you have to die to enter a vocation

a quote for the week ...

"Theologically, what distinguishes a vocation from the rigors of a profession is this: you have to die to enter a vocation. A profession summons the best from you. A vocation calls you away from what you thought was best in you, purifies it, and promises to make you something or someone you are not yet."

- Richard Lischer  from "The End of Words", 2005,  p. 30


preaching from the kingdom side

Something has happened to the preaching moment we share at University Hill Congregation. In truth, it has been happening over a long period of time. Yet something quite extraordinary seems to be happening as a result of the news that the preacher has an incurable cancer. I am trying to make sense of all of this. It is early days. But the last few Sundays have been different. There is more energy. More energy in the preacher. More energy in the congregation. And not just any energy. Kingdom energy. Gospel energy. Ache is here. Truth is here. There is both grief and gratitude. There is a living word that is almost palpable. It is easy for me to receive during the week. It is almost as if the texts are plugged in to a high voltage line. I do not find it difficult to hear what the text is speaking to us directly. It might be difficult to put into words. It might be hard to say. But it is not difficult to know what needs to be said. The Word from God seems strong.

I am wondering what it is about this new situation that has made the preaching feel so electric. I am not alone in this. Many in the congregation notice that we are participating in something we have not known in quite this way before. Some of the ingredients in this mix seem clear to me.


life on rocket fuel

Today I complete the first month of a three month treatment program in preparation for a stem cell transplant at the end of August. During these three months I am receiving high doses of steroids in order to put the myeloma into remission. For some reason myeloma is very sensitive to steroids. I was in to see the doctor on Tuesday and the results of my blood tests after one month are very encouraging. The evidence of myeloma has decreased by sixty percent since I began taking steroids. Its all good.

Except. Except that taking large doses of steroids changes your body chemistry in two very noticeable ways. One, my emotions are much closer to the surface. Two weeks ago I was leading worship, reading the Great Thanksgiving prayer during the Eucharist and came across a beautiful line in the prayer. I started to cry. I mean, really. It was moving, but not that moving! The other main effect of the steroids is even more unnerving. I am constantly "juiced". I feel like Ben Johnson looked when he ran in Seoul, full of steroids. If my normal energy levels feel like my engine runs on low-grade gasoline at the pump I now feel like I am lifting off of the launch pad at Cape Canaveral all day. I am normally a pretty energetic person. Now I am that energetic person multiplied. On one level, its not such a bad side effect. I am getting a lot done. The "to do" lists at home and work get written down and they actually get done. But on another level it gets very tiresome to never have the experience of feeling tired. There is not a minute of relaxing in the day. If I sit down on the couch to rest, my internal motor is still revving on all cylinders. In a society that so values productivity it would seem a great gift to be able to go from the moment your eyes open (usually at 4:30 am these days, when the sleeping pill I have been prescribed wears off) til the moment you mercifully get some drug-induced sleep. It doesn't take long, however, until you realize that being human includes the gifts of feeling tired, of needing to rest, of being able to relax and of reaching the limits of your energy and capacity.


a life I hope is unintelligible

a quote for the week ...

"I have tried to live a life I hope is unintelligible if the God we Christians worship does not exist."

- Stanley Hauerwas


an incursion of the spirit

It is fascinating to me to notice how the biblical texts jump off the page these days when I sit down to wonder what will preach. Something about the news of my diagnosis has changed not only my life but the life of our congregation. Some of the changes are predictable in the face of the news of incurable cancer. There is shock, sadness, anger, fear and grief. But some of the changes are ones that I would not have predicted. There is an energy, a moving towards one another, an almost tangible sense of the living hope and sure faith that we often speak of and even long for. After preaching about this for three decades I am not sure why I shouldn't have predicted this. Being rooted in trust in God's faithfulness is what one would hope to have happen in a Christian community when the pastor is diagnosed with cancer. Still, it is wonderful to discover that this is what is happening now that this kind of trouble is no longer a hypothetical situation.

run caroline run

Now it is not one friend and colleague running to raise money for blood cancer research but two. First I learned that the former United Church Campus Minister at UBC, Carmen Lansdowne, is training for a half-marathon in San Francisco in October on behalf of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in my name. Now I have discovered that the current United Church Campus Minister at UBC, Caroline Penhale is going to travel to San Francisco in order to run with Carmen in my name as well. What a gift. For the past few years University Hill Congregation and the United Church Campus Ministry have been closely together to undertake ministry on the UBC campus. Carmen and Caroline have become wonderful colleagues and friends of mine. Their decision to train separately (Carmen in Berkeley/Oakland and Caroline in Vancouver) and then to run together in my name in October is a huge encouragement to me do my own training and preparation for the long distance run of slow recovery from a stem cell transplant in the fall.

Caroline's goal is $3,200. That equals $150 per kilometer. Donations in support of Caroline are made in Canadian funds and result in a tax receipt which can be used when making a tax return in Canada. When making a donation in support of Caroline the donor is given the options of allowing their name to be listed on her run web page as well as of allowing the amount donated to be shown or not. Thank you for supporting and encouraging Caroline and Carmen!

Donate in support of Caroline Penhale's half-marathon for blood cancer research.


I have felt it pass through me

a quote for the week ...

"There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn't enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time. I don't wish to be urging the ministry on you, but there are some advantages that you might not know to take account of if I did not point them out. Not that you have to be a minister to confer blessing. You are simply much more likely to find yourself in that position. It's a thing people expect of you. I don't know why there is so little about this aspect of the calling in the literature."

- Marilynne Robinson ("Gilead", p.23)

run carmen run

One of the delights of my life has been running. I discovered it through my neighbour Chris who taught me the ropes twenty years ago as we ran around Crescent Beach in the early morning hours. Then my old friend Mike coached me back from injury and onto half-marathons and - to my great surprise - a marathon. I learned a lot about life through running. I learned that slow, steady, disciplined habits produce slow, steady, real change in your body. I learned that what I had thought to be impossibly beyond reach was actually very much within reach. I learned to pay attention to pain and to take care of my body. And I discovered that I enjoyed the training more than the races (which is good, since you do a lot more training than racing). Many of those miles were spent running along the beach and into the woods with my buddy Micah - our standard poodle who died earlier this year with lymphoma. As I spend the next weeks preparing for a stem cell transplant in August and for the slow, steady recovery to follow through the autumn I find myself thinking that I am in training for a marathon journey rather than a short sprint to the finish.

Then comes word from my friend and colleague, Carmen Lansdowne, that she is dedicating her half-marathon run in San Francisco in my name, raising funds for research into blood cancers such as multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma. Carmen's goal is $2150. That equals $100 per kilometre. She has begun training now in order to run those twenty-one kilometers in mid-October. Your donation will inspire her to keep at it and will encourage me in my own marathon journey.

Donate in support of Carmen Lansdowne's half-marathon for blood cancer research.


what's up

A sermon preached on Ascension Sunday, June 5, 2011
at University Hill Congregation,Vancouver, BC

“What’s Up”
Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:15-16). Sometimes Paul is frustrated with the church. Sometimes he is exasperated with the church. Sometimes he is just plain mad at the church. But not always. When Paul prays for the little church in Ephesus he is filled with gratitude for a congregation that trusts its life to Jesus and, as a result, has an abundance of love for one another. I know what it is to be filled with gratitude for a congregation that trusts its life to Jesus and, so, is marked by love and affection for one another. Three weeks ago, when the doctors confirmed their suspicions and told me that I have multiple myeloma, I was shocked and sad and grateful. The gratitude was, and is, threefold. I found myself realizing how thankful I am for a strong and beautiful family, for a wonderful country in which I am blessed with incredible medical care and for you, for all of you. I thought “I am so grateful that I am the minister at University Hill Congregation. I know how much faith and love there is in our life together. Everything is going to be all right.” Since then you have showered me with affection, concern, prayers and support. I am the recipient of an outpouring of love. This is the odd discovery of being told that you have incurable cancer. Wonderful news accompanies the terrible news. It turns out that the church is not a problem, not an anachronism, not out of touch. It turns out that the church is precious. It turns out that, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the kingdom of God is as close as hearing that life will end sooner rather than later. Faced with the news of our mortality we realize that being together today is a gift to be cherished and received with gratitude. “And for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”