what lies ahead

This week marks the end of the beginning of my journey with multiple myeloma. The first part of the journey was about discovery and shock and education and preparation for what lies ahead. Since I was diagnosed I have been learning about my disease with my doctors. At the same time family and friends, the congregation and many colleagues have come alongside with support, concern and care. It has been something of a whirlwind. It is certainly not what I had in mind for the summer of 2011.

The second part of my journey with multiple myeloma is the good fortune to be eligible for an autologous stem cell transplant (a transplant using my own stem cells). Preparation for this procedure began when I started a three month treatment using steroids to put the myeloma into remission. I have one more month of this treatment to complete. During the next month I have a number of appointments, tests and procedures in preparation for the transplant. If all goes well I am scheduled to have my stem cells harvested on August 17 & 18. Then I am to have a single chemotherapy treatment on August 24 (to "erase my hard drive"). On August 25 I am scheduled to receive my stem cells back. It normally takes about seven to ten days from that event before the stem cells graft to the bone marrow and begin to produce blood cells again. Amazing. I am to go through the entire procedure as an out patient of the Krall Centre on the 6th floor of the Centennial Pavilion at Vancouver General Hospital. Unless I become very ill I will not be staying in the hospital over night. Instead, I will get rides to and from the hospital as needed. I will be living at home, away from crowds and the risk of infection for about three months before being able to return to ministry part-time. Full-time ministry should follow early in 2012. It all depends on keeping healthy and getting stronger. Then my doctors say that I can expect to enjoy a lengthy remission. That is why it is my good fortune to be eligible for a stem cell transplant.

In the meantime, our family is getting away on a vacation. We are really looking forward to being together before I begin the next stage of the journey. We will be out of computer range. This blog will be silent for awhile. I will post again in August.

Thanks to so many for your support, care and prayers. It is a powerful experience that fills me with gratitude. Thanks, also, to those who have sponsored Carmen, Caroline and Janice in their runs and ride to raise funds for blood cancer research. Carmen has reached her goal. Janice has until June 2012 to reach her target. Caroline is nearing her goal but needs a boost in support to get there this summer. I encourage you to encourage Caroline and myself by becoming one of her sponsors. Today she is 71% of the way to $3,200. It means that she needs donations totaling $925. Your gift of any size gives her another motivation to train and lifts my spirits. Thank-you!


you can never be sure

"I hard hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't
you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write"

- W. S. Merwin ("Opening the Hand")


i did not know it

Yesterday (Sunday) was a big day for us. It was the last Sunday we will be together until I am able to return from the stem cell transplant. We are hoping that we will be back together on Reign of Christ Sunday (November 21) or the first Sunday of Advent (November 28). It is only eighteen weeks or so but that is a long time for a pastor and congregation to be apart, especially when it involves re-booting the pastor's immune system. But it was also a big Sunday yesterday because two infants were baptised into the community and an adult entered the congregation through the renewal of her baptismal vows. Any time that the community welcomes new disciples of Jesus into its life is a big day for the church. We could tell that it was a big day by the turn out. When we have to use all the chairs and when we run out of bulletins we know it is a big day. That is especially true when it happens on a Sunday in the middle of July when things are usually quiet and people are usually away. Because it was a big day we had planned to make a video of the service so that those who could not be with us could share something of the experience with us. And all went well - except for one thing. The battery on the video camera failed at exactly the point when the sermon began and we did not discover the problem until the moment when the sermon ended. I expect it is a message from God. Something about not being able to hoard manna in a video camera. The Word of God is meant for the moment, not for collecting. At least, that's what I take from this technical glitch. So, in place of the sermon in video or print form here are some scribbled sermon notes that take off from where I left off yesterday ...


love after love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

- by Derek Walcott


ride janice ride

First there was Carmen Lansdowne, living in Oakland, California and training to run the half-marathon in San Francisco this coming October in support of blood cancer research in my name. As of today, with the help of twenty-eight sponsors, Carmen has raised 109% of her goal of $2150 ($100 per kilometre). Way to go Carmen and friends!

Then there was Caroline Penhale, living in Vancouver, BC and also training to run in the half-marathon in San Francisco this coming October in support of blood cancer research in my name. As of today, with the help of thirty-one sponsors Caroline has raised 66% of her goal of $3,200 ($150 per kilometre). This leaves her $890 short of her target. Your help in getting her to the finish line will be really appreciated by both Caroline and myself. We are almost there!

Now there is Janice Love, my former colleague at University Hill Congregation and long-time friend, living in Vernon, BC with husband Jim and my godson, Jameson. Janice is a co-conspirator in the creation of the Christian Seasons Calendar. She was the one who created the first proto-type after I had come up with what seemed an improbable concept. Now, all these years later, she continues as part of the team that publishes and distributes the calendar from University Hill Congregation. Janice has been inspired to begin training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of blood cancer research. It means she plans to participate in the ride from Vancouver to Seattle in June 2012. It is a long way! Talk about commitment. Janice is riding and raising funds in my name and in the name of Simon Higginson, the brother of Jameson's school principal, who has also been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Janice has just begun training and fund-raising. To date she has raised 13% of her goal of $3,200 ($150 per kilometre). Janice has many months of training and fund-raising to go. You can see a picture of Jameson and me when he was an infant and you can make a contribution to Janice's ride by visiting Janice's Ride to Conquer Cancer site. Your support for Janice and for Simon and for me means a lot to us all.

Speaking of my godson - Happy 8th Birthday on July 18 Jameson!


verbi dei minister

"V.D.M." These were the odd initials that followed the name of our beloved New Testament teacher on the order of service at his memorial. It read "Lloyd Gaston, V.D.M". No indication was made of Lloyd's distinguished career as an academic. None of his advanced degrees were listed, not even the PhD earned under the tutelage of Karl Barth. All that indicated anything of his vocation was the acronym "V.D.M."

During the service Lloyd's friend and colleague Jim Linderberger noted that this designation had been Lloyd's desire. It reflected a long tradition among Protestant pastors and Catholic priests in Europe where it is commonly seen on  the gravestones of clergy. In the absence of any other indication one knows immediately the life calling and work of those whose lives are subsumed in the three letters V.D.M. It signifies the Latin phrase "Verbi Dei Minister" - "Servant of the Word of God". As Jim told us this about Lloyd I remember a shock of recognition: "Yes, that names Lloyd's life ... and it also names mine".


sit down, Master, on this rude chair

a prayer for the week ...

Sit down, Master, on this rude chair of praises, and rule my nervous heart with your great decrees of freedom. Out of time you have taken me to do my daily task. Out of mist and dust you have fashioned me to know the numberless worlds between the crown and the kingdom. In utter defeat I came to you and you received me with a sweetness I had not dared to remember. Tonight I come to you again, soiled by strategies and trapped in the loneliness of my tiny domain. Establish your law in this walled place. Let nine men come to lift me into their prayer so that I may whisper with them: Blessed be the name of the glory of the kingdom for ever and ever.

- Leonard Cohen, from "Book of Mercy", 1984


the soul is like a wild animal

a quote for the week ...

"How we are to listen to our lives is a question worth exploring. In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek."

- Parker Palmer from "Let Your Life Speak", pp. 8-9


lay your burden down

A new rhythm has emerged on Sundays. And, to my surprise, it feels right. It is a surprise because I never would have imagined that hosting a Bible conversation in my office for an hour right before worship would not interfere with preparation for worship and preaching. Instead, it is so obviously the needful thing for me and for us. Looking back, I am not sure that I was ready for this much earlier in my ministry. But I am now.

I arrive early. I wander over to the Chapel of the Epiphany and spend some time arranging the chairs a little here, a little there. I feel like a host getting set for guests who are coming for dinner. I like to be sure that everything is ready. That's done by eight in the morning. Then I go back across the street to the building where I have an office. I get the coffee on and the hot water for tea. I put out the dough-nuts that I bought at the Tim Horton's drive through on my way into town. Then I read the scripture that we'll be hosting in our conversation and in the sermon. At nine I hear the elevator open and people arrive. We number four or five or six or seven. There are the regulars. And there are often drop-ins, sometimes guests from out of town. We get coffee and tea and dough-nuts. We greet. We pray. Sometimes there is important news to share. Then we pick up one of a number of translations of the Bible that are on the round coffee table in front of us and we read the text for the day. Then we wonder about it. We wrestle with it. We laugh about it. We imagine what our world looks like when seen through this script. I test some directions that I imagine the sermon might go. It feels like the warm up sessions that African American preachers often have with the deacons in the minister's study before worship. It feels like a musician practicing scales and chord progressions in order to be ready to play. At five to ten we pray. At ten I leave the group to clean up the office and I walk to the Chapel. The hour has flown by. I have not had time to get nervous. Worship begins at 10:30. Just time to go and look for newcomers and visitors who have arrived early. Then time to meet and pray with the worship team.


You live at the hinge

a prayer for the week ...

You brood in the night in its fearfulness,
You dawn the day in its energy,
    You move at the edge of night
          into the margin of day.
You take the feeble night and give us strong day,
    You take our fatigue and bestow courage,
    You take our drowsy reluctance and fashion full-blooded zeal.
What shall we say?
    You, only you, you
    You at the hinge - and then the day.
You - and then us,
    from you in faithfulness,
    us for the day,
    us in the freedom and courage and energy,
    and then back to you - in trust and gratitude.

- by Walter Brueggemann, from "Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth", 2003, p.5.