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2020 is a milestone year for me: 10 years of blogging, 15 years of teaching Anabaptism, 20 years of biking to work at Columbia Bible College, 25 years of not buying a new pair of pants, 30 years of being a parent, 35 years of marriage, 40 years of church ministry, and 45 years of regular journaling. No one wants to read a bunch of narcissistic, self-congratulatory ramblings so I will take nine themes from the above milestones and reflect on and write about these themes for my blogs. I will add three other milestone themes to make one for each month in 2020. I write just because it is who I am and if one person connects with something, that is my reward for posting to the public.

I enjoy all kinds of writing and have had written two books, a few chapters in books, academic essays, numerous articles, curriculum, and poetry. My favorite kind of writing is pithy reflections about life and my most frequent publications have been a week of personal devotions for REJOICE! Magazine (9 since 2008). Blogging is also this kind of writing. It takes a bit more thought than a tweet and is less work than writing an article or an essay. For me, it’s just perfect. It is kind of like writing an editorial for my own weekly online magazine. So I invite you to subscribe and enjoy the ride!

January: To celebrate 10 years of blogging I will reflect on men’s spirituality, feminism, and related subjects because that is the subject that initiated my blog.

February: To celebrate the 150th anniversary of my home province, Manitoba, I will write about Louis Riel and other things Manitoban.

March: To commemorate 15 years of teaching a course on Anabaptism I will reflect on the relevance of Anabaptist thought as we near the 500th anniversary of the movement.

April: My oldest son is turning 30 so that means I have been a parent for 30 years. Anyone who has been a parent knows it is the hardest and yet most rewarding job in the world.

May: It was 50 years ago that the Beatles ceased to be a band. How has popular music impacted us in the past half century?

June: At our “Milestones” event I will be recognized for 20 years of teaching at Columbia Bible College. I’m sure there are a few nuggets to dig up on the variety of subjects I have taught.

July: Sabbath is an important practice to sustain life. I will take a break from blogging for a few weeks as I have done in the past.

August: We will be celebrating 35 years of marriage. The commitment of two people to live together in love for a lifetime is worth reflecting on.

September: Back to school means back to commuting by bicycle. It has been 20 years which makes about 4000 km a year. Stand by for stories and evangelism.

October: To celebrate 25 years of buying second-hand pants I will write about simplicity and the clothing industry.

November: I have worked for the church for 40 years in 5 provinces. Join me in reflecting on the highs and lows of church ministry.

December: I have been journaling for 45 years. In some ways blogging is a form of journaling in public so a few juicy excerpts are in order to finish off the year.

Earlier this week Christine Sinclair was named Soccer Player of the Decade by Canada Soccer. “Christine Sinclair is a once-in-a-generation athlete that has been at the heart of Canadian sport for over 20 years, but what she accomplished in the past 10 years has changed the sport forever in our country,” Canada Soccer president Steven Reed said in a press release. “Christine is the Canada soccer player of the decade and unquestionably one of the greatest and most-loved athletes Canada has ever watched.”

The previous week Bianca Andreescu was voted as Canada’s top athlete in 2019. She won three international tournaments this year climaxed by defeating the immortal Serena Williams in both the Canadian and American Open. Who can forget the scene when the teenager was comforting the veteran when the latter had to concede due to injury? Andreescu is such a class act!

These are rare honours for women. There is no equality of the sexes when it comes to professional sports. Professional sports have been the domain of men. (This is part of the problem of silence pointed out in the first Advent post. Since coaches don’t have physical prowess like their players do, they use their harsh—sometimes abusive—words as a way to dominate. If Paul was writing 1 Corinthians 14 in the context of sports he would tell the men to be quiet. For that matter, even in the context of church today I think he would tell the men to be quiet because the principle of the text is about order, not about gender. Today it is men who cause disorder! But I digress…) All the major professional team sports leagues in North America involve only men. Women who do play professional team sports earn a fraction of the salaries that men do and get sparse media attention. In fact, all of human history has been dominated by men. It has been a man’s world. Only recently has there been a move toward a more egalitarian world.

But there was a foreshadowing of this change in the Christmas story. Mary gave birth to the Son of God without the help of a man. The other main character in the pre-Christmas drama was her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary received the news of her child she sang the poetry of her female ancestor Hannah (See Luke 1:46-55 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10). What a ground leveling prophetic word! It started to happen in the life of Jesus. Although the male disciples get most of the press, Jesus did have female disciples (Luke 8:1-3). Throughout Jesus’ life he healed, advocated for, and gave dignity to women (Mark 5:21-43; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11). Once, he commended a foreign woman for her courageous faith when she pointed out his racism and sexism (Matthew 15:21-28). At the end of his life when men wanted to kill him and his male disciples deserted him, it was women who stayed loyal and accompanied him in his suffering and death. The resurrection was a surprise but by now it is not surprising that it was women who first encountered the risen Christ and spread the news.

One of the great personal stories about Winnipeg’s Grey Cup win was about who the hero of the game was. In football the hero is almost always the quarterback who calls and executes the plays—and usually makes the biggest salary of any player. The quarterback is also usually imported from the United States. In fact, the last Canadian quarterback to win the Grey Cup was Russ Jackson way back in 1969.

Most of the best players in the Canadian Football League are Americans so they have special rules about having a certain number of Canadian players on every team so as to give them a better chance. Thus, in the Grey Cup game they have two awards: one for the best player and one for the best Canadian player. This year, for the first time ever in the 107 year history of the league, both awards were given to the same person—Andrew Harris. He is not a quarterback (which was a role uniquely shared by two players on the team) and not only is he Canadian but he is also a hometown boy from Oak Park High School in Winnipeg! Many fans probably know his parents and others went to school with Andrew; he is truly one of them. A humble hometown boy became the national hero.

How like the story of Jesus. The people scoffed: “Can anything good come from Nazareth? He can’t be that special. We know his mother and father!” (John 1:46; Luke 4:22) Yet this was our Messiah. Who would have thunk it? God became one of us, a humble hometown boy who became the Saviour of the world.

“Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

It has been a few weeks but the sweetness of the Winnipeg Blue Bomber’s Grey Cup victory on November 24 still lingers. It was an emotional—almost spiritual—moment for me. And the story-line is so like Advent and Christmas!

As a teenager my favourite sport to play was Canadian football. I also listened to all the Winnipeg Blue Bomber games on the radio and was depressed for a week after they lost a game. Thus, I was depressed a lot in my teenage years! During my twenties I was so busy going to college, getting married, starting a career, and having kids that my interest in the game waned somewhat during the 80’s when they actually won a few championships.

The Blue Bombers won their last Grey Cup in 1990. Advent is about waiting. Blue Bomber fans knew how to wait because they waited 29 years before they won another Grey Cup, and all this in a league with only 9 teams! Talk about longing. (Another story of waiting is just as deep. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team know all about this waiting and longing. They last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and they have struggled in the basement of the league almost every year since.)

My hopes were not high this year because I had been disappointed too many times in those 29 years. Perhaps not unlike God’s people who had waited for centuries for a leader to deliver them from oppression. Leaders came and went but none would ever bring the permanent peace and prosperity they longed and waited for. Waiting for a favourite sports team to win a championship might be trivial in comparison but just like children waiting to open a present, it is illustrative of our deeper longings.

Professional sports and the season of Advent have nothing in common. Some might consider it irreverent to even use one as analogous to the other but then again even the idea of the divine taking on human flesh is kind of irreverent anyway. In exchange for the usual Advent words: peace, joy, hope, and love, I offer four other words for contemplation this Advent season. Each one will be illustrated from the world of sports.

SILENCE

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” No church Christmas season is ever without this classic Christmas carol. Although a human mother giving birth in a stable was probably anything but calm and silent, the aura of a “silent night” as a symbol of Christmas is endearing and enduring. In Canada Christmas is associated with snow; there is nothing more silent than being outside on a cold winter’s night with snow softly falling. I’ve experienced it! One my favourite winter activities that I experienced on the prairies was ice skating on our horseshoe slough in the evening with a full moon overhead. There is no sound but the silent swish, swish of the skate blades on ice. Silence is beautiful. Silence is reverent. Silence is wonderful.

Unfortunately, Canada’s national sport played on ice has been anything but silent of late. The clean ice and the soft white snow have been assaulted with verbal diarrhea. First, it was hockey commentator, Don Cherry, ranting about immigrants on Hockey Night in Canada. Then it was Bill Peters, coach of the Calgary Flames, who was called out on racist comments made while he was a junior coach. Mike Babcock, one of the most respected coaches in the game, was revealed as full of arrogant words and mean-spirited ways. Then reporters and tweeters weighed in with all their opinions, from saying that the “trash-talking” is just part of the game to self-righteous condemnation of the public scapegoats.

Perhaps we should all shut up. Hockey is not the only culprit. Politicians, preachers, party-goers, pontificaters, puny peons… all people, pay attention! We live in a noisy world where one of the most difficult disciplines is to stop and be silent. That first Christmas night may not have been particularly calm and quiet but there is something about the event of Christ’s birth that should cause us to stop our noise and words to pause in reverent silence. “Let all the earth keep silent” is a word we need to hear this Advent season.

 

 

The series of blogs about elections must continue because today it is exactly one year until the presidential election in the USA. Twitter has expanded to 280 characters so since politics can now be done by twitter, allow me a brief rant for 280 words.

Today kicks off a 365 day campaign that will make Canadians never complain again about our elections! Despite what the red hats say, the American empire is crumbling. The incumbent president and candidate for the ruling party is in danger of being impeached after three years of constant scandal. (Why did it take this long?) The other party has to try to stay unified while seventeen candidates duke it out to be his rival. (You’d think it would be a shoo-in for whoever the rival is but apparently not.) And then the political mud-slinging—perhaps political grenade-throwing would be a better description—will begin. Perhaps the worst thing about the next year will be the billions of dollars spent on media blitzes, travel, and paraphernalia such as shirts that say “God, Guns & Trump.” I actually saw this on a T-shirt on the news last night! The wearer had better not be referring to the God that was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth! People of the US of A, can somebody explain to me what is going on down there?

I thought my series of blogs on the election would be over by now but one more thought came to me.

One thing that is troubling about the election results is the polarization and regionalism that is evident. The Conservatives have all but one of the seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the Liberals have none. The Liberals got most of their seats in the so-called “905” area in and around Toronto and almost all the seats in Atlantic Canada while the Conservatives have very few. Perhaps the most troubling development is that the Bloc Quebecois [BQ] went from 10 to 32 seats in Quebec by taking seats from all three major parties. I’m not even sure how we can have a purely regional party sitting in a national parliament; if that would be the case across the country (some Albertans are thinking about it) we may as well just have meetings of the provincial premiers and be done with a national election. But we are not the United Provinces of Canada and we do have some issues of national concern that could not be addressed by such meetings. This is not the solution for the problem of regional polarization and definitely not the solution for national unity! I’m aware of the history of the British domination of the French and how French Quebecers have a valid claim for a distinct society, although they ignore significant French settlements in New Brunswick and Manitoba and smaller ones throughout Canada. I remind us that both official language peoples are guilty of the subjugation of our First Nations; that’s who needs some national representatives at the table if anybody does!

For religious people, the most disconcerting thing about the resurgence of the BQ is that they are supportive of the “secular law” put forth by the provincial government in Quebec. This law, that forbids any civic employees from having any visible religious symbols on their person while at work, is a slap in the face of Canada’s constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion. The sad thing is that no national leader, other than Jagmeet Singh, spoke up with any clarity against this, which is why the NDP lost more seats in Quebec than any other party.

As an Anabaptist Christian, the freedom of religious choice and expression was what my ancestors in the faith died for in a time when citizens automatically, or by force, adopted the religion of their region’s leaders. Quebec’s leaders are in effect forcing all its citizens to bow to the god of secularism or at least keep their faith completely private and invisible which is an impossible thing for any devout religious person to do. Albeit, according to an earlier blog, it is a very Canadian thing to attempt! Secularism is not neutral “non-religion” as those making the law seem to assume; it comes with its own set of dogmas, rituals, symbols, and moral codes that are no more Quebecois or Canadian than the values of other religions. Each one has something to contribute to the whole.

Although it seems I may have been overly optimistic about responsible government in my last blog, I continue to pray that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer will put the common good of all of the country’s citizens ahead of their personal and party agendas. As the kids said in the Green ad, “It works better when you work together.”