Friday, September 30, 2011

Heading Out To Whistler With Willingdon Ironmen Fall 2011 Retreat!

Men Sharpening Men: The Willingdon Ironmen Logo

4:30 PM:

     Well, it's the end of another working week and I'm back home. But I'm heading out again in just a few minutes, to leave for my first trip to Whistler with the Willingdon Ironmen's Fall Retreat! I'm really excited for this evening, as well as the next two days that I'll be spending with the men's fellowship at the Tantalus Lodge in Whistler, with our very own Pastor John Neufeld as the main speaker! I'll try to post here as often as I can about what I've been experiencing and learning everyday, with this year's theme being "Run To Win". Well, time to run through the final checklist and head out the door to meet Tim Leung at church for my carpool ride out there. See you all in the next update, hopefully tonight!
- The Wisdom Seeker

10:30 PM:

     Well, it's been an awesome opening day so far at the Ironmen retreat! There are more than 200 men here of all age ranges here. As I write this, I'm at the table watching my roomates Tim, Alex, Faber, James, Bryan, Bryant and my friend Johnson (visiting from his room) playing the game 'Settlers'. This brings back memories of the Campus for Christ Winter Conferences Johnson and I used to attend while in grad school.

James, Faber, Alex and Tim playing Settlers while I write my blogpost
     The trip here was most memorable, though brief. After work, I headed home, quickly packed my laptop and other minor things and headed out to meet Tim at Willingdon. When I got there, he was by parked in the church parking lot by the bus transporting some of the men to the retreat. I took a photo just before we left:

Tim hopping off the bus just before we all left.
      I had never been on the Sea-To-Sky Highway going to Whistler before. Although it was quite overcast and the light was fading as we headed onto it, there was still enough for me to get breathtaking views along the twists and turns along it during the one-and-a-half drive to Tantalus Lodge. When we arrived, we discovered an Ironmen check-in desk set up in the lobby, and a long line-up of men checking in at the front desk:

The Ironmen Welcome and Sign-in Desk

Ironmen Conference Poster

     Having grabbed a quick dinner and checked in to our rooms, we headed out to the Telus Conference Center for the first session. Following a short praise and worship session that began at 8:30, Pastor John began his opening talk for the weekend to come. And as he laid out the theme, I was thrilled that I had taken this faith step with the Ironmen, for his chosen topic is the fundamental theme of this blog, and the central pursuit of my life over more than a decade - Wisdom, and Handling the Conflicts of Worldviews.

     I will flesh out this post with the points that he made from his first talk tomorrow morning. For now, it's midnight and I'm going to have a shower and hit the bed. I'm looking forward to another exciting day tomorrow!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, September 26, 2011

Adolf Hitler, Abortion and the Gospel: Ray Comfort and the "180" Movie

“I give my unflinching, joyful, trembling Yes to ‘180’.” - John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church

     Earlier today, I happened to see a post by my good friend Chris on Facebook, a link to a video of what appeared to be a documentary titled "180". He had written some earnest words of appeal below them, pleading with those who saw his link to watch it, even if they didn't know him. On first sight, I had assumed it to be quite probable that it was another slightly sensationalist but mildly interesting video clip, like the thousands of others posted by Facebook users everyday, whether friend, foe, acquaintance or complete stranger. However, I also know Chris to be a quiet and level-headed young man, with a recently-awakened and burning love in his heart for God and the message of the Gospel. So I made a mental note of the video, and after coming home from work and a hot shower, settled down to watch it on the side while doing other things on my computer. As it turned out, I was unable to - watch it on the side, that is. It succeeded in riveting my attention from the very first frame - "Do you know about Adolf Hitler?" - to the last. And in doing so, reminded me of the inferno that God has lit in my heart as well.

A still from the "180" Movie
     "180" is a short, 33-minute documentary of a series of conversations had with people on the street by Ray Comfort, the interviewer and narrator of the documentary. Describing himself as "Jewish, and deeply concerned that a generation is forgetting one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the human race." Proceeding to interview people on the street about what they knew about Hitler and the Holocaust, Ray documents some astounding conversations with all manner of people, from Neo-Nazis and a survivor of the German assault on Russia during World War II to the indifferent and apathetic, and everyone in between. In the course of the conversation, he both incisively examines and challenges their perspective of abortion, good, evil, sin, God, heaven, hell, judgement, salvation, Jesus, the Cross and the Gospel. As shocking as it was to watch some of the conversations and worldviews expressed in them, the conclusions at the end were equally powerful in their impact. I've embedded the online documentary for viewing below:

     Ray Comfort and the 180 movie reminded me of why I go out, either alone or with friends every Sunday afternoon to converse with the people of downtown Vancouver. I want to engage them about what they believe, and why they believe what they believe. I want to stop them in their mental tracks and make them think carefully about all these issues that are so important in life, and that we sometimes make ad-hoc decisions about, believing whatever is told us. I want them to see. The burning passion of "180" is the same as that which God has placed in my heart - to make known in this city the name of Christ, the wisdom and power of God, echoing the thoughts of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

    "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach1 to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

    As "180" began running through its final few frames and Ray Comfort delivered his concluding lines, I was reminded of the verse from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians:

    "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ..." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, ESV)

    Thank you, God for pouring oil on the flame in Chris' heart and mine. May it only burn brighter.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Loving Memory of Tolkien (Nov. 2010 - Sept. 2011)

Tolkien, caught in a moment of surprise :)
   You don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. So goes the popular platitude of social wisdom, though I don't know who coined that saying. But what if you appreciate what you have, and it's still gone? That's one of the thoughts that occupies my mind right now, a few hours after discovering that Tolkien, my pet hamster, had passed away sometime between yesterday night and today morning.

    I'm not one of those people who treats their pet as if it were human. I have never lavished extraordinary amounts of affection on any of the pets I've had before, though they've been few and far between. But it still shook me, nonetheless, when I checked on her after 11:30 AM and found her lying on her side in a corner of her cage, with her eyes closed. That was the first sign that something was wrong; Tolkien had always curled up into a ball while sitting, head tucked between her feet. I clicked my tongue in the pattern that she had always recognized and instantly responded to. She didn't move. I waited a few more seconds. Nothing. I think that's when it began to register - Tolkien was gone. Even as I type all this out, I find it interesting how I've used the word 'gone'; I don't wan't to write 'dead'. It feels uncomfortable.

    It's amazing how the human mind goes into default 'emergency response' mode, when caught off-guard by unexpected events that tend to deliver shocks, whether large or small. Without really waiting to digest what had happened, I found myself thinking of how to respond and what to do next. I would have to bury her immediately; I could not leave her lying in her cage, and did not have anywhere to temporarily store her body. I needed to figure out where to bury her - along a trail in the woods nearby, perhaps? The cage and all her stuff would have to be cleaned, disinfected and put away. I would have to thoroughly clean the area of my room where her cage had been placed. And on, and on. Within minutes, I found myself in the bathroom, carefully trying to take the top of her cage off without disturbing her body. It felt strange to look down on her motionless little body, expecting her to raise her head and look around with eyes half-shut, like she usually does when awakened from sleep.

    I suddenly found myself at a loss for how to handle her. I had always picked her up with my bare hands, but this wasn't "her". I didn't know how to describe what I was actually trying to pick up. "She" wasn't in there anymore, that was for certain; "It" was now a dead body. I don't know if the sight of death tends to produce those reactions in people when looking at loved ones that have passed away - confusion, fear, uncertainty and a whole host of other strange feelings. I finally ended up pulling on a pair of blue rubber gloves that I used when cleaning the bathroom. Even with those on, it felt strange to touch her body. It was hard and stiff, unlike the small soft pillow it had usually felt like. Putting her body into a plastic bag with some of her bedding, I put that along with my camera into my backpack and headed out to the woods to bury her.

    It was overcast and windy outside, with intermittent drops of rain beginning to fall. I made my way a few streets away to the trail that began into the woods, and to a spot that I had in mind. I temporarily lost my balance while trying to make my way along the rocks that formed a path across a shallow stream, and stepped into it. My shoes, socks and the bottom of my jeans got soaked instantly in cold water. Finding the secluded spot that I had in mind, I dug a grave among the roots of a tree, placed Tolkien's body and bedding into it and covered it up. While standing over the grave for a few minutes in silence, a text message arrived from Jamie, with a prayer thanking God for the blessing and joy that Tolkien had been in my life. The words 'Amen' came to my lips in thankful response. As the occasional raindrops began to transition into a slow drizzle, I covered the grave with leaves and made my way back home.

Tolkien's Burial Place
    Along the way back, the words of Psalm 104 came to me, which speaks about the blessing and provision of God for all His creatures:

        "Oh Lord, how manifold are your works!
        In wisdom have you made them all;
        the earth is full of your creatures.

        These all look to you,
        to give them their food in due season.
        When you give it to them, they gather it up;
        when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
        When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
        when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
        When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
        and you renew the face of the ground.

        May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
        may the Lord rejoice in his works,
        who looks on the earth and it trembles,
        who touches the mountains and they smoke!
        I will sing to the Lord as long as I love;
        I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
        May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
        for I rejoice in the Lord."
- Ps. 104:24 - 24

    It is good at times like this to turn one's thoughts to God, even with something that may seem as miniscule in the large scheme of things as the passing of a pet. It is true that I will not wake up in the mornings to see her curled up in her cage, climbing the walls of her cage in the evenings, pausing to sniff the air in my direction when I pick her up and she catches my scent and all the other little things that made her so lovable. "It's just a hamster", some might say, but as much as Tolkien's passing is beginning to sink in and the implications of her absence beginning to be felt, it cannot just stop at that. Even in this, there is the glory of God manifest. Tolkien came into being, to life because God willed her to live, because He sent forth His Spirit and created her. Her little heart beat and she lived because He sustained her life by the power of the same Spirit, and provided food for her. And she died because He decided that the time had come to take away her breath, and for her to return to the dust.

    God blessed my life through Tolkien. I loved her from the moment I saw her at the Petcetera store where I bought her, till the time I put the last bits of dirt over her grave. She comforted me during my times of loneliness, when I was looking unsucessfuly after graduation for work last year. I came home from a disappointing interview that I had had high hopes for, looking forward to seeing her at home. I wrote about this in a poem remembering the occasion, titled "Interview Blues". It was raining hard before, and I worried about her grave getting soaked. But it's sunny now. Thank you for being part of my life, Tolkien. God gave you, and God took you away. Blessed be His name.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Engaging The Marketplace: Sharing @ Blim's Farmer's Market

Blim's Farmer's Market along Granville Street

    This post is coming almost two weeks late! Life's been quite hectic, mostly with work both on-site and at the office, so it's taken longer to write this post than I wanted. Two Sundays ago, I had decided to visit the Blenz coffee shop at West Georgia and Dunsmuir street in downtown Vancouver. It was among the most extensively vandalised stores during the riot that followed the final game of the Stanley Cup last June. During the course of the night, all it's windows were smashed, the interior destroyed and systematically pillaged over two hours, while the manager and an employee locked themselves in a room in the back. The store collectively incurred in excess of $50,000 of damage and stolen equipment. It has taken more than two months to renovate and restore this coffee shop to a point where it can open for business once more.

    I was happy to see the boarding gone from their store, and wanted to say so. So as I did before with The Bay, London Drugs and Chapters, I wrote a card for the management and staff, and visited them in the afternoon, hoping to listen to their experience during the riot and their reflections about what had happened to them. However, the manager and employee who had been in the store during the riot were not there, so I left the card with the barista on shift, ordered myself a hot chocolate and looked around the shop. Everything in the shop, I was told, was brand new. There were lots of flowers from well-wishing customers, and a comment board that had been written on. Here are some photos:

The Blenz Coffee at W Georgia and Richards

The entrance to Blenz

The comment board

The newly-renovated interior
     I wandered out onto the street sometime later, wondering if I could engage someone in conversation about life and faith, as I had done before. It was while wandering up Granville Street that I came across a section that had been closed to traffic, and housing a small summer market with a number of stalls. Out of curiosity, I began wandering through them, and suddenly came upon one that caught my eye, titled "The Studio", with the words "Downtown Eastside Studio Society" below it. It turned out to be a non-profit arts workshop and publishing house, exhibiting the works of emerging writers from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, who had/were "facing facing social barriers such as mental illness, addiction, and homelessness to undertake creative writing projects and publish their work into  books." Two such writers were at the table, Chantelle and Melanie, with their facilitator Aaron, who I had the privilege of taking a photo with and have posted below:
With Chantelle, Aaron and Melanie at The Studio
     In the process of conversing with Melanie and Chantelle and looking through a book on sale that contained the works of writers from The Studio, I had the privilege of listening to Chantelle's story, as she recounted how she had emerged from a life involving drug usage through the help of an Anglican church located downtown. As we talked, we shared our thoughts on life, evil, faith, sin and the need for a God to rescue us from the evil that resides in us. I came away both humbled and happy, but also saddened, as I pondered the brief details of her story that I had had the privilege to listen to. Over and over again, it seems to me that those who profoundly understand the power of the Cross and the Gospel seem not to be those who have lived comfortable and "safe" lives, but those who have encountered the power of God in the most wretched circumstances and experienced firsthand both the depth of evil that lies in the human heart, and their redemption from it. I hope I have another chance to speak with Chantelle and other writers facilitated by The Studio, and listen to their stories and perspectives on life.

     Wandering up the market, I stopped by another stall that said "Trudy Ann's Bombay Masala Chai". Interesting, I thought - an Indian tea enterprise in the middle of a farmer's market? I was in for a surprise. One of the ladies behind the table, serving samples of tea to curious visitors turned out to be the namesake of this little enterprise, the "Trudy Ann Tellis" of the business. As always happens when two Indians meet, we inquired as to each other's backgrounds, and I was stunned to discover that she was from Mumbai, the same city that my mother had grown up in. As also always happens when two Indians meet and find commonalities, this led to lots of storytelling and reminiscing, all done while she poured me consecutive samples of the different types of chai tea being sold. "Auntie Trudy" (who inquired if I was Christian, and subsequently informed me that she was Catholic) and her friend Mital, the other lady at the stall, were most kind and conversational, and I ended up buying a packet of Fennel Chai Tea, and signing up for both their music and tea mailing lists, as Trudy Ann's sons happen to be professionally performing jazz musicians. I visited her businesses' website, which turned out to be wonderfully designed in a manner that evoked fond memories of India, and a biography of Trudy Ann. It can be found here. I look forward to meeting them again, and buying more tea!

Mital and Trudy Ann at Trudy Ann's Bombay Masala Chai

Trudy Ann Tellis' biography, from the website
     In all, it turned out to be a most interesting and thought-provoking Sunday afternoon. I came away feeling that as much as I had set out with the intent to share my faith with the people of downtown Vancouver, it seemed that I had been the one who had been shared with, and loved. See you in the next post!