Sunday, April 12, 2009


Plato, in writing to Socrates, said ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’. These past forty days have been an opportunity for me to examine life, and in particular my life in the context of the Lenten season. It has been profound.

The idea of examining life in a public realm may seem somewhat exhibitionist. I certainly never wanted to trade on my vulnerability. My primary objective in writing a public blog instead of my own personal journal, was if it was public then I was accountable. I had to write each day as promised, and it had to be both relevant and readable.

Knowing I had friends and family reading meant it had to be authentic, I could not get away with any bullshit. I think in fact I was more honest writing in public than I would have been if I was the only audience.

I knew that each of the posts could not be prescriptive in nature. I was in no position to teach or instruct on any one side of any of the issues. Instead, I chose the kinds of topics I would like talk about over coffee or a beer. In fact, many of them found their genesis at the coffee shop or on a run or over dinner. Each morning was the beginning of a conversation that I had the luxury of starting.

So, at the end of it what have I learned? First, I really enjoy writing. Second, I really enjoy spending time, each day, thinking through what is important to me. Third, the forty topics I wrote on will have a lasting impact on who I am as a person. And finally, there are many, many conversations yet to be had.

In the meantime I am in Namibia, South West Africa. I am here to meet up with Patrick, my middle son, who is arriving on a tall ship. After a week together, I will have a few days on my own – I have rented camping gear, however I am not yet sure if I’ll be brave enough to follow through camping by myself.

I will however be left with just my own thoughts for about a week, the prospect of which both excites me, and leaves me absolutely terrified. Depending on my access to the internet you may just be able to share in some of that terror.

I am incredibly grateful to all who read my posts each day. Thank you to those who left comments and encouragements. I am not sure what is next. I have some ideas, and I will probably keep writing regularly. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions, feel free to send me an email at Again, thank you and Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Sitting in Johannesburg, I am thinking back to the days when my mum would never buy gasoline from a Shell Station and would never drink South African wine. Her own little family embargo against Apartheid. At that time prisoner 46664 was being held at Robben Island in Cape Town.

After 27 years of captivity, Nelson Mandela was released and went on to become the first Black President of South Africa. He represented the end of the horror of that devastatingly oppressive era. The entire country went from death to life.

I have a nephew that suffered for years with horrible, life sucking, drug addiction. It felt like he was dead. This month he celebrates two years being clean and sober – two years ago, he came back to life.

One day I was driving in my car listening to CBC. A song came on by Stan Rogers, a great maritime singer/songwriter. The song is a story about how a fishing boat named the Mary Ellen Carter sunk in the harbour, and the owners decided it was better left at the bottom and they’d collect the insurance.

But the boat had real meaning to the sailors who crewed her through gales and storms. She deserved life. They decided to raise the boat themselves. The last verse of the song had me in tears such that I had to pull over to the side of the road:

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

I celebrate Easter because death is not the final word. I celebrate because there is the promise of life and life to the full, despite circumstance. I live with easter hope.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I am not really good at being by on my own. I tend to tire of my own company. I tire of talking to myself. When I am alone I worry. I find it's the time when I am most aware of all my faults and shortcomings. I don’t give myself much of a break. My self confidence dwindles when I am left to my own devices.

It’s never really occurred to me that I need people. In the opinion of Barbara Streisand I guess I am one of the luckiest people in the world. But, I figure I should also be happy to be with my own company.

Maybe it’s that I don’t have much practice. Given the choice I will choose being around people. I get energy from engaging with others. I already know what I think, I want to hear someone else’s ideas and thoughts.

Oddly I am quite independent. I can take care of myself pretty well. I am not afraid to make an unpopular decision, and I don’t compromise myself just to be liked.

There seems to be something paradoxical in our design as humans. We have all the faculties to be self sufficient, but there is also this ‘need’ to be in relationship. Some are really good at the alone part and struggle in the connection with others, while there are others, like me, who are the opposite.

Like so many things, I assume this stuff should come naturally – just be part of who I am. But, no, I realize that it takes practice to be alone well. I am resolved to become better at it.

I have this sense that if I choose to become intentional with time on my own, if I work at it, then I will push through all the anxiety and insecurity. The silence may not be so deafening. And in fact, I may just stop talking to myself and begin to really listen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Love is difficult. It’s elusive. I am convinced I’d die for it, but I can’t really define it. It has to be the most misappropriated word in our language, if not any language. The Greeks split the definitions for love into four, like the Eskimos having twenty words for snow. So, depending on the circumstance, then it’s one kind of love or another. Really, there are kinds?

There is all sorts of talk in the Bible about God’s love, and his desire for us to love him, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbour. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, he says.

I am thinking about this coming weekend and Easter. It’s the high point on the calendar for Christians. It’s three days full of betrayal, denial, violence, fear, death, and resurrection. This is love?

Actually, I can identify more with that than I can the love of Valentine’s Day cards. In my experience love is messy and uneven. It’s counterintuitive. What I have come to understand is that love has very little to do with how I feel. I am sure many who have loved me haven’t felt like it.

I know I have an unlimited capacity to love. It’s really my choice whether or not I exercise it. All I have to do is put myself aside. It’s that easy, and it’s that difficult. I would sacrifice everything for Lisa and my boys. Yet, I also know I have never been more selfish than with Lisa and the boys. There are times I have wanted out of relationships simply because they were too damn hard – too hard to love, and too hard to be loved.

Hurt, pain, and suffering alongside desire, longing, and sacrifice. Love is what it means to be fully alive - to myself and to others.

‘Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’. – Leonard Cohen

Amen, and amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change’. What a brilliant little prayer but how difficult to practice.

As hard as it is, I have to accept that I can’t change history. There is nothing I can do about what has already happened, what I have already done. This doesn’t stop me from at times being overwhelmed by regret, as if that would somehow make the past different. It is only a teacher, it’s not who I am.

I also can’t change what has happened to me by others. Holding a grudge, staying angry, or at worst seeking some type of revenge will have no impact on history at all. I carried baggage around about my father for years. In fact in the last couple of years of his life it would take my mum to convince me to go visit him. I allowed the past to inform the present to both our detriment.

It was only about five years after he died that I finally worked out all that crap and now I have only fondness when I think of my dad, and wish he was around to know his grandkids.

Nothing changed in the history between my dad and I. The only thing that did change, was me. This is the harsh conclusion. Not only can I not change the circumstances of the past, I can’t change people. I can only change myself.

I’d rather not do that. I’d rather stay the same, and have those around me adjust. However, I am stuck with being the only one I can work on.

Acceptance isn’t giving up or giving in. I am learning that accepting what I can’t change means to release it. To let go of my own created history, to let go of the hurt that’s been caused by others, to let go of being able to change those around me, and to let go of all that is outside of my control.

Serenity now. Indeed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


“I will never drink again”, words amplified by the porcelain bowl in front of my face. Wisdom is hard won. Wisdom comes with experience. There are not too many wise teenagers.

I don’t think it was our actual family motto growing up, but I know the guiding principle for how I was raised was “sink or swim”. It was the getting of wisdom. Each of us kids can tell stories of venturing out into the world somewhat unprepared. Through the adventures and the inevitable adversity we gained invaluable life lessons that we still all apply today – and are passing on to our kids, whether they like it or not!

I want wisdom. I mean who doesn’t. But in my experience it’s usually only discovered in hindsight. The best I can do is put myself in a place where it’s more likely to be acquired. The places for me where wisdom is found are those where my core beliefs are challenged, where my fears are faced, where I am asked to decide between right and wrong. I don’t really like those places – but am drawn back to them over and over.

There’s knowledge and then there’s wisdom. I like the idea of knowledge. I can acquire it in the comfort of my own home. It doesn’t have to be applied, I can just accumulate it. I can talk about it and even sound smart. But, knowledge will only take me so far. It’s important, but only in so much that it can be converted into wisdom.

I have found that wise people tell stories more than they quote books. I have also observed that true wisdom is always just beyond my grasp. It’s learning and re-learning. Doing and re-doing. Failing and trying again. The wisdom equation for me is knowledge plus risk.

I will never, ever forget being off the continent for the first time at 18, alone and scared in my hotel room in the Dominican Republic. The phone rings, its my dad saying he just wanted to see how I was doing “Dad, I am so scared” and I started to cry. “that’s ok son, you’ll do fine” and he hung up. I did do fine, and thus began my journey with wisdom.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I am buying milk. I am in a bit of a rush. Well, my only rush is that I don’t want to be in the store, I want to get this over with as quickly as I can. I look for the shortest line. The young woman at the cash register has done this dozens of times already today. She probably wants this over with as quickly, or more so, as I do. She tells me how much. I give her the money. She then turns and hands me my receipt and my change.

Now is this is the moment. I have a choice to make. I can either grab my purchase and walk out, at which point she will turn to the next in line and start the process again, or I can take another 10 seconds, look her in the eye and say “thank you”.

It seems simple, almost obvious. But what is lost on me often is the enormous importance of those few extra seconds, and those two words. Sure, it’s just change back from my five, but. That quick moment of gratitude acknowledges both of our humanity. It reminds us of the fact that we are not alone.

I’m not sure why, but we stopped giving thanks as a family before our meals. I guess to do so would require some consistency (see Habit). But yikes, I am convicted by my own words here. To miss the opportunity, at least three times a day, to say thank you for all that we have. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?

If I am thankful, I am admitting that it’s not all about me. Gratitude situates me in the middle of things. I am part of something much bigger. I don’t think one even needs to subscribe to any particular deity to get that.

As I type these last words, the sun has risen over Mt. Baker. Lisa is up and I hear the coffee being ground. Aidan has jumped in the shower to get ready for school. Yes, already today, there is much for which to be thankful.