A Life Amongst Books in 2017

I love reading. I love lists of books. I love looking back and making a record of the books that provided a texture of ideas and words to my life over the last year. My goal is always to finish each month with 5 books completed. This year I read 83, my record since high school. (I suppose that this rise in volumes could be attributed to the books I read for university.)

As usual, the following will include, in chronological order, the books that made the best impression, followed by a longer list of the other books I really enjoyed reading this year.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

After being influenced by James K. A. Smith’s thinking for several years and with the release of his final volume in the Cultural Liturgies Trilogy this Autumn, it was finally time to tackle the series itself. I read this book in January and it’s insights have shaped me ever since. I think its concepts are key for understanding how the human heart and society works. Later in the year, I read the second volume (Imagining the Kingdom) and I’ve just started the final book: Awaiting the King.

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

I’ve enjoyed Michael Chabon’s fiction, but this book of essays on the imagination turned me, head-over-heels, into a fan. Being immersed in his active approach to such a diverse range of subjects is like taking a sniff of cayenne pepper to your imaginative senses – it reminds you of what wonders are possible in this world and then has you looking for what other concepts you might have missed in your previously your humdrum existence.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

This was doubtless the most entertaining audiobook I’ve listened to. Trever Noah narrates his experiences growing up in the dying embers of apartheid South Africa. It is simultaneously fascinating, side-splittingly hilarious, and harrowing. I don’t expect that I’ll soon forget the stories, accents, and insights of  this book.

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

As I’ve shared elsewhere, this was the year I made my way though everything Beatles. An online friend recommended this guide to every track they recorded, and I’m so glad I had it. It’s an insightful analysis into the brilliance and shortcomings of the band, while tracing the cultural forces of that indelible era that both shaped and was shaped by the lads from Liverpool. The story of The Beatles is a story of both the stunning potential of humanity and it’s irredeemable shortcomings. This book shows both of these traits.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

Tim Keller’s books are always insightful. In this volume, he sets out to provide a sort of prequel to his debut classic The Reason for God: an argument for the validity of belief in an age of skepticism. But the book becomes much more: a systematic, carefully researched understanding of our current era and the system of belief that undergirds it. It’s a heady book. It’s an important book. I want to reread it.

Holy the Firm

This slim volume is Annie Dillard at her most distilled. It is both simple and approachable, and complex and layered. It’s an age old narrative of why so much evil can exist amongst such vast goodness, but it is told in a simple story that is narrowly focused but encompasses so much. I read it twice in a row, and then wrote about it for school.

No Great Mischief

Some novels are page turners, but the writing itself is quickly forgotten (hello Ms. Rowling...). Others are beautifully written but take a fair bit of concentration to pick away at. This book is one of those rare combinations of being ripping yarn, while continuing beautiful writing on every page. It’s a perennial novel; one that I’m sure I will return to repeatedly, a novel for the ages that remains remarkably tied to a specific place.

Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen narrates his highly acclaimed memoir. The Boss’s voice is in your ears for 18 hours. What more can I say? Bruce Springsteen’s voice is a gift for the people. This audiobook is no different. It was fascinating, insightful, and through it, I’ve developed a great affection for The Boss. He is a gift we do not deserve, and so is this book.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

This vast book, tracing an alternative history where magic is the lost inheritance of the English, feels like it was written in the 18th century, a cross between Austin and Dickens. Ms Clarke has written a terrific yarn, with an ending that verges upon the eschatological. But what I appreciated most about this book was how the plot, while important, was not the main point. This is a story that loves its characters and its textures and wants us to enjoy them too. It’s a marvel that I’m almost ashamed I’ve missed up until now.

 

Honourable Mentions

This year the Book of Psalms was once again my guide and nourishment. I’ve thought back to C.S. Lewis’ small book of essays, The Weight of Glory, often, and enjoyed a recording by Malcolm Guite of Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. Francis Spufford’s A Child That Books Built was splendid. On Writing Well gets to the heart of good writing habits, and does so in a manner far more enjoyable (a sign itself of good writing) than any other I have read. Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage left a thread in my head that would later be picked up and Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship was both well written and insightful. Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was terrific and the novel Station Eleven wove an interweaving story that I throughly enjoyed. I can’t wait to reread Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, even as I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf yet again and loved it all the more. I would have been haunted by Benjamin Hertwig’s book of poetry, Slow War, even if he wasn’t my cousin and friend. Michael Chabon’s Moonglow is, I think, my favorite novel of his. Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder was insightful and convicting. Before We Get Started is Bret Lott being again incredibly human and humble. I fell in love again with The Wind in the Willows and with Tolkien’s best short stories – Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle. And Alan Jacob’s little How to Think was thought provoking in a year when I reflected a good deal on how to talk to those I disagree with.

 

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Turning 25

I was terrified of turning 25. It would be a moment of reckoning. Whatever state of accomplishment at the quarter century mark would be a litmus test result of my self worth.

That dreaded date has finally come, and it's not as bad I thought. Maybe that's because I feel better about where I'm at in life. I'm certainly glad to have moved on from Apple and to have settled into the university life. The prospects head feel good.

Does this contentment come only because my plans are "under control?" How swiftly they can change! Already I feel cracks of potential tension. My health has flashed warning signs and I can almost predict that it will wreck havoc on my schooling. My income is limited. I've been told that I'll do well in school, but of that there is no guarantee. I've ruined my potential many times in the past, and that can certainly happen again.

This last year has been a season of letting go, of new vistas, and of small blessings. I've said goodbye for good to long held career ambitions at Apple. I've had an important trip cancelled at the last minute. My health has been violate, leaving major repercussions. But I'm happy with the small, local school that seems just right for my needs. I've received satisfying success in my writing. I've been given a ministry at church that suits me so very well. Crowded amongst these major events events are countless small blessings; an unexpectedly lovely week with Malcolm Guite, friendships both new and renewed, a room filled with bookshelves and art.

Ah, things. All very good, of that there is no question. They are gifts that our Creator gives us, and we see His hand of blessing through them. But how quickly they consume.

Are my standards for what makes a year good based primarily on how I feel about my accomplishments, accomplishments that fade so quickly? They are truly fragile. As I live my 25th year, may I learn to find my stability in the Lord and His character. May I see the effects of his hand in my life, and find my contentment in them rather than my own strivings for success.

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In Defence of Owning Too Many Books

I live my life surrounded by books. The increase of these volumes used to excite me. Now, it tends to lead to despondency. Why do I keep pursing books, even when I know I'll never read them all? Why even bother?

Last September I gave a speech at my friend Kyle's variety show, wrestling through these memories and expectations and eventually arriving at hope. Now, less then a year later, it's become my debut essay with Upwrite Magazine.

I'm really proud of this piece. Working with Upwrite to edit and improve it was a great joy, combining my three favorited things: creating, collaborating, and communicating. Go give it a read and tell us what you think!

 

 

 

 

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My desk while writing this piece. I'm really excited about the potential to buy new bookshelves.  

2016: A Year Amongst Grace

Another year. Another twelve months of frustrations and sorrows, time wasted and lessons learned, progress and regress. Another year of extraordinary circumstances, all the more remarkable for their ordinariness.

I messaged one of my best friends in the early hours of New Years Day. He replied back with the following benediction: "May the Lord's graces in this last year give us hope for the next."

So many of the Lord's graces are the small ordinary details that we take for granted and easily overlook. But today, I would like to do what I try to do every year: recount the Lord's goodness by listing some of my favourite experiences of the past year. 

My Portland Experience

This summer I returned to Portland and dug even deeper roots amongst that special city. I rented a bike for the week and cycled all over its curving bike paths, across bridges and train tracks. I purchased bags of coffee and stacks of books. I saw Japanese gardens and drank beer in wood panelled corner booths. I attend early morning worship practices and read aloud an essay of mine in a light-strewn backyard concert. I stayed up until 1am eating chicken wings with Liz Vice and Micah Bournes. I interviewed almost every member of The Bible Project team during one whirlwind afternoon. I made friends with Wesley Randolph Eader and his roommate, a talented filmmaker. I interview four different musicians. When it was all over, I returned to Canada via a train that hugged the Pacific coast. It was a dream of a trip. I can't wait to do it again.

Canvas Conference and the Creativity Course

While in Portland, I attended the Canvas Conference and took a graduate-level summer course tackling the subject of Creativity and the Christian. I spent most of the summer registering for the course, reading the fine textbooks, and writing essays. It was a rigorous challenge with many painful moments during which I wondered if, after years of writing for fun, I could actually do it for credit. But I came out the other end with good grades and with my understanding of this, my favourite topic, clarified. It was also an undeniable privilege to sit in the front row of a small classroom asking questions of some of my favourite Christian thinkers and creators.

Calvary Grace Children's Christmas Program

Those who know me know how much I love working with kids. I also love music. And I love creating new things. So when I got to write, direct, and lead my church's Christmas program, I loved every second of it. I did my best to write a sensitive, simple, and powerful script, spent every Sunday on an upright piano surrounded by 25 children practicing the songs, and then had a joy filled evening performing the program with the kids for our church. It was an evening that glowed with grace, one I'll look back with fondness for the rest of my life. I've just learned that making music with these kids will continue into 2017 and I'm thrilled.

Falling in Love with Pencils and Paper

I guess every year I take on a new expensive hobby. Last year it was brewing quality coffee. This year it was exploring the world of Field Notes notebooks and Blackwing pencils. It's a contagious obsession apparently, as I passed the interest on to one of my best friends. "I don't feel too guilty about it" he said. "As a writer, we don't have very many expenses." (But seriously, these notebooks and pencils are such a pleasure to use.)

Successfully Housesitting

I've housesat in past years, but it usually ended in me getting really sick. This year I housesat for over a month and nailed it. I hosted company. I cooked amazing meals. I kept the place (mostly) clean and orderly. I read books, watched movies, went for walks, wrote, and counselled friends. I came away realizing I was ready to live on my own. (Not achieving that goal this year has been an ongoing frustration.)

Joining Christ and Pop Culture Members-Only Forum

There's a website out there called Christ and Pop Culture. I visit it, occasionally. A couple of my online friends told me about how you can pay a couple bucks a month to support it and then they add you to this private forum on Facebook. They told me it was the best forum ever and that it could even change my life. So I payed my money and joined the group and now my friends list has doubled and I'm way, way more savvy about pop-culture. Oh, and it's an astonishing corner of the internet where you can turn to for writing advice, prayer requests, anger venting, and for questions on - really, anything. And it taught me that the people holding differing theological views from me are often people who still love Jesus and are trying to obey the Bible. I wouldn't give it up

Paul Simon Vacation

I went out to the West Coast back in May. It wasn't an epic Hornby vacation, but I did bike all over Victoria, visit tiny wine shops and pubs, purchase (another) stack of books, and enjoy the sea air. And then I went to Vancouver and saw Paul Simon live. Right after the concert Paul told The New York Times that he is taking an extended break from music making. That concert was a dream come true. I'm so glad I made the journey to see it.

Putting into Action Podcast Plans

That's all I can say at the moment. That, and it is going to be epic.

 

Also.... reading more about metal health and realizing I am not stupid or crazy but really  messed-up and rather beautifully different, using my Apple Music membership to listen to all kinds of different music and discovering R&B is actually wonderful, searching for and (maybe) finding a school for 2017 (stay tuned, no promises!), talking to my pastor and realizing that I can actually enjoy a drink without guilt and then exploring that new world that opened up, and actually really enjoying my work for several months of the year (I really hope this continues into 2017).

So much joy. So many gifts. But this year wasn't all adventure and excitement. There were plenty of days of boredom, confusion, agony, and frustration. And there were many more days of ordinary plodding, of step by step steadiness. The small graces that sustained those days that were the true marvels of 2016. And I know that whatever comes in 2017, that grace and the Hand that this grace comes from will continue.

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That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!

Well, not really. But it kinda sucked.

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. So for the first time in five years, I used several vacation days to extend my days off.  I was hoping to spend some time with my elderly grandfather, make lots of music with my aunt, see a whole bunch of movies in theatres, and spend time alone reading and writing.

On the 23rd, after a nearly perfect Christmas tree hunt,  I went downtown to meet up with a best friend to watch Jackie at Eau Claire. Thanks to the nasty roads and snowfall, he was unable to show up. So I went into a pub to catch up on emails and ordered a large serving of fish and chips. The meal was too expensive and left a bad taste in the mouth. Frustrated, I went across the street to watch the excellent film Manchester by the Sea. I went to bed around midnight, excited for my vacation to begin.

At 3:10 am I woke up with an even worse taste in my mouth. "Just get rid of it and all will be well" I told myself. That was not so easily done.

It was nine hours later that I dared swallow a sip of water. It took the next twelve hours to get rehydrated, forty hours before I dared eat a full meal, and sixty before the diarrhea stopped. I was throwing up so hard that I burst blood vessels in my left eye, resulting in two days of hazing vision  and looking like I'd survived a bar fight rather than food poisoning. It's now been four days and I'm still exhausted.

I'm surprised how easy I've fallen into despair. To not find enjoyment in the rich gifts around us is expected, for they can quickly grow old. But not finding hope and comfort on the truths and power of prayer and scripture is verging on inexcusable. I have so much to learn!

And then I saw reports of friends' Christmases. A trip to the emergency room on Christmas Day because an infant daughter is chocking. A Christmas Eve in the hospital due to colitis. A wife whose brain tumour has resulted in a hand refuses to recover and is throbbing with pain. Or even worse: a miscarriage.

So I resolve to enjoy these next few days off. It will be easy to look back with regret on time wasted and memories ruined. It will be tempting to find joy solely in the music I'll play, the movies I'll see, the friends I'll meet, the quite time I'll savour. What's the alternative? Perhaps it's knowing that these circumstances exist to humble us, to re-anchor us in something greater than the well-being that we have built up around us, that bursts so easily. When I am made aware of that again, contentment is possible. I can rest in someone outside of myself.

Twenty Four

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In the past, birthday mornings have been typically cheerful occasions, but not this twenty-forth morning. I rose early to prepare for work and despaired over my situation. Twenty four years, one less from twenty five, and what have I done with myself? I know men in my position who are working on their second degree, or married, or who are off having adventures around the world. And here I was, no close to my ambitions than I was a year ago, still in my parents home, working a position that betrays my years poured into the company - in short, a mess of a man. In one year I will be 25 years old. If I were to then find myself in the same position, how could I face myself? I shuddered to think of where that despair might lead me.

The morning sun and Paul Simon's Graceland in my headphones cheered me up by the time I arrived at work, where the hugs and well-wishes of my many friends greeted me.  But it was mid-morning text from my pastor, Gavin, who forced a change of perspective and attitude on me. "Grace to you as you celebrate another year of God's mercies to you."

Mercies to you. Now that's a different way of looking at things. With such perspective, my success is not measured by how well I've done with myself, but by how gracious my Creator has been to me. What have I to complain about, really? What do I actually deserve? In such light, these years have been mercies indeed.

He continued. "It's been wonderful to watch how the Lord has grown you in these past few years. Keep on." With this attitude, I'm not looking at what I've done well and what I've achieved, but what the Lord has done in me. This is progress of a different kind, a supernatural work that I can not account for on my own. How could I give up? How could I discard His handiwork in me?

I reflected on the days that made up this last year. There have been few notable events to mark it, and, unlike the year before, less dark clouds of troubled turmoil. I got sick for several months. I wrote some things I was proud of. I was successful in a somewhat unchallenging work environment. I happily spent several months on my own. I planned an exciting trip to Portland and complete a graduate level college course. In short, the had the typical share of pleasures, events, disappointments, heartache, and ups and downs.

That evening, my family and a handful of excellent friends gathered on our beautiful acreage. We ate dozens of chicken kebabs, baskets of fresh pita breads, bowls of fruit and salad, about two chocolate cakes, and Chemex after Chemex of coffee, all prepared by my sisters while I was at work. We laughed, partly because of the sharp wits on display in that room, but mostly in delight over these remarkable people and the joy they brought. My parents told stories of their courtship while training teens on tall ships, stories that looked back and remembered with gratefulness.

We then pulled into the music room and gathered around the grand piano. Violins, clarinets, and guitars were produced, a couple iPads served as our hymnals, and for about an hour we sang some of my favourite songs: "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder," Let All Mortal Flesh Be Silent," "Erie Canal" (the Bruce Springsteen song, not a hymn), "Jesus I My Cross Have Taken," "Oh Perfect Love Come Near to Me," and "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand".

Farewells were said. Hugs were exchanged. Guests departed to their corners of the city and our family headed into our rooms and to bed. And so I am content. Not because things couldn't be better. Not the because the frustration will end. Not because things have changed. But because I can trust the One who is guiding me, and I can see his hand at work.

"Soul, then know thy full salvation

Rise o’er sin and fear and care

Joy to find in every station,

Something still to do or bear.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,

Think what Father’s smiles are thine,

Think that Jesus died to win thee,

Child of heaven, canst thou repine."

Mountains Beyond Mountains

I step off the LRT and into Lion's Park station just after 11pm, having finished my last shift of work. It's after I hoist on my backpack and make my way out onto the sidewalk that I notice the rain. All the way to my uncle and aunt's house it pours, increasing in intensity by the minute. It comes at me in sheets, blowing sideways off the pavement in waves of water. Streams pour off the brim of my hat. It soaks through my jacket and my shirt, my boots and my socks. It runs in rivulets down the sidewalk and surges into the drainpipes. I laugh, then let out a whoop of joy over the sheer craziness of the circumstances. What a perfect start to my week long West Coast vacation!

Five minutes later, I kick off my soggy boots in my family's living room. Five more minutes, and the freak storm has ended.

The next day dawns far too early. My clothes are air-dried and my leather satchel is packed with food, books, and headphones. My uncle drops me off at Calgary's Greyhound bus station. The wooden sign in the boarding area announces my bus's destinations:

BANFF

LAKE LOUISE

YOHO NATIONAL PARK

REVELSTOKE

SALMON ARM

KAMLOOPS

LANGLEY

ABBOTSFORD

VANCOUVER.

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I have several reasons to make a 15 hour bus journey to the Coast instead of catching a 90 minute flight. Chief among these is cost. The appeal of gaining such a long head start on the 6 books I chose for the trip was also a factor. And I wanted to travel the land. I wanted to feel the breadth of our country. I wanted to read the landscape like a book, crawling up and over the immense backbone of our western continent we call the Rocky Mountains.

I have a friend who recently moved from Edmonton to Calgary. She can't get enough of our mountains. Every other week she arranges a hike for us Calgary natives. Day hikes. Night hikes. It doesn't matter.  She says the sight of the mountains from her window never ceases to thrill her. Hearing her respond to the mountains with such joy has reawakened this jaded local to their beauty. To her, the immense solidity of the massive rocks reminds her that she is both "insignificant and beloved at the same time."

But what if those mountains are clocked in clouds, as they were my entire trip West?

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The coach heaves its way up and over the winding highway. The engine roars its disapproval as it forces itself up a punishing curve, then sighs in a sort of passive complaint as it clings to the roadway down another steep section. In the valley below me, I see clouds floating above a rich green forest. These greens and greys are interrupted by intense white cataracts of falling water. The peaks are slow to reveal themselves. It is easy to lure yourself into believing that they didn't even exist, and that this world of trees and rock and clouds is all there is.

But then the bus turns another corner, or the wind shifts, revealing an opening through clouds, and the towering walls of rock reassert themselves. "I'm here" they seemed to say. "Though you do not see me, though you doubt your map and your knowledge of the land, I am still here. Powerful and strong. Sure and lasting"

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Life occasionally gives us clear vistas, moments were the world and the road ahead are visible with clarity and joy. But those are the exception. The rest of the time, we are rumbling our way through valleys and hills of repetitive mists. I start to wonder if what I see out my window is, in fact, the truth. My head knows what it is supposed to believe, but everything else is yelling the opposite. I get depressed and I want to give up. Or, worse, I get complacent and don't care. 

And then the wind shifts and I see some hazy glimpse of Reality. A service at church clarifies and encourages. A conversation with a friend reveals I'm not alone and that I am making a small difference for someone else. A song, or a book, or time spent in prayer awakens what was previously lost or forgotten. These moments don't linger, but if I peer closely, I see them with enough regularity to keep me hopeful and content. I need such moments. I seek these moments out.

Reflecting on 2015

On New Years Day I was up at 5:30 a.m.,  driving to Estavan, Saskatchewan so I could celebrate a dear friend's wedding. This necessarily cut short any time for typical New Year’s reflections. I had hoped to write something, at least list of my favourite albums, books, and films of 2015, but as January rolled into February and nothing happened, such plans seem ridiculously late to implement now.

But taking the time to celebrate what God has done is surely worthwhile, especially during the boring and wearisome month of February. And I've written a fair bit about about some of the trials of this past year. Now I want to take some time to reflect on the blessings and joys of 2015. So here is a list of (some) my favourite things from the year; the experiences that I’m so thankful for, the riches that "overflow and flood the plain" of my life.

 

Travels 2015

My vacation to Hornby Island and Portland was, in so many ways, just what I needed. I left in great uncertainty and arrived home rejoicing in how God used the trip to build me up in His Gospel and to clarify my plans for the year ahead. My time at Hornby was in turn relaxing and convicting, preparing me for a trip to Portland. Here I was able to witness the creativity and faithfulness of its local church, through visits with The Bible Project and Humble Beast.

 

Writing about Portland

In late Autumn I was sick for about a month and a half, which gave me time to pull out the recordings I took during the interviews I conducted in Portland. I edited these into a couple of essays, with the proofreading and morale support of my friend Andrew. The essay on The Bible Project was well received when it was published and I plan on releasing the one on Humble Beast soon. Hopefully this is just the start of many more interviews, essays, and even trips.

 

The Troubles

“Things might have been different, but they could not have been better” says a character in Tolkien’s autobiographical short story Leaf by Niggle. It’s funny how the darkest bits of your life are the bits that you can’t do without. It was hard. And I wish it happened differently, but I see now the reasons why it might have happened. Working through this whole experience was a challenge, but a delight. A handful of people have thanked me for writing about the experience in this trilogy of short essays, and I pray that’s just a small sampling of the fruit that He is growing in me.

 

Music with Jason

In 2014, the music team that I played with disbanded and I was heartbroken. But this last year I was invited to play with Jason Hoffer, who’s headed a number of bands, including International Cold Beat. Our music practices are more like music lesson. I’ve learned so much from playing with him, and I’ve had a hoot of fun in the process. Our style started to gel over the year (satisfying to watch), and we have some bold (and scary!) plans for 2016.

 

Learning Coffee

Last Christmas, my parents gave me a gift that had an impact on my next year: a Chemex, an electric scale, and a hand-powered bur grinder. Since then I’ve added a gooseneck kettle, an areopress, and an electric burr grinder. Over the year, my skill and knowledge of the art of fine coffee increased along with my equipment collection. (For example, I took cream at the beginning of the year. I now take my coffee black.) The practice of learning to craft such an exquisite beverage daily has enriched my life in so many ways. I’ll never take it back.

 

A Year of Reading

In 2015, I finished 72 books. My goal was to reach the end of each month having read at least 5 titles, but vacation time, exhaustion, and a month and half of sickness gave me more time. I always hope that when I look back on my list of books read, I’ve read works worth reading, works that shape the mind and cultivate the soul. This year, I can say that the titles I chose did so more often that they did not. Soon I hope to publish a list of the 22 books that impacted me the most. I was especially encouraged by the number of times certain books were exactly what I needed to read at that moment of my life.

 

Apple Watch

It was great fun to be part of the first generation of users for a brand new Apple device.

 

Well, those are (some) of my most treasured 2015 experiences. What were yours? Let’s think back and rejoice together.

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An Interview with Tim Mackie of The Bible Project

In August 2015 I got to spend a day at The Bible Project’s studios in Portland, Oregon. I wrote an essay describing that experience and if you are looking for an introductory read on The Bible Project, I recommend starting there. During my visit I had the great pleasure of interviewing Tim Mackie, pastor of Door of Hope church, professor at Western Seminary, and co-creator of The Bible Project. We talked for over 45 minutes and only some of that made it into the essay. The entire conversation was so insightful I’m publishing the whole thing, edited for clarity, so that other fans of the project can listen in and learn with me.

Because it’s a long interview, I’ve divided it into 6 sections: Tim’s Journey and the Story of the Bible Project, Portland’s Unique Church Landscape, Doctrinal Balance and Discipling Artists, The Visual Approach of Their Videos and Their Intended Context, What’s Next for The Bible Project, and Bi-vocational Ministry and Other Advice. I’m very thankful for Tim’s interest in my questions and his time. I hope you find his responses as clarifying and encouraging as I have.

 

1. Tim’s Journey and the Story of the Bible Project

A lot of it is wrapped up in my story. I grew up in East Portland, just a mile away from here. I became a Christian through an outreach ministry to skateboarders. A church had built a skatepark in its backlot and people could come and skate, paying $2 and skating for the whole night. It would be open from 6-9 p.m., but they’d close the park down at 8:30 p.m. and one of the staff would give a Jesus talk. If you wanted to skate the second half of the night, you would have to sit through the talk. It was cool, everybody respected it. So I went to that for years and years through my teens, and then became a Christian when I was almost 20.

I got involved, started teaching Bible studies for the junior high, and I was like “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” So across the street is the largest Christian college here in the city, called Multnomah University, at the time Multnomah Bible College. Jon and I met there. I started going to school and became a Bible geek. I fell in love with all things Bible. 

That’s where you met Jon.

We lived at the intern house and that’s how our friendship began.

That’s right. I was interning at the skate ministry and so was Jon. We lived at the intern house and that’s how our friendship began. Then I went to Western Seminary here in Portland, and from there shipped off to the Midwest to do a PhD in Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin.  My Hebrew teacher at Multnomah had gone there to head the program. It was a great, great program.

Was it a Masters and a PhD?

That’s right, a combined degree, 7 years. And I loved it. I loved it and learned a lot. I had a year in Jerusalem studying at the Hebrew University there.

Is that where a lot of your Hebrew and Jewish elements comes in?

Yes. I was fluent in reading Hebrew by the time I went, but for me this was a whole journey of discovering Jesus’ Jewish identity. I just fell in love with Hebrew scriptures and… the whole deal. I’m just a Bible Geek! No two ways about it. 

But as I was finishing my degree, about 2 years prior to finishing I started doing student teaching at the university, teaching classes. And I… didn’t like it. 

Really!

And I realized that for me, the Bible is a living thing and the whole point about why I care about this thing is the way that it shapes people and communities for the Kingdom of God.

Yeah! I didn’t like the environment. I loved the university environment but I found that the students I was teaching just didn’t care. The courses were required Judaism or religion classes. And I realized that for me, the Bible is a living thing and the whole point about why I care about this thing is the way that it shapes people and communities for the Kingdom of God. 

So I thought, “Okay. That was a good learning experience. I’m going to finish the degree and then figure out a way to bridge my passion for the Bible and learning the Bible as an artifact of history, but also as a living Word to God’s people. I need to find a way to bridge those two worlds." So I stayed in Wisconsin and came on staff as a pastor of the church we were attending. I just began by teaching Sunday school classes, and then started tutoring the senior pastor Hebrew! He wanted to resurrect his Hebrew, and then he invited me to start preaching. That came pretty naturally and then they brought me on as a pastor. 

We moved back to Portland 4 years ago, because my family is here and my wife Jessica’s family is in Seattle. I came back to Portland with a 3/4 time role at Door of Hope. It was a young, 2 year old church that was meeting about two blocks from where I grew up.

Wow.

It has since moved locations. When I arrived, I was their second pastor. I wanted an experience of what it’s like to be at the ground floor of a church. I wondered, is any of that church leader guy in me? And I discovered that it’s not. (Laughs.) I’m definitely a teacher and I love being an elder, but as far as actually building teams and running a church… I kind of suck at it. But that’s okay! You learn by failing and doing.

And it’s great that you can have a context where you can excel without doing that.

Yes, that’s exactly right. So when I moved back I thought, “All right. I’m either going to be at Door of Hope and then I’ll teach adjunct at Western Seminary,” which is my alma matter so I have relationships there. That just came out naturally. 

Then Jon and I were hanging out (this was back in Wisconsin when I was planning to move back to Portland) and he pitched me this idea. 

Really!

Then Jon and I were hanging out (this was back in Wisconsin when I was planning to move back to Portland) and he pitched me this idea. “What if we did some Bible theology videos?”

Because he had been making all kinds of videos. “What if we did some Bible theology videos?”

So we started meeting a morning a week in the Fall of 2012. 

Wow. So this goes back much further.

Yeah! And so we worked on Genesis and Heaven and Earth for a year and a half, before we even started making them. 

Were you just developing it?

We were working on the script. Trying to figure it out. We recorded all kinds of stuff, but they were all 20 minutes long. But at a certain point we got some money and threw it at developing storyboards for Genesis Part 1.

Through the church or… ?

Yes, actually we did. Door of Hope has a creative non-profit arm for music called Deeper Well.

I love their stuff!

Yeah, Josh Garrels has done some stuff through them. So we just put it under Deeper Well as “creative video”. Then we just sat and we worked. We were also trying to think of the crowd funding idea and how to build all of that. It was a slow build!

Yeah! But it sounds like you built the groundwork to make the visual style and the form of communication consistent, so you had that in place before you were ready to go.

Yup, that’s true. We were developing the style, everything, and then we just launched the videos and it’s just gained momentum from there. 

That’s exciting!

Door of Hope’s basically been letting me donate a day a week for the last two years.

Yeah! It’s been really fun to watch it. So the way my life’s set up now: I just started half time at The Bible Project back in in April. So it’s new! Prior to that, Door of Hope’s basically been letting me donate a day a week for the last two years.

Okay. So it was under their budget essentially.

Yes. So just in the last couple months have I shifted to part time at Door of Hope and part time here.

 

 

2. Portland’s Unique Church Landscape

I don’t know if this is just a perception that is wrong, but the reason I came to Portland is actually because there is so much creative, gospel, truthful, stuff happening here. 

Yes!

I love the arts, but I find so many creative, faith-based institutions tend to get slippery on the doctrine. But I think of Humble Beast, which I’m visiting tomorrow…

Cool, those guys are great!

It was something significant. It was part of a new wave of younger, more innovative church planters who were really trying to engage the culture of the city.

I think of Josh Garrels and I think of you guys, your church, and The Bible Project… and I don’t think Portland! I’ve always thought of Portland as this West Coast, spiritually vacant place. So, what is it, do you see a common thread tying this together? 

Hmm, yeah that’s interesting… 

Is it the healthy churches?

For sure. To be honest, I think it is a huge piece of it. It’s that Door of Hope is one of a network of churches planted in the core of Portland during the last decade… well more than a decade. Jon’s church, ever since he stepped away from being a pastor, has been Imago Dei, right up the street, which started in 2000. And it was something significant. It was part of a new wave of younger, more innovative church planters who were really trying to engage the culture of the city. 

Okay! Where did that spark from? Was it a Tim Keller thing, were all these churches reformed?

There’s been a whole wave of these churches. It’s unique! I think it’s something the Spirit is doing here in Portland.

No no! It’s very… I mean, it just happened! Rick McKinley planted the church. Rick is adjunct at Multnomah University and Seminary. He runs the D.min of their cultural engagement and church planting program.

Where is Multnomah in terms of their theology?

It’s an orthodox evangelical school. Within the reformed tradition but classic, not neo-reformed. Same as Western Seminary. Western is a very centrist seminary,.

And is Trinity Church of Portland, Art Azurdia’s church, based out of Western?

It’s not. They meet at Western and they use their building. And the guy who started it is also professor there, but it doesn’t represent Western or anything.

Right, got it. The first time I attended my church in Calgary was for a conference and it was Art who was preaching.

No way!

Then about two years later I started going to that church full time. When I started digging into Humble Beast I realized “hey, I know this guy!” 

And among all of us there’s a common focus on discipling people who are engaging, through their careers, the culture of the city.

So that’s one church.

That’s one. But there’s been a whole wave of these churches. It’s really… it’s unique! I think it’s something the Spirit is doing here in Portland. There’s A New Wave, Door of Hope, a church called Bridgetown, Bread and Wine, Evergreen, Theophilus… I could probably name about a dozen, in size ranging from large to medium to small. But there is a collegiality. All of us pastors, we either all went to school together or know each other, from skate church or…

So there is a commonality there.

Yes! We are all friends. And among all of us there’s a common focus on discipling people who are engaging, through their careers, the culture of the city. And so, 15 to 10 years in…

You start to see fruit.

you see the fruit of that and it’s through a business like Epipheo or Sincerely Turman or Humble Beast. I mean the coffee industry in Portland is riddled with really, really committed followers of Jesus.

Really!

Among the main, significant roasters there is a core that are owned or managed by Christians. It’s really interesting. Same with the creative industry. 

Among the main, significant roasters here in Portland there is a core that are owned or managed by Christians. It’s really interesting.

So it’s really about the Gospel taking root… 

Yeah, I think it’s a movement of the Church. 

And then another unique thing is that Luis Palau, who’s a Latin American evangelist (something of a Billy Graham to the developing world), has his headquarters based here in West Portland. His son, Kevin Palau, rallied and became kind of a a spokesman on behalf of the local churches of Portland and approached the Mayor about how the churches can serve the city. 

Oh I heard about this! Redeemer City to City had an interview with him.

That’s right! So that guy, Kevin, has became kind of this convener of the churches of the wider Portland area. And so there’s been a lot of the churches teaming up. So there has just been all these things creating this sense of the Church of Portland that I think is unique. One of the fruits of that is that in Portland there’s a lot happening in the tech, creative, arts, and communication areas. It is a city filled with lots of Christians who are a part of the unique thing that’s happening here. So stuff happens!

There has just been all these things creating this sense of the Church of Portland that I think is unique. One of the fruits of that is that in Portland there’s a lot happening in the tech, creative, arts, and communication areas. It is a city filled with lots of Christians who are a part of the unique thing that’s happening here.

Amazing.

Really! I think it’s kind of unique. So those are all of the various pieces. Josh Garrels is a good example. They moved here because they wanted to become part of Door of Hope and to make this their home base. 

Okay, so they heard of the church.

Yes! I forget exactly, they told me the story. They were going to move here, or to Seattle, or to somewhere in the South - because of family. They had been to Door of Hope and felt that this is where they were supposed to land. Now he’s an elder at Door of Hope! God is doing cool stuff in his life and there is lots of… There’s probably a million things that we can’t even think of that are also happening. 

It’s neat to see the fruit of that Gospel work that is going forth, even in Canada where I am. I’ve been broken by Humble Beast’s music during very dark moments. Same with Josh Garrels. His music has been there at the right time and you can see the fruit of that.

Right! So there you go. As much as I can put in a nutshell that would be part of my response. I really think it’s fruit of the 'Capital C Church' here in Portland.

Wow.

 

 

3. Doctrinal Balance and Discipling Artists 

There are two aspects of that I’m curious about. One is: when you have this greater community of churches, how do they keep their distinctions while still being unified? Were there any sacrifices that were made or things they had to watch for? And then on a similar note, I think of Door of Hope and just the amount of artists that are based there — which has an effect that I feel when I visit. The music is outstanding, the visuals are beautiful, there’s great coffee. But there is also a depth there. I was listening to the song they played on Sunday towards the end and I loved it so I looked up the artist’s music.

Yes, Wesley Randolph Eader!

Yes, Wesley!

Oh, he is insane.

His lyrics are beautiful!

He is a modern John Newton or Isaac Watts. 

He reminds me of Indelible Grace’s music.

He is so good. Yes.

I find it very tricky for people who love the arts to maintain their orthodoxy. It’s often a very slippery slope. 

Yup.

But your church seems to be maintaining it with their artists. So I’m curious; how do you maintain unity in the churches, what sacrifices are made, and then how do you maintain a unity of doctrine and arts as a church?

Well, I can only speak for Door of Hope. Imago has a really big emphasis on discipling artists as a part of their ministry.

Okay, so they are actually discipling them!

Yes, Paul Ramey is their Pastor of Worship Arts, but really he sees his role as the pastor of the artists in their community.

Hmm, so there’s respect. An artist would feel the encouragement, but also be corrected.

Yes. So for every church it’s different. 

At Door of Hope, everything for us revolves around what we call the four pillars and everything we do filters through those. The first one is Gospel, specifically of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the Spirt being this central thing. We don’t have many doctrinal distinctive other than classical orthodoxy, We’ve had to make certain distinctions as we go, just around how to operate as a church and leadership stuff. But this approach is true of many these newer wave of churches. We have a real classic evangelical centrist position theologically. 

What happens when contentious issues come up, maybe the role of women in the church?

Our elders came around it, we weighed it all, made a majority decision, formed a paper, and then some people left the church. It’s all just typical church stuff. 

But that’s different than your question around artists maintaining their orthodoxy…

Sorry, those are really two separate questions. I should have split them up but they were formed together! 

No, I hear that. I think that… A healthy church that really is centred around Jesus is always going to call everyone in the community to that centre.

To be discipled.

A healthy church that really is centred around Jesus is always going to call everyone in the community to that centre.

Yeah. Now, I don’t have any illusions that the majority of artists in Portland are even remotely interested in Jesus.

No.

Even though we have a lot at Door of Hope, it’s just a tiny sample. 

But I think of Image Journal (who I respect in many ways). I’m not saying they are not believers, but they don’t have that solid weight and I think discipleship maybe is what comes in. 

Yes. Well, I think it just depends. In terms of what’s happened at Door of Hope with our emphasis on music, it has been a really unique thing. It comes out of the guy who planted the church, Josh White. He’s the other main teaching pastor and he is a musician, so that’s been his thing.

That helps!

And also if he wasn’t a pastor his other career would be interior design, so he's got a thing for aesthetics and design, and it shows, and it’s awesome! He was meant to plant a church in Portland. It was just perfect. 

Of course. He is part and parcel of Portland’s culture.

 

 

4. The Visual Approach of Their Videos and Their Intended Context

I have another question that I’ve been wrestling with as I look at your materials at The Bible Project. Something that my church talks a lot about is that as Christians and Evangelicals, we are people of the Word. The Word is what unites us and the Word is our life. So something that my pastor brings up is how many offshoots in Christianity become quite image centred. You look at Eastern Orthodox streams or even Catholics. And so, coming out of the Reformation, we are people of the Word, even in our Jewish roots. 

So then, think of how our culture used to be word centred (think of the majority of our past’s media and entertainment). But today I would say that about 80% of our media is visual. Our culture communicates in a more visual style. I think that’s one of the secrets to The Bible Project is that you communicate that way too.

Yup.

Do you see a conflict there? How do you maintain a Word-centredness while using a visual language?

That’s a good question.

We’re not trying to replace people’s experience with the Scriptures. I think we are trying to provide a tool that makes them coherent, understandable, and approachable. If anything, one of my goals for the videos is that someone watching them goes, “Oh, I want to go read the book of Genesis!” But at the same time, the Scriptures are united to living church communities that are themselves being shaped by the Scriptures too, so there is that ecclesial element of encountering Scripture within the web of relationships of other disciples. 

We’re not trying to replace people’s experience with the Scriptures. We are trying to provide a tool that makes them coherent, understandable, and approachable.

How do your videos point to that?

We want to make them accessible and easy and that churches would want to adopt and use. 

Okay. So even if you are throwing them up on YouTube for some guy to find all by himself, the intent is for communities to use them.

Totally. They are getting airtime in churches all over the planet. It’s really cool! 

I’m a huge fan of people not trying reading the Bible on their own. I think you can do so, but we only stand to be enriched and helped when we read them in community. So I think the videos are a way of reading the Bible in community and helping give people tools. Nothing replaces a community of disciples learning to follow Jesus, immersing themselves in the scriptures, and being a people of the scriptures. That’s an irreplaceable factor.

It comes back to discipleship, just like with the artists.

Yes, that’s exactly right. So in that sense, we are creating a tool that helps people do what is the most important thing, but it’s also a form of outreach. 

Nothing replaces a community of disciples learning to follow Jesus, immersing themselves in the scriptures, and being a people of the scriptures. That’s an irreplaceable factor.

Oh yes. An amazing form of outreach!

We are trying not to use any Christian lingo in order to make it understandable to anybody.

So you’re not using lingo. What are other approaches that are in the back of your head when you plan these videos that give them such broad culture speak?

Well it’s just… I use the words that I would use to explain it. Laughs. And again, part of that’s my story.  I didn’t grow up with the Bible. I was a young adult really encountering this as new world and was really, really thrown by it. I loved Jesus, but the Bible was challenging for me!  So I had to reconcile myself to it and work with it and I ended up finding it beautiful and amazing.

Challenging in its approach or challenging in its implications?

Oh, challenging in its content! And like why… what is this?

So you’re having that experience at the back of your head as you are planning and teaching.

Yes, just my own journey. What do I do with sacrifice and atonement? What is going on here? How I explain it to myself, alongside everything I’ve learned and read, is then what makes it into the videos. I’m making the videos partly for myself, to use! Or they come from materials I worked out in classes I taught that I’m now putting into videos. And then Jon helps, because he's got that gift of making things concise and boiling it down. So he’s another layer where theological jargon gets removed to make it just very approachable.

When you’re doing a video, whether it’s a theme video or a book video, do you have a certain audience in mind? The other half of that question is when you look at the whole scope of The Bible Project, is there an overarching Gospel or message you are trying to communicate?

I think it depends. Book videos are trying to unpack each book by its own literary design, themes, and message, and then how it fits in to the overarching story. And so that is just what it is. Hence, we don’t mention Jesus unless he is mentioned in the book. I am bringing out a lot of the messianic themes. We haven't yet done that many Old Testament books in the sketchbook series, but when we do that it will become more clear. But even for the Passover video, we bring out elements like the cross and blood dripping down, so those kinds of things.

In as much as the story of the Bible is the story of the Gospel, then yes, every video is unpacking the Gospel from these different angles, as sub-themes throughout the Bible. Whether people realize it or not, we are trying to reframe how the people think about the story of the Bible, how this includes, well…everything!

And the theme videos?

For the theme videos, that’s where the action is. Every one is structured as we run it through the biblical narrative, so the prophets are pointing forward to the messianic kingdom and Jesus’ realization of that kingdom is the pivot. In every video, that’s the pivot. So in as much as the story of the Bible is the story of the Gospel, then yes, every video is unpacking the Gospel from these different angles, as sub-themes throughout the Bible. Those are fun because they are synthetic, big synthesis projects. Whether people realize it or not, we are trying to reframe how the people think about the story of the Bible, how this includes, well… everything! The Bible is pretty encompassing. It is training that will mess with your mind. So those are really fun. To put those concepts into accessible language, I know it is really helpful for me. 

 

 

 5. What’s Next for The Bible Project

I’m thinking about how The Bible Project came together and I see God’s hand at work through the right people, with the right background, at the right time. I see how the church provided a financial and pastoral influence on it. Then obviously, there is the huge stage of planning and just putting a lot of hard work and thought and being very deliberate about it. And now we have the crowd funding element keeping it alive. So when you look at what’s going on here, if you had unlimited resources, time, people, and money, what else would you do? What other potential is there for churches and the body of Christ to do stuff that your doing?

Well, yes, that’s a good question. Right now I’m still a deer in the headlights for what we need to get done by next September!

Is that the deadline?

For this phase of the project, yes. We’ve broken it up; we are going to do every book of the Bible in the sketchbook style by next Fall. We’re going to crank out a theme video every month and a half, we have all those lined up. And then we’re prototyping — actually this week we launched the design phase — a series we are going to do on how to study the bible. It will be a 15 part series with skills in reading different the literary genres, that kind of thing. It think it will be awesome! So, once that phase is done… I mean, we have a lifetime of theme videos we could make. So we’ll just keep turning out those. I want to do a series on the history and the making of the Bible — the cannon, the manuscripts, stuff like that, it’s a big interest of mine. And then Jon wants to do a Holy Land series where we do a hybrid of animation and onsite filming, going to different places.

My dream would be that the channel has just hours and hours and hours of content that is free, that someone could walk away with. Another phase of it would be, not that I want to do this, but creating experiences with the videos and shaping it into a curriculum that is free. Like a free online seminary education. And then that is paired up with the translation phases that Ken has his mind around. Making it all available for free! So that a seminary in, say, Kenya, that doesn’t have a huge library but the videos could be available in Swahili, and they could take pastors through it. You know what I mean? They could read through the Bible in one year, while working through the videos with the interactive materials we would create.

How does that change culturally?

Oh that’s a great question and I have no idea. Laughs. But, I’ve thought about that.

My dream would be that the channel has just hours and hours and hours of content that is free, that someone could walk away with.

But you’re keeping it pretty… it’s just the text. 

Sure. But even the way that I would think about doing it is shaped by the fact that I grew up here. And the questions that I think need answering aren’t necessarily the questions that a Kenyan Christian would need answering. And so… I don’t know the answer to that one. I’m just making them. Narrative is a universal language, there is something there that is universal. And the Bible is universal that way. But there’s probably lots of how we are framing itthat would feel very Western to, say, a Chinese christian. 

Yet it is the story of the Bible. When you look at guys like the folks in EE-TAOW, where they go off to some culture and they learn the culture, but they still tell the narrative of the Bible.

Right, tell the story. Yes, EE-TAOW! I remember that.

 

 

6. Bi-vocational Ministry and Other Advice

Well, thanks so much.

Yeah, Daniel. I think my biggest encouragement is, if biblical theological education is exciting to you, just go for it, man. It’s so fun. And I think the other piece is that if teaching is your passion, the way to get better at it is just to do it, especially if you are given opportunities. I remember when I would teach anything. I would teach a Sunday School class with 8 people in a church in Vancouver if I could get the chance. Doing so also forced me to develop materials. When you can start developing materials, over time you you can morph and adapt and grow and pretty soon you realize, “Holy cow, I could teach a class with this!”

And in fact, that’s where the materials you are using now came from. 

Right. Very little of the content for any of our videos are being made from scratch. It’s almost always adapting something that I’ve done, perhaps a sermon series.

Which keeps the workload a little easer.

There is a value of weaving your life into the culture of the city, but having it overlap with the culture of the church, as opposed to being very separatist or distinct.

That’s true. It’s also born out of its context, which is in the church. 

And you know that it is going to work in terms of teaching.

I don’t know if you’re seeing it here in your context of Portland but something that I’ve seen at Calvary Grace, my church in Calgary, is that a lot of the staff are bi-vocational. And it’s something that I actually really appreciate, having come from a church that wasn’t at all. Because these guys aren’t in the office all day, talking to Christians. They know the trials of life and the struggles. 

My life is very different now than I thought it would have been four years ago. I thought I would have had an English liberal arts degree under my belt, but that’s very expensive now especially with the dollar changing. Now I’ve been working in technology for a while; I’m learning what work is and how to appreciate it, I’m learning about the culture more, and so I’m very thankful for what God done. But also thinking, how I can build skills? Would you see that bi-vocational approach continuing?

That’s interesting. I think it depends on the context. There is just a basic reality to the fact that if you can give more time to thing, then it will benefit from the more time you give to it. But a lot of it is built up in the philosophy of ministry and mission that a particular church would have. So if the value is that we want the personal lives of even our pastoral staff to be as woven into the community… But you have to compensate for that in some way. Because somebody’s got do stuff to make the church operate, even at the basic level. But I think there’s something to it.

For example, the way we’ve done it at Door of Hope is that, myself, Josh, and Evan, we all have significant creative projects on the side, or for me now, half of my job. These projects keep us engaged in our areas of interest. For example, Evan has a band that is quite successful here in Portland and he tours regularly. He just fits that into his life.  He’s full time at the church, but built into that he can take off these weeks and a lot of show time. And half of the people he pulls into his band are musicians in the church, so it’s all connected. There is a value of weaving your life into the culture of the city, but having it overlap with the culture of the church, as opposed to being very separatist or distinct. So that’s another way to do it. Find a way for vocation to overlap inside and outside the church. I think it just depends. I think by-vocational, in many setting, works because of its financial stability! It’s easier to float a church financially that doesn’t need full time employees.

So then in closing, having had this chat, do you have any recommendations in terms of how to do school? Would you do a communications degree at the local place and then do Bible?

I don’t have lot’s of great advice. Everyone is different, depending on the season of life. The game is changing where you can gain skill-sets in lots of different ways outside of the traditional university system, and then if you have job experience and relationships… But there is something in biblical theological education that is irreplaceable; where you have a season of life where you just focus and you get to be be around folks who have done that for a long time. That is rad. It was such a privilege to sit with some of the professors that I did and work with them. That is something that is unique that you can’t get from online courses.

It’s that community we talked about. The discipleship.

Exactly.

It’s been really encouraging to hear your story. God led you down this path and he will do it again, just in different ways. 

That’s exactly right.

 Tim shares with Jon an insight on the book of Proverbs as they prepare the outline for an upcoming video.  You can learn more about this process here.

Tim shares with Jon an insight on the book of Proverbs as they prepare the outline for an upcoming video. You can learn more about this process here.

How We Get Our Christmas Tree

Every year, on either December 23rd or 24th, my family cuts down a Christmas tree. They pile into the van, and follow winding roads into the Kananaskis, carols sung by the choir of Trinity College Cambridge playing through the car stereo  Eventually they pull into a trailhead chosen by my dad after consulting mountain maps and the tree cutting permit. But since one doesn't find Christmas trees on trails, the family disperses, outfitted with boots and gators,  willy-nilly off-road, through forests of knee-deep snow.

When in the wild, one assumes that every small symmetrical spruce tree will fit into our living room. When one summons the family to consult over your choice of a potential, some complaint is always raised. Usually, it's that the tree is too tall. Or the branches are too thick. Or not thick enough.

 (A friend once told me how his family would get their tree by going to their back forty and firing their guns at the top of a tall trunk until its tip fell off. Tips of tall tress almost always look good.)

In the end, there is usually more than one finalist in our tree selection. Since nobody can quite agree which one would look best in the living room, and since the cutting permit includes up to three trees, both of our top choices are cut down with Dad's orange saw and carried on shoulders back to the car. My Dad's former career as a tall-ship sailing instructor reasserts itself, as he ties both trees to the roof of our van, using an ingenious assembly of ropes, cords, and clever knots. The rest of the family huddles in the car, heaters at full blast, the mountain dusk settling around them.

Once home, gators and boots are scattered around the door, as each tree takes its place in the witness box of our living room. The winning specimen is mounted in the tree stand, while the looser suffers the ignoble fate of being hacked to pieces and served up as firewood. (A resting place that the victor, twelve days later, will also join; a reminder that despite our conquests and victories, the grave will swallow us all.)

After the honoured tree is given a chance to let its branches rest and recover their natural figure, my dad gets the honour of trying to fix our string of white lights, while we all sit around hoping and praying that they actually work. (This happens every year. Never have we thought ahead and  purchased a new set.) When the string finally comes alive, a cheer goes forth and Dad tastefully drapes them on the branches, the tip of the tree always receiving its own single bulb. I, being the tallest, always get the honour of mounting that branch with the straw star, symbol of my childhood.

By now, the rest of the family has attacked the tree with our 20 year old collection of ornaments, a mixture of small, tasteful decorations from my childhood (at least, those that have survived this far) - each one conjuring the very spirit of Christmases past - along with the larger, tackier objects that were received as gifts in the years since. (I'm surprised my minimalist mother hasn't thrown them out by now.) Last year, my brother insisted on including every single Christmas ball he purchased from thrift stores over the year. I hope this year he's grown out of that fancy.

The finished tree, lit and tinkling, with splashes of gold and red, is ready to provide the backdrop to an evening filled with the aromas of French onion soup, stories and read-alouds with our 93-year-old grandfather, and the rest of the family happily exchanging gifts.

And that is how the tree arrives in our home; at least, usually. Certain years, when everyone is sick, Mum just goes to Greengate on the 24th and picks up, discounted to $5, the tree that has the most live needles (picking it up by the trunk and stamping it on the ground is the best way to tell).

I would love to have posted a cozy photo of the Christmas tree on our car, admidst the falling snow; but this year, I stayed home, rested from my cold, and wrapped presents.

image.jpg

Snaps for Props

Last night I attended both my first spoken word concert and my first hip-hop show. Propaganda performed one set from each category at an event supporting Calgary's own Legacy One outreach program. Although I've been a fan of Propaganda for some time, seeing him live and hearing him perform poetry left quite the impression. Let's see if I can capture in words the flavour of the evening. Here is a tribute to that night. 

His is a poetry not divorced from thought or feeling. It is joyous, words not only enflamed from the brain but rattling in the bones, alive to life’s pain yet aware that man is not alone. He won’t let you off the hook, nor himself either. Eyes wide open, will you join him? “Oh,” he tell us, “we got problems with race, don’t deny it or be amazed. Our education system’s a mess, stop acting so impressed. But our deepest issue is found right here in my tissue. My heart and my mind are defaced, yet I’m gonna speak of grace. I’m aware of it, through our King who is incarnate. See, I’m redeemed but far from perfect. I can’t change the world but I can touch it. I’m alive to His beauty ‘cause I’m confident in His sovereignty.” Having heard him, our minds are enlarged, our hearts are renewed. We return to our homes exhausted, refreshed, reminded that this messy, complicated life can be redeemed, for our God is our banner.

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Desert Island Artists

There is nothing like sinking your teeth into an excellent musician’s back catalogue. The journey of discovery usually begins by falling in love with a single album, spending hours unpacking its lyrics, examining its riffs, and enjoying its virtuosity. Just that one album can be a priceless gift gift, but when you discover that they’ve released other music just as worthy, that journey is like a slow burn of Christmas mornings. An artist with such riches is one I would happily explore forever, an artist that would satisfy for a lifetime, even if the rest of your music library is removed. A desert island artist. I love lists so here are my top five such desert island artists.

PaulSimon

Paul Simon

One day some colleagues and I got into a major disagreement over who had produced better music, Simon and Garfunkel or Paul Simon. I proposed, and was ridiculed for my opinion, that Paul Simon’s music has a depth that surpasses the youthful melodies of the famous folk duo. You could give me just his two world albums, Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints and I would have enough complexity of beat and elegance of lyrics to keep me happy for months. But even his recent 2011 album has tracks like ‘Rewrite’, which is my definition of a perfect song. Unlike his earlier efforts, Paul Simon’s best music is a certain intrinsic selflessness, which is why Sammy Rhodes described Graceland as “so full of joy it practically dares you to be sad.”

Start with: Graceland

Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens

One of the great things about Sufjan Stevens is the diversity of his music. Watching it progress over his career is quite a journey. His early lo-fi folk, with its almost medieval flare thanks to the horns and flutes, gave way to an orchestration, complete with choral rounds and chants. Then there is his electronic phases filled delightful, if sometimes obnoxious beats and patches. His recent offerings combine gentle electronic with a light folk that has me eager to see where it will evolve next. But it’s his lyrics that haunt and comfort me. A friend of mine describes one song, Impossible Soul, as the best song to listen to when your depressed. It meets you in your sorrow, cheers you up, and then reminds us that our depression is probably rooted in our own selfishness. And I supposes such is true of his entire discography.

Start with: Come on Feel the Illinois, or Songs of Christmas (depending on the time of year).

Josh

Josh Garrels

Josh Garrels is a songcrafter. He’s honed his arsenal of tools and what are a rare mixture they are. He is just as comfortable using organic samples and beats as he is with sparse guitar picking. His voice is equally at home dispatching hip-hop flow as he is soul-stabbing falsetto. This package is wrapped into a lush soundscape that tells stories of heartache and home, the dangers of the wilderness and the contentment of redemption. His are songs I can nestle into and live my life amongst.

Start with: Love & War & The Sea In Between

HumbleBeast

Humble Beast

True, technically a hip-hop label. But the group’s four artists, united by the label’s lush, acoustic driven production, sit on equal footing in their talents and upon my musical shelf of honour. I turn to Beautiful Eulogy when my soul is dry and my heart is broken, and they restore me in the hope of the Gospel, my cheeks often getting wet in the process. Propaganda is a modern day prophet, preaching into his culture while restoring hope in his community of Los Angeles. Jackie Hill Perry intricate wordplay produces a cracked mosaic drawing us to seek joy in the Lord. And JGivens’s depth of lyrics and intricate soundscapes tell a multi-layered story as complex and as simple as life itself. To say that their music has impacted my life is an understatement.

Start with: Fly Exam or Crimson Cord

Open Slot

I know, I know, this is cheating, but honestly, choosing this artist would depend on what I’m most feeling on the day of my island banishment. Would it be U2 (with lots to explore, not to mention two of the best albums ever recorded, The Joshua Tree and Achtung, Baby)? Might I choose Elbow, whose maundering chords and rifts I can sink my teeth into? Or would it be a perineal favourite, Jars of Clay? Right now I would probably opt for Bob Dylan. His talents remain undiminished, his back catalogue offers so much to explore, his broken voice satisfies in ways normal polish just can’t, and his musicianship and storytelling can fill a lifetime

Start with: U2's The Joshua Tree, Elbow's The Takeoff and Landing of Everything, Jars of Clay's The Long Fall Back to Earth, and Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy.

So there they are, my five(ish) desert island artists. Who would you choose? Please share - maybe your suggestions will result in the rest in a new journey of discovery for the rest of us.

Scriptures Shaping Community: A Visit to The Bible Project

Many of the topics I discussed with Tim Mackie did not make it into this final essay.  I've published the full transcript of that fascinating interview here

I arrive at Door of Hope church in northeast Portland shortly after its first service begins at 8 a.m. As I open the red doors I hear an upbeat rendition of one of my favourite hymns: ‘On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.’ A six piece band plays with simple precision and although the congregation has the clothing styles and facial hair one would expect from Portland,  I’m surprised at the diversity of ages. Tim Mackie preaches, but his conversational style is more akin to teaching. As he walks us through a passage from Matthew, his care for the congregation and what he is expounding is obvious. As he tells me later “the Bible is a living thing and the whole point about why I care about it is the way it shapes people and communities for the Kingdom of God.”

And shape people it does. As I listen, my preconceived way of thinking is confronted by the teachings of Jesus. After Tim concludes his message the band plays a song written by a member of the congregation. I’m challenged and comforted by the lyrics, “oh Love that breaks all sinful bonds, please conquer more of me.” I leave, encouraged to trust Jesus as I face my uncertain future, and the second of three services begins. The building is packed and the congregation is asked to give up any extra chairs in order to accommodate the people who are still arriving.

 
 Tim preaching from Matthew 16: 1-12; "Oh you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourself that fact that you have no bread?"

Tim preaching from Matthew 16: 1-12; "Oh you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourself that fact that you have no bread?"

 

Door of Hope is one of the reasons I’ve come to Portland. I heard about the church through its music (Josh Garrels is one of the elders) and through Tim Mackie’s work at The Bible Project. The Bible Project is a series of crowd-funded videos that offer animated explanations of the books of the Bible. They are beautifully presented, clear to understand, and use a form of communication that is open to anyone, regardless of your religious or cultural background. I’m eager to learn more about the creation of these videos. I’m also intrigued by the number of ministries in Portland that embrace creativity as way of sharing biblical truth; so I arrange a visit with the other half of The Bible Project, Jon Collins

Jon invites to me to visit Sincerely Truman, a communications consulting company that The Bible Project is based out of. Their building is located across the river from downtown Portland, in a former industrial neighbourhood that includes Stumptown Coffee’s headquarters. The space breathes creativity and collaboration, from the endless sketch-filled whiteboards, to the bar featuring local brews and three Chemex's working in rotation. 

 
 Sincerely Truman, an open office filled with tables rather than desks and where couches are as ubiquitous as sketch-filled whiteboards.

Sincerely Truman, an open office filled with tables rather than desks and where couches are as ubiquitous as sketch-filled whiteboards.

 

Jon originally wanted to be a pastor before realizing that he was too young for the job. Putting his communications degree and storytelling skills to use, he co-founded Epipheo, a company that produces videos that “reveal epiphanies to people”. Out of Epipheo Sincerely Truman was born. Jon describes his strength as “distilling information.” He learns everything he can about a client (a local brewing company or a charity dedicated to diagnosing blindness), clarifying the details into a package his team will use to create everything from the company’s logo to their website. 

Jon and Tim became friends while interning together during university. Tim, a self professed Bible geek, was studying Hebrew and taking any opportunity he could to teach — Sunday School, student classes in university, even a series of self-produced videos featuring him and a whiteboard explaining the literary structure of each book of the Bible.  It was while Tim was working on his Ph.D. that Jon, who had built his career around making videos, pitched an idea: “What if we did some Bible videos together?” When Tim returned to Portland to pastor Door of Hope, he and Jon started meeting once a week. It took a year and a half of those meetings to flesh out the scripts, develop a visual style, and decide on the crowd funding model. Door of Hope’s donated one day a week from Tim’s schedule, providing initial support until the crowd-funding model gained momentum upon the launch of their first video.

 
 Tim and Jon plan the outline for the yet to be released Proverbs video, part of their  Read Scripture series of videos.

Tim and Jon plan the outline for the yet to be released Proverbs video, part of their Read Scripture series of videos.

 

Tim arrives. He and Jon sit down in a restaurant style booth that provide the perfect spot to brainstorm and they work on the outline for an upcoming video on the Book of Proverbs. Tim already has a script in place and a rough outline for what will become the finished video. The two spend almost an hour together fine tuning and clarifying the outline. Watching this process, it becomes clear why they make such a good team. Tim is prepared with a script and a sheet of paper filled with a rough outline, well equipped in his knowledge of how to read and understand this book. As Tim walked through his plan for the video he would ask Jon to clarify the best ways to visualize the information on the page. The finished product was much clearer following their collaboration. It was also a pleasure to see how interested Jon was in having his understanding of the Bible strengthened through these conversations, which is also apparent when you listen to their podcast

 It takes several drafts before arriving at final poster used in the video. An example what such a poster looks like when finished  can be found here.

It takes several drafts before arriving at final poster used in the video. An example what such a poster looks like when finished can be found here.

Unlike many arts and faith organizations, folks at The Bible Project, along with other Portland creatives like Humble Beast and Josh Garrels, are faithful to their art while being truthful to the Gospel. A common element seems to be their location in Portland, which surprises me. My experience on the rest of the West Coast has left me with the impression of a creative but spiritually vacant region. I ask Tim why Portland is different and if there is a common thread tying these ministries together. As he ponders the question I remember my experience at Door of Hope yesterday. “Is it something to do with the healthy churches?”

“For sure.” he answers. “To be honest, it is a huge piece of it. Door of Hope is one of a network of churches planted in the core of Portland during the last decade and a half. It was something significant, part of a new wave of younger, more innovative church planters who were really trying to engage the culture of the city.” He names about a dozen churches of various sizes and denominations, describing the collegiality and friendship amongst the pastors. “Among all of us there is a common focus on discipling people who are engaging the culture of the city with their careers. And so 15 years in, you see the fruit of that through a business like Epipheo or Sincerely Truman, or a ministry like Humble Beast.” This even applies to Portland’s thriving coffee scene. “The coffee industry in Portland is riddled with really, really committed followers of Jesus. Among the main roasters there is a core that are owned or managed by Christians.”

We then make our way downstairs into the basement of Sincerely Truman and into The Bible Project's headquarters. One wall consists of a giant whiteboard where a complex timeline of video titles, assignments (“Record, Illustrate, Edit, Launch”), and schedules are organized. A row of desks house a team of about 9 people, all of whom are quietly working. The walls are covered with posters from the Sketchbook series, frames from films like Song of the Sea that are inspiring the project’s style, and bookshelves filled with Bible commentaries.  Tim pulls up a chair next to Mac, a storyboard artist, and together they begin illustrating the Proverbs video. I chat with several members of the team. Robert, the art director, tells me about his work maintaining a constant style amongst all the projects. Kayla, an animator, shares some of the influences for upcoming videos. Guy, who’s working on visual effects, tells me about his journey prior to joining The Bible Project and his experience with the churches in Portland. I even chat with Jon’s mum, who is volunteering her time by helping send out posters to monthly sponsors. 

 
 Tim and Jon now bring the video's outline to Mac, who does a rough sketch before polishing it up and sending it to the animators.

Tim and Jon now bring the video's outline to Mac, who does a rough sketch before polishing it up and sending it to the animators.

 

“You need to find a way for your vocation to overlap both inside and outside the church” Tim tells me. “The way we’ve done it at Door of Hope is that we all have significant creative projects on the side to keep us engaged in our areas of interest. So [our worship pastor] Evan has a band that is quite successful here in Portland. He tours regularly and just fits that into his life while being full time at the church. There is a value of weaving your life into the culture of the city but having it overlap with the culture of the church, as opposed to being very separatist or distinct.” I’m seeing an example of this principle as Sincerely Truman, a secular company, parents this very Christian endeavour. 

What’s the future for the project? Plans are in place for a series explaining how to read the various literary types of the Bible. Tim wants to tackle the making of the biblical cannon and the history of the book. Jon’s dreaming of a Holy Land tour in a hybrid of animation and onsite footage. Ultimately, their vision is that The Bible Project’s YouTube’s channel becomes a centre for learning with hours upon hours of free content for anyone who wants a Bible education.

 
 A partial view of The Bible Project's headquarters. Turning around, one would see the desks of the animators along with more shelves of books.

A partial view of The Bible Project's headquarters. Turning around, one would see the desks of the animators along with more shelves of books.

 

I wonder if their visual approach will pull viewers away from the word-centred faith of the Bible. “We’re not trying to replace people’s experience with the Scriptures” Tim explains. “We areproviding a tool that makes them coherent, understandable, and approachable. If anything, one of my goals for the videos is that someone watching them will come away thinking “now I want read the book of Genesis.” But at the same time the Scriptures are united to living church communities that are themselves being shaped by the Scriptures, — encountering Scripture within the web of relationships with other disciples.” In fact they regularly hear from churches from around the world who are using the videos as tools for doing just that — hence the study guides the team are producing.

The afternoon is getting late. Before leaving, I thank Jon, Tim, and the rest of the team, Tim says “I hope this visit has been invigorating.” Indeed it has. I’ve seen a healthy, gospel centred church bearing fruit in its community through ordinary discipleship. Out of that fruit is born a ministry of creativity; men and women using their skills in both the church and the world. Their ministry, one video view at a time, is impacting lives around the world; even my own life in Calgary, Alberta. Perhaps there is hope for my city too. I leave encouraged and renewed in my calling to be faithful at home amongst my church and in my community.

Travels 2015: Bicycle Rights!

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on October 21st, 2015.

 

After spending a frustrating couple hours maneuvering Portland’s transit system I decidedthat waiting at bus stops was not why I was here and that there were better ways to experience this city than from the bus window. So after dropping off my bags at my AirBnB, I took the bus all the way back downtown to the catch the only bike rental shop in the city still open that night. I arrived at my journey’s weary end, walked up to the counter, and asked for “one bicycle, for three days please.” 

“Sorry buddy,” said the young and friendly attendant. “You chose the very worst day of the year. Tomorrow is Bridge Peddle and every single bike in the city is rented out.” At least he was friendly, and suggested an app that was the “AirBnB of bike rentals”. In a last ditch effort to find a ride for the next morning, I texted my AirBnB host. Perhaps they had a bike I could borrow?

“Yes, you could borrow our Schwinn in the garage.” came the unexpected reply. “Just head down the hallway, descend the basement steps, take the red door on your right, screw in the lightbulb, find the bike and helmet, and then leave using the rolling garage door. Oh, and watch out for the cat.”

The bike was far classier than I expected and far smaller than it should have been for my 6.3” frame. It was a great, if sweaty, way to experience Portland. I almost got killed or arrested several times, until I discovered bike lanes and Google Maps cycling directions. How I must have looked struggling away on such a small bike! Especially on the day I tried to transport a box of pastries.

I was on my way to visit Humble Beast’s studios in the far-off suburb of Fairview and thought I would bring a gift of a box of delicious pain au chocolate’s, picked up at the local authentic French pastry shop. Since I planned on taking the bus, there was no need for the paper bag they offered me, so I took the bright yellow box loaded with goods and made my way to the bus stop. But despite my well-timed itinerary, the bus had already left. No worries; I would simply follow the bike route to the metro station. Over rolling, leafy hills, past homes and schools, over freeways and down staircases I bike, controlling the brake peddle with my left hand and holding the yellow box of pastries with my right. I got a few strange looks, but hey, this is Portland!

A sketchy elevator ride to the metro ride and a bus journey later, I had only a short hill to descend until I arrived at the studio. As soon I pushed off, I released something was amiss. During the buss ride the single piece of scotch tape holding the folded box together had burst and its origami design fell apart in my arms, croissants flying and falling. I swore to myself, quickly braked, and gathered what I could. Only two had hit the dust, I noticed as I looked up the hill behind me. These pastries weren’t cheap. Should I not stop and retrieve them? 

My mind made up, I retraced my steps, but just then a truck rolled over the crest of the hill, its tire track aiming straight for my pastry. I cringed, but was powerless to stop it. That Pain au chocolate was squished flat as any roadkill. 

They guys at Humble Beast said they never had a guest bring such tasty treats. They didn’t noticed I brought one short of a dozen.

Travels 2015: Cello from Portland

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on August 12th, 2015.

The first photo isn't the best from my day with Humble Beast, but it captures my experience well. Here I am observing, mostly from a distance, the joy and grind of intense creative collaboration (in the picture are Odd Thomas and JGivens, discussing the excitement of their plans for an upcoming music video release) while awkwardly surrounded and feeling slightly in the way (as represented by the basketball game going on in front and around me).

What can I say? I so admire the work that Humble Beast is doing from a creative and ministry standpoint, but then on a personal level their music has meant so much to me. It truly has been used by God! (I’m tearing up as I write these recalling stories of how God has used them.) They are heroes, and performers, and public figures.

And then today found me running on a quarter tank with energy, after yesterday’s excitement and its resulting very poor night's sleep. So I felt like I wasn't on my best, that I missed opportunities - to take photos, to ask questions, to learn more, and get more involved.

But still. These guys were very generous with their time, privacy, space, and resources. They grind so hard! Such intensity! It's incredible, actually. They take this so seriously, with such craft, and with the weight of the gospel and its implications evident in their attitudes and the use of their time. It was such a joy to be there and see it all. And several of the team members really took the time to share with me and become my friends. Even the rest of the crew, despite in their busyness, were hospitable and offered wisdom and advice when they could. I'm so grateful and sincerely hope I can do more with them in the years ahead.

And hopefully I can share more of this experience soon.

Travels 2015: The Reason I Came to Portland

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on August 10th, 2015.

 

I've been following the work of The Bible Project for some time and today their team was gracious enough to welcome me into their studio. They allowed me to observe their collaboration, and we shared many long conversations on the church in Portland and the creative process. I ate lunch with Tim Mackie (while interviewing him), and got career advice and a long list of recommended reading from Jon Collins. Wow!

I was afraid to admit it (as I thought it this kind of experience would never happen) but doing this was exactly why I traveled to Portland. God is so kind.

(In fact, the way he has encouraged me these past weeks - through my sickness, my sin, books I've read, sermons I've livestreamed, services I've attended, and conversation with new friends here in Portland - is astounding. Remember these moments, Daniel. Remember his faithfulness, even when the way is dark and uncertain.)

Stay tuned! I hope to share lots more from this experience soon.

TBP

Travels 2015: A Tale of Two Churches

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on August 9th, 2015.

 

After two weeks of streaming Calvary Grace services while island bound, it was a treat to attend two church services this morning.

I'd heard of Door of Hope through Josh Garrels (who's an elder there) and Tim Mackie (the pastor who taught this morning and who is largely known through his work at The Bible Project). A highlight of that visit was the excellent music, particularly singing favourite songs of my own and being introduced to new songs written by them. It was a joy to worship with such a packed congregation of all ages (this picture was from the comparatively sparse early service). The circumstances of our sanctification seems similar, despite the distance between our cities.

The very first time I came to Calvary Grace, Trinity Church of Portland's pastor Art Azurdia was preaching. His church is also the home of Humble Beast. The gospel was proclaimed during the service I attended with powerfully articulated gratitude. Oddly enough, both sermons this morning m were specifically encouraging for my situation, speaking to my impending fears and uncertainties.

I was particularly encouraged by my long chat with a new friend, Josh Hill. Hearing his story of how God burst his bubbles of pride one-by-one while simultaneously being extraordinarily led to his current ministry was like comparing study notes from two students with the same teacher.. God doesn't waste anything, despite the frustration of my current round-about, circuitous trials.

And speaking of round-about and circuitous trials, that describes my evening on the streets of Portland. Literally. Walking in. Circles. My aunt might be a Canadian orienteering champion, but send this boy into a foreign environment and Maps or now Maps,  I am as confused as ever. Maybe that's my just judgment after joining the hoards of grease-worshiping-Americans navigating the round-about and circuitous lineup for a Voodoo doughnut (worth it!) Other observations from Portland:

  • Everyone other male here has a moustache. Old guys. Young guys. Even video game geeks.
  • Portland is in the middle of a heat wave which means there are lots of sweaty miserable looking bearded men around.
  • I too was hot and sweaty. Just not bearded. Didn't need that help.
  • I was given plenty of moments to yell "bicycle rights!" and "pedestrian rights!”
  • Both churches had excellent coffee (INCLUDING DECAF!). Trinity even served custom Cemex pour-overs. Calvary Grace, it is time to up our game!

Stay tuned for more updates. I'm pretty excited for what is planned these next two days. Pray these opportunities be used well!

Travels 2015: Pacific Central Station Evacuation

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on August 8th, 2015.

 

I'm assuming the fire alarm and evacuation at the stately and beautiful Pacific Central Station here in Vancouver means my trip to Portland is off to a great start? This fireman just pulled out an axe with a flourish, like some Viking warrior arming for pillage - and then promptly dropped his helmet on the asphalt while his colleague laughed at him.

My evening with Brandon last night was great fun. We ate sausages, smoked pipes, and discussed both the Book of Kells and the book of Leviticus.

I can't wait for Portland! I have some exciting meetings to look forward to.

Pacific Central Station

Travels 2015: A Hornby Island Reader

Travels 2015 is a series of updates I originally posted on Facebook while on vacation. What started as a quick update and a couple photos transformed into a series of mini-essays that I would have posted on this website had it been up and running at the time. This one was written on August 7th, 2015.

 

As I shared my summer reading list with my family, I was asked "how much time are you actually planning on spending with us?" (Which isn't fair. They spent just as much time reading as I did. You should see the stack of booksIlona brought!) But true to form, the books along the left ('Select Letters of John Newton', a largely wishy-washy book by Annie Dillard, and 'A Brief History of Thought' [which Tim Keller calls "the one book to read to understand culture"]) have all been untouched. I'll probably get started on one or two of them as I travel.

On my iPhone you'll see an audiobook of Wendell Barry's 'Jayber Crow'. It's been a delightful listen, a story of a small town barber that's full of very real characters, well turned phrases, and an understanding of the human heart that progresses along with the story. It's accompanied many an ocean walk these past weeks.

Tim Keller's book on prayer is almost a compilation of thinking and advice on prayer from throughout church history. Very practical. And every vacation for the last six years has included at least one P. G. Wodehouse. They are the perfect summer combination of witty brilliance and mindless fun.

But my true Honby companion has been 'Music at Midnight', John Drury's fine biography of the English poet-priest George Herbert. It's a guide to bot his life and his poetry. Herbert's richly Reformed Anglican faith was actualized through struggle that resulted in some of the finest poetry in the English language. It was a joy to unpack its depth. It was also fascinating to uncover his life; he has an ambitious and successful academic career in Cambridge before poor health and inner turmoil brought him to lead a humble life as a village parson. I was struck by the way his struggles found their purpose through his writings, which tooka life of their own after Herbert's death, encouraging and building up many, many readers. It was a reminder to persevere in faithfulness, trusting that through Christ we will bear fruit, despite what we may or may not see today.

I hope you enjoy the series of pictures of the various vantages I viewed with this volume in hand.

P. S. Coffee Update: My aunt, who came up by car to visit us for the week, was kind enough to purchase a Moka espresso pot on my behalf, as well as pick up a bag of Fernwood decaf. How kind! My coffee drinking is restored.