‘Merican Thanks Givin’ to Canada


As a native of the U.S.A. who has lived in Canada for over sixteen years, I’ve come to appreciate so much about the country. I’ve also come to accept Thanksgiving in early October – no mean feat for a ‘Merican! So in honor of Canadian Thanksgiving Day, I present the following…

I am thankful for Canada, a country where a three-month election is viewed as interminably long.

I am thankful for Canada, a place where coffee drinking is seen as an inalienable right and decaf is deemed sacrilegious.

I am thankful for Canada, a land of great natural beauty: vast forests, majestic mountains, thousands of lakes and rivers, and millions of Canadian women.

I am thankful for Canada, a country that produces more funny people per capita than any other nation in the world (You can look it up! I’m sure that statistic exists somewhere!)

I am thankful for Canada, where a moose may just be seen running down your suburban street (Hey, it happened in my suburb! It was on CBC and everything!).

I am thankful for Canada, a peaceful and harmonious land where people beat the crap out of each other on ice… while wearing sharp skates… and carrying big sticks.

I am thankful for Canada, where a young child can grow up to be Tragically Hip.

I am thankful for Canada, a land flowing with milk, honey and thousands of micro breweries.

I am thankful for Canada, the country that gave us the canoe and poutine and sometimes canoes full of poutine.

I am thankful for Canada, home of famous fictional characters like Wolverine, Deadpool and Pamela Anderson.

I am thankful for Canada, home of famous historical figures like Billy Bishop, Pierre Trudeau and Pamela Anderson.

I am thankful for Canada, where young men named Justin can grow up to be Prime Minister or dreamy pop star. Or possibly both.

I am thankful for Canada, a country so polite it makes the Brady Bunch look like the Kardashians.

I am thankful for Canada, where there is no “i” in “team” but there is in “Blue Jays Win! Blue Jays Win!”

I am thankful for Canada, the warmest place on earth that is famous for snow and ice.

I am thankful for Canada, a country that gave me my wife, my favorite Canuck.

I am thankful for Canada, my (adopted) home and native land!

Happy Thanksgiving, eh?



I Am Not Nothing


What is a Universe and not
Mighty, complexity, ferocity, and not
My all, my view, my me me mine, and not
Soul Jazz Gospel Hip Hop, my own Drummer
And not, none of it, nothing, nada

Belonging and loneliness both
Alone in Billions, unknown to Billions
Millions in cells, strands, blood, flesh, bone
Both god and worm and welcomed by both
When all is done

Impossibility it seems, commonplace screams
It’s everything I know, feel, imagine, see
And in the end I know, feel, imagine, see so little
I scratch the surface of earth
But leave no trace

Yet tracks are seen, moments etched
Spirits and lives and memories
Traces left, fingerprints, echoes on
And on and on and on
I am not nothing

The Bully or the Mean Girl

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

America’s choice has the world on edge. And it has the average American held hostage to two unsavory options.

After a week in which Donald Trump made some outrageous claims at the Republican National Convention (i.e. the complete and total safety of all American citizens on the day of his inauguration) and Hillary Clinton launched a juvenile and mean-spirited Facebook page called TrumpYourself, it occured to me that Americans are faced with the prospect of voting either for the Bully or the Mean Girl in a campaign that is sure to reach middle-school levels of maturity and decorum. Imagine those choices for class president in eighth grade. Now imagine those choices for Leader of the Free World.

As I consider the upcoming election for President, I feel a very deep sympathy for my fellow Americans. I have been a resident of Canada for sixteen years but will always have my American roots. There are things about the U.S.A. that infuriate and frustrate me, but it is still a beautiful, magnificent country. It is a country that represents so much of what can be so right about democracy. And its people are so often outrageously generous, authentic, loving and hopeful. When I think back to being born and raised in the U.S.A., my memories are full of joy and contentment. I know there is no such thing as a perfect place on earth. I know the U.S. is fallible and caught up in its own mythology. But I feel so grateful to have been brought up an American. It was a privilege.

But from the distance I am at now, I consider Americans and the prospect of having to choose between one of two petulant and ultimately unpresidential candidates and I shutter. I don’t know what I would do if I was still a resident of the States. I feel that there must be tens of millions of Americans who feel sick to their stomachs when they consider November of 2016. I feel there must be millions of Americans who feel trapped and held captive in a presidential race that is equal parts farce and tragedy. Can this really be where we’ve ended up?

I have never witnessed a presidential race that is so joyless and devoid of real hope. And I have never witnessed one so propelled by fear and vitriol. Unfortunately, I believe it is only going to get worse from here. And because of that my heart aches for Americans, for the large majority who find themselves between the obnoxious and childish camps of Trump and Clinton. What is really at stake here is democracy and the decency and vision that has accompanied it for so long in the U.S.A. What is at stake is the average American, really. They do not deserve this circus of a presidential race. And they deserve far, far better leadership and representation.

Where is the hope in all of this? How can the U.S.A. move forward in any kind of positive direction?

I believe the answer lies in remembering what is in the DNA of the U.S.A.; remembering that the country is run not by any authoritarian, narcissistic demagogue, but by the people themselves. The hope of the country has never been in one person. And, despite what Donald Trump claims, the election of that one person will not bring the change and hope and strength you wish to have as Americans. The simple fact is that the only people who have the real power to change, to unite, to bring back the decency and graciousness and vision of the country are the people themselves. Faith in one man or one woman is misguided and naive. The U.S.A. has never been about the one but the many, despite the cult of personality that arises around candidates, despite the celebrity worship and almost god-like status of the rich and influential.

Americans, remember: They don’t have the power, you do. This campaign has made it seem like the battle is between the Bully and the Mean Girl. But that’s not true. The battle is between a deeply flawed system of government and a people who deeply want their country to remain a place of hope and peace and unity.

Trump or Clinton: Both are establishment, both represent money and power, both make ridiculous claims they can never back up, both are flawed. Don’t hang your hat on either of them. Instead, remember who you are; remember what you are capable of; and remember it is your country, not theirs.

In the end, I still don’t know what I’d do on election day. But all of us on the outside looking in around the world are counting on you doing the right thing. I don’t believe in Trump or Clinton but I believe in you. And I’m not alone.

The Guy by the Side of the Road

June 21, 2016

Ottawa, Ontario

In jeans and a t-shirt, ball cap on his head, a man about my age stands by the side of the road. It is rush hour and this is a lane leading on to the highway. We crawl along, waiting our turn to creep through a set of lights. It’s the second day of summer. The day has been great, sunny and warm but not hot.

The man in the ball cap has a paper coffee cup in his hand. The cup no longer holds coffee or any other beverage for that matter. Now it is for loose change. He holds it nonchalantly by his side. He’s not even looking into the eyes of the drivers backed up at the light. He doesn’t even extend the cup out. He has no battered, cardboard sign to explain why he is standing there, collecting change in a coffee cup.

A few drivers offer change. Maybe one in twenty or thirty cars. Most of us likely don’t meet the guy’s eye or engage in any conversation. I’m guessing that because I don’t. Why is that? What am I afraid of? I don’t happen to be someone who believes that person should just get a job. I have no right projecting my ignorant bias on someone whose story I do not know. I consider myself a compassionate individual this way.

Yet something makes me recoil. And that something is very disappointing to me. I try to pinpoint what it is, what makes me avert my eyes and not treat the man as a fellow human being, worthy of my recognition and respect. The only thing I can come up with is that he reminds me of my own fragility. I can’t imagine how low your self-worth must be when you can stand by the side of a road with a coffee cup, begging for coins. I can’t imagine how small he feels, how humiliated.

Like so many people, I struggle with a feeling of worthlessness. Yet I have so many things in my life that give me worth, that should drive the lie out of my brain. But it persists and I persist in craving affection, admiration, attention; all the things that are likely in short supply for this guy in the ball cap with the coffee cup.

Can I not offer simple dignity? A kind word, even if I don’t have change. An acknowledgement of his existence. Eye to eye contact. Anything. Anything.

I am not better than he is. In fact, in some ways, I am the more pathetic. What do I have to be morose about? Why should I dwell on my feelings of inadequacy?  I have no reason. No reason at all.

I feel ashamed that I didn’t make some kind of contact with the guy by the side of the road. Humanity needs to look humanity in the face. Looking away drives away what we share. And I am to blame for that.


The Ragman

Happy Easter, everyone! In my career as a pastor, I’ve always followed my Dad’s advice on this day. He’s a preacher, too. His words to me regarding this Christian holiday were these: “Tell the Story”. In other words, on this Day of Days, let the story do the talking.

In that spirit, I want to share with you a profound and moving allegory written by Walter Wangerin, Jr. The words belong to Walt, the illustrations are mine.

The Ragman by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
I saw a sight so strange and experienced something so amazing that it is hard for me to explain it. If you can give me a few minutes, I’ll do my best to describe it to you.

Ragman 01
Before dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking through the back alleys of the city. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new. As he pulled the cart he was calling out in a clear, powerful voice: “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags!”
The air was foul in these dark streets, tainted by the filth and trash that living unleashes on the world. And yet as the man called out, the air became tinged with the faint scent of cleanliness, as though the breeze that carried the sweet music of his voice also carried with it the promise of a cleansing rain.
“Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!” The man continued to move through the dim light of early morning, his strong voice echoing from building to building and street to street.
“Now, this is a curious thing,” I thought, for the man stood 6’4″ and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular. His eyes flashed with intelligence. What was he doing here, in a city that had no need for such a useless profession. Who recycled rags anymore? Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the heart of a city? Driven by my curiosity, I followed him. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Ragman 02 (2)
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on the porch of a small house. She was crying into a handkerchief. Her body language said it all as she seemed folded in on herself, shoulders down, back slumped forward, knees and elbows making a sad X. She had no hope. Her heart was breaking and she was wracked with sobs. Her body may have been alive, but her soul wanted to die.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked over to the woman, stepping round empty beer cans and old newspapers, dead toys and broken furniture. “Give me your rag,” he said gently as he knelt beside her, “and I’ll give you another.” The woman looked up into his powerful, compassionate eyes and saw something there that paused her tears. The Ragman slipped the handkerchief from her hand and used it one last time to dry away the flow of tears from her face. Never taking his eyes from hers, he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She looked down at the new cloth and then back again to the eyes of man who had given it to her. The Ragman slowly leaned forward and kissed the woman’s forehead and then turned and walked back to his cart.

Ragman 03
As he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her old, stained handkerchief to his own face and then he began to weep.
He sobbed as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking as the tears flowed down his face in a torrent of grief.
But looking back to the woman on the porch I could see that she was left without a tear. She sat with her shoulders high and a look of wonder on her face.
“This is amazing,” I thought, and I followed the sobbing Ragman. Like a curious child who cannot turn away from a mystery, I watched the Ragman from a distance.
“Rags! Rags! New rags for old!” rang forth his voice. Though it was still strong, it also shook with emotion as he wept. “Rags! I take your old rags! Rags!”
In a little while, the sky showed gray behind the rooftops. It was light enough to make out the shredded curtains and damaged blinds that hung in dark windows.

Ragman 04
The Ragman came upon a girl sitting on the curbside whose head was wrapped in a bandage, eyes as vacant as the windows around her. Blood soaked her bandage and a single line of blood ran down her cheek.
The Ragman paused and turned his weeping eyes upon this empty, injured child. Reaching into his cart, he withdrew from it a beautiful yellow hat and walked towards the girl. “Give me your rag,” he said softly, “and I’ll give you mine.” The child did not move and could only gaze at him vacantly while he loosened the bandage, removed it from her head, and tied it to his own instead. I gasped at what I saw: with the bandage went the wound. The girl’s head was left unblemished, while the Ragman’s head began to bleed.
He set the hat on the girl’s head and suddenly her eyes took on an understanding and intelligence that had been missing before. She placed her hand to the side of her head where the bandage had covered the wound that was no longer there. Smiling in wonder, she watched as the Ragman rose unsteadily to his feet and moved back to his cart.
“Rag! Rags! I take old rags!” cried out the sobbing, bleeding Ragman. “New rags for old! Rags!” With his powerful arms pulling the cart, he continued on his way. He seemed to be moving faster now with an urgency I hadn’t noticed before.

Ragman 05
He stopped again in front of a man who was leaning against a telephone pole. “Are you going to work?” he asked. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: “Do you have a job?”
The man looked him up and down, making note of the Ragman’s weeping eyes and bleeding head before replying. “Are you crazy?” he sneered as he leaned away from the pole, revealing that the right sleeve of his jacket was flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
“Give me your jacket,” said the Ragman firmly, “and I’ll give you mine.” Such quiet authority in his voice! The one-armed man looked into the other’s eyes and then slowly took off his jacket.
So did the Ragman. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief as I trembled at what I saw: the Ragman’s arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put on the Ragman’s jacket he had two good arms, strong as tree limbs. The Ragman was left with one. “Go to work,” he said as he moved back to his cart.

Ragman 06
Struggling to make do with his one arm, the Ragman began to pull his cart again, this time much faster and with greater urgency. He came upon an unconscious old drunk lying beneath an army blanket, hunched, wizened and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. He was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely from the forehead. He struggled to pull his cart with one arm while stumbling from drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, and sick. Yet he moved with terrible speed nearly sprinting through the alleys of the city covering block after block and mile upon mile.

Ragman 07
I wept to see the changes in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow and ached each time I saw him stumble and fall. When he began to move through the industrial area of the city, away from the houses and apartments, I wanted to stop following and turn away, to leave him behind and go back to my life. But I could not. I needed to see this story through to its end. Who was this Ragman? Why had he done what nobody else would have done? Where he was going in such a hurry? How would it end?
The once strong Ragman was now old and frail, weeping and bleeding, staggering and falling, his body wracked with pain, sorrow and disease. I watched as he came to an old abandoned lot that was filled with piles of trash, old furniture, and the rusted out shells of cars and construction equipment. He moved among the garbage pits and piles of human refuse and finally climbed to the top of a small hill made from the trash of a thousand lives. He struggled to pull his cart and its sad, pathetic burden. With tormented labour he cleared a little space on that hill.

Ragman 08 - Copy
With a deep sigh, he slowly made a bed from the contents of his cart and lay down on it. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his old, aching bones with an army blanket. His body shook under the load of its injuries and pain and disease. His eyes wept and the wound under his bandage continued to bleed. With one last, deep sigh, he closed his eyes and died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I sat down in an old, abandoned car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope. I wept because I had come to love the Ragman. As I had followed him, I had watched him work wonders and change lives so profoundly that it didn’t seem fair that he was gone.
He had taken those things that were soiled and damaged beyond repair and had replaced them with the new and the whole. He had offered hope to the damaged and lost of the city.
But if the Ragman was gone, then my hope was gone as well. I felt such an overwhelming sense of grief and loss that I remained in the seclusion of the old car and sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know – how could I know — that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and on through Saturday night as well.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was awakened by a violence that shook me to the core of my being. Light – pure, hard, insistent light – slammed against my face and demanded that I awake. When I was finally able to open my eyes, I blinked against the light and squinted in the direction of the pile of trash where the Ragman’s body had been. As I looked, I saw the last and the first wonder of all.

Ragman 10
The Ragman was there, yes! But he was no longer dead. He was alive! There he stood, folding the old army blanket carefully and laying it atop the neatly arranged handkerchief and jacket. Besides the scar on his forehead, there was no other evidence of what he had previously taken upon himself. There was no sign of sorrow or age, no evidence of illness or deformity. His body was whole and strong and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
I wept to see him again. When I thought that hope had died along with Ragman, I had abandoned any hope for my own life. And yet there he stood, healthy and whole. Climbing from my shelter I moved toward the Ragman, trembling from what I had seen and because of what I knew I needed to do. Walking to him with my head lowered, I spoke my name to him with shame. Looking up into his clear, loving, compassionate eyes I spoke with yearning in my voice, “Rags. Please take my tired rags and replace them with new ones.”
And he did just that. Taking the old, tired rags of my existence that covered the griefs and wounds of a life sadly lived, he replaced them with the new clothes of a life spent following Him. He put new rags on me and I am now a reflection of the hope he offers to us all.
The Ragman.
The Christ.

America, Greatness and Appealing to the Better Angels


I’ve been reading “The Sketch Book” by Washington Irving, the author who gave life to the Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle. “The Sketch Book” contains both of these classics of early-American literature. It was published in the late 1820’s when the United States of America was an infant nation taking its first solid steps into maturity. I picked up the book out of a longing to read some great writing that really challenged me in a way modern writers cannot. I expected that kind of experience reading something written almost two hundred years ago. What I didn’t expect was to read passages that seemed to speak directly to the political and moral climate of the United States in 2016.

In a chapter about the animosity that existed between English and Americans in the 1820’s (not a big surprise on the heels of two wars fought between the nations!), I felt like Irving’s ghost was addressing issues that are popping up all over the place today.

The first quote that struck me was this one: “Governed, as we are, entirely by public opinion, the utmost care should be taken to preserve the purity of the public mind. Knowledge is power, and truth is knowledge; whoever, therefore, knowingly propagates a prejudice willfully saps the foundation of his country’s strength.”

Like so many others I have been angered and frustrated by the things said and issues promoted by Donald Trump in his bid for the candidacy of the Republican party. The broad generalizations, mockery, bombast and overall asine-ness of his ridiculous campaign is reason enough to be disgusted. But what has really discouraged me is the lack of responsibility shown by someone in a position of power and influence in what he will say and represent in the public sphere. It is not a stretch to say that Trump has “knowingly propagated prejudices”. Reading Irving’s quote I realized what else has me fuming: In the mindless quest to “Make America Great Again”, he is actually sapping the great strength of America. He will not make America great by this strategy but drag it down somewhere far below mediocrity, to a place that is base and petty and self-serving.

Washington Irving reminded me that people in positions of influence, especially in a democratic land where the voice of the people give it power, have a responsibility to use their words with care, to promote justice and peace and truth, and to give meaning not to ignoble but to noble purpose. By this you promote the “purity of the public mind”. I have been witnessing so much of the opposite lately that I have felt the greatness slipping away from the U.S.

What is the greatness of America? The next quote I came upon in Irving’s book reminded me of that. But it also brought discouragement as I considered the debate in my homeland over the refugee crisis and how some states were refusing to give asylum to people desperately in need of it. Here is Washington Irving again: “Opening, too, as we do, an asylum for strangers from every portion of the earth, we should receive all with impartiality. It should be our pride to exhibit an example of one nation, at least, destitute of national antipathies, and exercising not merely the overt acts of hospitality but those more rare and noble courtesies which spring from liberality of opinion.”

I have lived in Canada for the last fifteen years but I was born and raised in the United States. Growing up, you learn about the make-up of your nation; you learn the pride in being a land of free people who came from every corner of the globe; you learn to believe that your nation, above all others, will do the right thing when confronted with the choice to do or not do what is right. Now, as an adult, I know a lot of what I was taught growing up was a form of American Mythology that helps to promote the idea that the U.S. is the greatest nation ever. You grow up singing lots of spangly songs of patriotism, believe me! Yet there is a deep truth in the fact that America has been a light and a hope for millions of people over more than two centuries. Those famous words at the Statue of Liberty, penned by Emma Lazarus, and taught and quoted over and over cannot be ignored: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” 

Emma Lazarus in her poem called the Statue the “Mother of Exiles” but I don’t thinks she was just talking about the Statue. The United States has been the Mother of Exiles for so many. In fact, many Americans can trace their roots to a time when their grandfathers and fathers were exiles; people yearning to be free from religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, poverty, prejudice and the like. How can it be, then, that a group such as the Syrian refugees – a group that certainly could be described as tired, poor, huddled masses yearning for freedom – be confronted with proverbial closed doors and barred gates?

The answer, of course, is fear. Fear specifically of ISIL but fear more generally of a big, bad outside world that will destroy your way of life. Yet what is that way of life but freedom? And who is free who can abide anyone being denied freedom themselves? Who can let fear give voice to their opinions who know that ultimately what has always been true, in the words of JFK, is that the only thing America has to fear is fear itself? Fear strips away freedom; it takes away your freedom as it takes away a freedom others so desperately crave.

America doesn’t need to be made great again. America is already great. But America needs to be reminded of its greatness. It is being forgotten. Worse, it is being replaced by something lower than mediocrity: Spite, vitriol, a shallowness that threatens to swallow up everything like a Black Hole.

The fear needs to be named. And then the fear needs to be rejected in favor of the boldness that has always marked the United States as the home of the brave and free. That’s the America I still love. I suspect that the vast majority of Americans agree.

I appeal, as one of my favorite Americans once did, to the “better angels of our nature”. Abraham Lincoln was attempting during that first inaugural address to avert a coming horrific conflict. Unfortunately, America slipped into the bloodiest era of its history. My hope and prayer is that by appealing again to those angels in us, this time around, instead of horror there will be peace.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – Abraham Lincoln



Fearless Predictions for 2016

2015_16 (1)

Everyone else is doing it so why not me? (That phrase has never led anyone into any problems in life, right?). Here are my fearless predictions for the New Year, 2016…


In the Year 2016…

Donald Trump will win the Republican Presidential nomination. In a brilliant counter move, the Democrats will nominate a turnip up as their candidate. The vast majority of Americans will vote for the turnip for president, soundly defeating Trump because, in the words of common American voter Merle Quackenbush of Iowa, “Voting for the turnip leaves a much better taste in my mouth.”

In further attempts to destroy Christmas, Starbucks will issue a Holiday cup with an image of the Kardashian family acting out the Nativity scene.

As the War on Christmas rages on, the faithful will be driven to celebrate in underground bunkers to avoid the Secret Santa Police.

In a groundbreaking discovery, historians will uncover the truth that the U.S. constitution’s phrase “the right to bear arms” was originally written as “the right to bare arms”. However, the Supreme Court will rule that, due to public safety and aesthetics, licences must be issued along with a two-week waiting period to any overly hairy people wanting to buy tank tops, sleeveless tees and halter tops.

The NHPA (National Hirsute Persons Association) will be formed to combat the Supreme Court decision. Their slogan: “You won’t get my spaghetti straps from me until you pry them from my cold, dead, hairy fingers!”

Mark Zuckerberg will give away millions of dollars of Facebook stock if you LIKE this blog post and SHARE it with your friends today!

Canada will built a giant wall along its border to keep out any Americans who think we say “oot” and “aboot”.

In an unexpected move to counter their threat, the coalition against ISIS will switch from bombing missions to much more effective photobombing missions.

And BOOM! Lots of people will say stuff and then go BOOM! afterwards.


Taylor Swift will post a picture of herself on Instagram doing absolutely nothing interesting. It will get 1,756,890 likes. BOOM!

There will be a horrible play call in this year’s Super Bowl which will be reported with more angst and anguish than the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.

Tom Brady will no longer have to field questions about his inflated and/or deflated balls.


I’m not actually spoiling anything, just predicting you’ll see this a lot in random places, often about things you could care less about. But, dang it, that ***SPOILER ALERT!!! will force you to care!

The follow-up to the popular Man-Bun will be the Man-Cinnabon: Hair done up on each side like cinnamon rolls! Rockin’ it Princess Leia-style!

The world will move on from Metrosexual and Lumbersexual to the next great fashion style for men: Wookiesexual! Rockin’ it Chewbacca-style!

After what seems like a decade, the U.S. presidential election campaign will come to an end. Life will go on. The turnip will be considered the best Leader of the Free World in history. But Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber will still be out there. My advice? Stay in your bunkers, people, just to be on the safe side.

Those are my fearless predictions for 2016! BOOM! Happy New Year, everybody!















Ron’s Briefs


I’d like to share my briefs with you. My brief comments, that is.

Sometimes a little sanity is in order. These days, a lot of sanity is in order. I don’t purport to be someone of great wisdom but I do consider myself pragmatic. In that spirit, I share my briefs with you below, random and unabridged…


Sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow.

Most times a niqab is just a niqab.

The only thing we have to fear is a fear-mongering candidate on the campaign trail.

Oxymorons: Jumbo Shrimp, Military Intelligence, President Trump.

Pride and Greed: When did two of the Seven Deadly sins become a requirement to run for public office?

The Tea Party was a Canuck band long before it was a band of Ka-Nuckleheads.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But people can kill a lot more people with a gun.

Jesus would never be packin’. Just sayin’.

Black lives matter. Co-opting the slogan for your own means just totally misses the point.

The USA: 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. The Land of the Free is the Home of the Imprisoned.

Giving boxes of Kraft Dinner to a food bank is not “Tackling Hunger”.

Canada is planning on building a wall to keep Justin Bieber in the US.

It’s a simple formula, guys: Stop being idiots. Women like guys who aren’t idiots.

It’s easy to take offense; much harder to extend grace.

If you live in the suburbs you’re not uptown or downtown. You’re just town.

Wonderbread is the suburbia of wheat products.

The War on Christmas rages on in the world, leaving a bloody red trail of Starbucks cups in its wake. Oh, the humanity!

Since 9/11, 0.000003 percent of refugees admitted to the US have been arrested for plotting terrorist activities. Also since 9/11, irrational fear and prejudice have made people really bad at math.

Simple equation: Refugees + Seeking Asylum = LET THE DAMN PEOPLE IN!

Free people don’t live in fear or act out of hate. Doing so just makes you a slave.
























A Hike to Remember


I have reached the late stages of my forties. In fact, you can’t get much later: I’m forty-nine. I read recently that suicide rates among men peak in their late forties. Men, as a rule, are far more likely to die from suicide than women and middle-aged men are the highest risk group of all. It has been called “the silent epidemic”. A lot of effort has been placed on understanding and preventing the suicides of teen boys and old men but there has been very little research into the growing and alarming reality of suicide among middle-aged men.

If you are reading this and getting concerned for me… I appreciate that. However, I have not had suicidal thoughts. At least, I don’t believe I have. But I have had some very low times in my late forties when life doesn’t seem to deserve this much effort. There are days I feel like I am running in sand; just exhausting myself and really going nowhere. There are days I think not being here would be a relief. Are those suicidal thoughts? I’m not sure. Certainly, they aren’t pleasant thoughts. Thinking them doesn’t improve my mood or make the day more bearable. And, frankly, it worries me when I think this way. However, I do believe that I understand more where some of those thoughts of ending your own life can come from for men in my age range. We’ve gotten to a point where the young man in us is pretty much gone for good. We still feel pretty good but the image in the mirror doesn’t fit the image in the mind. Many dreams have been set aside for practicalities. Our lives can be dominated by work that doesn’t satisfy, tensions in the family, loneliness on the friends-side of things, and a kind of day-by-day slogging that isn’t terrible but isn’t particularly inspiring either.

By the time men reach middle-age many are cynical and sad. Often it comes out as anger, if it comes out at all. A lot of times it is just swallowed up and kept hidden. That’s the “silent” part of a “silent epidemic”, I believe. Men are not good at talking about things like this and we certainly aren’t good at searching out help.

I don’t want this post to be about this downer of a subject but I bring it up to tell you about my recent revelation. If you’re reading this and can relate or are concerned for someone you love, maybe you’ll find some comfort or help in this. I hope so. Of course, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to something as daunting as this but what I experienced greatly inspired me and so I share it with you in order to, hopefully, inspire you, too.

For me what it took to gain a fresh perspective on my life was a hike in the woods. That sounds kind of simplistic but the thoughts it brought to my mind were anything but that.


One of the hats I wear is as a part-time pastor to a great group of people who mostly live in small communities south of Ottawa. This August we had a fifth Sunday that we decided to have “off”, i.e., no service was planned. Instead, we gave each other permission to take the day to do what blesses you or others. I didn’t want to waste this opportunity so I decided to do what inspires me perhaps more than anything else: go hiking with a pack on my back and a camera around my neck. I chose to try a trail I’ve never hiked before. The trail was in the Gatineau Hills, a lovely part of La Belle Province ( i.e.,Quebec) just north of my home in Ottawa. A friend had suggested I try the Wolf Trail, an eight kilometer hike that ascends to some of the best views from the Hills, giving a vista over the Ottawa River valley.

I can’t quite describe to you how excited I get when I make the trip out on my own to take on a new trail on a beautiful day. That feeling alone is incredibly life-giving to me. I’ve come to treasure my times in the woods and hills in my area. I’m kind of giddy on those days, to tell you the truth. And I chomp at the bit to get going on the trail. This day at the end of August was no exception. The weather was warm and mostly sunny with no rain in the forecast. Late summer meant the bugs wouldn’t be too bad. And I felt good, ready for some exercise and ready for a new adventure. The trail was rated as “difficult” with lots of climbing but I know how rewarding that can be. I set out fully expecting the refreshing, invigorating experience I’ve had before.


If you are like me and enjoy spending time outdoors and in the wilderness, you’re probably inspired by a lot of the things that inspire me, too. I love taking big gulps of the air in those places; it is so delicious and filling, so different from the stale air of the suburbs where I live. I take in the trees; I can feel the life in them and I treat them with great respect, considering any forest as their territory, not mine. I love to touch bark as I’m hiking, giving some trees a love tap now and again and even a few muttered “thank you’s” to them for making me feel welcome. The small things grab my attention too: the mushrooms sprouting up, looking very cheeky and bold; the flowers that can be so different here than anywhere else; the crash of acorns bombing down from the trees when the wind picks up; the clapping of birch leaves in the breeze. Occasionally I come upon wildlife: a beaver swimming along, a woodpecker knock knock knocking, a chipmunk making way too much noise for such a small critter. All these things and many more are priceless to me. They fill me with wonder and make those hikes feel suspended in time. So often I have felt so thankful as I’m hiking and as I leave a place. God is good; this place can be achingly beautiful; my life is okay after all.

The hike I made most recently was full of all these things and I was soaking them up as usual. But as I hiked I became more and more aware of something else, something I haven’t focused on so intently before and something I’ve come to believe was the reason I was given that chance to hike that trail. With each step, each passing minute, I became more and more aware of myself; not so much my inner life, my thoughts and things like that but aware of myself in a bodily sense; aware of my breathing, my sweat, my senses alive to everything around me. I became aware of my feet on the ground, my muscles working to help me navigate roots and rocks. I became aware of my eyes taking in colors and shades, the depth and variety around me. I became aware of my ears taking in the vast amount of sounds available when the noise of “civilization” is removed. My skin was wet with sweat, cooling me as the effort became greater. I marveled at my body’s ability to do what I was asking it to do and to do all those things I take for granted. I tuned in to my heart beat; I felt the itch of a mosquito bite on my forearm; I noted the trickle of perspiration down the back of my neck.

I was acutely aware that I was gloriously alive.


There is a psalm of David in the Bible, Psalm 139, that contains this famous phrase: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. The “fear” mentioned here isn’t like the fear of spiders or the fear of falling or the fear of falling on a spider. David is talking about awe. He’s talking about that overwhelming feeling of being in the presence of something that takes your breath away, something that seems too great and too incredible to describe in just words. The thing creating awe in this instance is the creation known as humankind; specifically the human known as David as he pondered the creative power and majesty of his God.

This is as close as I can come to expressing the feeling I had that day on the Wolf Trail. I realized that I was awesomely made, that I was an incredible creation of the Creator, just like all the incredible creations around me that day. And I realized that I loved being alive. I loved the truth of my days, here and now, in this moment; the reality and immediacy of this instant. And I found myself celebrating that and feeling awe.

So often we talk about sensing your mortality as a depressing thing. So often religious people denigrate the “flesh” in favor of elevating the “spirit”. So often we complain of aches and pains, of getting older, of dealing with things like humidity, mosquitoes, and sore feet. But that day I felt an overwhelming sense of my mortality and it filled me with joy: I get to live and I get to experience this life. My days are a gift, not a burden. After all, I have no idea how long I have for this world. Each day is a treasure. Be thankful for those aching muscles, those beads of sweat, those hunger pangs: It means you are alive! Be thankful for each step of this hike: It means you are on a journey! Where are you going? Where will it end? That day on that new trail, I had no idea. That very fact was exciting for me. So why would it not be the same in my life as a whole?

We get so caught up with what we don’t have, with destinations that seem far off, that we completely miss the thrill of the trail and the gift of each moment. That thought hit me with startling clarity that day in the Gatineau Hills.

I know a life can’t be spent hiking through the woods. I know this kind of day comes along rarely. I know that dark thoughts might very well creep in again. But I want that time of clarity to remain with me as something I can access at times when I feel the burden of living. Life can be heavy, to be sure, yet there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like life. And I would rather get the opportunity to live that life than to wallow in a kind of non-life, an existence of regret and what-might-have-been. I can’t change where I’ve already walked but I can change how I approach what’s ahead.

God give me the awe I need. Fill me with wonder. Remind me that life is short but worth every moment of it.


The Jesus Experience

This summer I presented a brief series at my church called “Christianity for Dummies” about the basics of the faith. It was a four-part series with the first three parts being Knowing God, Loving God and Serving God. For the finale, I decided to write a letter to a fictional seeker, one who I imagined asked me about my experience with God, about why I choose Christianity. Below is that letter…


You’ve asked me to describe to you the experience of being a Christian. Why believe this way? Why Jesus? Why bother? It’s a big set of questions. I can’t necessarily address the “why Christianity” angle of these questions in the sense of comparing and contrasting with other faiths. I don’t know enough about other faiths to work out that kind of argument. No doubt I would horribly misrepresent what others believe, anyway.

Really, I can only speak from my belief, from my experience, from my experience of God – knowing God, loving God, serving God. Ultimately, I believe that experiencing God is at the core; that experiencing is all those things – knowing, loving, serving – happening all at once, all the time. And I believe that Christianity offers the ultimate experience of God. That belief statement hinges on Jesus. You can’t talk about experiencing God as a Christian without Jesus. That equation doesn’t work.

Funny thing, though: Many Christians shy away from connecting Jesus directly to any faith statements they might make. You’ll hear a Christian say, “I believe in God” or “I follow God” and seem to think that covers it; that is all that is needed to convince you of their devotion to Christianity. Though there is nothing wrong with those statements, there is also nothing particularly Christian about those statements, either. In fact, it could be argued that saying “I believe in God” is a very human thing to say, to believe. Belief like that is very universal in our world, one shared by literally billions of people, give or take a few million dissenters.

Knowing God, loving God, serving God – these concepts are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. But these concepts are also at the heart of what it means to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. Of course, Christianity puts its own particular spin to these concepts. And that spin has no momentum at all without mentioning Jesus. It is odd, then, that the name of Jesus is not often included in a Christian’s statement of faith. Perhaps they are afraid of offending (a not uncommon Christian trait). Perhaps by stating “I believe in God” they are just trying to fit in with the few other billion people on earth who would agree. But a Christian leaving Jesus’ name out of any statement of faith is like not mentioning beef in a recipe for beef Stroganoff. People might eventually notice and it won’t help anyone who is trying to cook up the recipe for themselves. I mean, “Where’s the beef?”

So let me make it really plain for you and very straightforward: I believe in God because I believe in Jesus. I believe in God because of Jesus. I believe in God because I likely would not without Jesus. And it is Jesus that I follow. My experience of a life lived in faith is all wrapped up in Jesus. And tied with a bow.

How does this impact my experience of God? How does it make things different? To understand that, you need to understand what I believe: I believe Jesus is the only Son of God, born to a virgin named Mary over 2,000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem in Judea, in Israel. I believe that he is (not was but is) 100% human and 100% God (Yes, I believe in a mathematical impossibility. Sue me – it’s why it’s called faith). I also believe Jesus was both human and divine for an extremely important reason: So that he could take on all the sin of humanity, bear the weight of punishment for our sin and yet conquer it too. As a human, he could represent us all completely. As God, he could save us all completely. In other words, he was the only person who has ever lived who could possibly accomplish this. I also believe Jesus lived among us to set a pattern for life, an example to follow, a way to ensure that your life is full of purpose and meaning. I believe he went ahead for us to mark out the Path – peace, justice, love, forgiveness, truth, grace, mercy, light and joy. I also believe that died but came to life again (Yes, I believe a scientific impossibility, too… faith, remember?), that he ascended back to his Father, and that he sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us in that path he marked out for us.

That last paragraph is full of stuff that most Christians, give or take a slightly different angle here or there, would be in complete agreement with. From a purely theological standpoint, there is nothing earth-shattering in what I’ve professed to believe. It is when all that theological stuff gets translated into flesh and blood, into my real walking around, eating, sleeping, working, complaining, laughing, crying, whining life that things really start to take off. When it moves beyond the head knowledge, beyond the theology to life practicality, the Jesus Experience really kicks in, and a simple human being like you or me can begin to understand every moment lived in the presence of God.

Now, I’m not going all mystical on you here. I know the language sounds mystical but the Jesus Experience is way more pragmatic than that. In fact, it is downright earthy, grubby, hardscrabble and lots of other gritty adjectives. This is where I believe the experiencing of God takes on a different feeling as a follower of Jesus; a follower of the God-Man, the One who became one of us to makes us one with God. You see, because of Jesus, in all the very things that make us human, God chooses to dwell. In all the things we associate with being a man or a woman on this earth, God imbues himself and his will and his love and his truth.

Sorry – this is sounding all mystical again. But what I’m trying to say is that you can experience God down to your very DNA because God created that DNA and God, in Jesus, is that DNA. Because God chose to express himself as a human, because he chose to pursue us and love us and save us all by becoming a human, because he didn’t despise us for the lowly humans we are, we can now experience him in every aspect of what it means to be human. We don’t have to graduate to some elevated spiritual plain. We don’t have to achieve some state of non-personhood. We don’t have to cast off our mortal coil to begin to grasp the immortal. We can experience God as fully as a fully human being can.

In other words, when I love I experience God because God is love. When I enjoy good food, good company, good sleep, good sex, good art, good music, good books, good movies, good days I experience God because God is good. When I create, innovate, speculate; when I think, ponder, consider; when I move, feel, breathe – God is in all of that and all of that is in God. As a believer in a God who is human, too – in Jesus Christ – all that makes me who and what I am is an avenue to experience God.

Of course, this means more than just the good and lovey stuff. Experiencing God because of Jesus also includes a deeper understanding of God in the pain, heartache, depression, doubt, anger, sorrow, loneliness. Jesus lived a truly human life and, therefore, lived a life like ours: a beautiful and terrifying thing. But because of Jesus, we realize that God is not removed from the miry clay, above the dirt and the filth; no, because of Jesus, we realize that God is right  there with us, up to the neck sometimes in the crap of life. So a great part of truly experiencing God is in the shadows, in the dark, knowing that he doesn’t pick and choose what aspects of the human reality to reveal himself; he’s there always, all the time, and in all moments and places.

The Jesus Experience is so interwoven with the Human Experience that they cannot be separated. God meant it this way.

That’s what I believe and why I believe there is no deeper experience of God than through Jesus. Of course, I am very limited to understanding God by my humanness and so are you. But isn’t it an incredible, amazing thought to consider that God knows that, too, so he made a way, through Jesus, for us to understand and experience him as completely as we can in our limited humanness? That sounds like a God who truly loves me… and you, too.

What do you think?