"It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch


five smooth stones

I Samuel 17:1-50; Mark 4:35-41

David and Goliath. The names have moved from the Bible into the generic language of our culture. David is the poster boy for the perennial little guy who defeats the giant Goliath. It has become a children’s fable, a metaphor for overcoming our fear and defeating the giants in our life. You would think that more than three decades of preaching that I would have preached at least one sermon on this familiar tale. But no. I have not. It leaves me wondering why, why not? And then I read, read I Samuel, and remember. I remember that these stories are not pretty, not easily turned into metaphors, not readily removed from the brutality of Iron Age Canaanite culture. To read these narratives is to be taken into a world where raw power is interwoven with hidden providence that is revealed in all manner of human personalities. In handing these stories on to us as scripture Israel and the church make the claim that speaking of God’s activity in the world requires a thick, artistic, honest telling. If God is active in this world it is in this world (not a cleansed version of this world) - this world with all its raw power, active somehow through the strange mix of personalities we know and are (Walter Brueggemann, “Power, Providence & Personality”).


velcade - cycle two

I am now two treatments into the four weekly injections of my second cycle on bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone. So far, so good. The results have arrived from my blood work and it is promising news. My regular blood results are in the normal range (white blood count, red blood count, etc) and the free light chains (indicating the activity level of the multiple myeloma) have dropped from 310 at the beginning of the first cycle to 200 after completing the first cycle. My doctor would like to keep the number under 100 if possible. Still, 200 is much better than the 1600 that it was a year ago and the 700 that it was in January. The Velcade/Dexamethasone mix is, it seems, working. Yay!


add your light

I am not sure when it was - maybe 1996 or 1997 - that I received a phone call from Jan. She called to say that she was new in town, having recently moved here from Ottawa. She knew of me through our mutual connections with Naramata Centre and wondered if she could meet with me. I remember inviting her to come to worship with University Hill Congregation. Somehow I sensed that it was the congregation more than the minister that she needed to meet. From that first conversation fifteen years ago a friendship has developed and has continued through Jan's move to Calgary eight years ago. Anyone who knows Jan Tollefson will tell you that she is an inspiration. The non-profit charitable society that she established is aptly named Add Your Light. Jan adds her light through her compassion and concern. She is a visionary, a truth-teller and a practical, get things done kind of person. Beside all of that she has a wonderful smile and sense of humour. Since I was diagnosed a year ago with multiple myeloma she has been a great encouragement. But now she, too, has been diagnosed with cancer. Out of the blue she found herself in an emergency ward with a brain tumour. The tumour was successfully removed only to discover that the cancer, though discovered early, is very dangerous. Jan is now preparing for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the summer. It has all come as a huge shock. As the shock wears off and the reality settles in I hope that Jan now receives the kind of care and concern that she has offered through all of these years. If my experience so far is any indicator she may yet discover that surprising blessings await (along, yes, with ache and trouble) on the other side of a cancer diagnosis. That is my prayer, along with prayers for healing and for added light ... lots of added light!


through wind and rain

The picture says it all - Janice Love successfully completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising $3,400 for research into blood cancers thanks to support from so many of you. It was a blustery weekend and Janice reports never having been so soaking wet in her life. Nonetheless, she persevered and logged 245.54 kilometres on the journey from Vancouver to Seattle. Perseverance in the face of bad weather, enduring through difficult circumstances - these are virtues that are always worth cultivating but nevermore so than when living with cancer. Thanks for the inspiration Janice!


vancouver to seattle on a bike

This is the weekend when my good friend and colleague, Janice Love, participates in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. And good news - Janice has met her goal of $3,200 for research into blood cancers (having now raised $3,225 in donations). Thank-you to all of you who have contributed. It means a lot to Janice and to me. Of course, this does not mean that it is too late to add your support. You can do so by visiting Janice's Ride to Conquer Cancer web-page. You can also follow the progress of the riders as they make their way from Vancouver to Seattle by visiting the Ride With Us page throughout the weekend (she is riding the classic course). Godspeed Janice!



Last Sunday I preached on II Corinthians 4:7-5:7. The sermon had the title "So". Originally I chose this title because it picked up on "So we do not lose heart" (II Cor. 4, verses 1 & 16). This seemed a good fit with the meeting of the congregation that was slated to occur following worship. The agenda of the meeting was to consider a question that sounds something like: "So, how will we best prepare for the year ahead, given the unknowns that lie ahead?" Then, late in time, I suddenly saw not one "so" in these verses from II Corinthians but ten - yes, ten. The text is looking forward to an uncertain future from a time of trouble and suffering, all the while using the little word "so". "So" is a word that keeps a sentence moving forward, keeps a reader and listener thinking of what is coming next. So the sermon became a tour through these ten "so then" moments in the text. Now that I am already looking forward to next Sunday's sermon (continuing on through this part of II Corinthians) there is not time to go back over all of that ground here. But one of Paul's metaphors from this passage, in particular, continues to inspire me to think about the days to come.


building up the church

The practice of preaching constitutes a people with a distinctive identity in the world. In congregations that suffer from chronic anxiety, apathy and fear as well as in those that are tempted by idols of success and security preachers glimpse symptoms of collective amnesia. Whenever the church is in danger of forgetting who - and whose - it is the vocation of the preacher is the building up of the church (I Cor 14:3-4).

Preaching that seeks to shape congregational identity invites the congregation into a world that is being re-described by the Bible. Hearing such preaching is akin to being immersed in a foreign culture. It assumes that the church exists to be a witness to the odd customs and surprising ways of life in the kingdom of God. Its central concern is how scripture intends to shape the people of God. The sermon that results does not ask what a text means to individuals or how it speaks to social issues. It is confident that a congregation that learns to live these texts will faithfully address the needs of individuals and the issues it faces in society.


life and death

I am not sure when or how it happened but somewhere along the line going to church on Sunday became more like attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous than, well, going to church. Raised in a preacher’s household and now a preacher myself for three decades my own conversion happened gradually. I didn’t even realize what I was going through until one of my parishioners told me that the congregation had been watching my conversion one Sunday, one sermon at a time.


the voice

The twenty-ninth psalm is a model of organization. It has been carefully, thoughtfully, precisely constructed in three sections. In the first section there are three ascriptions to the LORD. In the second there are seven thunders of the LORD’s voice. And finally, in the third section, are two affirmations paired with two blessings. In the first section the LORD - YHWH - is named four times, in the second named ten times and in the third, again, named four times. It is a threefold hymn about the LORD, fitting for the God we know as Triune: Three in One. Yet I confess it is not a Psalm that I know well, that I can recite by heart or that I have taken the time to host as holy guest, as holy stranger in our midst. Today that changes.


velcade - cycle one

Yesterday I received the fourth of four weekly injections of velcade - the chemotherapy treatment that I have recently begun. I also took a fourth weekly dose of the steroid dexamethasone. So far I have not had any noticeable side effects as a result of this treatment (other than the marks left on my belly at the injection sites - the redness turns to a blotch that remains as a souvenir - a map of where I have received chemotherapy). That's good news! This marks the end of my treatment during the first thirty-five day cycle on velcade and dexamethasone. I get a "week off" now (not required to receive any treatment next week) and return to the Medical Short Stay Unit at St. Paul's Hospital to begin the second thirty-five day cycle in two weeks. We will see the first test results that show what effect the velcade is having in slowing down the rate of multiple myeloma and amyloidosis in three weeks. That is when the next free light chain readings will be reported to me and my medical team. If the treatment is proving effective I will remain on it until it is no longer working (and not causing serious side effects). Eventually we will move on to another treatment, playing a cat and mouse game with the myeloma and amyloidosis for as long as possible.