Sunday, November 30, 2008

Horror in the High Rise

Christine and I were attending a Conference. Among other guests was a young couple whom I loved. The young man, single for years, met this girl of his dreams and they were married recently. Most of our activities were on the 10th floor and for an inexplicable reason that was never questioned during our stay; there was no wall or guard rail or protection at the edge of the floor, a spectacular view but a chilling risk. I worried as people ventured to the edge deliberately or unintentionally. One morning, the young wife whom I first mentioned was in our group and as we came around a corner she went to the edge to look over, looked back at us with smiling admiration for the beauty of the scene and the intimidation of the height. Everything in me silently begged her to come away. She turned to come to us, she lost her balance and stepped over the edge and fell. I knew it was final. I bent over and grasped my head in disbelief and waited and heard what I believed was the impact of her body hitting the concrete below. She made no sound as she fell. I am sure others were as distraught as I but I was running down the spiraling staircase the entire ten stories shouting “Why God?” “Why did you let this happen to her? Why? Why?” At ground level I found her husband and two of his friends already prostrate on their faces wailing in grief. I moved around the corner of the building to see her face down and lifeless.

And I awoke in a panic, glad to be awake, glad to know I was only dreaming. Each night my dreams are predictably vivid, riveting, but mercifully not persistently upsetting. These dreams have never been premonitions nor have I attached to them any other meaning than the fanciful developments of the dream state. Yet the Bible contains many accounts in which a dream became the vehicle by which divine knowledge was revealed to humanity. Even the birth of Jesus Christ to a virgin woman was revealed through dream to woman’s affianced partner, Joseph.

How many of those dreams can a reader trust or how much of the gospels about Christ can a reader with certainty embrace as factual? All of it is up for grabs if you travel with Tom Harpur down his theological road to syncretism. Harpur’s newest book is entitled WATER INTO WINE and is a sequel to his most radical publication in 2004 entitled THE PAGAN CHRIST – Recovering The Lost Light. I will write more about Harpur and his theological speculations in another entry. Harpur has himself developed a cosmic faith. He has become convinced that the Christian belief system and that of other religions have become ritualized institutions because of ultraconservative literalism. His personal solution and his recommendation for true enlightenment and self realization is to move from literalism to an inclusive religion that appreciated that the spark of the divine is planted in each person.

There is more to come about Harpur’s dream state on this blog.
Meanwhile, visit Harpur's interest site.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Me and the Princess and the Pea

I suppose that I have a hang up. See, I can’t even unequivocally admit it. Christine has always wanted me to accompany her to a performance of the Nutcracker. I have never seen a ballet nor desired to see one even though we hang Nutcracker soldiers as tree ornaments. Christine took my children to the show when they were younger and she took our oldest granddaughter last year. I am not uncultured in other areas. Oh no, I love classical music and prefer that genre to most others. Oh I’m cultured. As a matter of fact, Christine and I will soon sit with four of our grandchildren for the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s Pantomime entitled The Princess and the Pea.

I am an expert. I saw one last year. A pantomime is an interesting art form. In Britain and the commonwealth countries a Pantomime was traditionally done at Christmas though unrelated to any Christmas theme. It is musical and comical theatre, incorporating song, dance, slapstick, humour and audience participation. A panto animal of some kind is one of pantomime’s traditional characters along with a “dame” played by a man, the “principal boy” played by a girl, a hero, a villainous dude or dudess and some magic. Our Princess and the Pea is an adaptation written by local artists Norma Rushton and Mike Balser and this offering will feature a flock of dancing, singing, hockey playing penguins.

Without a pantomime in mind Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called The Princess and the Pea which tells of a handsome young prince's adventures as he searched the world for a ‘real’ princess to love and to marry. His futile search disappointed him and he returned home. A storm one evening brought a young woman to the gate looking for shelter. Bedraggled by the rain she did not look like a princess even though she purported to be one. The prince's mother decided to test the validity of the girl’s claim by placing a single pea on a bedstead and piling twenty mattresses and twenty eider-down comforters on top of it. There, the young woman spent the night. In the morning to the Prince’s delight, the princess told her hosts that it had been a sleepless night because of something hard in her bed. He rejoiced because he deduced that only a real princess could be so sensitive as to feel a pea through twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. The two were married and lived happily ever after.

After I watch this pantomime, perhaps watching some male ballet dancers in tights acting like soldiers won’t be such a stretch after all. There I admitted my hang up.

Monday, November 24, 2008


It’s only the 24th of November and Christine and I are listening to Il Divo’s Christmas CD during our supper. Yes it’s early. Americans haven’t even celebrated their Thanksgiving. But retail outlets have been displaying and selling everything Christmas for weeks. Last Friday was mild and dry so we strung our outside lights. Nearby homes are already brightly illuminated. We have done our Christmas gift shopping, not only to avoid that frenetic December rush but also to insure we would obtain what we truly want. This coming Saturday, the 29th of November Christine and I will take four of our five grandchildren to a Christmas pantomime. We had to reserve those seats months ago. Maybe that will be one of our best gifts to each other this year. We still have the big house with space enough for the entire festive family. Our three families have tried to coordinate our calendars for a day when we can each cut a Christmas tree for our homes, a lifetime tradition for us. Christine and I finally close to buying an artificial, pre-lit and pre-decorated tree – maybe next year. Certainly when we sell the house and move into a condo. I know I will miss the evergreen scent but I understand you can buy it in a spray can. As soon as December begins, George Frederick Handel reigns supreme in our home. The Messiah is enjoyed repetitively.

Yet as we listened to Il Divo’s magnificent music tonight, I experienced a melancholic moment. This will be my first Christmas without mom and dad. Living a nation apart made it impossible through these last years to celebrate Christ’s birth together. But they were only a phone call away. That is until Mom was no longer coherent, and later as Dad’s hearing made conversation difficult. At least they were there. I knew that. All was well. Perhaps with fresh ears I will listen to Handel’s oratorio this year and the profound hope he expressed within that extravagant composition.

It is in the third movement that exquisite words from Job, and 1 Corinthians and Romans and Revelation are woven into a tapestry of confidence. I will string them together. “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand on the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead. . . the firstfruits of them that sleep. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. . . . Blessing, and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.

All is well.
Listen to Il Divo's 'O Holy Night' in Washington December 2006
Or, Handel's 'Glory to God' by the London Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus
And have you ever witnessed an Amen like this one

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meetings Do Not Define What it Means to be Christian

I have been a church man, a former pastor and denominational executive. Over a forty year span I designed, wrote, developed and implemented programs with the best of church leaders. The well intentioned programs always required scheduled meetings of the intended beneficiaries. I kept people busy, myself included. I am contemplative now, less defensive of the status quo.
Recently I was given a webpage article to read, entitled The Danger of Meetings. The author Alan Richardson is one of many spokespeople who are concerned that Christianity has become defined by meetings and programs and buildings and budgets. He has not criticized anything that has not been faulted before and he makes some valid points. When Christian faith pivots around meetings, church people assess one another on the basis of attendance and performance. A meeting focused Christianity causes us to become inward looking with little time for relationships outside the church building. A meeting based Christianity may even hinder rather than help us to find a complete Christian life. In fact we can become meeting focused rather than Christ focused.

Christian leaders of existing churches can and must take corrective actions to minimize this insular posture. Some leaders, particularly younger ones have already broken away from traditional models of church to start models that are relational and fresh and vitally accenting relationship. Some are opting for house churches which determine to be less structured. The extreme danger of critical thinking about church is to go it alone. The solitary Christian disassociated from other believers is biblically unsupportable.

Here is my own list of truth points relative to meetings and faith.
1. Christianity is not defined by meeting attendance.
2. Following Christ is not to be equated with attendance at meetings.
3. Meeting attendance is no substitute for relationship with Christ.
4. It is improper to assess one’s own or another person’s spirituality or leadership competence on the basis of meeting attendance.
5. The work of God is not only with the individual but also within the context of the corporate church, so the gathering of believers is valid.
6. The gathering ideally consists of people who are committed to life giving and life promoting relationships in which they love one another as Christ loves them, open, embracing, forgiving, and love those outside the church for the sake of Christ.

Here is that webpage 'The Danger of Meetings' The paintings were done by Nathan Greene and Morgan Weistling and their work as well as others' can be seen on Christ Centred Art.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Today the clouds parted and the sun came out and during a five hour window, Christine and I climbed in the MX5 (Miata) and drove to White Rock, our nearby ocean beach town and sat with a soup and wrap and a book outside the Watt’s Cooking diner. From the sun warmed table we could watch the wind driven waves. It wasn’t a planned excursion. In fact I was scheduled as a participant on an online webinar. Enjoying the moment was more important than intellectual stimulus of the structured kind.

I can’t believe I am writing this. Such impetuosity has not characterized my life and career. As a child I understood that spontaneity has a time and a place. It has taken me a lifetime to relearn it. It’s been a difficult lesson. I am assessed as‘gold’ within the four colour appraisal of personal and leadership style. I have been true to its characteristics for several decades. That means I follow rules and respect authority. I am loyal, dependable, and prepared. I am thorough, sensible and punctual. I need to be useful and I am faithful, stable and organized. Not a lot of room for impulsiveness.

Happily Christine has always been my counterbalance. For years she has encouraged me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise consider and at times that potentially interrupted the urgencies. Today I was the one who wanted to set aside the things we were doing in order to seize the sunny moment. Carpe diem is Latin for ‘seize the day.’ My relearned maxim is carpe momentum, or ‘seize the moment.’ As a young Dad years ago, I remember hearing Jim Croce’s plaintiff song. “When you coming home dad? I don't know when, But we'll get together then. You know we'll have a good time then.” I said I would never be the man who is left alone at the end of that song, with a son who didn’t have time for him. I am satisfied that I did have time for my own children, but there are so many other moments of life that I allowed to slip away in lieu of a crammed PDA calendar. Spontaneity is the capacity to surprise yourself, to trust your instincts and to interrupt an organized day in order to do something just because you feel like it.

Here is a downloadable PDF of a study. The Potent Self - A Study of Spontaneity and compulsion, by Moshe Feldenkrais, Michaeleen Kimmey.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Saying No is a Valuable Life Skill

No is the new Yes. That’s the way I am interpreting it. ‘Yes’ has been my standard answer to everyone’s request of me. Pleasing people was my directive. If people of a certain age can wear purple, then I can say ‘No’. It may shock people. I suppose I should have started saying ‘No’ much sooner than I have. I am not being flippant about a ‘No’. I believe that a ‘No’, can be positive. There may even be power in a ‘No’. A positive ‘No’ may be one of the most valuable life skills I have picked up since retiring.

I raise this theme because I needed to say no to a great opportunity recently presented to me. My reasons were personal and legitimate. It would have required a considerable investment of myself and my time. I have other preferred personal projects on the go. Love that alliteration! As I considered the proposition I felt the pressure of meeting expectations. The “P’s” are dominating this paragraph. At other times in my life I may have said an immediate yes, or a reluctant yes which I might regret later. This time I felt justified in saying no. I feel good today that I did say no. It was a struggle for me.

Understand that I still have a high sense of responsibility to God in my life and I won’t say no to Him, so my ‘no’ was predicated upon a subjective inner peace that I am not being disobedient by declining a human invitation.

What this is pointing to is freedom. A free person has the power to make or to refuse social interaction with other willing people. This is freedom to say no, freedom to be independent of others’ expectations. I look back now on a life of service to others which I do not regret yet I am surmising that I should have said no more frequently for the sake of my children and my wife and maybe at times even for my own sake. No has the power to transform our lives by enabling us to say Yes to the things that truly count. It’s hard to say No when you don’t know where you are going and how you want to get there. To lose weight I have to say No to Krispy Kreme. To live within my retirement budget I must say No to iPhone. Maybe you don’t but my point is my success is based on my ability to say NO.

A book has been written entitled ‘The Power of a Positive No,’ offering advice for saying No in any situation. It emphasizes saying No without jeopardizing relationships by saying it clearly, respectfully and effectively but for the purpose of arriving at the right Yes. Saying No is a valuable tool for time management, avoiding overload, overtime and Stress with a capital ‘S’.
PS. Guys can do purple too apparently. There is a Purple Store Website.
Some sports teams do purple.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Allergies – Running Nose

The lyrics tell it all. “Only he who’se running knows, running knows, running knows.” This from the pen of fictitious composer P.D.Q. Bach in his score A Fanfare to the Common Cold. Common Allergy Symptoms are • Runny nose • Watery eyes • Itchy nose, eyes and roof of mouth • Sneezing • Stuffy nose • Pressure in the nose and cheeks • Ear fullness and popping • Dark circles under the eyes • Hives ........... Did you get that? Running Nose.

As a young man I had almost nothing wrong with me that maturity couldn’t cure. I was a physical dream, strong, fast, vital, handsome. Today it’s different with me. Besides everything else that’s in reversal I have developed within the past few years an allergy that appears whenever I cut the lawn or play golf. My nose runs. I must have a sleeve, or a golf towel or a Kleenex on hand. It’s an annoying irritant of life. Being outside never bothered me when I was younger. Why now? As a retiree I have the time to golf whenever I please but my nose requires as much time as my putter. One of my learnings is that changes in the immune system that are a natural part of aging may be responsible for allergy appearance in mid or later years. In an allergic reaction, the body's immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance, such as grass pollen, for a dangerous invader. Oh yes, Christine has also developed an allergy since I retired. An allergy to me! She reacts, or has a reaction. I am in her space. I have thrown her routine off. I haven’t meant to do it. I am just here. I wake early as I always did, but instead of being gone when she rises, quietly, goes for her walks, sits serenely with her coffee, reads her Bible and makes mental notes, I’m here. I have been awake for hours. Now I am talking by the time she first peeks in my study door. We have to work out an understanding of when it’s OK to begin conversation I guess. We all have our crosses to bear.

Footnote: P.D. Q. Bach was invented by musical satirist Peter Schickele and he has performed works of this forgotten member of the Bach family for the past forty years. According to Schickele P.D.Q. Bach was born in Leipzig on April 1st, 1742, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Anna Magdalena Bach; the twenty first of Johann's twenty children. Bach's parents did not bother to give their youngest son a real name, and settled on "P.D.Q." instead. The only earthly possession Johann Sebastian Bach willed to his son was a kazoo. In 1770, P.D.Q. Bach started to write music, mostly by stealing melodies from other composers. Schickele divides P. D. Q. Bach's musical output into three periods: the Initial Plunge, the Soused Period, and Contrition. P.D.Q. Bach's grave was marked "1807–1742". The reverse order of the dates has led to some controversy, some thinking that P.D.Q. Bach lived his life backwards. See his web site, Schickele’s that is. And if you want to see and hear Schickele dryly and humorously about P.D.Q. Bach's life then click this.

Here's an Allergy Video - fun stuff right?

Thursday, November 13, 2008



Today has been the thirtieth anniversary of the Jonestown massacre. On November 13, 1978 Jim Jones who had mesmerized, manipulated and controlled over one thousand people to move from the United States of America to a jungle settlement in Guyana, led 918 people to either commit suicide by drinking an arsenic laden drink or had them killed by his deluded loyalists. It was horrific then. Its memory is no less appalling. The quotation cited above was written on a wooden sign hung in rafters over the body of Jim Jones who lay with a bullet in his head on that dreadful day.

The slogan’s poignancy is so profound when one considers the many thousands of people who failed to learn from that awful past, and have thrown their lives away following other misguided and infamous leaders.

It appears that people do not plan to join a cult. They are looking for community perhaps during a difficult personal season of life. Cults and cult leaders target emotionally vulnerable people who are in such transitions. Cult leaders customarily manifest charisma, magnetism and seduction. Handsome and alluring leaders are often paranoiac and delusional, even pathological. Once attracted, recruits are kept excessively busy and isolated so that they cannot entertain doubts about their new alliance. Further, rigid rules and rituals reinforce the autonomy of the cult from societal proprieties and restraints. Studies of cults reveal that the average cult member has been in three or four other groups. This is termed as "seeker syndrome," which is a spiritual quest by people who feel free to experiment. Seekers typically move on when they become bored or disenchanted. The Jonestown residents did not have that escape because their passports had been confiscated by Jim Jones and anyone who spoke about leaving was ridiculed, subjected to hard labour or beaten.

During the 1970’s and early 1980’s concerned relatives would arrange for deprogrammers to snatch cult members from the street in order to confront their conduct with the revelation that they are being abused and exploited. That approach has been abandoned for less invasive correctives. My learning today is the motto of the sign is futile and people will always become prey for felonious people. It has always been so. This is a sinful world.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD

This is a form of depression that affects a person during the doldrums season(s) of the year. SAD is also known as winter depression or winter blues. A person may feel terrific during spring, summer, and autumn but feel lower than a snail in winter. Of course those with higher risk factors are people who live in areas where winter days are short or daylight is minimal because of cloud cover as is the case for me in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Those most prone to suffer from SAD are women, sorry; and younger people since the risk diminishes as one ages (BUT DON'T COUNT ON IT), and even people with family histories in which SAD has affected relatives. It’s problematic because the symptoms can be disruptive and even debilitating. People who struggle with SAD, may have difficulty concentrating and have reduced interest in daily activities or social interaction, experience low energy and fatigue, find themselves irritable, moody or withdrawn, and may have weight gain because of increased cravings for complex carbs, i.e. pasta and bread.

It is theorized that SAD is caused from lack of sunlight which may distress the sleep/wake cycle or ‘circadian’ rhythms (word for the day). It may adversely affect a chemical called serotonin which affects mood.

SAD can be treated practically with bright light treatment, i.e. sitting in front of a ‘light box’ for 30 minutes per day (preferably morning). Sometimes ‘dawn stimulation’ is effective, with a light fixed to come on in the morning and become increasingly brighter to replicate sunrise. Improved outlooks can occur in one week but it must be maintained through the dismal season. Of course other treatments may include antidepressants which balance the brain chemicals which affect mood, and carefully timed supplementation of the hormone melatonin. Occasionally counseling is required to assist a person to understand SAD and manage the symptoms. Always, exercise on most days of the week, particularly in the mornings, walking, biking (stationary bike is good) and swimming inspire one’s attitude and boosts energy.

For more information look at the BC Health Guide, or try Wikipaedia
or the Mayo Clinic site or Canadian Mental Health Association.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overcoming Disability to Excel and Thrive

In 1992 my son worked a summer job on a local turkey farm and one day while alone in a barn he got his right hand forefinger caught in a turning overhead feed auger. Life goes on and a person makes the necessary adjustments as he has. I am retired now but in the summer of 2007 I was looking forward to the subsequent July 2008 when I would formally retire. I intended to pick up my paint brushes and palette and resume an art occupation that I left behind fourty-five years earlier. During a casual 2007 summer day with my son’s family, I made a weight shift on a lounge chair so that my grandson could sit with me, and the back collapsed with my right hand on the frame. I severed the tip of my right forefinger. My son, remembering his own ordeal as though it were yesterday, was horrified to see something like this happen to his Dad. He told me that the first words out of my mouth were, “Ohhh, my painting.” In those first minutes I envisioned not being able to paint again, and contemplate how I could possibly learn to do it differently. Initially I developed a grip on pens, pencils and brushes with my other fingers. Then as I healed the victim finger was able to grasp a brush too. All that to say BIG DEAL! I didn’t lose much – hardly anything. When I see the adjustments that other people with significant physical, mental and emotional disabilities have made to become accomplished in some skill area I am overwhelmed. I pay them tribute. Moreover, every individual, group and organization that is on a mission to assist disabled people to realize impossible dreams I salute.

Alistair Green and Garry Curry are quadriplegic stone sculptors on Vancouver Island producing some of the most exquisite pieces of art you will ever see. But you can see it at this site where a movie will show you the specialized tools they have developed for their work and then view their individual websites. Garry is President of the Vancouver Island Society of Disabled Artists.

In Toronto Ellen Anderson’s son had cerebral palsy and had a bent for art. She found that there was no comparable facility in Canada like the ones she read about in the USA that serviced the art needs of artists and craftspeople with visible and invisible disabilities, i.e. people dying of AIDS...people with Down Syndrome and head injuries and much more. With a government grant she opened the Creative Spirit Art Centre.
Shanghai Art Centre for the Disabled in Shabei District holds an annual exhibition to display the work of artists and to make people understand more about disability.

Mouth and Foot Painters do astounding work and we are seldom exposed to opportunities to see it.

The International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers (IGODAP) is a leading voice in the promotion of disability arts and culture worldwide. A collective of artists and performers who identify with impairment and/or disability, its members are professional and amateur artists and performers of all genres. They include visual artists, screen and stage actors, dancers, comedians and humourists, musicians, singers, speakers, poets, writers, producers, directors and others working in the arts and entertainment industries. They experience physical, intellectual or learning disablement, mental illness, or a combination. In addition the Guild offers membership to those individuals and organisations who are involved in or supportive of disability art and performance. To learn more visit this The International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers (IGODAP)site.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day in Canada

It’s Remembrance Day in Canada. I will go to the local Cloverdale Cenotaph this morning. I feel a need this year to stand with others in tribute to my fallen countrymen in past wars. A TV journalist asked people yesterday how it felt to wear the red poppy and the predictable one word answers resulted – “proud.” Whenever I have travelled internationally I have been glad for the Canadian flag on my luggage and backpack. Other countries welcome us. I am compelled this morning to visit the Cenotaph because my father was in the Canadian Air Force during World War II. Coming from the town of Hepburn, Saskatchewan, a largely Mennonite community, and himself the youngest son of Mennonite immigrants from Ukraine, he stepped out of cultural pacifism to enlist. I am proud of him for that. I am. He never saw action overseas. He was assigned to aircraft maintenance and stationed in Vancouver, Gananoque and the Yukon. Christine’s father was an officer in the British Royal Navy and saw action at sea. Both of these men are gone now. During my adult years while Canada has been involved in conflicts overseas, conscription never required my personal investment. I and my children and now their children have grown up within the shelter of a freedom that was very costly. I acknowledge that with deep gratitude today. I am proud of my heritage and proud to be a Canadian.

I still think that the dated Molson sponsored "I Am Canadian" rant is an inspiring piece of Canadian culture and I treasure the words of our Canadian National Anthem.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Starry, Starry Night - Vincent van Gogh - I wish I had known him

Of course many of us amateur and semi professional painters identify with Vincent van Gogh on some levels. We know what it is to think and dream about painting, to struggle over the composition and achievement, to be elated at a satisfying result. We know the disappointment of rejection for a juried show or of seeing our works unsold for months and years. Teachers try to prepare us for rejection. Vincent was ill prepared by temperament, experience and influences. Tortured man. All of his life he struggled with his fluctuating emotions and his lack of confidence. We all know of his insanity and his suicide by which he ended his life at age 37. Did you know that he was born in 1853, the son of a Dutch pastor and that he himself served briefly as a preacher in a dreary mining district of Belgium known as the Borinage but he was dismissed for being overzealous. He wanted to evangelize the poor around him. By age 27 after pastoring, clerking in a bookstore and selling other artists’ works, he made the decision to embark upon an artistic career. He studied art in Belgium and in Paris. His earlier paintings were somber and dark exemplied by "The Potato Eaters" (1885). After studying in Paris and spending time with notables such as Pissaro, Monet and Gauguin his palette became lighter and his brushstrokes shorter resembling the Impressionists. In time, van Gogh’s paintings became known for their bold use of colour. Interestingly, one year before he died, he wrote the following to his brother Theo. “…the painter of the future will be a colourist the like of which has never yet been seen.” He was so sure that a great painter of the future would appear who would know how to use colour. During a nine year span between 1881 and 1990 when he gave up on life, he painted over 900 paintings, yet sadly during his life he sold only one painting, “The Red Vineyard,’(on the right) which sold for 400 francs a few months before his death. Van Gogh suffered from more than poor sales, but actual mental illness, associated with various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions. His great fame and collectibility came well after he was gone. In 1990 one of his most revered paintings, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet fetched a record price of $82.5 million.
Did you know that Don McLean's composition "Starry Starry Night" was based on one of van Gogh's most famous painting by the same name?You will enjoy listening and watching this visual of Vincent's paintings set to Don McLean's song. Or, you can hear Josh Groban do it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anniversary – One year ago today, MOM (Tina Unruh) WENT TO HEAVEN 2007

She was 88 years of age and she had been married to Dad (Ed) for 66 years, and at 11:00 PM Eastern time her life came to an end in the Tabor Manor home where she had spend the last few years of her life.

We are lonely still, we three sons and our wives and our children and their children. Not for the woman she became in the last years, distant, unresponsive, ill and struggling. Because she became that, we were relieved for her sake when her body shut down. We mourned that Dad was left alone at age 92. We were saddened that our relationship with this woman was now entirely one of memories. She was known for the strength of her hugs and we all remembered that but could no longer feel it. We remembered her blue eyes but could no longer gaze into them. We remembered how proudly and thankfully she spoke of her children and grandchildren and their accomplishments but we could no longer hear her. We remembered how predictably well put together she was, how attractive her clothing and hair and face but we could no longer see her.

The truth is that as her mind grew frail and her memory clouded, she changed, not willfully but helplessly. She could not care for herself because she was increasingly unconcerned about how she looked and unaware of how to affect her appearance. She was increasingly uncommunicative because recognition and language was not accessible to her. It took an agonizingly long time for the erosion to transpire and even as it did, the ravishing young woman with whom my father had fallen in love, and the strikingly mature woman whom he grew to love more than life itself disappeared from his view but not from his heart. He handled his grief so admirably as his family observed. I am thrilled forever that my grown children, and my brothers’ children were all present in a beloved group hug when they heard the soft voice of my father stand by her body to say, “Goodbye sweetheart. I’ll be seeing you soon.”

Did I say we miss her? Dad missed her more. We miss Dad as well. Four months later Dad celebrated his ninety-third birthday and one month after that, our able bodied, keen minded father left for heaven too. Apartment 313 became available and they moved into a mansion.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can

History was made yesterday. In his speech to a Chicago crowd of one hundred thousand people President elect Barak Obama cited the story of a centenarian woman who voted in this American Presidential election. He pointed out the dramatic events and changes that she has witnessed in her lifetime. Much of the focus of the historicity of this election rests on its racial significance and while we will eventually move past this emphasis, we cannot fail to notice what this moment means for African Americans and other ethnic minorities.
Within my own lifetime there have been historic moments in world and North American history. Here a random few. Allied troops stormed Normandy beaches in 1944. On a Montgomery, Alabama bus Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat to a white passenger and unwittingly launched the civil rights movement in 1955. The 1962 Cuban missile crisis of October almost sparked a nuclear war between USSR and the USA. President Kennedy was assassinated 1963. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were also assassinated in the 1960’s. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. The 1970 October Crisis in Quebec and two terrorist kidnappings of government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec, the subsequent murder of hostage Pierre Laporte and the imposition of the War Measures Act by Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau. In 1971 the Canadian federal government officially adopted a policy of multiculturalism (i.e. French language on documentation including cereal boxes). Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. President in 1974. The death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976. In 1977 Canadian highway signs went metric. In June of 1981 Terry Fox died in the middle of his cross Canada Marathon of Hope. In 1982 Bertha Wilson was the first woman appointed as a Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down existing legislation against abortion as unconstitutional in 1988. In 1989 Heather Erxleben became Canada's first acknowledged female combat soldier, the same year that one-dollar bills were replaced by the "loonie." The Berlin wall came down in 1989. In 1991 the unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) came into effect. In 1993 Kim Campbell replaced Brian Mulroney as the head of the Progressive Conservatives and became Canada's first woman Prime Minister and in the same year Chretien and Liberals had a landslide victory reducing Progressive Conservatives to two seats. Terrorists topple NYC Twin Towers in 2001. A Tsunami devastates a widespread Indian/Asian region (2005). In 2005 Hurricane Katrina was the costliest hurricane ($80 billion), as well as one of the five deadliest in the history of the United States.
Is the election of Barak Obama a pivotal, even a defining moment in US history and its international relationships? I have the sense that it is. I am concerned for him. Secret Service security will need to be at its best. God must protect him. He won but almost half the electors voted for someone else. Yet the hope inspired by Obama's 'Yes We Can' credo may unite rather than divide. I hope that it can.

Monday, November 3, 2008

At 29,035 feet, Everest is the highest point on Earth.


We have a choice of numerous lenses with which to view this day. Outlooks change and readjust. Unlike yesterday, today I recognize my zeal for accomplishment with respect to establishing recognition as a good artist. Today I have no hesitation to self promote. My children and grandchildren were at our home last evening for dinner and there was love around the table and in our home. A challenge of sorts was discussed among the adults. Would all the adults in our family prepare for a five kilometre run being held in January 2009? That’s two and one half months from now. I have been slack lately. If it’s raining in the morning it’s my excuse for not going for my 2 K walk. But yesterday’s challenge was all I need to ignite my desire. Contest awakens my resolve. It’s inexplicable. It’s my wiring. I have to train to run 5 Ks.

I have derived some inspiration reading Sir Edmund Hillary’s tribute material. He died at age 88 on January 11, 2008. Hillary’s celebrity followed the May 29, 1953 ascent of Mount Everest by Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norga, the first climbers known to stand at the top of the world. In the last 50 years, 10,000 men and women have tried to climb Everest. About 1,200 have succeeded and about 200 have died. What made the man stand tall was what he did with the rest of his life.
What did he do? He never forgot Nepal. Without flourish or compensation he poured energy and resources into Nepal through the Himalayan Trust that he founded in 1962. He funded and helped build hospitals health clinics, airfields and schools. He raised funds for higher education for Sherpa families, and helped set up reforestation programs in the impoverished country. About $250,000 a year was raised by the charity for projects in Nepal. Hillary's commitment to Nepal took him back more than 120 times, last visiting in 2007. It was on a visit to Nepal that his first wife, Louise, 43, and 16-year-old daughter Belinda died in a light plane crash March 31, 1975.

On 6 1953 he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a member of the Order of New Zealand in 1987 and a Knight of the Order of the Garter on April 22 1995. He was also awarded the Polar Medal for his Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. In 1992 Hillary appeared on the updated New Zealand $5 note. Various streets, schools and organizations around New Zealand and abroad are named after him. A few examples are Hillary College (Otara), Edmund Hillary Primary School (Papakura) and the Hillary Commission (now SPARC).

He parlayed an ordinary life into a truly extraordinary one and in the process demonstrated that greatness is possible for any of us. He wrote in his autobiography, “I discovered that even the mediocre can have adventures and even the fearful can achieve." In an interview he commented that his life had been "a constant effort to illustrate how a very mediocre person with very mediocre talents which I have can create quite a lot if they really drive themselves."

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Secreted deep inside me for almost all of my sixty-six years has been my need for creative outlet. Throughout my childhood and youth it found an expression in pencil sketches of people, buildings and landscapes. As a teenager, my only ambition and life direction was to gain a livelihood in commercial art until a fine art reputation could entirely support me. That was before I met Christine and before I became a father and before a profound life calling surpassed any personal aspiration. I have spent my years in worship of Jesus Christ and have become a communicator of Biblical truth. In 2001 I became convinced that God told me I had pastored my last local church. In 2008 I understood that God released me from administrative oversight of a church denomination. I also discerned a freedom to pursue the love for art creation that I left behind so long ago. I suppose that I have thought that a mini career of sorts might emerge. Of course that is coincident with continued commitment to God and His truth. What would an art career entail? I have little idea. I have painted numerous pictures already. So many more are in my mind and heart. The painting I can do. I paint when I choose. It’s pleasurable. But I have not known what a career in art might mean until reading a book, a gift from two good friends who honoured my retirement just days ago. They invited Christine and me to have dessert and an evening of conversation during which they sang me a happy retirement song and presented me with the gift of a book entitled ‘Artist Survival Skills’ by Chris Tyrell. Its subtitle is ‘How to make a living as a Canadian Visual Artist.’ I was eager to get into the book and as I have examined all of the practical counsel, I am uncertain that I want to realize my long suppressed art ambitions. Apparently I should set career goals, set a business plan, establish a pricing rationale, decide about representation and consignments, understand and choose marketing steps. I don’t lack confidence in my art or that I could become successful as a self-employed artist if I chose to devote myself to such a business. Today I struggle with a conflict. It may be a momentary one. I retired from a busy and satisfying life of significant responsibility. To impose upon myself a business burden that would take from me my joy in the painting would be a bigger gaffe than I am prepared to make. I have to be convinced that joy and profit do not have to be mutually exclusive.