More on Bombings and Beheadings

Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network board member Ike Glick had this letter published in the Edmonton Journal Friday September 19th:

Re: “Are beheadings a sign of miscalculation or desperation?” Commentary, Richard Spencer, Sept. 15

The West has been embarrassed by the ultimate put-down and the powerless feeling imposed by the beheadings of Western captives by ISIS. It is not hard to get consensus that “something must be done.”

But it is not likely that the bombing response will be any more effective than the Bush administration’s knee-jerk overreaction to the 9/11 embarrassment has been. Somehow the current response seems similar.

While giving the West a semblance of taking control and a hubristic demonstration of power, there has been no apparent attempt to understand the deep resentments toward the West by much of the world, nor recognition that our response only intensifies those resentments. By what logic do we imagine that repeating a more intense version of what didn’t work after 9/11 will be effective now?

Is the West’s conventional response because we lack the imagination for any other approach? Or just because we can? Perhaps we fear being reminded of our exploitive economic policies that favour the West and continue to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor, including unfair minimum wage levels in our own country.

Whatever the reason, a negotiated conversation with ISIS leadership, if such is possible, might at the very least provide some clues as to why young Canadians are being enticed to their ranks.

Ike Glick, Edmonton

Interestingly enough, it seems as if at least one Post Media writer might agree with some of what Ike has to say. In Friday’s Edmonton Journal Michael Den Tandt wrote:

OTTAWA – Tom Mulcair is deeply uncomfortable with the precious little we know, so far, about Canada’s involvement in the expanding war between the West and the Islamic State. He wants answers, more debate and a vote. For his troubles he will be dismissed as a naïf, willfully blind to the “dark and dangerous” reality in which we now live.

If only the NDP leader weren’t right…

He ends the column (which is well worth reading in full) by saying,

What do Canadians, even highly trained special-ops soldiers, have to teach the Kurds of northern Iraq about warfare on their home soil? If the 69 Canadians are JTF-2, which seems likely, it stretches credulity to suggest they are merely providing helpful advice. These are the most lethal, capable soldiers in the Canadian military.

In the earliest days of the Afghan war, though it wasn’t publicly known at the time, JTF-2 operators fought under American command. Mulcair correctly notes that, early on, that conflict too was billed as winnable through a combination of special forces and air power, with local armies and militias bearing the brunt on the ground.

As it turned out, Western ground forces were indeed eventually necessary in Afghanistan, in their hundreds of thousands – including 40,000 Canadians, over a decade – and even with that, the war was lost. In year eight, more or less, of a 20-year nation-building project, the international community – including one Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper – decided to cut its losses.

It is all well and good to rail against the Jihadists, chronicle their barbarisms, and insist that, as civilized people, Canadians have no choice but to join in the fight. Perhaps that’s true. But we’ve seen this narrative before. It didn’t end well. Mulcair is wise to ask tough questions. The government would be wise to answer them.

Indeed. And for Christians who are trying to figure out what it means to follow the challenging teachings of Jesus, who we call ‘Lord’, the questions get even tougher.

(Cross-posted to Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network)

Posted in Canadian politics, News, peace | 1 Comment

Kacy and Clayton live on KEXP Seattle’s ‘Roadhouse’ blues and roots show

A fine performance by two of my favourite young musicians, Kacy and Clayton. It won’t come as any surprise to my regular readers that I love listening to this kind of music.


‘Kacy and Clayton’s entire lives have been steeped in the rich catalogs of folk music masters. They are second cousins who grew up a short distance from each other in a ranching community in southern Saskatchewan. As children they were surrounded by rural musicality, absorbing the knowledge and skills of Kacy’s Grandfather (Clayton’s Great-Uncle) Carl Anderson.  Landmark figures of their musical roots include Leadbelly, Shirley Collins, Alan Lomax, The Stanley Brothers, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, and Davey Graham. Kacy and Clayton’s ears are expertly discerning, and their musicianship is practiced to a sophisticated level of proficiency. They are very young, but have already matured beyond the precociously talented stage by rapidly earning a reputation among their fellow musicians as fully expressed mature artists in the prime of their lives. In fact, the Deep Dark Woods – one of Canada’s most successful and accomplished roots bands – has eagerly recruited Clayton as a guitarist, and Ryan Boldt (DDW’s lead singer) has proudly taken on the task of producing Kacy and Clayton albums. Clayton’s musical partnership with Kacy remains a primary focus for his creative output.’

(From Kacy and Clayton’s website).

Posted in Folk music, Music | Leave a comment

Preliminary sermon thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16

This is not a sermon; it’s just my initial musings on the text for Sunday.

1 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

 This is one of Jesus’ ‘The kingdom of heaven is like’ parables. And we need to start by reminding ourselves, as we always do when we’re dealing with Matthew’s gospel, that when Jesus talks about ‘the kingdom of heaven’, he is not talking about what we mean today by either a ‘kingdom’ or ‘heaven’.

Starting with ‘heaven’, this is Matthew’s way of saying ‘kingdom of God’, which is the term used by the other gospels. Traditionally scholars have said that Matthew was observing Jewish sensibilities here, given that many Jews feel the word ‘God’ is too sacred to be pronounced or written (you will see it written sometimes today as ‘G-d’). However, Matthew doesn’t seem to be shy about using the word ‘God’ in other contexts, so there must be some other reason behind his habitual use of ‘kingdom of heaven’.

Be that as it may, ‘kingdom of heaven’ is not about dying and going to heaven. It is about God’s will being done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ – about heaven’s rule breaking into this wicked and broken world, replacing injustice and war with justice and peace, bringing healing for hurts and a vision of ‘Shalom’ – wellness, peace, prosperity etc. So when Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”, what he means is “When things are done on earth the way God wants them to be done, this is what it will be like…”

And then there’s that word ‘kingdom’, or ‘basilea’ in Greek. There aren’t many kingdoms left in the 21st century world, but we still understand ‘kingdom’ to mean ‘a geographical area ruled over by a king’. Legally, Canada is a monarchy – albeit a ‘constitutional one’, which means that the powers of the sovereign are not unlimited but are strictly defined by the constitution of Canada – and we understand that to mean a geographical area under the authority of the Queen and Parliament of Canada.

But ‘the kingdom of heaven’ is not a geographical area under the direct rule of heaven or God. There is no geographical area or ethnic grouping that corresponds to ‘the kingdom of heaven’. ‘Basilea’ in this context is not static (‘the land within the borders of that country’) – it is dynamic; it means the personal rule or reign of God in the world. It has no borders or boundaries, no ethnic characteristics, no language or national government. It is not identical with the Church, although the Church is meant to be a signpost of the reign of God. Nor is it within our power to create it; every reference to it in the New Testament assumes that it is a gift of God and its extension is an act of God. It does, however, have a particular character, a particular world view, a particular way of life, and we are called to align our own lives and the life of our Christian ekklesia with that character, that worldview, that way of life.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like according to this parable?

1 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard’.

We’re on familiar Old Testament ground here; the idea that ‘Israel is Yahweh’s vineyard’ is a common one in the Old Testament. Usually, however, the emphasis is on the fruit which Yahweh is looking for, fruit which all too often Israel did not bear. Here, however, we’ve got a different emphasis: the Vineyard as a place of grace where the workers receive, not what they have earned, but what they need to survive.

The scene is a familiar one. The town marketplace is the local labour exchange, and every morning at 6 a.m. the unskilled day labourers gather there and wait for someone to hire them for the usual twelve hour working day. The landowners send their stewards or managers down to the market with instructions to hire a certain number of labourers for the jobs that need doing on that particular day. No doubt the workers all know each other and the stewards or managers know them all as well; they know which workers are strong and reliable and which ones tend to slack off and take longer coffee breaks! The wage is set by custom: it’s ‘a denarius’ (translated throughout this passage in the NRSV as ‘the usual daily wage’) – a Roman coin, equivalent to one quarter of a Jewish shekel. Jesus likely used a Jewish equivalent in his original parable; Matthew, writing in Greek, is likely translating here for the benefit of Greek and Roman audiences.

Dick France points out that the day labourer did not even have the minimum security which the slave had in belonging to one master. There was no social welfare program on which an unemployed man could fall back, and no trade unions to protect the workers’ rights. An employer could literally ‘do what he wanted with what belonged to him’ (v.15). In such a setting no work meant no food for the family. (see R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 2007).

Two things are unusual at the beginning of this parable. First, it was not usual for the landowner himself to go down to hire the workers; usually his manager or steward would do that. This is an unusual landowner, one who takes a personal interest in the workers rather than just seeing them as tools for getting the job done. Second, although it is not stated in these first two verses, it is strongly implied in the rest of the passage that he has actually hired all the workers who are available in the town marketplace that day. I say this because later on he goes back again to see if there are any more available to join the ones he has already hired. I’m guessing that this would be unusual; I would think that usually a landowner (through his manager) would hire only the best workers, and the least number necessary to get the job done.

3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”

This is where we start to suspect even more strongly that all is not as it usually is. It’s hard to believe that the landowner actually needs all these workers to work in his vineyard. Certainly they need the work, or how will they feed their families for the day? Certainly this is on their minds as the hours pass and they have not yet been hired; the denarius is the bare minimum necessary to survive, and if they only work for half a day it will be short commons on the family supper table that night. So they are no doubt relieved when the landowner comes down and hires them – even down to the ‘eleventh hour’, with only one hour left to work before the usual quitting time.

At this point in time they are not expecting any special financial treatment; “I will pay you whatever is right” (v.4), says the landowner; no doubt the ones who were hired later in the day are expecting a vastly reduced wage.

8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.

According to Jewish law labourers were to be paid on the same day as they had worked, before sundown:

‘You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning’ (Leviticus 19:13).

‘You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to Yahweh against you, and you would incur guilt’ (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

So this is what is going on in this part of the passage; the labourers will get their pay at the end of the day and will then be able to buy the food needed for the evening meal at their home. Except that those who were hired later in the day would naturally not expect to receive as much; in their homes, the parents may well have to go without so that the children have something to eat.

Now at last we read about the manager; all day long he has been invisible as the landowner himself has hired the workers, but now he gets involved in the paying of the wages. The labourers are gathered together and the manager starts to pay them according to his master’s instructions, starting with those who were hired last and have only worked an hour. And to their surprise, they receive a full day’s wage – a denarius! No one will go hungry in their house tonight! Imagine, then, the excitement of the workers further up the line! This is an unusually generous employer! If one hour’s work earns a denarius, what will twelve hours earn?

Their hopes, however, are dashed; when it comes their turn, they receive exactly the same, a denarius. Those who worked for twelve hours, for nine, for six, for three and even for one all received the same wage. Surely this is not right?

11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Sure enough, there’s a shop steward in the crowd! He points out the injustice: what’s with paying everyone the same? They’ve only worked an hour; we’ve been at it all day! How is that just and right?

In reply, the landowner reminds them of the contract they made at the beginning of the day; they agreed to work all day long for a denarius. That is what they are legally entitled to. What they are not legally entitled to do is to prevent him from being generous with his money. Obviously when a master pays eleventh hour workers the same amount as people who have worked a full twelve hour day, we are not talking about wages here: we’re talking about generosity. The workers are not getting what they deserve; they are getting what they need. If they don’t get a denarius someone in their house will go hungry, and the master knows that. His concern is not with getting the work done or honouring the letter of the law: his concern is with providing for the needs of the poor. And so, as Jesus so often says,

16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Dick France points out: ‘The extraordinary behaviour of this landowner in adding extra workers after he has already recruited all he needs in the early morning therefore probably indicates not that he could not calculate his labour needs in advance, but that he was acting compassionately to alleviate the hardship of the unemployed. It is unlikely that he needed the extra workers, and his excessive payment of them speaks for itself. Commercially, the man is a fool. And God is as uncalculating as that.’

How are we to interpret this story?

This parable reminds us that the kingdom of heaven is about grace from start to finish. The Gospel is that God does not give us what we deserve; he gives us what we need. The truth of the matter is that none of us are particularly satisfactory workers. If our job description is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, we have all fallen far short of this. If God gave us what we have earned, the reward would be scant indeed. But, as the Bible reminds us over and over again, God is a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in love. ‘God welcomes sinners and invites them to his table’. Forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Father’s constant love are available to all; the arms of Jesus are opened wide on the cross, calling all people to come to him. ‘Today’, he says to the penitent thief – an eleventh hour conversion indeed! – ‘you will be with me in Paradise’.

There are not degrees of salvation; the blessing of eternal life is the same for all. Some are not more saved than others; the latecomers are not at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving the blessings of God’s grace.

And indeed, historically, we Gentiles are the latecomers. The Jewish people entered the vineyard and started to work at 6.00 a.m.; we came on the scene much later. No doubt this was in the mind of the first hearers of Jesus’ parable and the first who heard Matthew’s retelling of it. To the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, they were the ones who had been working hard for God in all the heat of the day, and now Jesus was inviting tax collectors and prostitutes and ‘this crowd who do not know the law’ to join them on an equal footing at the feast in the kingdom of heaven? Outrageous! It was unjust. It reminds us of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son:

“Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30).

By the time Matthew’s gospel was written the Gentiles were pouring into the church. No doubt Jewish Christians, and non-Christian Jews, reflected on these things. “We’ve worked hard all these years to keep the law. This lot haven’t even bothered! How can they be invited in as equal partners with us?” And even today we Christians might feel the same way. Those of us who have been churchgoers all our lives might be tempted to look down our noses at new converts who have only recently come to know Christ and follow him.

Grace is the antidote to all of this. The kingdom of heaven is all about grace. If it were not so, none of us would have any hope whatsoever. So we who have been received with grace and have received it at the hands of God need to treat our fellow-Christians with the same grace.

Posted in Gospel, Sermon preparation | 2 Comments

Unlimited Forgiveness (a sermon for November 14th on Matthew 18:21-35)

We’ve been getting some lessons in honesty, reconciliation and forgiveness from Jesus in the past few weeks. Last Sunday’s gospel, immediately before this one, told us that if we have something against a brother or sister in Christ, instead of posting a Facebook status update to that effect for the whole world to read, we should go to them quietly, raise the issue, and work to resolve it. If the other person doesn’t respond positively, there’s a process Jesus tells us to follow – you can read it all in last week’s gospel.

Today’s gospel follows hard on the heels of last week’s; Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (v.21). I’m guessing that what’s in view here is a situation where we have gone through the process Jesus outlined in last week’s story; we’ve confronted our sister or brother, they’ve admitted their guilt, and have asked our forgiveness. What then?

Before we dive into the story in detail I want to get a couple of definitions out of the way.

First, who’s in view here? Our NRSV pew bibles say, ‘Another member of the church’; the Greek says ‘my brother’, but the NRSV wants to avoid gender-specific language like ‘brother’ and ‘he’. Unfortunately it opts for an institutional metaphor rather than a family one; it would have done better to say, “If my brother or sister sins against me”. Early Christians called each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ and treated the disciple community as a family. It’s a member of that family who is in view here.

That’s the first item of definition. The second is what we mean by the word ‘Forgive’. So many times I hear people say, “I just can’t forgive him for what he did to me”. When I start to ask them questions about what they mean by that, what it boils down to is this: “I can’t make the pain go away”. They’ve tried, and they think they’ve done it, but the next day they think about what was done to them and the pain and anger and resentment come bubbling back.

But this is a confusion of what the Bible is talking about. In the Bible, forgiveness is not about our emotions. We think it is, because in verse 35 Jesus tells us that we have to forgive our sister or brother ‘from our heart’. Nowadays ‘the heart’ is a metaphor for the feelings, the emotions, but that was not the case in Bible times. When the Bible talks about the emotions it talks about the bowels; in the King James Version the word ‘compassion’ is sometimes translated as ‘having bowels of mercy for someone’. The ‘heart’ is a metaphor for the choices, the will – the decisions we make about how we are going to act in our lives.

Forgiveness is not first of all about healing. Forgiveness is a decision not to take revenge on the other person for what they’ve done to us, but to act in a loving manner toward them, whether we feel like it or not. This is not an act of hypocrisy, because we aren’t pretending to like them. It’s an act of obedience to Jesus.

What does it look like? Well, Paul spells it out for us in Romans: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:17, 20). This is what forgiveness is; it’s a decision not to take revenge but to continue to act in a loving and caring way toward the one who has hurt us – to be a blessing to them, and not a curse – whether we feel like it or not.

So Peter’s question is “How many times should I forgive? As many as seven?” I’m sure he thought he was being very generous. After all, the most common human response to attack is escalation. “You burn my house down, and I’ll burn your village down in response”; each party resolves to hit back so hard that the other party will not be able to hit them again. But over and over again, the other party comes back with an even more devastating response, which of course requires an even more devastating response, and so on, and so on.

Give Peter credit, he was suggesting a reversal of this policy. My brother or sister sins against me, we’ve gone through the process outlined in the previous verses, the offender has repented and asked for forgiveness, and I’ve given it to them. But then, a week later, they do the same thing. So I grit my teeth, confront them with it again, they readily admit their guilt and say, “A thousand pardons, you’re right, I’m determined never, ever, ever to do it again, please forgive me”. So we grant them the requested forgiveness, and then a couple of days later, they do it again. Now we’ve reached the seventh time, and the anger in our soul is rising to boiling point. Surely seven times is enough; any reasonable person would agree.

Jesus’ response to Peter is to tell the parable of the unforgiving slave. ‘Slaves’ in those days often had a lot of responsibility and it is quite possible, for instance, that the minister of finance of a country would in fact be a king’s slave. Somehow this slave has gotten himself into enormous debt to his master the king. Ten thousand talents was a lot of money. A talent was more than fifteen year’s wages for a day labourer; we are talking about a sum of money that would have taken a day labourer 150,000 years to pay off. It was, in fact, approximately a thousand times the annual tax revenue of the provinces of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and Idumaea put together! Jesus is trying to paint a true picture of the position in which you and I stand before the King of all the universe, the creator of all.

Let’s think about this for a minute. The great commandment is to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, but every day, in a host of ways, I break it: I make myself the centre of my universe, and I see others as simply supporting characters in my story. In other words, I make myself the idol that I worship, rather than worshipping the one true God. I love other idols too – money and the things it can buy, sexual enjoyment, my own selfish ease, the good opinion of others. And I don’t love my neighbour as myself; I would far rather live an easy life and come home to rest and relaxation than put myself out to help another. I live in luxury while the majority of the world lives in grinding poverty. I walk past beggars on the street on a regular basis, and not only do I not give them a handout, but I don’t take the time to find better and more effective ways of helping them either.

Or think of what Jesus has to say in the Sermon on the Mount. I regularly commit spiritual murder against my brother or sister by nursing anger and hatred against them in my heart. I commit adultery by looking upon women with lust on a regular basis (especially in the summer time…!). I am not always conscientious about keeping my word. I do not reach out and love my enemies. And so on, and so on. It is overwhelming, and paralyzing, to think of the number of times, in an ordinary day, in which I sin.

Except that it isn’t. Most of the time I don’t think about it. I just take it for granted that God will forgive me. And, according to the parable, that is in fact exactly what happens. “And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27). Did you notice, by the way, that the master did not, in fact, give the slave what he asked for. The slave begged “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything”. In other words, he asked for more time to gather money to pay off the debt.

Think about this for a minute. How could the slave possibly repay a debt the value of 150,000 years wages for a labourer? The very idea is ridiculous, and the master knew it. So instead of answering his prayer, the master did what the slave had not asked – he forgave him the whole debt.

What does this mean for us as Christians? We are so in love with the illusion of our own respectability that we just can’t contemplate putting ourselves into the position where we are debtors to grace forever. And so, when we come to God and ask for his forgiveness, I wonder if what we are really saying is, “Lord, please give me more time, and I really, really will change!”

Except that it doesn’t work. How many times have I told God one day in my prayers that I repent of a particular sin, only to go back the next day and do the very same thing again, with my eyes wide open, knowing exactly what I am doing? The reality is that change is very hard, almost as hard as paying off a ten thousand talent debt. Change is possible by the help of the Holy Spirit, yes – but it isn’t going to be finished by the time I kick the bucket!

And this is the wonder of the Christian gospel. God does not answer my prayer! He does not give me more time to pay off the debt, because he knows that for the rest of my life I will never be able to pay it all off. Some of it, yes, but not all of it. And so I ask God to forgive me, over and over and over again.

And I expect him to do it. I can never remember, in all my life, praying to God a prayer remotely resembling this one: “God, I think I’ve probably used up all my get out of jail free cards on this one. If you forgive me again, you’re just going to be reinforcing my bad behaviour. If I were you, I wouldn’t forgive this time”. I have never prayed a prayer like that! Every day, even up to seventy times seven and beyond, I ask God to forgive me – and I expect that he will. And given the fact that he continues to give me the gift of his presence, his love, and his help on a daily basis, that prayer would seem to have been answered. That’s what ‘grace’ means: love that we don’t deserve, and that we don’t have to deserve – God just showers it on us as a free gift, because it’s his nature to do that. Grace is at the heart of the Christian gospel.

Very well – what does that mean for how we treat one another? The story goes on to deal with a situation where the same slave, who had been forgiven such an enormous sum, refused to forgive a paltry little debt owed him by a fellow-slave. A hundred denarii was a tiny sum in comparison to the ten thousand talents; it was still substantial, about three or four months’ wages, but nothing in comparison to the astronomical debt the first slave had been forgiven.

Jesus’ point is obvious. ‘Yes, you certainly have a case against your brother or sister; the offences they have committed against you are real. However, when you stack that list up against the list of offences you have committed – and continue to commit – against God every day, it’s not hard to see which list is longer”.

Why would the slave refuse to forgive in this way, after he himself had been forgiven so much? I suspect that he did what I do so often – he kept these two items in two hermetically sealed compartments in his soul. Compartment number one reads: “God has forgiven me more than I can possibly imagine, and he continues to forgive me day by day. I must never forget that”. Compartment number two reads, “That SOB sitting two pews in front of me is going out of his way to hurt me. He does it on a regular basis. It’s time for him to get what he deserves!”

Whoa! Wait a minute! “What he deserves?” If we are going to move back into the realm of what people deserve, we’ve left the gospel behind, because the gospel tells us that God doesn’t give us what we deserve – he gives us what we need. If we want to move back into the realm of desert, we’ve moved back from the gospel to the law. And that has terrifying implications for us.

What are the consequences of not forgiving? Look at what Jesus says in verses 34-35:

“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart”.

Let’s be frank: do I want to enjoy life forever with God? Do I want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven? Then I need to remember that the passport that gets me in is God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus is quite clear here: if I refuse to forgive someone else, my passport is revoked. It was given to me for free, but it can be revoked if I refuse to forgive others as I have been forgiven.

Remember, we’re not talking about healing here; we’re not talking about feeling good toward the offender. We’re talking about Jesus’ command to love even our enemies and to be a blessing to them. Jesus does not specify what form the love should take in a given situation. He does not say, for instance, that a woman who is being abused by her husband should remain in a situation where her life and safety are in danger. What he does say is that revenge is not an option. ‘An eye for an eye’ is not an option. Love may be a struggle, but it is the command of Jesus.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. It is only because of that forgiveness that I can have any hope of eternal life. Day by day I am a debtor to God’s amazing grace. May God help all of us to love as Jesus loved us, and to forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven, just as we expect God to forgive us.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 26

Link back to Chapter 25

This is a work of fiction; I haven’t yet finished it, and it will probably get revised after it’s finished. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.

We stayed pretty close to Northwood and Oxford for the first two weeks of our holiday. Owen and Lorraine came out one night and met Kelly and me at the Kingfisher, and we had a long and relaxed meal together, after which they came back to the house for an hour so that Owen and I could play guitar in the big music room while Kelly and Becca gave Emma a bath and got her settled for the night. Later on, just before they left, Owen said to me, “Bill still has the Friday night open stage at the ‘Plough’, you know”.

“Yeah? Do you go?”

“When I can”.

“You don’t play in that worship band at your church any more, right?”

“No, it actually fizzled out a couple of years ago, but the bass player and I have been thinking of starting a Celtic band”.

“That wouldn’t be for church, then?”

He laughed; “No, although I don’t think Celtic and Christian are necessarily a contradiction”.

“Are you going to the Plough this week?”

“Probably; want to come along?”

I looked at Kelly; “What do you think?”

“Go for it. I’m guessing I can’t really take Emma, though”.

“I guess not; it’ll probably be at least three hours”.

My mother had been sitting quietly in the circle with us; now she spoke up and said, “Why don’t you leave Emma with me?”

Kelly smiled; “Would you mind, Irene?”

“Of course not! How often do I get to see my granddaughter? I know she hasn’t stayed with me yet, but we get along alright with each other, and if worse comes to worse, I can always ring the ‘Plough’ and ask them to send you home!” She glanced at Becca and said, “That way you could go along too, if you want”.

Becca grinned mischievously; “I don’t know – three hours of Tommy’s miserable folk songs?”

“Actually, that’s not the way an open stage works”, I said with a smile; “Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of glory, so you probably won’t have to put up with more than three of our songs. And there always used to be some pretty high quality folk music at that open stage”.

“There still is”, said Owen.

Through the rest of that week I could see that my mother was being intentional about spending more time with Emma, talking with her, reading to her, playing games and going for walks outside. One afternoon we left Emma with her for a couple of hours while we went for a walk along the river with Becca, stopping for a pint at the Kingfisher before coming home to find the two of them contentedly making cookies together in the kitchen. “Apparently Emma likes cooking”, my mother said with a smile.

“Yeah, she does”, Kelly replied, “and she likes washing dishes too”.

“The more water, the better”, I added.

The ‘Plough and Lantern’ was a traditional pub in the Jericho area of Oxford, with a low-beamed ceiling, hardwood floor, polished black round tables, and wooden chairs, with a small stage set up in one corner of the room. Bill Prentiss, the big, bearded landlord, was a huge supporter of folk music in Oxford and had been hosting the Friday night open stage and Saturday night concerts for many years, along with other events during the week. He was as genial as ever when he saw the five of us coming in at around seven o’clock on Friday evening, and I was not surprised that he recognized me immediately. “Good grief, look what the wind blew in!” he exclaimed as he shook my hand vigorously; “Talk about a blast from the past!”

“How are you, Bill?”

“I’m very well, Tom – I always am. And who’s this absolutely stunning young lady on your arm?”

“Bill, can I introduce my wife Kelly? Kelly, meet Bill Prentiss; he runs this seedy-looking joint!”

Bill took Kelly’s hand and said, “You married a folk singer, did you? What a miserable existence!”

“It has its moments!” she replied with a grin.

He noticed her accent immediately, and he gave me another smile and said, “Right, I’d forgotten that you moved to Canada. Are you still there?”

“I am – married into the place, and we have a four-year old daughter too”.

“Excellent!” He greeted Owen and Lorraine, and I introduced him to Becca; “It’s her first time here”, I explained.

“Welcome to the Plough”, he said to her: “Are you a folk music fan?”

“Well, I like it when Tommy plays it!”

“ ‘Tommy’? I’ve never heard anyone call him that before!”

I waved my finger at him; “Don’t you get any ideas, Bill! Little sisters get some leeway, but no-one else!”

He laughed again, and then shook his head slowly and said, “Well, it’s a treat to see you after all these years, Tom. Are you and this old rascal going to play a few songs later on?”

“That was the plan”.

“Great!” He turned back to Kelly and said, “All joking aside, I get lots of musicians here, but I never forget the good ones, and that includes Owen and your husband”. He gave a sudden frown, looked at Owen and said, “What about Wendy? Do you ever hear from her?”

“No, we lost touch with her, Bill; I know she moved to London, but after that, I never heard from her again”.

“That’s a shame; the three of you together were outstanding”. He grinned at us again; “ ‘Lincoln Green’ – a real trio of outlaws, you were! Well, find yourselves a table, folks; if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to a few other people before things get going, but I’ve got you on the list; you’ll be on about eight-thirty, if that’s okay?”

“That will be fine”, Owen replied.

We found a table in the corner of the pub, and Owen and I got drinks for everyone from the bar. The supper crowd was starting to thin out by now, although there was still a vague smell of fish and chips in the air; a couple of cigarettes were burning, and we saw a few other people sitting at tables with instrument cases on the floor beside them. Becca looked around with a grin and said, “So this is where you used to hang out when we all thought you were studying!”

“I can’t deny it”, I replied, taking a sip of bitter; “We spent a lot of hours at this place, didn’t we, Owen?”

“Here, and at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House”.

“When did you first come here?” Kelly asked quietly.

“Not long after we started university, actually”, Owen answered. “Tom was still a bit shy about performing in those days, but I was keen, and I was looking for places that had live music. I asked around a bit, and someone told me about this place. So I dragged him out to the open stage”.

“Dragged him out?” Becca said, with a bemused expression on her face.

“Well, in those days he wasn’t exactly the most outgoing fellow, you know!”

Kelly laughed; “I remember that boy; he’s the one I fell in love with!”

“Well, I did warn you about him, if you remember?”

She smiled and put her hand on mine; “It worked out pretty well”, she said.

“I think we kind of met in the middle”, I replied.

“That’s true”.

“So did you have to drag him up onto the stage, too?” Becca asked Owen.

“I did; it took me a couple of weeks, but finally I got him up there, and after that, we never looked back”.

“I remember the date of the first night we played at the open stage”, I said; “Do you?”

“I don’t think I do”.

“November 18th 1977, the week after Remembrance Day”.

“That’s right !” he exclaimed; “I’d forgotten about that! We were going to play the week before, but then Bill decided not to run it that week because of Remembrance Day!” He sipped at his beer, frowned thoughtfully, and said, “I do remember the date of the first Saturday night gig we played here, though – March 4th 1978”.

“It didn’t take Bill long to give you a gig to yourselves, then?” Lorraine observed.

“Well, actually the first one wasn’t by ourselves”, I replied; “We shared it with another act”. I frowned; “What was her name? Do you remember?”

“No – I don’t think she ever played here again”.

“Not very good?” Lorraine asked.

“Good, but rather swamped with work, as I recall”. He shook his head; “I can’t remember her name”.

“It’ll come to you in the middle of the night”.

“Oh, probably!”

The music that night was as good as it had ever been. Bill was unusual in that he ran his own open stage instead of asking a host to do it for him; he was very knowledgable about music, and everyone who played at the Plough knew that, although the average set length was three songs, Bill would use his discretion to shorten or lengthen your set, depending on how well you were doing at keeping his patrons entertained. He called the open stage a folk night; he didn’t restrict it to traditional folk music, but the pub did tend to attract traditional performers. Becca grinned at me at one point, after a particularly good a cappella singer had finished her set; “You think you’ve died and gone to heaven, don’t you?” she said.

“Well, I don’t get to hear this sort of stuff very often!” I replied.

Owen and I took the stage just after eight-thirty; by then the pub was full, and as we plugged our guitars in, Owen looked around at the crowd and said, “I brought an old friend with me tonight. When Tom and I were at Lincoln together we used to play here regularly; we called ourselves ‘Lincoln Green’. This is Tom Masefield, everyone, and I’m Owen Foster”.

We knew that Bill’s list was full, but nonetheless he let us play four songs; we started out with one of the more boisterous songs in our old repertoire, ‘The Golden Vanity’, following up with ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’ and ‘Clyde Water’. That was when Bill nodded at us and raised his finger, indicating that he wanted us to play one more song. Owen and I were ready for this, and he smiled at the people and said, “Tom’s here tonight with his Canadian wife, Kelly; she’s sitting over in the corner there with Lorraine, and Tom’s sister Becca. Give the nice people a wave, Kelly!”

Kelly grinned and waved her hand, and Owen said, “This last song is a particular favourite of Kelly’s, and many of you know it; Tom and I learned it from a recording by the great Nic Jones. This is ‘Master Kilby’”.

As we played the opening chords I saw Kelly smile and mouth the words ‘thank you’ to Owen; as he had said, the song was well-known to many people in the pub, and I heard a few voices singing along with us. At the end we got a good round of applause and a few whistles and cheers, and when we got back to our table Owen grinned at Kelly and said, “Did you enjoy that?”

“You’re just like my husband, Owen – you’re an incurable romantic!”

Lorraine laughed; “It’s true, but sometimes you have to dig for a long time before you get to it!” she said.

Before we left the pub that night, Bill came over to our table, smiled at me and said, “When are you going back to Canada?”

“Not until August 20th”, I replied.

“Well, that’s good then. I’ve had a cancellation on Saturday August 11th; would you boys be interested?”

“A ‘Lincoln Green’ gig at the Plough?” Owen said with a grin; “What do you think, partner?”

“What do you think?” I asked Kelly.

“Let’s maybe see how your mom did with our girl tonight”.

“Good thought”. I turned back to Bill; “Can I get back to you tomorrow?”

“Absolutely. But I hope you say ‘yes’; I’ve got a lot of patrons who remember when you two used to play here”.

I found it fascinating to watch Emma as she gradually got used to her new environment at Northwood and Oxford. Of all of her Reimer cousins, she was probably the most shy and reserved (“doomed from the start by the Masefield genes!” as Kelly put it with a laugh), and so I had expected that it would take her a long time to get used to the new people she would meet on this trip. However, it didn’t turn out entirely as I had thought.

Becca, of course, was not a stranger to her, and although I didn’t think she would remember much from her earlier visits to us, I knew she had strong memories from the previous summer. She always recognized Becca’s photograph on the wall and pointed it out to us by name, so it was no surprise to Kelly and me that she was entirely comfortable with her aunt and was quite happy to go off alone with her.

It took her a little longer to get used to my mother, and this surprised me because my mother was naturally reserved, just like Emma herself. For the first week or so, although she was happy when my mother wanted to read to her and play games with her, she always looked around anxiously to see if Kelly or I were close at hand, or even Becca. Gradually, however, she came to trust her grandmother, and by the time we went out to the open stage at the Plough we had very few worries about leaving her. And sure enough, when we got home at about eleven that night, my mother smiled and said, “She was fine. She asked me once where you were, and I said you’d gone out to listen to some music and you’d be home after she went to bed. I thought she was going to get upset, but we just went out to play in the garden for a while, and she forgot about it”.

My father was an entirely different story; she never really warmed up to him, but that made sense to me because he made very little effort to get to know her. I had thought at first that he would, but it turned out to be a false hope. I mentioned this to Kelly once, and she said, “He doesn’t feel confident around small children, you know; you can see it in his body language. Remember how you were so worried about not being a good father? Where do you think you got that from?”

“I’ve always known I got it from him”.

“Yes, but it’s more than just a lack of interest, Tom. Have you noticed that he doesn’t like being put in a situation where he’s asked to do something he doesn’t feel competent about – especially not with family members watching?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “You may be right”.

When it came to Owen and Lorraine, Emma surprised me, because it was the louder and more boisterous Owen that she took to at first, while with Lorraine, who was a quiet introvert, she was much more hesitant. She especially liked the fact that Owen played the guitar; she would stand right in front of him when he was playing, no more than two feet away, and watch every movement of his hands on the strings.

“That’s why she trusts him more than me, you know”, Lorraine said to us one day; “She trusts guitar players, because her dad’s a guitar player”.

“Uh oh!” I replied; “We need to cure her of that one right away!”

With her Masefield cousins, Emma surprised me again; it was Eric, the more sociable and outgoing of the two, that she quickly made friends with, while it took her much longer to warm up to Sarah. “But that’s an age thing”, Kelly said; “Eric’s only a few months younger than her, but Sarah’s only two”.

“I don’t know about that”, I replied; “Rachel’s only two, and she gets on fine with her”.

“But she’s known Rachel a lot longer, Tom”.

“I suppose”. I shook my head; “I think she just enjoys being mysterious, you know!”

Kelly grinned; “Well, I know who she gets that from!”

Old buildings did not have the same visceral appeal to Kelly as beautiful countryside. It wasn’t that she was uninterested; she liked history as much as I did, and she was always happy to go along and see anything I wanted to show her. But I knew by watching her face that, much as she enjoyed these expeditions, they didn’t touch her as deeply as the vastness of the mountains or the prairies at home, or the green of the fields and trees on our country walks around Northwood.

However, she was always quite interested in Oxford, because of my personal connection with it; she had enjoyed our visits there on our first trip to England, and this time she was the one who asked about going back there again. During our second week at Northwood Owen and I arranged to be admitted to our old college, Lincoln; we had seen it from the outside on our last trip, but Kelly had never been inside it before, and she thoroughly enjoyed the two hours we spent showing her around the place. But even there, although she loved the chapel and the hall, the little quadrangles and common rooms, the thing she loved the most was the opportunity to actually look into my old room on the second floor of the chapel quad; it happened to be unoccupied over the summer, and Owen had sweet-talked the porter into letting us in (it helped that it was the same porter who had been there in our day, and he remembered us).

“Of course, it’s been redecorated and refurnished since I was here”, I said as she stood at the latticed window looking down on the quad. “Still, this is where I spent my first three years at Oxford”.

“Where were you, Owen?” she asked, turning to face us.

“I was on the front quad, but of course, it’s not a big college”.

“You were probably in and out of each other’s rooms all the time!” she said with a smile.

“We were”, I said, “although, you know, we were kind of busy”.

“What about Wendy?”

“She wasn’t here”, I said; “she was at Merton”.

“Right, you told me that. Can we go and have a look?”

“Of course”, Owen replied, “although I didn’t think to make arrangements to be let in, so we might not be as lucky over there”.

Toward the end of July Becca drove us north for ten days.

A couple of nights before we left, Kelly and I had a discussion in the privacy of our room about whether or not we should try to find the house where Joanna Robinson had been born. Becca was planning to take us to York first, and it would not have been hard to change the route slightly to go through the Stamford area and look for the village of Bramthorpe. “If it’s an old stately home, wouldn’t it still be there?” Kelly asked. “Aren’t these places preserved?”

“A lot of them came down after the Second World War, actually”, I replied; “Some of them were too badly damaged by bombing, and some of them were just too expensive for the families to keep up”.

“Still, I don’t imagine it would be hard to find out whether this house is still there. You know the name of the village, and you know the name of the house, too, right?”

“Yes – Holton House”.

I was sitting in the wing chair in the corner of the room, and Kelly was sitting up in bed; I knew that she was sensing my hesitancy about the idea, and she said, “You don’t want to do it, do you?”

“It’s not that I’m not curious…”

“What is it, then?”

“It’s the things she said to me before she died. She made it clear that she didn’t want people coming over here digging up the past; she didn’t know how her family might be received if they came over, so she wanted them to let things lie”.

“But you wouldn’t really be digging up the past if you just went to have a look for the house she was born in, would you?”

“But it wouldn’t end there, Kelly. Let’s suppose we did find this Holton House; what then? Would we go and look through it – take a stately home tour? Might we run into family members on that tour? And when we got home to Meadowvale, would we be able to keep it to ourselves? We were already afraid of tension in our relationship with Don and Ruth and their families because of the fact that we know things about their grandparents’ past that they don’t know; this would make that even worse”.

She frowned thoughtfully; “I didn’t think of that”, she said. “Yeah, you’re probably right”.

“I can’t deny that I’d be interested”, I said.

“But not interested enough to go against her wishes?”


“Alright then”, she said with a nod; “We’ll leave well alone”.

We drove north to York first, and then we travelled up to Edinburgh, where we spent three days wandering the city, visiting the tourist attractions and enjoying the parks and the scenery. Most days we visited the sights until Emma got bored and cranky, and then we found parks or children’s playgrounds, or places she could watch ducks and feed them. One afternoon we went to the zoo, and we knew we had hit the jackpot, because she loved every minute of it and didn’t want to leave at the end of the day.

After that we drove further north; we spent a day in St. Andrew’s and then pushed on up the coast to Aberdeen. For the last few miles of the journey, Becca left the main road and took a side road that gave us a superb view of the North Sea. We were lucky with the weather that day; although it was cool and windy, the skies were clear and the sun was shining, and we could see for miles over the blue-grey water.

Kelly had rarely in her life been close to the sea, and I quickly realized that she was captivated by it. Of all the things we did over the next few days, she loved nothing better than just being close to the sea, whether on a beach or a footpath, or even walking along the top of a cliff; she loved the salt smell on the wind and the cry of the gulls as they soared and dived, and sometimes she would just stop and stand still, gazing out toward the watery horizon. The weather stayed quite cool, but it didn’t seem to bother her; she wore a sweater and a windbreaker, and sometimes I would shake my head at the faraway expression in her eyes and say, “Where are you?”

“Out there somewhere”, she would reply, nodding toward the sea while the wind whipped her hair around her face.

One day when the weather was a little warmer, we were walking along hand in hand, with Becca and Emma a few steps ahead of us, and Kelly stopped for a moment, gazed out over the sea, and said, “It’s so beautiful”.

“You’d like to go out there, wouldn’t you?”

“I really would”.

“Well, let’s see what we can do”.

I made a few inquiries and discovered that, sure enough, there were a number of boat operators who took tourists out for brief trips to look for marine wildlife. Kelly was delighted, and so the following afternoon we spent a couple of hours out on the sea with a small party of tourists. We were fortunate to see dolphins and puffins and many different kinds of birds, but I knew that for Kelly, the best thing of all was just being out there, smelling the sea air and feeling the wind on her face and the rise and fall of the boat on the waves under her feet.

Toward the end of the trip, when we were coming back into the harbour, I put my arm around her as we stood by the gunwale and said, “You’re obviously enjoying this”.

“I can’t find words to describe it”, she replied softly; “It’s one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had in my life”.

Back at our hotel that night, Becca came to our room after we had put Emma to bed, and the three of us talked quietly over a pot of tea around the tiny corner table.

“Well, I can see why you love it up here”, Kelly said softly.

“I don’t actually get a lot of time for this sort of thing during the academic year”, Becca replied. “I can’t believe how busy I am; the weeks just seem to fly by, and I don’t do much other than ride the bus, go to classes and do my shopping. Sometimes on weekends I get out a bit, and I’ve got a friend in my classes from St. Andrew’s, so she’s shown me around. She’s the one who first brought me up here to Aberdeen”.

“Well, for a prairie girl like me, it’s amazing. I haven’t felt like this since the first time Mom and Dad took us camping in Jasper when we were about seven or eight”.

Becca smiled at her; “I’m glad you like it, Kelly”, she said quietly.

“I really do. Thank you so much for bringing us”.

We got back to Northwood late in the afternoon of the first Friday in August; my mother greeted us warmly, and we unpacked our bags and then joined her for tea in the living room. We had just begun to tell her about our trip when the phone rang out in the hallway; Becca got up to answer it, and a moment later she came back into the room and said, “It’s Owen for you, Tommy”.

I went out to the hallway, picked up the phone, and said, “Hi there”.

“You’re back, then”.

“Just got in half an hour ago”.

“Was it a good trip?”

“Really good. How are things with you?”

“Well, we thought we might slip out for an hour later on this evening, if that would be okay with your mum. We’ve got some news, and we’d rather tell you in person”.

“I’m sure it would be fine”.

They arrived at about eight o’clock; my mother made a pot of coffee, which she served in the living room, and after she had poured for everyone I grinned at Owen and said, “Okay, what’s the news?”

He was sitting on the sofa with his hand in Lorraine’s; he glanced at her with a smile, and she gave us a look full of radiant happiness and said, “I’m pregnant”.

Kelly let out a squeal of delight, and the next moment we were all standing, and Kelly and Lorraine were hugging each other, and I was shaking Owen’s hand. “Congratulations”, I said with a smile; “This is fantastic news. When did you find out?”

“Actually”, he said apologetically, “we’ve known for a month, but we decided to keep it to ourselves until she passed the three-month mark. We were afraid, you know, of anything going wrong”.

“I can understand that. Your mum and dad must be over the moon”.

“Yes, they’re very pleased”.

“So when’s the due date?” Kelly asked.

“February 2nd”, Lorraine replied.

“Wow”. Kelly wagged her finger at Owen; “Now you look after this girl, Owen Foster, or you’ll be in deep you-know-what with me!”

He grinned; “I love it when you get all ferocious on me!” he said.

My father shook Owen’s hand, and Becca gave him a hug. “I hope she’ll have the best medical attention”, she said with a grin.

He laughed; “Yes, and not from me!” he replied.

Kelly gave Lorraine another hug; “I’m so happy for you”, she said softly.

“Are you?” Lorraine looked down at her, and Kelly smiled and said, “I am, Lorraine – really. Don’t worry about me; I’m okay”.

“I’ll never forget the things you said to me when we were in Meadowvale”.

Kelly nodded; “That was a pretty special time for me, too”.

“Would anyone like something a little stronger than coffee?” my father asked. “I think we might be able to rise to champagne; I’m pretty sure I’ve got a bottle somewhere in the house”.

Lorraine smiled; “I’ll stick to the coffee”, she replied, “but don’t let me stop anyone else”.

“You know, Mr. Masefield”, Owen said, “I think I like that idea”.

“Well then”, my father said with a smile, “I’ll go and find that bottle”.

We went to Owen and Lorraine’s place on Monday, and stayed with them until the following Sunday. Two years after their marriage Owen had bought a semi-detached house on the east side of Headington; it was the sort of place where cupboards are always falling apart, wallpaper is always peeling, and door hinges are always coming away from the doors. “It’s not that Owen’s not good at fixing things”, Lorraine once said to me apologetically; “He’s just got so many other things he likes doing better!”

Owen had taken a week’s holiday for our visit, but when Kelly and I told him we’d enjoy helping him get a few jobs done around the house he was skeptical; “I thought you were here for a holiday?” he said.

“We are”, Kelly replied, “but we like doing this sort of thing”.

“Honestly”, I said, “you should have seen our place when we first bought it. But John Janzen came over and fixed it up for us, and we were his unskilled labour pool. He taught us a lot, and since he finished, we’ve carried on fixing things up around the place. We enjoy it”.

“So”, Kelly said, “we can work a little bit, and play a little bit. How about it?”

“You two are amazing”, Owen said with a grin.

“They certainly are!” Lorraine agreed; “Can I be the babysitter while the work’s going on?”

So we spent a couple of hours each morning on various projects around the house, and in the afternoons we went walking in the Oxfordshire countryside, or took Emma swimming at Hincksey outdoor pool or riding the miniature railway and feeding the ducks at Cutteslowe Country Park. The weather stayed fine all week long, and in the evenings, after we cleared up from supper, Owen and I would play music together out in the back yard while Lorraine and Kelly played with Emma and talked quietly together.

One night after we went to bed, Kelly was lying in the darkened room with her head resting on my shoulder, and I tightened my arm around her and said, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine; why are you asking?”

“Because you haven’t said a word to me about Lorraine’s pregnancy”.

“We’ve talked about it with them”.

“With them, yes, but not between the two of us”.

“I’m really happy for them; you know that, Tom. They’ve waited a long, long time; how could I be anything other than happy for them?”

“Kelly, you don’t have to pretend with me, you know”.

“I’m not pretending”.

“I believe you; I know you’re happy for them, but I just don’t think you’re telling me the whole story. Come on, Kelly; this is me you’re talking to. I know you’re struggling a little; I’ve seen that look in your eyes, and I know what it means”.

She was quiet for a long time, but eventually she raised her head slightly, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “Okay, you’re right. I guess I haven’t done as good a job of being positive as I thought”.

“You’ve done a marvellous job, and I’m sure Owen and Lorraine haven’t noticed a thing, but you don’t have to hide things from me”.

I felt her shift a little against me, and after a moment she spoke softly; “Thanks”, she said.

“Is there anything I can do, other than just hold you?”

She shook her head; “I don’t think so”, she replied, “but I’m grateful for the holding”.

I kissed her and said, “Any time you need it, you come for it”.

“I will”.

We were both quiet for a minute, and then she said, “I really am happy for them, you know”.

“I know you are”.

“And I really do feel lucky, in so many ways. I have a wonderful husband, and a beautiful little girl, and a loving, caring family. I have such a good life”.

“It’s just that every now and again, you wish you had one or two more little people to share it with”.

I felt her nodding against my shoulder; “Yeah”, she whispered.

“It’s okay, Kelly”.

“Is it?”

“Yes, it is. I know you don’t want to let yourself get into that downward spiral again, and you’ve done a wonderful job of focussing on other people and learning to be strong. But doesn’t Paul say somewhere ‘When I am weak, then I am strong?’”

“Yeah, he does; Second Corinthians, Chapter Twelve”.

“I remember it. I don’t think it means that you get to be strong by ignoring your own weakness or pretending it’s not there. I think you get to be strong by telling God the truth about your weakness and asking for his help”.

“I’ve been doing rather a lot of that”, she whispered.

“I don’t doubt it. But I’m your prayer partner, so do you think maybe you could let me join you in that prayer?”

Again she was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “I’d be really grateful if you would. Especially while we’re here at Owen and Lorraine’s”.

“Okay then; I will”. I turned my head and kissed her; “I love you”, I said.

“I love you too”.

Owen and I played our gig at the Plough on the evening of August 11th; we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, of course, and the audience seemed to appreciate it as well. Afterwards Bill thanked us profusely and said to me, “Whenever you come to visit, you be sure to let me know you’re coming, and I’ll always give you boys a spot here, okay?”

“Thanks, Bill”, I replied.

Owen drove us back out to Northwood after church the next day, and we settled in to our last week in England. Monday was Becca’s twentieth birthday, and in the evening we had a special birthday supper for her. Rick and Alyson made a rare evening visit with their children, and Becca’s close friends Stevie Fredericks and Corinna Baxter came over as well; Stevie lived in Northwood and Becca had known her since she was a little girl, while she and Corinna had become friends when they attended high school in Wallingford together. I had known Stevie when she and Becca were little girls, but of course I had not seen her since the last time we had been in England six years ago; we talked for a little while after supper and I discovered that she was studying in London to become a pharmacist, and was still involved in swimming and competitive gymnastics. “Becca doesn’t do that any more, though”, she said to me; “We still swim together regularly, but she doesn’t compete, and she’s dropped out of gymnastics altogether”.

“She’s got a lot going on in her life, I guess”, I replied.

“She’s got the Masefield genes”, Stevie said; “She’s driven. You don’t seem to be like that, though”.

“No, I made a point of not being like that, and then I met Kelly, after which I guess there wasn’t much hope for me!”

Stevie smiled; “Becca talks a lot about Kelly”, she said.

And so our last week went by. Becca was spending as much time as she could with Emma, and I knew my sister well enough to know that she was dreading the parting that was coming. A couple of nights she and Kelly sat up late again, talking into the wee hours of the morning, and one afternoon she and I went canoeing on the river just as we had done when she was a little girl.

My brother and his family came out to visit us on our final Saturday in England; Kelly and Alyson walked in the garden and talked easily together while the kids ran around and played and Rick and I attempted to make conversation, both of us knowing that there really wasn’t much common ground between us. My mother had asked a photographer friend to drop by that afternoon, and before supper she insisted that we get some family photographs taken; “I never know when I’ll have you all together under one roof again!” she said.

And so our last day came, and after we had said our goodbyes to the rest of the family Becca drove us to Heathrow airport for our flight home. As we were standing by the security check-in, she lifted Emma up in her arms and held her tight, and I could see the tears in her eyes. “I love you, sweetheart”, she said softly.

“I love you too”, Emma replied.

“How old are you now?” Becca asked her.

“I’m four years old!”

“Well – I’ll see you next summer, when you’re five years old, okay?”


Becca passed Emma to Kelly, and Emma looked at her and said, “Are you sad, Auntie Becca?”

Becca nodded, smiling through her tears; “Just a little bit, but I’m okay. You have fun with Jake and Jenna and Mike and Rachel when you get home”.


Kelly and I hugged her in turn, and when I let her go I said, “You’ve given us a great summer, Becs; thank you for doing so much to make it a good one for us”.

She shook her head. “Thank you for coming, Tommy; hopefully it won’t be another six years before you’re back”.

“We’ll do our best, and we’ll see you next year, one way or the other”.

“Okay. Ring me tomorrow to let me know you’re home alright”.

“We will”.

We each gave her one last hug, and then we turned and made our way through security.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 2 Comments

‘To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea’

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says one of Canada’s greatest mysteries now has been solved, with the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” Harper said. 

At this point, the searchers aren’t sure if they’ve found HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. But sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

Franklin Ship found

A sea floor scan reveals one of the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition in an image released in Ottawa Tuesday. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

The wreckage was found on Sept. 7 using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. When Harper revealed the team’s success at Parks Canada’s laboratories in Ottawa Tuesday, the room burst into applause. 

Read the rest here.

‘Ah for just one time I would take the northwest passage,
to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea,
tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage,
and make a northwest passage to the sea’.

 – Stan Rogers

Posted in Arctic, Canada, History | Leave a comment

Mandolin Orange: ‘Waltz about Whiskey’

We heard these two at the Edmonton Folk Festival and we thought they were ‘mighty fine’.


Mandolin Orange’s website is here. Their latest album is ‘This Side of Jordan‘, and ‘Waltz about Whiskey’ is on it.

Posted in Folk music, Music | 2 Comments