Thursday, June 07, 2012

My Medicine for Melancholy

Ray Bradbury - August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012
I apologize Mr. Bradbury...

I'm sorry... Ray...

I just know you would have let me call you that. I borrowed your title "A Medicine for Melancholy" to title this post.  I believe you'd be OK with that. I just know that you'd be amazing, and encouraging, and joyful, and generous. Because everybody who met and knew you says you were. But I know it's true too, because that is how your stories are.






You were born the same year as my father, my adoptive father. Your stories walked alongside me like the shadow of a wonderful uncle, a bit mysterious, but trustworthy because family - real family - always is.

My name was written over and over and over again in the library cards of your few books that resided in the collection of Jasper Jr.-Sr. High School. It was just you and me it seemed. I tried to tell others, but no one else signed out your books. Maybe because I always had them. Sorry Ray.

I made up for my jealous hoarding years later when I would go to my kid's elementary school during parent reading week and read "Uncle Einar" to them. I still remember their faces - looking as I must have looked the first time I read "Golden Apples of the Sun" and "Dandelion Wine". Awe. Wonder. Glee.

Your inspiration resulted in my writing a script for a play that got produced in my high school and getting a poem published in the same school's yearbook in 1978 - the year I would have graduated. The dropout made it into the yearbook because he wrote something. I cherished that idea because it made me think of you and your unconventional educational path. Uncle Ray's shadow on my shoulder.

I dreamed of writing to you and asking your permission to adapt "A Medicine for Melancholy" into a one act, three-scene play. You had already done all the hard work. The story is 80% dialogue anyway, and your prose is all character development and subtle stage direction. It would - still could - be wonderful.

You made me want to write. I admit I don't have your diligence, your commitment, your fire. That's why you're published everywhere and I'm alone in the school yearbook and the cold corners of the internets. But I did end up writing - every week - for 8 years. And speaking those words. And you were - no you still are - right!  It's the best work in the world!

I can't meet you now. An entry gets crossed off my "bucket list". But I did meet you. In Green Town, Illinois. In the red dust of Mars. In the swirling autumn leaves of Anytown, Anywhere when the Dark Carnival came rolling in. I met you wearing a Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. I believed you when you said, "Have I Got a Chocolate Bar For You!". I knew if I asked you, you would send me spores so I could Grow Giant Mushrooms in My Basement. I stood by you in the African Velt. I saw your stories moving on the skin of The Illustrated Man. I was singed by the heat - Fahrenheit 451 to be specific - of your prose and poetry. I heard you call in The Distant Sound of Thunder. Together we lifted our voices to Sing the Body Electric.

Thank you Ray. I'll miss the idea of you being alive. I'll mourn the thought of your pen, typewriter, word processor being silenced. I'll grieve that you will never offer me a new window into your soul in eight to fifteen pages. I'll miss reading that new story and how it would create a reflection that shows me a new part of my soul. But I thank God you were a writer who wrote. I thank God you loved your art, your talent, your gift, your craft. I thank God people who loved you made sure you were published. Because of that, I won't miss you. I won't be able to. You'll always be a good cup of coffee and a turned page away. Your loving shadow on my shoulder always.

I believe in God, Ray. You know that now. I trust that He will let you keep writing. It was what He made you to do.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Prayer Retreat

Once a month it will be my practice to take a day for prayer and reflection.  On June 1 I traveled to the Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, near Maple Creek.  The following is my journal reflection from that journey and time.

(written after arriving in Cypress Hills)

I could hear birds, crickets, gophers(?) even as I drove with the windows down and the wind rushing through the car.  No phone, no radio, no music – except in my head (Blessed Be Your Name; How Great Thou Art; I Love You Lord… maybe a couple of others).

The passage from Ecclesiastes (9:1-17 – Death Comes to All) stood in my mind in stark contrast to the burgeoning springtime landscape flowing by all around me.  I set the cruise control for a leisurely 110KPH – much more sedate a pace than I normally travel at I must confess.

Life is happening all about me even though death does loom.  Cows mow the grass on hills to my left and right.  Crows pick the fresh gopher carcasses on the road.  Hawks ride the young thermals of the morning in anticipation of them growing in the days’ building heat.  They hunt for the living below, alive in their predatory splendour.

Between choruses in my head I ask God for nothing except mercy and forgiveness.  I lapse into reciting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who Was, and Is and Is To Come” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  All other thoughts melt away.  I don’t even have to push.  Only one stray though encroaches – a memory of Perry Cherneski who passed away three years ago this July.  We sang “Blessed Be Your Name” at his funeral.  I mourn once more and find God is faithful to His promise for I am comforted.  I feel the Lord is very near.

I leave the highway and begin the climb into the hills adjusting my pace even slower.  The cattle I pass now are lying in their fields, content to chew the cud of their morning foraging.  I am content too.  The journey has washed my daily cares away.

I sit alone by the north end of the lake.  The rushing wind of travel has been replaced by the gentler rush of water flowing out of the lake and down the draw across the road behind me.  The air is still, a gentle breeze at best dances around the trees and across the lake.

A fish jumps to my right, near the reeds by the shore.  The splash sends ripples outward.  At one point they seem to stop progressing and simply become part of the surface texture of this portion of the lake.  We miss so many details when we do not take time to watch, to observe, to see.  The fish will jump three more times in the hour to come, setting a base rhythm to the events that unfold.

I think about the blind man in the passage in John 9.  I re-read the whole event, from miracle to Christ rebuking the Pharisees.  I try to imagine seeing for the first time ever.  I try to imagine being continuously blind spiritually like the Pharisees.

“Where am I blind?” I ask God.  It is the first question I have asked Him since I started.  I notice three families of Canada geese swimming slowly up the lake toward me.  One parent leads each group of goslings.  One parent follows close behind.  “You hem me in before and behind and on every side.”

Every few yards the families take to the shore for a while.  At first I think they have returned to their nests, but when they return to the water and continue on I am intrigued.  Eventually they come ashore only a few yards from me.  They are foraging for food.  They begin eating in earnest next to the other benches beside me, not forty feet away.  I eat my fruit and drink my water.  We are at peace in each other’s company.  Three cars drive by and mercifully do not stop to interrupt our lunches.

I see that everywhere around me, at every level, God is providing, sovereignly orchestrating life.  I have been missing this simplicity.  Have I chosen a kind of blindness like the Pharisees?  I know God is in control.  I experience it in a visceral, present way.

An older couple arrives to clean the benches.  The geese retreat to the water.  I speak only a few words to the lady – content to keep my silent fast.  I move on to Lookout Point.

From the intimate microcosm of the lake I follow the winding road into the hills.  It serves to separate me even more from the familiar and the ordinary.  Winter fallen trees droop to touch the road.  The park attendants have yet to venture this far to do their annual maintenance.  The lake area, as peaceful as it was, seems busy and almost urban by comparison.  I arrive and park behind a couple enjoying the view fron inside their car.  Instead of intruding into their view I wait and write much of these notes.

They leave.  I take my Bible and walk to the bench overlooking the plain and take in the expansive panorama.  I re-read Psalm 97, Psalm 115 (twice), Ecclesiastes 9, John 9.  I listen to God speaking in His word.

The bees gather pollen and nectar from the dandelions.  The flies pester me.  The breeze is soft.  The sky is clear and open.

I am alive by the grace of God and all I have comes from His Hand.  All idols are useless, and I am still discarding some of my own.  My idol of self-reliance.  My idol of personal pain and hurts.  My idol of competency.  My idol of anger.  My idol of fear.

I ask Jesus to heal my blindness.  Only He can help me see.  I must look to Him.  He is not far.

I ask only for new clarity and sight.  May God be so gracious as to grant my prayer, be it in His will.

I am filled.  I will make the journey home soon, reminded of Who is Sovereign in my life; Who alone I can and must trust; Who alone I must worship and obey.

I know life is struggle and death is my destination – but not my final destination.  And God is providing all I need for now and for ever.

I recall the goslings by the lake, lying in the grass, warming in the sunshine, feeding on the bounty all around them.  I am in the same place, God is loving and teaching me.


Shalom is mine in this moment.

I travel home in silence.  I notice my mind trying to return to my cares and concerns.  This time I have to fight to hold onto the peace and contentment.  I struggle, I sing in my mind.  I keep the silence, resist the temptation to check my phone, turn on the radio.


A few days after my retreat I find I am still able to enter the silence more easily.  I am content to just be with Susie.  To pray in silence.  To just be before my God.  I hope this lasts.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Music - To Me

If you've been following this blog you'll know that one of my passions is music.  Recently I did something luxurious and a bit unusual.  I walked into HMV and browsed for some new CD's.  Now you can check out my archives here and find me giving HMV a pretty hard time.  I've been frustrated in the past with not being able to find titles I'm looking for, or not getting good service, but this time it was different.  And although I'm still not convinced that music retailing is experiencing a new renaissance, I will admit I had a pretty good time this time, and I may be back.  Good assistance; opportunity to hear stuff before I bought it; and for once it seemed they had some stuff I was interested in.  HMV at the Mall in Medicine Hat - thank you.

Now to the new titles:

Recently my brother in Christ, Kevin, has been trying to educate me in the spectacular virtuosity of one Joe Satriani.  OK - so I'm really late to the dance here, but I am impressed.  I just picked up "The Essential Satriani" two disc compilation and al I can say is "WOW"!  For those of you out there "in the know" I accept your derisive sniggering.  I deserve it.  If you can appreciate guitar virtuosity, musical genius, hard rock stylings and instrumental as opposed to lyric-based music then dive on in.  The music is fine.  Try track 9 on disc 2 - "If I Could Fly" and just go from there.

Levon Helm passed away recently - April 19.  His seminal work with Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko - otherwise known as "The Band" should be well known by most.  If you don't know what I'm talking about stop here, go get a copy of "Songs From Big Pink" and listen.  It's OK - I'll wait.  Levon continued making music after the Band completed "The Last Waltz", but he also pursued acting and other artistic pursuits.  Recently, Levon experienced a welcome comeback on the strength of his Grammy Award winning 2007 CD "Dirt Farmer".  I already have a copy of his follow-up Grammy Award winning 2009 CD "Electric Dirt".  I'm sorry it took me till now to rediscover his music, but I'm glad that people record stuff and make CDs.  "Dirt Farmer" is rootsier, folkier, more acoustic and bluesy than "Electric Dirt".  Think "O Brother Where Art Thou".  Still it is very well produced and hypnotic at times.  I recommend both.

Bonnie Raitt walked away with 3 Grammies in 1989 with her album "Nick of Time", and she's won more accolades since.  I admit I haven't bought one of her CDs since, but when I saw her new CD "Slipstream" in the HMV and that she had covered Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" I had to give it a try.  Her reggae influenced cover of Rafferty's tune is excellent, but what struck me overall were two things - her voice hasn't lost an iota of it's sweet and gruff presence 23 years after "Nick of Time" - and her guitar playing is even better than ever.  Maybe it's just that her producers are highlighting her guitar even more, but I found myself repeatedly being amazed by the tasty licks on this new recording.  Bluesy, playful, gritty, edgy, slick, artful, confident and fresh are just some of the ways I'd describe her playing.  The rest of the band contributes without overbearing.  Check it out - "Slipstream" is Bonnie as good as she ever gets, maybe even better!

When the Cranberries released "Everybody's Doing it So Why Can't We..." in 1993 I was 33 years old, working for Sony of Canada and fully engaged in pop culture.  I always felt I had an internal filter that helped me separate the "great" from the "everything else".  I was around music all day and I hope I was able to pick out good stuff.  "Everybody's Doing It..." was and still is great.  I can't stop pulling it out almost every time I have an extended listening session.  I know I missed 3 other really good albums from them in the 90's so I'll be doing some back catalogue buying eventually, but their new CD "Roses" is currently making me smile.

In fact, it was because the clerks at HMV let me listen to "Roses" before I bought it that I have it now.  As I said in the shop, "They made me smile by the 4th song."  It wasn't that the first 3 weren't good, it was just that on the 4th track I went "Ahhhh!"  Dolores O'Riordan's voice is as magical as ever and the band was doing that thing that only they seem to be able to do - one part Roxy Music; one part Depeche Mode; one part New Order; a hint of Steeleye Span and of course a whole lot of whatever is the Cranberries.  "Roses" is a Cranberries album in every sense of what that means that is good.  The accompanying live CD recorded in Madrid in 2010 is less compelling, mostly for sonic reasons.  It is however, a testimony to the continuing power of the Cranberries to reach their fans.  Repeatedly the concert becomes a sing-along conducted by O'Riordan and the band, but that's OK.  Still, if the Cranberries ever made you smile - they will again when you listen to "Roses".

I've been a fairly constant fan of Carlos Santana since the early 70's when I started buying my own albums.  I've worn out at least three copies of "Abraxas".  I drifted away when Carlos and John McLaughlin got a bit self-indulgent, although I do own a copy of "Welcome" which has the song "Love, Devotion and Surrender".  I came back to Santana when he covered one of my favorite Canadian songwriters - Ian Thomas - recording Thomas' "Hold On" on the 1982 album "Shango".  Since then I have let Santana wander in and out of my musical collection.  I picked up "Supernatural" (1999), "Shaman" (2002) and "All That I Am" (2005).  Now I have a copy of his 2012 release "Shape Shifter".  I have to admit that I listened to "Shape Shifter" right after having given myself a crash course in Satriani and my initial response was "Oh dear!"  But on another listen I have recovered somewhat.

"Shape Shifter" sounds more like an early Santana album than many have in recent years.  In the early years the music was melodically shaped by Carlos' guitar and by Greg Rolie's keyboards layered over,under and woven through by the rhythm section.  The 80's, 90's and 2000's saw Santana albums focused more on lyrical songs and more guitar focused instrumentation.  "Shape Shifter" has long guitar solos and equally long keyboard responses.  I hear more of the experimentation and interplay I heard in the early years.  I saw Carlos, Tom Coster (who replaced Rolie) and most of the lineup who recorded "Welcome" live in 1974 in Edmonton. The band played for over two hours without ever stopping making sound.  Each song flowed into the next. "Shape Shifter" took me back there.  And it was worth the trip.

As always, I find reason to thank God for music.  While it can be argued that a lot of music doesn't glorify God, I really believe that when musicians play with skill, creativity, genius and heart it is impossible to deny that a loving and benevolent God created all things and gave us music as a gift.  I believe that true artists who pursue truth inevitably address God because He is Truth.  I hear Truth in these new albums.  Fingerprints of God everywhere.  He is so good, and I have much to thank Him for.  Now I think I'll spin some discs and give thanks.


Saturday, May 26, 2012


So someone said something you didn't like. You were surprised and offended. You overlooked the fact that this person never speaks out, but did this one time because of the passion they had for the subject. This person was trying to help. They took a risk to raise an issue that mattered to them. They thought they were doing it in a safe place.

What did you do with your offense? You say you are part of a body. You say you believe you have a special relationship with the person who spoke. You say you love Jesus and will obey Him. What do you do?

Do you go to the person to tell them your reaction to what they said? Do you even look at your reaction to try to understand it and discern if it was appropriate? Do you act in a loving manner?


You go to another person and pour out your offense about the speaker. This person you go to is outside the community of faith - outside the family. Why would you even do that? The one you complain to has no compulsion to act as Christ would desire they - or you - should. The one you complain to has not been convicted by love as you claim to have been. You complain, like an angry child. You attack and demean a person who isn't even present to defend themselves. You break the Lord's commands. And you lie about loving Jesus. In this matter, that is your witness regarding the God you claim to love, obey and follow.

The person you complain to talks to the one who initially spoke and offended you (remember, they weren't trying to offend you - they were trying, however poorly, to do a good thing). The one you complained to tells the original speaker about your offense towards them. They drop your anger and personal pain on this person and there is no offer of reconciliation - no opportunity to deal with the issue. There is just offense, hurt, bad feelings and broken relationship. You weren't even there to take responsibility for what you said.

And I find out about the wreckage you created. I don't know who you are. And I am heartbroken, frustrated and sad for the one who spoke, for you, for the poor person who fell into the triangulation you created that caused them to sin, too.

And I'm not the only one who knows about this. I'm not the only one upset by this. I'm not the only one who is praying that you come under conviction, repent and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

I do not prefer addressing this issue in this manner, but I am also no longer able to stand by and let issues like this slide by. I can't deal with you because I don't know who you are but what you did wasn't that unique. I can't address you directly, but there are others who might read this. There are others who might get the point of what I'm saying. there might be others who might take this lesson and carry it with them in their lives and relationships. So I can still employ the example of your sin to teach others. For that opportunity, I am grateful to God.

Scripture is clear - if anyone offends you, sins against you, sins in general or needs help you are to go to them and express your concern. You don't go to someone else. You don't complain behind their back. You don't triangulate. Not if you really love Jesus. Not if you really think He is real.

If triangulating was God's way he would have sent an intermediary to deal with us and our sin. Likely it would have been an avenging angel. Instead He came to us directly. Face to face. Heart to heart. Jesus came to us and named our sin to our faces. He told us directly of His disappointment. and He offered reconciliation because He was present to do so.

This situation can still be redeemed. You can still go and ask forgiveness, seek reconciliation, repair the relationship. But you have to go first.

If you want help doing this I'm available. I am here to walk alongside you. I'm not the only one who would. In the meantime I'll be praying for you. I can do that even if I don't know who you are. I can pray for you because I am compelled by my love for Jesus to love you and seek the best for you - and for the one you hurt. I don't know who you are but Jesus does. This will be dealt with. Jesus promised that. It's up to you whether you are a willing participant or not.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Avenging Quotes

"He's adopted."
"There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that."
"So that's what it does."
"It's a dumb order."
"Puny god."
"Thank you for your cooperation."
"I fail to see how that's a party."
"I'm working right now."
"That's my secret...I'm always angry."
"Twelve percent."
"I'll have that drink now."
"You lack conviction."

Joss Whedon is a genius writer.  He's a genius director too.  What can't the guy do?  I hope we don't find out.

I am struck by how universally this movie was enjoyed by my Christian friends.  I enjoyed it too, but I am struggling with finding truth in it that I should enjoy it so much.  Except maybe in Agent Coulson's line to Loki - "You lack conviction."  Then he dies realizing that his sacrifice can become the galvanizing event the Avengers need to become a team.

And then there's the slow motion cuts of firemen and police aiding the injured and frightened.  As if to say, "Let's not forget who the REAL heroes are."

Real heroes never lack conviction.  Real heroes pay the price no matter how high.  I guess that's why He's my real hero.


Real conviction.

Real sacrifice.

Real salvation.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Schlock Talk

I haven't been posting for quite some time. See my previous post for a cryptic explanation.  Now that I'm in a better place it took something quite special to bring me out of my self imposed hiatus.

That something is none other than Howard Tayler's epic online illustrated space opera "Schlock Mercenary". I just lost a bunch of you because you clicked and left me to peruse the Schlockverse.  That's OK.  That's exactly why I posted.

Howard has a new book coming out.  Try the online archives then I dare you NOT to buy his books.

Oh, and it's nice to be back.