles that teach and model a healthy, respectful, just and moral lifestyle?

While our news media sometimes leaves us with the impression that things here in Winnipeg are so much worse than in other cities in our country, I know that is not true.  I regularly look at newspapers from across our country and observe the same level of mindless and destructive violence in other major cities in our country. The headlines in  Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and other communities seem eerily similar to the headlines we see here in Winnipeg. Where and when did things go off the track? Whatever happened to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

How do we turn things around?  Where do we begin? What is my role in bringing positive change to my community? It's easy to sit in my armchair in our apartment in our secure building protected by video cameras and locked doors and observe the dismaying activities happening in the city and country I live in. Getting involved in making positive change (there's that 'change' word again) happen means I have to get out of my chair and get involved. Am I willing to do that? What am I willing to do? How much am I willing to do?

To be perfectly honest, at this point I don't know.

I'm tired.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Can I Really Forgive Myself?

Yesterday evening I heard a message on forgiveness. The message concluded with a responsive reading prayer. By my recollection, I have now participated in this exact prayer three times. One of the requests of God in this prayer is, "Help me to forgive myself". This request has bothered me all three times.

I have grappled with forgiveness for decades. My unwillingness to forgive one person who had deeply wounded me on many occasions kept me trapped in grief, pain, and rage for more than thirty years. My remorse, shame, and inability to 'forgive myself'  for something I had done enslaved me in my own private hell of guilt, self-hatred, despair, hopelessness and depression for almost twenty years. One day a man that I only knew from seeing him around the church I was attending at the time brazenly (unexpected and uninvited) stepped into my life and relentlessly proceeded to break down my resistance and walk me through a process of forgiveness that set me free. It took some time.

That was not the end of forgiveness in my life. My need to forgive and request forgiveness has continued unabated in the two decades since I first truly understood what it means to forgive and to be forgiven. In the course of those years I have strived to increase my understanding of forgiveness through study, meditation and prayer. Throughout my career in mental health I came across innumerable people who (from my perspective) needed to forgive and/or request and accept forgiveness in order to begin their journey of healing with any hope of success. I had the memorable privilege to co-present a seminar with a friend (who just happens to be a psychiatrist and Christ follower) where we explored the concept of forgiveness and discussed its impact on mental health. One issue we burrowed into was this business of 'forgiving oneself'.

So often we hear people utter those pain-filled words, "I just can't forgive myself"! I believed that to be the case for myself for far too long. I was not set free until I realized that self forgiveness was not required! In fact, I discovered that my yearning and striving for peace and freedom could not be fulfilled through self forgiveness.

I firmly believe that the idea that I need to forgive myself is wrong. I believe it is dangerous and destructive. It can ensnare us and lead us astray. I believe that the concept of forgiving oneself is not Biblical. I believe this concept is rooted in the pride, ego, arrogance, selfishness and self-centeredness so prominent in our culture today. 

Let me try to explain.

When I study scripture I learn that:
  • I am commanded by God to forgive others. I am to forgive those that have hurt me or offended me. Not just once. Lots. More than I sometimes want to.
  • I need to confess and repent my wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness from God.
  • I need to confess and repent my wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness from every person that I have harmed or offended. If I understand this correctly, I should also try to right the wrongs I have done.

What I don't find in scripture is the command to forgive myself!

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I missed something. Am I splitting hairs, getting caught up in semantics? It could be, but I don't think so.

But... if I'm stuck in the excruciating pain that is this belief that I can't forgive myself I am obviously needing something! Something Big. Something Powerful.

But what?

I wrestled with this question for a long time. I prayed. I studied. I meditated. A lot.

It was only when I began to carefully analyze what I was doing and communicating whenever I said or thought I need to forgive myself, or I just can't forgive myself, that I began to understand.

Have you ever prayed to God, asking for forgiveness while at the same time you believed you couldn't forgive yourself? I have. Far too often.

Has a friend ever said to you, "It's OK. I forgive you." and you responded with, "yeah, but I just can't forgive myself"? I have. Far too often.

As I reflected on this I asked myself the question, "What have I just done?"

The naked truth is that I have just told God that his forgiveness is not enough for me! I have just told my friend that their forgiveness is not good enough! I have claimed the ultimate power and authority to forgive myself. If I extend that idea, then I really don't need God's forgiveness, or my friend's forgiveness because I can just forgive myself!

But what am I really asking for when I ask for forgiveness? Am I not asking for a gift? The gift of mercy, grace, and compassion that will set me free? Am I not rejecting that gift when I claim that it's not as good as my gift to myself? Seems rather arrogant and prideful to me.

My understanding of the process of asking for forgiveness is that I must begin by  humbling myself.

When I go to God for forgiveness I need to appear in humility, confessing my brokenness, and pleading for the gift of his mercy, grace, compassion, and love. There's no point asking for this if I'm not fully prepared and open to receiving this gift. That demands faith. Faith that God loves me, that he will respond to me with his understanding, mercy, grace and compassion. Faith that God can forgive me, will forgive me, and has forgiven me. I must have faith that His forgiveness is sufficient. This faith cannot exist without humility. Not only must I humble myself to ask for the gift of forgiveness, I absolutely must humble myself to receive and accept this gift. If I'm proud, arrogant, selfish or self centered it is impossible for me to receive and accept this precious gift. My ego is in the way. It's just not good enough.

The same applies to my friend. I must humble myself before them, confess my wrongdoing, repent and ask for the gift or their mercy, grace and compassion. I must honour their gift by humbling myself to receive and accept their forgiveness. I need to humbly believe that they can forgive me, that they will forgive me, that they have forgiven me, and that their forgiveness is sufficient.

Sometimes I may humble myself before someone and ask for their forgiveness and they may choose to withhold that forgiveness. They might reject every effort I make to reconcile. If I know that I have exhausted every avenue I know to repair the damage I have done and the person still refuses to release me, I know that I can go to God. His grace is sufficient. I believe this also applies when the person whose forgiveness I'm seeking is no longer available or accessible.

It's not my job or right (we're really big on those) to 'forgive myself'. My responsibility is to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. I must also humble myself to receive forgiveness and accept it in faith and believe that it is sufficient. Then the gift will set me free.

I don't pretend that this is a scholarly dissertation.

But I humbly confess that this is what I believe. This is what has been revealed to me.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray 
and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, 
and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7: 14


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Musings arising from Jack

Over the last several days our news media has focused a lot on Jack Layton. His death has triggered an incredible outpouring of stories, personal and political accolades, and a wide variety of responses to Layton's death from people across our nation. The media coverage has fascinated me.

I personally do not agree with Jack Layton's political position, but I do admire his passion for social justice. He certainly acted tirelessly to promote the call of social justice and championed many causes.  (Again, I do not agree with some of the causes he supported). The honours showered on him clearly reflect the esteem in which he is held by both his supporters and his opponents.

But as I take this all in a number of thoughts and questions occur to me.

I remember my reaction when Layton told the voters in Canada that he was 'running for the office of Prime Minister' during the last two elections. Every time I saw that commercial I thought, "This man is delusional!" Two nights ago I saw a piece on the late night news where a reporter showed us Jack Layton's parting comments in his last High School Yearbook. The statement read, "I'm leaving to become Prime Minister."

That certainly shed a fresh light on the man's pursuit of his vision and his sense of purpose. At least it did for me. Jack Layton's life presents a crystalline image of what the application of passion, persistence, and perseverance can look like and achieve.

The tone of the accolades that continue to pour out for Jack Layton remind me a little of some of the responses I heard and read about the depiction of Mahatma Ghandi in the movie Ghandi in 1982. On more than one occasion I heard people say that Ghandi was presented as almost Christ-like. (I even heard that from the pulpit one Sunday morning). Some of the stuff I'm hearing about Jack Layton seems to paint him with sainthood. I was particularly struck by one woman interviewed on a city street who boldly stated that, "Heaven is a better place now because Jack (Layton) is there."

That's quite a statement! A statement that launched my mind  in all sorts of directions with an influx of thoughts and questions; more than I can express here. My head is still spinning two days later.

My initial reaction was, "Does she really believe that?"

Does she completely understand the meaning and magnitude of the words she uttered? Does she believe heaven is a real place or did she just use it as a metaphor to express her high regard for Layton? Does she believe in an afterlife? If she believes in the existence of heaven does she also believe in the existence of hell? Some people believe in one but not the other. Does she believe in God? In Christ? Does she really believe that heaven can be improved by the arrival of one human being? Can heaven be improved by the arrival of any human being? Where did she get this idea from? Does she think that Layton was a Christ follower who has now received his reward or does she believe every good person  will end up in heaven regardless of his/her spiritual beliefs or non-belief?

Did Jack Layton have a faith in God and Christ? Was that the driving force for his passionate pursuit of social justice? Was the love that Layton talked and wrote about Christ's love? What is his legacy?

As I dig through the many words written and spoken about Jack Layton, I have yet to come across any mention or suggestion that he had a personal belief in a higher power, or an overarching divine being, or in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the Christian faith. Does that mean that I think he was an non-believer? No, it just means that I have been  unable to find any statement that indicates that Jack Layton was a man of faith in God.

If Jack Layton was a man of faith, his legacy is a glowing example of Christian love and pursuit of social justice. If Jack Layton was not of the Christian faith, his life puts many Christians to shame. His life puts me to shame. Jack Layton set the bar for love and social justice high. I don't measure up to that bar. I don't come close!

So what do I do about this? Do I want to do anything about not measuring up to this bar? This is another challenge I'll add to my list of changes to work on. The list keeps growing.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. 
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 1: 16-18

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” 
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, 
you will be saved.
Romans 10: 8-10

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  
No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14: 6

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's In A Name?


That's the dominant headline on the front page of our local sensationalistic rag, also known as the Winnipeg Sun. The writer is chastising a local union for trying to protect the identities of some of its members involved in a current public inquiry. From my perspective, the newspaper wants to know the names of these individuals so that they can be tried and vilified in public even though they have not been charged with any criminal offense, nor are they on trial.

Seeing this headline (and suspecting the motivation for it) on the heels of a conversation with my son regarding his name yesterday evening, I started thinking about names. What's in a name? Why do we give our kids the names we do? Why did my parents give me the name I have? Is every name significant? Has every name been assigned after careful thought and consideration? Is there power in a name? Does a name come with inherent vulnerabilities? Is it important for us to know the meaning behind our names? Should I be concerned about protecting my name?

Yesterday, my son told my wife and me that he is going to legally change his given name from Neil to Cornelius. He has already begun to use the 'new' name at work. His rationale for taking this step is clear and logical. The name 'Cornelius" has familial significance.

Both Neil's mother (my former wife) and I had a grandfather named Cornelius. In fact, the name Cornelius shows up at least seven times in our family trees (based on the information I currently have). We named our son Neil in recognition of the name Cornelius in our family histories.

Why Neil, instead of Cornelius? We wanted to protect him from teasing that would likely come from Cornelius being shortened to "Corny". When we were considering what name to give to our first son we contemplated naming him Cornelius William because the name William (actually the German Wilhelm) also occurs quite frequently in our family trees. This idea was nixed fairly quickly because we foresaw our son being teased and possibly ridiculed with the tag 'Corny Bill'. (Now there's an example of vulnerability in a name).

So we named our son Neil Jonathan. We thought Jonathan was fairly close to 'Johann' which is another popular name in our family trees. I like the name Jonathan because it reminds me of a biblical character who exhibited what it means to be a friend.

Neil values his heritage and clings to everything and anything connected to his family history. His apartment is cluttered with stuff that has some kind of family meaning. He values his heritage but is not very diligent in his research or accurate in his memory of family history details. I have often thought I should record the information that I know to be accurate so that I can pass it on to our kids. I suppose that's a meaningful writing project that I could embark on. I have thought about it and have some notes and a completed family tree poster which became outdated when one of my brothers remarried last summer and my step daughter got married early last fall.. Do I rework that chart?  it ended up being a poster that was 40 inches high and 10 feet wide. Reworking that would be a lot of work. What would be the point of that? We certainly don`t have wallspace big enough to display a poster that size. I can`t think of anyone else in my family that would display something that large. So what`s the point? It would be a lot of work that would only be rolled up and stored in a closet somewhere. It would also only be current until the next family birth, marriage or death, etc. Seems like it would be a wasted effort, although it would keep me busy for quite some time.

Ooops. I better get back to the subject I started with - names. I warned you I was a tangential thinker.

Carrying on with Cornelius. I also need to educate Neil on the significance of the name 'Cornelius' in scripture so that he understands why the name is so prominent in his Mennonite roots.

Neil thinks 'Cornelius'  is a cool name. He did thank me for not exposing him to the risk of teasing with the name "Corny". He does get teased with 'Corny Bill' by his siblings on occasion because I related the story of how Neil got his name at the family dinner table on at least one occasion. Siblings being what they are, they jumped on the opportunity afforded them with this information to have some fun. The teasing only happens around the dinner table (as far as I know) and I only recall it coming up in the midst of much bantering and laughter. On another note, I pointed out to Neil that the name 'Cornelius' may not have had the risk we anticipated because shortly after his birth a young man named Cornelius Bennet came to prominence in the NFL and young, sports-minded boys of that time would have probably considered 'Cornelius' a cool name.

Neil told me that when he informed his mother about his decision to change his name to Cornelius she responded with positive enthusiasm. I didn't. In fact, when I think about it I didn't really give him much of a response. I suppose at some level I felt disappointed because I interpreted his decision as an indicator of a lack of valuing of the name we had chosen for him (even though I understand his rationale). But I was mainly preoccupied with how my parents would react to the name change, especially my father.

My father, who died a little more than six years ago, had a problem with the name Cornelius. That was his father's name and their relationship had been a stormy one, and unfortunately, they never seemed to reconcile before my grandfather's death. Neil was born about one and a half years after my grandfather's death. When we told my parents the name(s) of their first grandson we also explained why we chose those names. I don't remember my parents saying anything about our choice of names at the time but I vividly remember my father addressing his infant grandson as Jonathan the first time I gave the baby into his hands. I'm sure I'm the only one who heard this and I remember the emotions and thoughts that rose in me at the time. I felt angry, disappointed, disrespected, and sad. I was angry and sad at what I saw as my father's childish, petulant, and immature behaviour; disrespected because of the obvious and deliberate dismissal of the carefully considered decision we had made in naming our son; and I was saddened that my father chose to bring the garbage from his relationship with his own father into his relationship with his first, and (for twelve years) only grandson. I know my father was pleased to have a grandson, and was proud of him, yet he always seemed to maintain a distance between himself and Neil. In fact, when I think about it, I got the impression that he kept a distance between himself and both of my children. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that the relationship between my father and myself was tense at the best of times, and my father had little or no use for my former wife, especially after our separation and divorce. It wasn't until I took my whole family to see my father when he was in the hospital for the last time (less than four months before his death) that I saw him look at all of us, especially his grandchildren, and heard him utter the words, "I love you all". I'm glad he said it, but saddened that it took until almost the end of his life to do so.

So... what's in a name?  What is a good name? We often hear the phrase, 'x' made a good name for themselves. What does that mean? Is it important? What do people think when they hear my name? Do I really want to know?

Is there power in a name?

Why did the people of Israel have so many names for God? Why should we not take the Lord`s name in vain?

What is the name above all names? Why?

Again... What`s in a name? Something to make us go hmmmm.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 
Phillipians 2: 9-11

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to The Walls

This morning I decided to begin some changes. After getting out of bed before my wife (it's been quite a while since I've done that on a regular basis), I ate a relatively healthy breakfast (I frequently don't have breakfast at all) and read the newspaper while I drank my morning cup of coffee (actually a very large mug). While I was doing this my wife got up, went through her usual morning routine, we exchanged our usual morning greetings,  and she left for work. (Ok - it wasn't as simple as that but you don't need to know all the details, even if you want to).

I thought about the changes we are facing and decided to get active before I settled down to do my usual activities. I had some little errands to run so I got on my bicycle and got on my way. Ninety minutes later, the errands were done (they took less than 10 minutes) and I arrived back home, huffing and puffing, drenched with sweat. I got my exercise in for the day.

One of the many changes I need to make is to get healthier. This applies not only to my physical health, but also to my spiritual and mental health. I also need to get more active socially - you see, I'm very comfortable being by myself and have to take care not to isolate myself from others.

Spiritually, I need to deepen my relationship with God and grow in my faith. I want to finish well which requires me to nurture and grow my faith. My desire is to bear the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22: joy, peace,  patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Making that change demands that I be more diligent and disciplined in my reading of scripture, meditation, and prayer time. My faith will stagnate if I fail to put it into action. I don't know what that(putting my faith into action) will look like. It's very possible that I don't want to know what that will look like. There are some walls in the way.

Improving my physical health will be hard work requiring more discipline than I've ever employed before! Even though I've lost about 40 lbs in the last 9 months, I still have a lot of weight to lose. My goal is to lose more than 1/2 of my current body weight. I want to be able to breathe better. I want to have more energy. I want to reduce the number of medications I'm currently on. My wife wants me to stick around for many years yet. Although that is ultimately God's decision, I have a responsibility to do my part. I have to make changes. Changes that require different eating habits, healthier food choices, and a more intense and regular exercise regime. I'll have to overcome the walls that have been preventing me from applying these strategies for many years now.

Achieving better spiritual and physical health will improve my ability to overcome my mental health challenges. Depression and anxiety have been a part of my reality for many years They are formidable walls to tear down.

As I was cycling this morning I contemplated why and how things have gotten to this point. Why haven't I made changes much sooner? Why have earlier attempts (I've made many attempts before) to make changes failed? What walls/barriers have been in the way?

Is  it the wall of lack of discipline? Is it the wall of insufficient motivation? Is it the wall of personal weakness? Is it the wall of insufficient support? Is it the wall of an 'I don't give a shit' attitude? Is it the wall of submission to destructive appetites? Is it the wall of unhealthy coping mechanisms? Is it the wall of fear? The reality is that I've allowed myself to be defeated by many walls!

It's time to break through the walls! I got a good start on it this morning with my longer than usual bike ride.
Tomorrow will be another challenge. I'm determined to meet that challenge. I'll tackle this one step and one day at a time. I'll keep you informed of my progress.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


This morning I met with 2 friends for our regular 6 a.m. Wednesday morning coffee and Bible Study at Tim Horton's. We've been looking at the life of David for quite a while. Today we got to the death  of King Saul and his sons.

Saul did not finish well. He had drifted a long way away from God. He lost everything. Only a small group of all the people he had led as king took action to honour him. He did not leave a desirable legacy!

We tried to answer the question, "How do we end/finish well?" That's a tough question to answer. It raises more questions including the question of whether we have mentors or examples that we can learn from.

What does finishing well mean? For me, it as being right with God, my wife, my kids, my extended family, my friends and my community. It is also about making a positive difference in other people's lives. I know what I have to do to be right with God and I also know I have to work much harder and conscienciously at it. That holds true for the rest of my list. I used to know what to do to make a difference in people's lives while I was working - I had great opportunities to do that in my job..But what do I do now that I've retired? What is my role? How can I be a positive, encouraging, and life-changing influence on others? Who are these others?

I don't know how to answer those questions. The scary part is knowing that I'll have to make changes in my life to be able to answer those questions. I'll have to make commitments and follow through on them regardless of the fact that this comes with stressors. I have not handled stress well, especially in these last 4 - 5 years. In fact, lately I really haven't been able to handle stress at all!

God, I'm going to need some help here.

So I ask myself, "Is there, or has there been someone in my life to whom I can look as an example of finishing well?" I've read about people who have finished well. At the moment I'm unable to come up with people I knew intimately that have finished well. I know of people that have finished well, but I don't know much of their story. I know people who are in the process of finishing well. Unfortunately, I know more people that aren't finishing very well. Perhaps these are the "others" that I'm to reach out to?

Change requires action. So what am I going to do?

Later this morning I accompanied my wife to a pre-op appointment with a surgeon. The long term outcome of this surgery is only going to be successful if she makes significant lifestyle changes. To do this, she needs my support. In order to support her I'm going to have to make the same lifestyle changes. And... we have to discipline ourselves to stick to these changes and not fall back into old and comfortable habits.

Crap!!! More changes.

Maybe we can wait until the surgery before we make the changes???

I'm highly skilled at procrastination. I suppose I have to change that too.

There's that "c" word again! How many more changes are required of me? Where do I start? Maybe I'll start by making a list. Then I'll discuss the list with my wife. Next I'll draft an action plan. We'll have to review the plan of course, and most likely have to do some editing until we both agree on the plan. Then all we have to do is decide when we want to start, what we'll need to get started. Once we've got that all nailed down we should be ready for action. At some point we'll have to stop procrastinating and actually do something. There's that procrastination thing again. I need to change that.

I know, I'll start with exercise. I'm off to ride my bicycle. It's warm and sunny outside, although it is a little windy for cycling. Hmmmm. Oops, there's that procrastination thing again. Or is it avoidance?

I better stop. Where's my bike? I'm out of here.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


What do I write about?  I've been trying to answer that question for a number of days now.

Yesterday I found an article in one of our local newspapers that focused on the Berlin Wall. Apparently it has become quite a draw for tourism - so much so that  the German/Berlin government is spending a considerable amount of money restoring/rebuilding a section of the wall that was broken open in November of 1989 and then quickly dismantled (except for a small section retained as a memorial).

The article also informed readers that the city of Berlin will be marking the 50th anniversary of the building of the wall which went up the night of August 12-13 in 1961.

I found myself reflecting on many things I have read and seen about the Berlin Wall, my two experiences of being at the Berlin Wall and crossing from West Berlin to East Berlin and back again. I also remembered stories of other divided cities and countries, and thought about walls that continue to go up to this day. It still has my mind skipping from one memory/thought to another.

I went on the Internet to see what I could find on the Berlin Wall and on another city that had been divided for almost 20 years, Jerusalem. There's a lot of information to be found! As an aside, I found it interesting to note that one of the top 10 search engine results for the Berlin Wall was an article in an English language newspaper in Pakistan. It piqued my curiosity and I bounced around that website for a while before bookmarking it for future exploration.

Back to the Berlin Wall.

The article I read has spurred me to look back on my memories of stories, books and movies about Berlin and the Wall that I have heard, read, and seen over the past 40+ (maybe even close to 50) years. I've been to Berlin twice, 3 days in 1974 and another 3 days in 1984 and memories of those visits are flashing through my head.

I don't recall when I first became aware of the existence of the City of Berlin, or that it was a divided city in a conquered, divided country where people in one part of the country and city were prevented from traveling to the other by barbed wire, brick walls, mined fields, armed guards with orders to shoot to kill, dogs and Watch Towers. I don't remember when I understood the realities of what became known as the Cold War, the conflict between two opposing ideologies and the politics, fears and ambitions that fueled and sustained this volatile and dangerous time. I'm still learning about these things.

So why am I caught up in this history? What is the significance?

These events have touched me personally, they are part of my family history and my cultural background. Even today I have relatives in Germany whose lives continue to be affected by this history in one way or another.

But it's more than that. I look at the news today and I still see Walls; divided countries, divided peoples, divided faiths, divided families and more. The Israelis are building a massive wall for 'protection'. In recent weeks we saw one young man with a twisted mind kill many innocent young people because in his opinion, his country had failed to keep out people of a different race and religion. How many of us put up walls to keep a distance from people, socioeconomic realities, ideologies, lifestyles, and behaviours that we fear, don't understand, or disagree with and want no part of?

So many memories, so many thoughts, so many issues. I'm going to delve into these for a while.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"You're a writer - you need to write!"

This is something new for me. I've wrestled with the idea of starting a blog for some time now.

Last night, while having dinner with my wife, I mentioned this idea to her. Her immediate response was, "Do it. You don't have to write every day."

But what do I write? Why should I write? What will writing accomplish? Who will read my writings? Am I writing for others or am I writing for myself? Do I tell others about my blog? Who do I tell?

The questions keep building and one question in particular keeps popping into my head.

Why do this???

Over the past decade a number of people, including my wife, have said to me, "Horst, you're a writer - you need to write." A former colleague went so far as to tell me I should be writing for publication!

I wonder.
  • I wonder if I can discipline myself enough to write on a regular basis. 
  • I wonder if I can focus my thoughts enough to put together something that a reader can easily follow. Can  I refrain from going off on all sorts of tangents? My mind is very good at doing that. Whether I'm reading, conversing, listening, watching a movie or participating in a discussion, my mind is always filled with a variety of thoughts, ideas and questions. Following a discussion at a Bible Study, a friend made the comment, "Horst, you're a tangential thinker." I thought I just had trouble staying focused. There have been a few occasions when my wife asked me (in the middle of a conversation), "where did you just go?" Another time my wife and I were talking about a movie we had just seen, and I told her that while watching the movie I was mentally comparing it to the book it was based on and a previous movie treatment of the story. She asked me, "Can't you just stay in the moment?"
  • I wonder if I'll ever go back to completing some of my previous writings. They seem so irrelevant now.

 There's only one way to find the answers. I have to write.