Lent 2011 – a retrospective

This year I did something I haven’t tried before – I gave up both Facebook and blogging for Lent, and most of my blog reading too – kept only Reed Fleming‘s and Philip Yancey‘s blogs. This was far and away the most beneficial Lent discipline I have ever tried. It’s hard to adequately describe the sense of quiet and of focus that I experienced through Lent this year. I realised that Facebook has become the constant background chatter to my life, and I realised afresh just how addicted to it I am. I also realised how much of an exercise of egotism blogging is for me – how often I check back to see what the statistics are, for instance, or to see if anyone has left me comments (even though I know with my head that WordPress would have sent me an email if they had!). So it was a relief to lay all that aside and just enter into the quiet of Lent.

One benefit of all this was the amount of reading I was able to do. My ‘Books read’ sidebar tells the tale. Our church Lent book study was on John Bowen’s ‘The Spirituality of Narnia‘, and Marci and I have been enjoying reading the Narnia stories together – we read five of them during Lent. I read and enjoyed Eugene Peterson’s memoir, ‘The Pastor‘, and especially enjoyed John Stott’s little book ‘The Radical Disciple‘, along with the recent biography of John by Roger Steer, ‘Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott‘. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I’ve decided to read through the entire King James Bible this year in honour of the 400th anniversary of this classic translation; I’m now in Nehemiah (as well as being almost through the psalms) and am still thoroughly enjoying it.

Speaking of reading, I bought myself a Kindle a few weeks ago. One of the attractions of doing so was the availability of so many public domain classics as free downloads (the Amazon store alone has over 5,000 of them, and many more are available from other sources). I’ve read two George MacDonald novels, ‘Thomas Wingfold, Curate‘ and ‘Paul Faber, Surgeon‘ since I got the Kindle, and am now reading a biography of Fletcher of Madeley before moving on to an Elizabeth Gaskell novel.

Another purchase during Lent was the new update of the NIV Bible (popularly but unofficially known as the ‘NIV 2011‘). I quite liked the TNIV and was sad to see that Zondervan and Biblica were pulling the plug on it, but so far I’ve been mostly quite impressed with the NIV 2011 which I’ve been using for my morning devotional readings.

Oh yes, something else I gave up for Lent was the Daily Office. It was getting very dry and stale for me, so I decided to go back to the simple old ‘quiet time‘ of my early days as a Christian. I use the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘New Daylight‘ Bible reading notes, so I read the chapter that the daily passage is taken from in my NIV 2011, think about it and write down some thoughts and meditations, read the New Daylight comment, and then respond in prayer in the old ‘ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)’ pattern. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this; in fact, it’s been a breath of fresh air for my prayer life, giving me a new sense of immediacy in my daily time with God.

The weather in Edmonton has truly been atrocious, with constant snowfall all through Lent and even up to the week of Palm Sunday. This has really cut down on opportunities for outdoor exercise, and I’ve felt the lack of this, but am now enjoying getting out and walking again. I haven’t done any bird watching for a long time, but hope to get back to it as spring progresses.

I’ve continued to work slowly on the recording process for my new CD. I’m using a friend’s home recording studio, and my good friend Alex Boudreau is doing the actual engineering for me. So far we have recorded fourteen guitar and voice tracks, and we plan to do three or four more. We will then listen to what we’ve got and make some decisions about adding other instruments, although I want to keep to a fairly stripped-down sound as I like the simplicity of it. Tracks we’ve recorded so far include some traditional tunes like ‘Johnny Cope’, ‘Pretty Saro’, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, and ‘Lord Franklin’, along with some of my own, including ‘The Ballad of Jake and Rachel’, ‘Watching this Town Growing Old’, and ‘I Know You Will Be There’. I’m very happy with the recordings we’ve made so far. I do plan to send this recording away to be professionally manufactured, unlike my previous efforts which were all home-burned.

There’s much else that could be said – how many different ways are there to say that I love being a grandpa? – but I think I’ll stop here, and end by saying that my experience of freedom and peace during Lent has me thinking very seriously about the role that the blogosphere and Facebook play in my life. I do not seem to be able to ‘do’ them moderately as some people can. Giving the whole thing up for six weeks was tremendously enjoyable, and I’m really questioning whether or not it’s something I should do permanently. I know I’ve tried before, and failed, but I may well give it another try, ‘The Lord being my helper’.

On the eve of a very special day for me.

This is another one of those ‘catch up’ posts.

I love winter, but even I’m getting tired of this Edmonton winter. It feels as if we’ve had snow and cold for months on end with very little relief (although, to be fair, we did have a warm spell a few weeks ago). The parking around our neighbourhood has become very congested because we live near one of the new LRT (Light Rail Transit) stations and there is not adequate parking on site, hence commuters use the residential streets around as a free parking lot. That causes congestion at the best of times, but when snow ploughs have left huge wind rows and thereby narrowed the streets considerably it’s even worse. Pox on the whole business! I love winter, but even I am looking forward to spring, snow melting, sunshine, days at the beach, a week camping and hiking in the mountains, sitting on the hill at Gallagher Park for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival…

On Monday night my friend Alex Boudreau and I played a last-minute gig at the Second Cup coffee shop on Gateway Boulevard and 34th Avenue. I say ‘last minute’, because Alex had been booked to play the regular Monday night gig there and he invited me to join him at the last minute. Alex and I used to play music together a lot, but we’ve been doing so less frequently recently. He has been getting more into bluegrass music, and I’ve learned a lot more traditional folk songs since the last time we played together. When we share a gig we do some songs by ourselves and some together, and we joke that ‘we practice live!’ Anyway, we had a really good time and agreed that we should do it again before too long.

Last night a small group of us started a Lent book study at St. Margaret’s; the book we’re using is John Bowen’s The Spirituality of Narnia: the Deeper Magic of C.S. Lewis. In this book John examines the Christian roots of the Narnia series and what it can teach us about spirituality and walking the Jesus Way. There are eight of us involved in the study – six made it out to the first one – and we had a very fine conversation. I’m especially looking forward to the last week of the study when John is going to have a Skype conversation with us about the book.

I’ve conceived a new traditional folk music project, which I call ‘A Folk Song an Hour’ (a play on Jon Boden’s very fine ‘A Folk Song a Day‘ project). The idea is that I will gather a group of people together for four hours on a Saturday afternoon and guarantee to teach them to sing (and play on guitar, if they play) at least four traditional folk songs. The emphasis will be on the words and the tune rather than on guitar artistry, as is only proper with traditional songs. I asked for ten people and twelve have signed up for it; we will be doing it on Saturday May 7th from 1-5 p.m., venue to be announced. There’s room for a couple more, but a maximum of fifteen, so if you’re in the Edmonton area and you’re interested, call me as soon as possible.

Tomorrow at St. Margaret’s we are holding a ‘conversation’ on the difficult subject of war and peace; we’re calling it ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian To Do?’ We will be examining the different ways of interpreting the biblical material (just war, pacifism etc.) and then sharing our own views and listening to one another. Ten of us will be participating in this conversation from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a very timely and important subject and I’m looking forward to it.

Then on Sunday after church we’re having a ‘Giant Omnibus Pancake Event’. This is really a combination of four things: (1) our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, but on the Sunday before instead, (2) an appreciation event for our former administrative assistant who moved on to other things a few months ago, (3) an appreciation event for our many volunteers, and (4) a recruiting event for new volunteers. We expect that a good time will be had by all (and many pancakes consumed!).

Finally, tomorrow (March 5th) is a very special day for me. I was baptized as a baby on December 29th 1958, but on March 5th 1972, with my Dad’s help, I prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus and asking him to live in me. My experience is that praying that prayer (or, rather, God’s answer to that prayer when I prayed it) set the course for the rest of my life in ways I never imagined at the time. My Dad is nearly eighty now, and I will be talking to him some time tomorrow to remind him of that special day. I will always be grateful for his challenge and his encouragement as I began my intentional Christian journey.

The Silver Chair

Before Narnia movies went all CGI/action, they had funny ‘humans-in-animal-suits’ characters, but they paid a lot more attention to C.S. Lewis’original story lines.

Here’s the first part of the 1990 BBC production of ‘The Silver Chair’. I think it’s the best Narnia story the BBC ever did, and a bit later on in the story it brings together two of my favourites: C.S. Lewis’ character of Puddleglum the marsh wiggle (who I think is the best character in the whole Narnia series) is played by one of the best Doctor Who actors, Tom Baker.

After you watch this one, you can google the rest or look them up on YouTube. They’re great!