velcade - cycle four

As of this morning I am half way through my fourth cycle on bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone. On four Thursday mornings out of every five I arrive at St. Paul's Hospital at 8 am in order to receive two injections of Velcade. Today it took ninety minutes from the time I arrived until the protocol was completed, the drugs sent from the pharmacy and the injections injected. I take advantage of the time to rest, read and chat with the nursing staff and other patients. This is a photo of today's meds. Not much to look at but, thankfully, very effective in managing my myeloma and the resulting amyloidosis. These injections are allowing me to live a healthy, symptom free life. While I do not know the current price of Velcade a little online research suggests that these two vials cost in the range of $1500. Multiple myeloma and amyloidosis are expensive diseases to treat. Needless to say, I continue to be very grateful for the Canadian health care system which provides this to me without charge.


speaking of dying

"The church does not cope very well with dying." Those are the first words on the back cover of a new book that I am in the midst of reading (Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church's Voice in the Face of Death). On first glance it is a bit surprising to think that the church does not cope well with dying. As the authors point out, the church knows what to do when it comes to the time of death. When it comes to death itself the church moves into action with funeral liturgies and memorial services and care for the grieving. But when it comes to dying the church often does not know what to do or to say other than to mimic a culture in which dying is regularly denied and silenced or is fought at all costs.

Given the diagnosis that I received last year - a diagnosis of living with an incurable, if manageable and chronic, blood cancer - and given my vocation as a Christian pastor I ordered the book. While I have no desire to be living with the label "dying pastor" and, in fact, am remarkably healthy at the moment, I am acutely aware that I am on a journey toward death. I am eager to learn about how best to speak of this journey in ways that are honest, faithful and helpful.


grace at the tim horton's drive-through

photo from davidblaikie.ca
I am a commuter. I have habits. One of them is my pit-stop at the Tim Horton's drive-through window fifteen minutes into my drive. I pull off the #99 freeway, cross the #10 highway and get into line. There are often six or seven or eight cars ahead of me. On first glance it can look like a long wait is in store. But not here. The tiny Tim Horton's outlet in the back of the Esso gas station is filled by a highly choreographed team whose dance of service is remarkable. The line up moves swiftly. I am soon placing my order, speaking into the microphone: "One small coffee, black, in my own mug and a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted dry". Now I need to be prepared, with my cup in hand and my money ready. Pulling up to the window a hand is already reaching out for my cup. Another employee has guessed what change will be needed and hands it to me as I pay. Before I can get the change put away my toasted bagel is ready, and then my coffee, and then - in what seems no time - I am back on the road. When we say that the church is a community that is learning to perform the gospel I sometimes think that it can learn something from the dance of service every morning at this Tim Horton's. But that is not what occasioned this post.


the god we would rather have

We are your people and mostly we don't mind,
       except that you do not fit any of our categories.
We keep pushing
                  and pulling
                  and twisting
                  and turning,
       trying to make you fit the God we would rather have,
                  and every time we distort you that way
                             we end up with an idol more congenial to us.


jeremiah & jesus

Next week our Wednesday morning Bible at Breakfast group is discussing chapter seven of the book of Jeremiah. The story told there is an obvious point of contact between Jeremiah and Jesus. The correspondences between Jeremiah and Jesus seem largely forgotten in the church these days (witness the lack of passages from Jeremiah's Temple sermon and trial read in the church during Holy Week). Yet these parallels have long been recognized, as noted in the following quotation by H. Wheeler Robinson (originally published in 1915):


but it's received

"Too often (North) American Christians, I think, think they get to make Christianity up. But it's received."

- Stanley Hauerwas (in "Sunday Asylum: Being the Church in Occupied Territory", Work of the People, 2011)


use at your own risk

At worship yesterday it was my turn to gather with the youngest children and to tell them the story that they were to learn about in their Little Ones time together. It was the story of Joshua and the city of Jericho. It is quite a tale to tell with the seven priests blowing the seven trumpets as they circle the impregnable walls with the Ark of the Lord on each of six consecutive days. Then, on the seventh day, they repeat this extraordinary parade seven more times before, with a shout from the people, the walls come tumbling down.


a people, a name, a praise and a glory

"Jeremiah" by Michelangelo
Our Wednesday morning Bible at Breakfast group is currently reading the book of Jeremiah. With this in mind here is an article I had published in the Fall 2002 issue of Word and World.

A People, a Name, a Praise and a Glory:  
False and True Faith in Jeremiah

In a world of conflicting truths, how does one know which truth to trust? Living in the aftermath of the cultural hegemony of Christendom, the consensus truth of modernity, and the visceral body blow of September 11, we are witnesses to the rapid deconstruction - even demolition - of the old, solid, foundational truths. In the face of this smoldering rubble pile of certitude, the stable assumptions of our once modern world seem already, strangely, ancient. What we tentatively name postmodernity is, at the least, a hotly contested conversation about what is the truth. When truth is in question so is falsehood (1). Which decision is true to God’s calling? What future trajectory tells a lie about God’s intent? How will we know the truth when we see it? Jeremiah enters the epistemological courtroom, stands in the witness box, and gives daring testimony. He offers no half-truths, no spin doctoring, no soft soap. Jeremiah names suspects, exposes lies, neutralizes counter- testimony, competes with adversaries, and calls for a hearing.


lorne bowering

I just learned of the death of Lorne Bowering. It is news that brings grief and gratitude. Lorne was a towering figure in my adolescent life. The director of YMCA Camp Elphinstone for thirty five years, he taught me and so many other boys about responsibility, service and leadership.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that Lorne was just thirty-three when I first went to Elphinstone in 1967. In my mind he always seemed so grown up and experienced and wise. He had the capacity to ride herd on a camp of a hundred and twenty boys along with an at times unruly staff of counsellors while at the same time making personal connections with each one of us. He seemed to really enjoy us. Which, of course, he did. He enjoyed giving us a chance to try our wings as young men. He enjoyed watching us grow up.


the politics of eating together

Last month University Hill Congregation hosted the Native Ministries Consortium to dinner. Every summer students and teachers from Native communities across Canada, the United States and beyond gather at the Vancouver School of Theology to learn together. The consortium has been gathering since 1985. We have been hosting dinner with the Native Ministries Consortium since 1998. This is how it came to be.


imitatio dei

Ephesians 4:17-5:2

We are back in Ephesians. Yes, I know. We spent the season of Lent hosting this letter. Now the lectionary takes us through it once more. It is a refresher course, a summer school retake, preparation for the fall semester. Ephesians isn’t as well known as, say, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Among the letters in the New Testament it is overshadowed by Romans and Corinthians. But, as we discovered in Lent, it is essential reading for us here and now. It is essential for us because Ephesians is addressed to a people who are discovering what it is to live the way of Jesus Christ. Here at University Hill we describe ourselves as a people who are “rediscovering the Way of Christ for the sake of the world.” Ephesians is addressed to us.


velcade - cycle three

It is hard to believe that it has been over a month since my last post. The good news is that much of that time I have been on vacation, feeling well and enjoying the Gulf Islands with family (the photo on the left was taken on Galiano Island). I am back from those holidays refreshed and looking forward. In the midst of my vacation time I received the good news that my free light chain count continues to drop (from 310 to 200 after cycle one and now to 95 after cycle two). The current treatment regime of Velcade and Dexamethasone is working and giving me reason to hope for months of good health before needing to turn to another treatment. It is the first time since the diagnosis fifteen months ago that my treatments have stabilized and that life has settled into a (new) normal.