Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Lessons

Life is full of lessons.  As long as you’re open to learning, you never stop being a student.  I’ve learned some important lessons about Christmas giving from my wife, the Elusive. 

1) Clothes are a nice gift.  Especially if she’s there when you pick them out.  One day I had a revelation.  I noticed a shirt hanging on my wife’s side of the closet that I’d given her for Christmas that I’d never seen her wear.  Beside were 3 other shirts and one sweater with the very same story.  When I asked her about them she said, “I’m saving them for a special occasion.”  As special as Judgment Day, apparently.  These were never coming out of the closet.  I realized taking her shopping – shopping with her – picking things out and watching her try things on – this was not only a safer route to seeing the clothes on her but the time together was as meaningful as the gifts themselves. 

2) Kitchen appliances don’t count.  Unless they’re from our children.  If they are from our children she will be absolutely crazy about them, take pictures with them, use them and tell others about them.  “Kitchen appliances,” she explained to me, “are like giving a janitor a new mop for Christmas.  It implies working for you and is like lingerie, you’ll enjoy it more than I will.”

3) Lingerie.  See #1 & #2 above.

4) Thought.  My wife, the Elusive, can be happy – thrilled even! – with the simplest and most inexpensive of gifts as long as they reveal that thought went into them.  Similarly, something pricey that has no connection to her likes, her story, her personality is worse than worthless because it’s like insult to injury, “You paid how much for this?  And you thought I would like it why?”  She’s the Queen of Christmas Socks.  She will fill each family members stocking with good things but not just good things.  Each item will have significance and meaning – a favourite candy unique to their tastes, a small toy or plaything from their childhood, a matchbox car that’s make, model or decoration is distinctively suited for the recipient.  It’s almost like a superpower.

5) Receiving is nice, Giving is better.  If someone wanted to torture my wife they would make a rule that she could receive gifts but not give them.  It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy a thoughtful or creative gift given in love.  It’s not that the kindness of others and their generosity does not touch her, they do.  But what truly lights her up, makes that inner luminosity shine in her eyes and radiate from her face, is giving a gift to someone and watching them receive it and connect with the heart behind it.  She’s most satisfied when she sees the recognition on someone’s face as they open their gift and realize the meaning or significance – how this gift connects uniquely with them.

My Elusive wife has taught me that giving can be its own reward.  And seeing her in action again this Christmas I am truly grateful that God saw what I needed and delivered a present to me in a very attractive container that truly keeps on giving.

I’m learning…

If you’d like to help me reach my goal of a Masters Degree, you can click the link =è to donate or follow the FYI instructions if you’re in Canada and would like a Tax Receipt for your donation!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting Small

I'm still getting marks back (one today!) with only a few more left to come in.

One paper, reduced from 17 to 10 pages.
One book review.
One exam.

Waiting is the worst.

While I'm waiting I've started on the reading for the next module.  10 book, 10 critical reviews, 50 days or so left to get them done.  I'm enjoying the reading.  It's challenging and full of insights to ponder on.  It's the history that I'm getting the most out of even as it scrambles my brain.

There has been nothing like living in a "foreign" country to get some perspective on my homeland.  Having close friends who live overseas and the conversations we have brings another dimension to that perspective.  The travelling I've been privileged to have done to China, Trinidad & Tobago and other places has also enlarged my view of how life really works.  "Truth" has crumbled before my very eyes more than once as my real life experiences came into conflict with what I "knew" or had been taught was so.

Reading history has done much the same.  I would describe this experience the same way I would this fundraising I've been doing to fund my education: humbling.  It's fascinating to read about the confidence with which men of faith have staked their claims on "Truth" only to see that discovery or reform give way in 100 hundred years (or less!) to the next wave of discovery and reform.  Not unlike the "War to end all Wars", each reform perceived itself as the reform to end all reforms.

Sort of like our grade 12 graduation pictures that hang in high school hallways to remind us that no matter what we believe, we are not - after all - the pinnacle of fashion and cool.  Haircuts, eyeglasses, clothing - we smile or we frown, frozen in time, a testimony that "this too shall pass".

I've been doing a series of talks for December at Church that I get the impression has ruined Christmas for some people.  "I'll never look at Christmas the same way again..." is the way they're kindly saying it.  I started a fight between one couple when I told one of them the wise men played no part in the Christmas story, which was repeated to their spouse and a theological war broke out.  (ooops, sorry, should have said, "spoilers".)

This reading of history, the Church's and Israel's, is growing humility in me.  Humbling me to speak very carefully about my own convictions and less absolutely about the rightness or wrongness of the convictions of others.  I'm learning that finding the good is more valuable than finding the bad in other's arguments and positions - but affirming the good doesn't require me to cover up the bad.  I'm learning that the real satisfaction is not in receiving a gift but in unpacking the box.

...and I still have a lot to learn.

If you'd like to help me keep learning you can click the "donate" button over there ===> OR contact SSU with the information over there ===>.  Big thanks to Jeff & Patty and Jeff & Natasha for recent gifts of extravagant grace!

“And it is the Lord, it is Jesus, Who is my judge. Therefore I will try always to think leniently of others, that He may judge me leniently, or rather not at all, since He says: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” ― St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jesus is NOT the Reason for the Season

I don’t want to ruin your Christmas or convince you to throw out your coffee mugs or wall hangings that say otherwise but let’s be honest; Jesus is not the reason for the season.

This isn’t a rant about how we’ve commercialized the holiday and how we’ve left Christ out of Christmas.

Here’s the deal.  Jesus was doing fine.  Seriously.

From his place of perfect love as the mirror image of the Father with their abundant love for the divine Self spilling out all over everything as the Holy Spirit, he was not missing a big event at the winter solstice.  Or at any other solstice.  He wasn’t bored or Christmas would happen in the Spring and we’d call it Christmarch Break, we’d all go to Florida to celebrate it and it would be 10 days long and we’d have palm trees instead of evergreens, beer kegs instead of mulled cider and wet tshirt contests instead of mistletoe.

The reason for Christmas has always been – here comes the heresy – you and me.  We’re the reason for the season. 

Deal with it. It’s not about a petulant God in need of his own season in order to be happy. 

You and I, we need the Christmas event.  The first gift has always been for us, not for him.  The first invitation to the event was given to our reps – smelly, lower middle class shepherds.  Jesus didn’t come for pretty people whose lives are neatly tied up in bows and ribbons and shiny wrapping paper.  Jesus’ first day is a sign of what he’s all about – he comes into the crappy messes we’ve made and he makes himself at home and begins to recreate our lives from the inside out.  He comes illegitimately – he comes in poverty and obscurity.  He doesn’t come for recognition.  He gave up his entitlement.

That’s what Christmas is all about.  A God who meets us where we are because we keep getting ourselves lost looking for him.

I'm learning...

Monday, December 12, 2011


A few decades ago I was raising money to go on a mission.  I sent "support letters" out to everyone I knew.  I'd been told that for every 10 requests I would get one response.  I needed a lot of responses to reach my goal and go on the mission.  The letters hadn't been out very long when I received my first reply.  There was no money in the self-addressed, stamped, reply envelope, just a note.  It was a family member (not immediate - in case you're trying to figure this out) letting me know that I was a tremendous disappointment to the family.

So when I had this idea come to me in the shower to try to get by with some help from my friends, I wasn't excited or comfortable.  I definitely wasn't expecting something like this to happen!  Thanks to friends, new and old, I'm well on my way to reaching my goal of getting educated.

There's a new widget here on the site, the ol' thermometer, to keep track of how this is going.

Here are the quick details again:  I'm working on a Master of Ministry degree from SSU.  I'm doing this by distance and on-site (2 weeks each semester).  I've already done one module/semester and I'm on the hook for that one financially.  There are 3 more modules/semesters to complete, including the next one in March that is the Travel Module that will take me to Egypt, Israel and Lebanon ($4200 due by the end of this month - yikes!).  Then next Fall and Spring and then I have the Thesis - an additional cost and I'm paying my way for that as well.  So the appeal has been to my friends and family for help with the $10,000 in the middle for the travel and next two modules.  And I've experienced an incredible amount of love and generosity that's left me feeling like George Bailey - post visit by Clarence - which is a good place to be at this time of year!

I'm humbled, honoured and blessed by this experienced and rather than crawling under a rock - which is how I thought I'd be feeling - I want to tell everyone how rich I feel because of my friends, my family and my school!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Joining the Band

One of the books that we read for our module was The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez.  It was fascinating reading and it will spawn no end of blog posts.  Our reading for this module covered the Reformation to present day.  So many things have occurred to me as I read the pages of The Story but all now fit inside the framework of a picture that one of my fellow students described in class one day.

Dan, who could tell it better if he was here, saw himself, guitar case in hand, making his way into a great concert hall.  From a distance he could hear the music that was being played inside.  At once it touched his soul and compelled him to enter.  As he came into the hall he saw the band, made up of young and old, men and women, every tribe and every nation, each one playing instruments - some indigenous- all playing one song.

He approached the band, put down his guitar case, opened it and brought out his guitar and he began to play.  He joined the Song.  It had been going before he arrived but he jumped right in and added something that hadn't been there before.  While he played, some musicians would stop, pack up their instrument and step off the stage and into the darkness beyond the spotlights.  Their moment was over but the Song continued on, richer for the contribution that they had made, closer than ever to the Finale.

And then Dan's part was over and he stopped playing.  Others had arrived and joined in the Song and he felt satisfied and  complete.  There was no sadness or regret as he packed up his guitar and, like those others before him, quietly slipped off the stage and back into that night.  As he stepped into the Mystery he was reassured by the Song that continued without him but of which he knew he would always be a part.  He would forever be part of that Song and that Song would forever be a part of him.

That picture has come to me again and again as I think about my own life, what I'm doing or not doing here on this big, blue Stage and where I go from here.  I've thought about it in the context of Church History and how the "great players" seem so seldom to have been aware how the new movement they'd introduced with their little lives - triangle players to the tubas - had impacted the overall piece and those who heard it.  I'm encouraged and liberated by the knowledge that I don't have to write an original piece, I'm not the Composer.  Whether I play the notes as written or add a little improvisation what matters when it's all been said and done, is that I played.  I played with heart, with passion and I was faithful to the Song and to my fellow players.

I've wanted to share that with you for a while now.  Dan told me at the module I was welcome to share it.  Remember, no one who's part of a band can ever be called a failure - triangles or tubas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First Grade

I got my first grade back from my Masters Module last night.  It was for one of the papers I wrote, a review, for the counselling section of the module.  My paper got an "A".

I was "bouncing off the walls" excited!  I ran upstairs and told my wife, the Elusive, about the mark and she was excited for me.  For all I know everyone is getting "A"s and I'd be fine with that.  What matters to me is that I didn't get a "seriously, you think you can do this?"

As I went to bed last night I was expressing my thankfulness to God and then this thought came to me and kept me awake for a while, "You can only go down from here!"

I've decided this morning that in a "the glass is half full/the glass is half empty" world I'm a "someone probably poisoned my water" kind of guy.

I've got so much to learn.

p.s.  apparently writing before 8 a.m. provokes me to overuse quotation marks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Post Exam Stress Disorder

It feels like I'm not making that up.  Harder than the exam is this wait to find out what my marks are for the work I did this past module/semester.  The exam covered material Genesis (the book, not the band) to Revelation (no 's') and the questions could have come from anywhere in between.  A little bit Narrative Theology and a little bit Bible Trivia.  No matter what my mark is I feel like I know the material - Narrative Theology - and could take someone else through it.  Which is good since I will.

We had 3 hours to take the exam and I finished somewhere around the 90 minute mark.  I could've written longer answers but I tried to cover the basics and leave it at that.  Back in the undergrad days, 25+ years ago, my essay answers were written as much for effect as they were for information.  I could write an answer so long I was sure my instructors would rather give me the benefit of the doubt than actually read through the whole answer to see if I knew what I was talking about.

The questions could come from any of the 50 questions we had to study from.  Exams like these are always a gamble.  Did I spend enough time of the right questions out of the 50?  This time I guessed wrong.  There were a few questions that I thought, "no way will that be on there...".  My bad.  Some questions that I thought were key to the material didn't even get honourable mention.  Nevertheless, there was only one question I had to completely pull a rabbit out of my hat on.  I hope to find out soon if the rabbit died or not.  I also suspect some of my other answers made sense to me but probably didn't adequately respond to the question.

It took me at least 2 hours after the exam to start talking in complete sentences to my wife, the elusive Donna.  She encouraged me that I took it and finished it - not that she didn't think I wouldn't or couldn't but she cheered me for getting it done.  I think she was as relieved this round was over as much as I was.

One thing I noticed that's different from my undergrad days: I still remember the information I studied.  Back in my BS days, or is that BA?  I forget...I remembered what I studied for the length of the test (sometimes less) and then let it all slip away once I survived the exam.  This time it's staying with me and it's actually re-framing how I understand the Bible.

Now that that's done I'm starting the reading for my next module that's due by February 15th.  2662 pages.  10 books.  10 papers.  100 quotes and notes.

And once I get my grades I may wish I was waiting again.  I have so much to learn.

Happy Holidays.

P.S.  For those wondering about fundraising to Educate Brian - we have now reached the $1200 mark!!!!  Woohoo!  We're moving on up to the $10,000 overall that I need to raise and the $4500 I need to raise by the end of this month (December)!!!  Thanks to all of you who have given so generously to help me get educated!