transplant plus seventy-seven

Soon these weekly post-transplant updates will come to an end as the normal routines of life resume. Yesterday I was in to see my hematologist who agrees that all is on schedule. In two weeks I will reach the ninety day post-transplant milestone and plan to return to work part-time then. I continue to feel well, with strength and energy returning incrementally each day. My blood counts look good. I have had no colds or infections. I feel quite healthy. This can all be a bit misleading as it makes me feel that I am pretty well back to normal. The doctor says that it may feel that way but that it is not completely true. He says that it takes six months post-transplant for the immune system to return to functioning the way it was prior to the transplant. And since my immune system is compromised by multiple myeloma it was not then - and will never again be - functioning at a normal healthy level. This 'new normal' will take some getting used to. But, thankfully, it will mean a relatively normal life.


tree of life

“Etz Hayim”. Those are the words that are spelled out - from right to left in Hebrew script - in front of University Hill Congregation whenever we gather for worship. It is carved into our pulpit. It means “Tree of Life”. The phrase is taken from the book of Proverbs which, when describing God’s Wisdom, says that “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy” (Proverbs 3:18). It reminds us of John’s revelation that the tree of life stands at the centre of God’s kingdom come - the tree whose leaves “are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).

As the leaves of the Bible are turned each Sunday and the words are spoken and the message is digested we receive the transforming gift of new life. But this new life does not come without ache and trouble. It is not lost on the gathered congregation that directly above the pulpit that proclaims “Etz Hayim” stands a large wooden cross - the ancient world’s tree of death. That the source of new life is found in the place of torture and death is the great paradox of the gospel.



A video from the small Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska that was a school computer project intended for the other Yupiq villages in the area has, to the surprise of the villagers, been viewed by over one million people. To see why view it here: Hallelujah Chorus

the dove

     I saw the dove come down, the dove with the green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and the flood. It came toward me in the style of the Holy Spirit descending. I had been sitting in a cafe for twenty-five years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender, said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I want your step to be light. 

- Leonard Cohen (Death of a Lady's Man, 1978)


transplant plus seventy

Today marks seventy days since I received my stem cells and began the day by day recovery to normalcy. Given that the doctors predict a return to work after ninety days this leaves just three weeks until I can likely get back to ministry with University Hill Congregation. I am fortunate that there have been no set backs along the way so far. I am feeling eager to return but know that slow and steady is the necessary course to take.


advent begins with trouble

Advent begins with trouble. This is the odd counter-cultural movement of the Christian Year. Just when the stores are in full swing, with jingling bells providing encouragement to Christmas shoppers along comes the season of Advent. Advent is the first season of the year. Its liturgical colour is blue. Advent is the season that tells the truth about the blues. It is the season that refuses to ignore the troubles that plague the world, the nations, the church, the family, the soul. Advent is the deep blue of the morning, just at dawn as the dark night is coming to an end.


kingdom come

The Christian Year is a living tradition. Changes to the calendar occur as the church discovers new ways to express the gospel through the narrative told in annual festivals and seasons. Some innovations become widespread and long-lasting. Others flower for a brief period and then fade. The current experiment with a Season of Creation is a case in point. On first glance this seems a worthy effort reflecting the church’s concern to proclaim the gospel in the face of global warming and the widespread extinction of species. Yet there are problems when the church begins to shape the year in response to particular crises, no matter how urgent. Soon special Sundays and months named for - and devoted to - particular injustices and issues threaten to take over the calendar. Preachers feel compelled to speak the Word in response to an issue rather than to host the Word and then to testify freely to its news, unconfined by a pre-determined agenda. The Word, which is not so much an answer to our pre-determined questions as it is a new set of questions that confront our common sense assumptions, can be inadvertently silenced as a result.


transplant plus two months

At first I measured the time post transplant in days, then weeks. Now I am measuring the time in months. Two months ago today. Another month to go until I expect to be cleared to return to work part-time. I expect that at some point soon there won't be anything to report in a weekly update. It will mean life is back to normal. That's the interesting thing. Life already feels pretty normal again. The shock of being diagnosed with an incurable cancer seems to have worn off.


the church's talent

Looking ahead to Sunday I see that the gospel lesson in the ecumenical lectionary is the parable of the talents. I remembered the struggle to wrestle a blessing from this text a few years back. It was one of those weeks when preparing the sermon was a conversion experience for the preacher. I came to see this familiar parable in a whole new light. It was as if the text broke open to reveal a hidden treasure. As Clarence Jordan was fond of saying: a parable from Jesus is like a Trojan horse - you let it in, and bam! - it’s got you. All going well, and the doctors being in agreement, I am hoping to be back preaching on the third Sunday of Advent (December 11). In the meantime, here is the parable as told by Matthew followed by that sermon from November 2002.


discipleship of the body

“The embodiment of the Easter story’s pattern in our lives means ... a new way of governing our bodies. That is how we are in touch with the story.”

- Hans W. Frei, “The Identity of Jesus Christ”  (Fortress Press, p. 171)

Where and with whom we place our bodies is the way in which we live our interpretation of the gospel. Recently I overheard a member of University Hill Congregation saying: “These days the decision to get out of bed on Sunday morning and make your way to worship to be with other followers of Jesus is a huge statement”. When it comes to bodily worship there is much to be said for expanding our capacity to sway and clap to the music, to incorporate liturgical dance and more. But first it needs to be said that choosing to place our bodies within the worshiping community is the primal way in which we embody our discipleship in worship. Getting out of bed, turning off the TV, saying ‘no’ to the invitation to Sunday morning brunch and placing our wondrous yet broken bodies within the Body of Christ is the crucial bodily discipline of the liturgy.


heart with no companion

My colleague Gerald Hobbs preached last Sunday at University Hill Congregation. Afterwards he sent along the text of the sermon. In it Gerald quoted the first two lines from the lyrics of the song "Heart with no Companion" by Leonard Cohen. I found both the sermon and Cohen's poetry powerful. Here is a paragraph from Gerald's sermon on I John 3:1-13 followed by the lyrics of the song.


transplant plus fifty

It has now been fifty days since re-booting my blood production system. The past week has been a good one, with fewer days of fatigue and more days with renewed energy. In part that is surely due to my body's capacity to continue to restore itself to health. But it is also partly the result of a return to a daily exercise regime, overseen by my old friend Mike. Mike and I became friends in 1971. Can that really be forty years ago? Over the years we lost touch until a back injury sent me looking for a good chiropractor. Enter Mike. For the past decade he has been both my chiropractor and running coach (he being an ironman triathlete as well as a chiropractor). To my surprise he showed me that my body, injured back and all, could not only return to running 10k runs but could actually complete all 26.2 miles of a marathon. That was five years ago. Since then he has helped me recover from various minor running injuries, not to mention knee surgery, always taking me through the slow process of stretching and strengthening muscles to the point where they can withstand the demands of increased exercise. But then came the diagnosis of multiple myeloma six months ago and word from my doctors that chiropractic adjustment of my spine is out for the rest of my life. Multiple myeloma weakens the bones and puts them at risk of fracture. Gone were my monthly check ups with Mike. Or so I thought.