Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Next time I post here I will either have been to Aberdeen and back and found a home for my family's September 1 arrival, or something bad will have happened. A mixture of silly mistakes, kafkaesque red tape, and unforseen fine print have led me to believe that any number of bad things could indeed happen.

Silly Mistake: I booked my Dad's flight from London to Aberdeen with his short name (Stu) rather than the name on his passport (Stewart) and, believe it or not, this may keep him from getting on the flight.

Kafkaesque red tape: I've spent several hours on the phone between Expedia and British Airways trying to correct this and have heard the words "since 9/11" fairly often. (By the way, for our September flight we used a travel agent, and I can now safely say, even as a pretty thrifty person, I see absolutely no reason to ever use Expedia again.)

Unforseen fine print: We recieved our visas on time for me to have my passport back for my trip (thank God!), but with them came a note that one may not "enter" the country before the "valid from" date on the visa (which is stuck inside the passport). After several emails and phone calls I am still unsure whether this precludes me from "visiting" for a few days before that date. Some have assured me it is no problem, but they also thought it a good idea I bring some documentation that I'm due back in Canada for the rest of August. Sheesh.

Today at staff meeting I was unloading some of my worries and a colleague of mine shared a story of a time he was waitering and a young family of five stopped in to eat before continuing on a long road trip. He said during the meal he watched one of the toddlers sneak his arm back behind him through the rails of the chair, getting it stuck. When the kid couldn't pull his arm back through he panicked. My friend watched to see what the mother would do. Sometimes family's in restaurants only need one thing to go wrong before all hell breaks loose.

She grabbed her panicky child's face in her hands, looked at him, and said "relax, and I will get you through." You know the rest.

I feel I've repeatedly had to surrender this dream of mine. When I come to the end of myself (and often only then unfortunately), I remember that I'd rather not have it if it is just on my own steam. I have grown to trust the voice of the Mother Hen (Mt 23:27; Ps 57:1). Come what may I felt like I heard it again today.

Though I often joke that "I'm not much of a praying man myself", I'd really appreciate your solidarity in prayer this next couple weeks. Thanks friends. Later, Jon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Music and Podcasts

Those of you who know Brock Tyler might be interested to know that someone requested one of his songs, Orange Bus, on CBC Radio 3 this past Saturday during it's Indie music countdown. Brock has some great music. Check him out.

I highly recommend this CBC Radio 3 show by the way. Not all the songs are great, but it lets you know what is going on in Canadian music besides with Shania Twain and old news about The Guess Who. And there is a lot going on. I intend on listening avidly while overseas. Download the podcast or find it here.

Speaking of podcasts, I must say that my favourite podcast this summer has been ESPN's PTI (Pardon the Interruption). Even their discussion of sports I'm only mildly interested in is highly engaging. I've also recently found some podcasts of my future professor John Webster online, and am hearing his lectures even before meeting him. Crazy.

Anyway, speaking of music again, by far my favourite summer album this year is Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus . Their music is fun and upbeat without being the same old pop music, somehow. Lyrics tend to loom large for me when it comes to selecting music. Cliche and fluff doesn't last long on my playlist. But somehow I don't care all that much what Phoenix is saying. Having said that, I was intrigued when I caught the chorus to "Rome" yesterday on my drive home:

Rome Rome focus looking forward
the colosseum
Oh no! What did I say? What can I say?
Rome Rome many tears have
fallen here
I'll be driving and I look the other way.

Kind of a lament without sounding like one. Seems to have some depth worth catching when you've got the headphones on instead of the windows open music blaring. Regardless, some great music there.

So what is your album of the summer, in either the windows-down or the headphones-in category?

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Second Childhood

When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think that I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.

Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me thorugh
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.

Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And I find that I am not dead.

A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky;
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.

- a poem by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dead Poets and the Power of Persuasion

I don't usually do this but I'm turning my last comment from the last post into a post of its own. Matthew and Tanti got me onto a slightly different topic than I originally brought up, but its one I really think about.

Matthew said: "I caught myself enjoying the feeling I was getting from bestowing. I realized I was in a position of power, and that I was taking pleasure in that. It kinda horrified me."

This hits at something. Certainly there must be a legitimate pleasure to be had in "bestowing"? Certainly the teacher must be allowed to enjoy his/her "craft"? But there is a (horrifying) pleasure in ones power and a (good?) pleasure to be had in the topic, the productive discussion, and the sight of light-bulbs going on above student's heads.

I think anyone who has taught or presented knows that simultaneously good and horrifying feeling you refer to Matthew. I cringe at it myself, though I paradoxically seek it. For good reasons or bad do I seek it? And can I be sure when I'm seeing it in others? How do I tell the passion for the subject or the pupil or the discussion from a passion for one's own power or esteem or position? I think we get a sense of it, and it turns us off, but we aren't always right in our sense.

I stood up awhile back at a preaching conference and asked the main presenter (a famous preacher) about this. Certainly he must know the power in his own rhetorical skill. None of us could deny it. I told him that he had the power over us as an audience that if he wanted to he could persuade all 400of us in the crowd down to the kitchen to sing happy birthday to the cook, even if it wasn't the cook's birthday.

I told him that many in my generation are suspicious of such wielded power, that such power is a dangerous thing, even when used for good intentions. I asked if he would ever consider "dialing down" his rhetoric for the sake of something greater, something more genuine, something which engaged people less potentially manipulatively? (I was not this articulate in my question, but that was the jist).

He said he couldn't imagine "dialing it down" when he believed so passionately in the cause for which he spoke. If his best efforts with his talents won people over, he was gonna keep doing his best. It was his conviction. He was passionate about it. Why dial it down?

This didn't sit well with me. But I was convinced that for him it was not necessarily the thrill of pride so much as the passion for the topic. Enjoyment of bestowing, you might say. But there is a danger in it, isn't there?

And isn't that the subtext of Dead Poets Society? After all, for all we take from it, the movie is a Tragedy. Mr. Keating wins Mr. Perry over to his Romanticism for life, sees him careening to a conflict with parents, tries to steer him to deal with it well, but can't keep him from the suicidal edge of that conflict. Mr. Keating's power of persuasion and his passion for the topic (depicted without a hint of pride, thouch certainly it would be there) do great damage, or at least have a big part in the damage. The film ends with us wondering what he (and others) would do different if they had to do it all over.

It is a frightening thing to have that power, even more frightening to enjoy it. It seems for me whenever I get caught up in it as a preacher I get humbled. I hate that, but am deeply thankful for it too.

This is huge for pedagogy (the philosophy of teaching). At the end of the day our passion has to be for our topic, we must be allowed to enjoy our trade, and even a productive discussion, and yet we need a deeper motive, a driving motive that grounds us in humble perspective and causes us to do all to benefit the other. I think when this is in place we can have a cautious, but pure, enjoyment of the teaching practice.

Of course, you hate to dial down passion to a mediocre passivity, don't you? Perhaps in an environment where grace prevails upon the group and the input and engagement of others is valued alongside the teacher's passion and skill, there can be more freedom for personality and persuasiveness. I don't think a teacher's self-aggrandizing pride helps this much, though, and whenever it is welling up it ought to be, as Matthew put it, a "horrifying" gut check.

Most of us leave Dead Poets applauding Mr. Keating (metaphorically standing on our own desks) and lamenting the situation he was in. But if even his teaching, as pure and genuinely as it is portrayed, can have such devestating consequences when mixed with the wrong circumstances, it must at least leave us with a certain gut-checked perspective to go with all that stirred-up passion. We have to wonder if going from there he will teach quite the same way, don't we?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chesterton, the Dead Poet

The average man, even the modern man, has a great deal to teach us. But the nuisance is that he won't teach it; he will only repeat what he has been taught. We have almost to torture him till he says what he does think, just as men once tortured a heretic till he said what he did think.
- G.K. Chesterton, Illistrated London News, Mar 6, 1909.

A hundred years ago he said that. Almost prophetic. Couldn't be more true today. It immediately made me think of the "barbaric yawp" scene from Dead Poet's Society, which, whether you've seen it before or not, I'm sure you'll want to see today:

A teacher might be sued nowadays for trying a stunt like that. I had some students in the college classes I've taught who could have used it, but I was unable to coax it out of them by my wordsmithing, or even by my mere passion for the subject. Not sure every situation calls for what Mr. Keating did for Mr. Anderson. But we've all known the need for someone to do that to us, in one way or another, or at one time or another. Or is it just me?

This film did it to me, actually. I remember choking back tears as it ripped apart my apathetic and fearful high school soul. But there was no overnight coming of age. Names like Abby and Jesse come to mind of people who, not as violently, but gradually like a slow drip, "tortured" my yawp out of me by their unsolicited but relentless authentic engagement.

Their investment in me brought me out of my shell; made me a contributing part of my community; made me believe that my thoughts, in their humble way, were worthwhile adding to the discussion too. I am forever indebted to those guys, and others.

What about you? Have you, like me, needed to be tortured out of the tip-toeing, lethargic, lemming race of our modern media age? Who or what have been the Mr. Keatings to your Mr. Anderson?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Published on Chesterton!

For the first time I have been published on G.K. Chesterton! The article can be found in the July/August issue of St. Austin's Review, which is dedicated to "Literary Converts." It is my personal reflection on Chesterton's influence on me, adapted from an essay I delivered to Prof. Sean Davidson's Chesterton class at Briercrest College in 2008.

I am honoured to have it printed by this impressive magazine. If you follow the link you'll find that "the St. Austin Review (StAR) is the premier international journal of Catholic culture, literature, and ideas. In its pages, printed every two months, some of the brightest and most vigorous minds around meet to explore the people, ideas, movements, and events that shape and misshape our world. Contributors to StAR are poets, philosophers, artists, theologians, historians, and journalists, together giving StAR the breadth and depth necessary for its 'unique and worthwhile project' (Karl Keating)."

Perhaps the proudest thing about this article is that it also brings to print some of our own blog discussions! In it I quote "a friend of mine" and offer a mild rebuttal to his argument, referring to none other than Matthew Wilkinson, taken from the comment pages of his old website!

(These were comments which at the time really stopped me in my tracks for awhile, and helped me wrestle with my thesis writing with a bit more objectivity, by the way. And just so you know, I did ask his permission to quote him. I will leave it up to him if he wants to write in to StAR and offer his own rebuttal to me, or to do so here. I don't think I took him to task or anything, so there may not be anything more to say.)

Technically I have been published on Chesterton before, online at Relevant magazine and for a limited audience by Briercrest Seminary, but this is an exciting first for me in print.

You can read the article here: How to be Sliced by a Sword: A Personal Encounter with G. K. Chesterton’s Apologetic.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Situation Critical

when he closes a door he opens a window
--or that's what the winners say.
but I've never read it writ in stone
and don't know if it applies today.

they talk a lot of fleeces
with promised dew just soaked;
but you also see a mass of soldiers
kneel and get sent home.

they say that God opens doors
but does he ever just say to kick them down?
against all odds to keep going; spent?
all upside down and sideways bent?

let's not be too cryptic now:
i'm talking obstacles and pressing on.
if one day it isn't the mystery of Funds
then the next it is a visa application that might as well be written in friggin' Portugese.

it could still go up in smoke, you know,
this thing for which we try.
one misplaced pen stroke
and it is application denied.

seen smoke signals repeatedly this week
and a dozen times today.
and a Kafkaesque stack of paperwork
and a mind out of rest and play.

one week its like your wildest dreams
and the next you feel dreams shattered.
and if they are this time I do confess
I shan't shrug and say 'no matter.'

I confess it's hard to tell bad luck from good
or providence from scrambling;
or right side up from my own way;
or diligence from gambling.

they talk of open doors or windows
and I talk of kicking down.
if it works for good to those who love,
what am I if it ain't that easy?

I confess I'll be life-deep in lament
if this fails at the last mile.
at times I've felt it slip away
and haven't deflated like that in awhile.

then tonight with my son I read The Horse and His Boy
and it speaks where I lack the prayer.
and as the Lion breathes down Shasta's neck
in the dark there's hope you're there.