Thursday, November 26, 2015

Morning Popcorn

Ballpark Popcorn CrunchHey, when God is making something clear, it is exciting how his Word pops, like kernels of popcorn blasting from hard nuggets to delicious edible morsels. 

I read one of my favourite Bible chapters this morning: the book of Colossians, chapter 3, and some of the verses, when I read them in the light of what I shared in my last blog post, The Heavy Weight of Words, had deeper significance than ever.

Think about the agency of the Enemy of God to divide, and his propensity for the use of words to do so, perverting the gift that sets us apart from all the other wonderfully created beings on this planet. See how some of the verses from the passage in Colossians emphasize that fact in describing his influence, to which humans are all too receptive. Look at the contrast with the character of God, with which Paul the apostle, admonishes us to "clothe" ourselves.
Colossians 3:8-12New International Version (NIV)But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience.New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
We are to "take off" the clothing--and nature of the Enemy--which is so natural to our "old selves" (verses 8 & 9,) and "put on" a new, regenerated self, the image of Christ (verse 10.)

And I love verse 11, which counters division and seeing people different to ourselves as "the other."

To sum it all up, verse 14, the final perfect piece of clothing:

Colossians 3:14New International Version (NIV)14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A small serving of popcorn from me this morning. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Heavy Weight of Words

 I was reading Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen recently, and in a chapter titled "Living as the Beloved," he wrote these lines, which I thought about for days afterwards, and am still pondering:
"The forces of darkness are the forces that split, divide and set in opposition. The forces of light unite. Literally, the word 'diabolic' means dividing. The demon divides; the Spirit unites."

I was telling a friend about this over lunch one day this week, someone who is also a lover of words. We sat in the front window of a cafe, overlooking the main street of a town decorated for Christmas, and I pulled out my e-reader to look up the gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-23 , the prayer of Jesus, which suddenly hit me as the antithesis of "diabolic" in the way it focuses on "being one."

Yesterday, curious to learn more, I looked up the word "diabolic" for myself and found this, under the heading "etymology of devil." 

Origin of devil
The word devil comes from the Latin diabolus (devil)...from the verb diaballo (to insinuate things (against sb), put in a bad light, slander, calumniate...

 Isn't this fascinating, when thinking of the devil's first mention, in the book of Genesis, chapter 3? The definition of his name is personified by the record of this creature's words, which cast doubt and insinuated bad intent from the start.

Another of his titles is Father of Lies. His agenda seems often to make use of words to divide, accuse and cause disunity. Yet Jesus is The Word, and his name is Faithful and True.

This is why one of the seven things that are detestable to God, listed in Proverbs 6:16-19, is "a person who stirs up conflict in the community."

Being reminded of the great gift that words are, and how seriously God takes the way in which they are used, sensitizes me in a good way to guard my heart first and foremost; because it is where our words flow from; and then my words.

Years ago I memorized some really good verses from Ephesians. They came to mind again as I thought about all of this. I know I benefit from remembering them, may it be so for others:
Ephesians 4:29-31
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others upaccording to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Power of a Plaque

Cindy Blackstock, a Canadian activist and advocate for First Nations children

Commissioner Marie Wilson
A small crowd of people stood beneath an ominous grey sky, hugging their coats close, and holding tight to elegant green Beechwood Cemetery umbrellas, bracing against sudden gusts of wind that caught and swirled golden yellow leaves in the air. A CBC camera person in a warm, red jacket, recorded an event as significant as it was small; a correction of a slice of Canadian history in the form of a plaque.

It was Sunday, November 1, the beginning of a month associated with remembrance and Paul and I had just driven five hours to Ottawa to witness a ceremony that shone truth on a part of history that was remembered until now, through the blindfold of prejudice.

Ever since September and an earlier trip to Ottawa, when we had lunch with Cindy Blackstock; a Canadian born Gitxsan activist for child welfare, and the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society; I had been captivated by Cindy's revelations about two Canadian historical figures: Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, and Duncan Campbell Scott

Over a generously shared hour and a half, Cindy educated and inspired me. I highly recommend you clicking on a link HERE to hear Cindy tell the short version of what I heard then, in an 8 minute interview by Robyn Bresnahan on the CBC radio show this week, Ottawa Morning. Cindy is a powerful teacher. CBC website notes: He was a famous poet and he was partly responsible for Canada's residential school system:  Duncan Campbell Scott left a complicated legacy. We hear why both sides are now part of a plaque near his grave in Beechwood Cemetery.

That day in September, when we learned of the ceremony being planned, we knew that we would be back for it in November!

In preparation, for the last month I had been reading A National Crime, by John S. Milloy, cited as "one of the 100 most important Canadian books ever written," by Literary Review of Canada, and one of two books recommended by Cindy. I learned about the residential school system and the role played by the man at the centre of Sunday's ceremony, Duncan Campbell Scott. The book is a heartbreaking read. The other book Cindy recommended is also compelling: Conversations with a Dead Man: The legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott by Mark Abley.

After a few words, a prayer and the unveiling of the new plaque, we retreated from the fall weather to the comfort of the beautiful Beechwood reception halls and chapel, for refreshments and a powerful and poignant ceremony of Truth Telling, Learning and Reconciliation that included talks by author John S. Milloy, Professor Steven Artelle (University of Ottawa,) Mohawk activist and artist, Ellen Gabriel, and Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Marie Wilson. as well as Beechwood COO Roger Boult, Cindy Blackstock, Ed Bianchi of Kairos Canada and Rev. James Murray of Dominion Chalmers United Church.

Mohawk activist and artist, Ellen Gabriel
It was Ellen Gabriel who used the words, "the power of a plaque," in her talk on Educating the Past as a Vision for the Future. I thought of the significance of correcting the public record of a man's life. It was done not to demonize him, but to humanize him. His failings are those that humanity as a whole is frequently guilty of. As individuals too, we are just as prone to self deception, cognitive dissonance and blindness in our thoughts and actions. I mostly live somewhere between the two men in this story, and one choice at a time determines the legacy I will leave behind. Ellen talked about moving beyond shame and guilt, to taking actions that correct wrongs, as was being done that day. 

The afternoon ended with a walk through Beechwood Cemetery, to "visit" Dr, Peter Henderson Bryce, the man who raised the alarm on conditions in Canada's residential schools, an alarm that fell on Duncan Campbell Scott's deaf ears. At his grave, there is a plaque, unveiled in June, which honours his work. 

By the time we walked to the grave of Dr. Bryce, the cemetery was appropriately aglow in a symphony of golden leaves. It was a time to celebrate truth finally told.  

It had been a very good day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Haarlem, Heroes and a Hope

Sunshine and shadows dance on the boxes overflowing with fragrant red and green apples in our sun porch. They need to be peeled and stored away for winter pies, but I need to pick up again with our travel stories. The apples will have to wait a while...

Our trip to the Netherlands and England had always been about more than seeing the sights in the two countries we visited. 

The art galleries; museums; music; theatre--they moved me deeply, and I celebrated sharing their soul shaping beauty with our three young granddaughters. But there was also a history that shaped my parents, and their histories shaped me, just as the whole generation of children born to parents just after World War 11 was shaped by its shadow. Being in the Netherlands I wanted to share that history in a redemptive way and weave threads of hope and faith into Tippy's, Tori's and Katherine's hearts. 

And so before we left for Europe, the process began by watching DVD's about two important people. One was a Jewish girl, who died when she was younger than our girls are now--Anne Frank; and the other was a Christian Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom, whose faith led her on a journey of risk, courage and forgiveness, and whose story continues to speak to people today.  
Amsterdam Centraal Station

Early on an August Saturday morning, we set out from Amsterdam Centraal Train Station, bound for Haarlem, Corrie's home town, a 15 minute train ride away.

I had left it too late to make reservations on-line, so we hoped that we would get in on one of the four English tours of 20 people. 

We stepped off the train into the historic town of Haarlem and began by asking the way to Corrie Ten Boom's house.

The town was quaint with beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets and cosy cafes and shops. We spotted a pancake house along the way and made mental note of it for lunch later on. 
Haarlem, Paesi BassiThen we found ourselves standing in front of a very ordinary Dutch house with a jewelry shop in the front: . In the small alley, a line had already been started by a multi-generation family of eight from Michigan. With us that made a total of thirteen people waiting for the 11.30 tour. We chatted with the first family and felt sorry for the crowd that began to gather and obviously exceeded the twenty person limit per tour. 

Shortly before 11.30 the door outside which we were waiting, opened. A woman whose eyes at once looked keenly observant and ready for humour; peered down the line. Her russet coloured hair was swept into a loose French roll from which tendrils escaped. She seemed to be of late middle age and her softly lined face had a vital glow. She wore a green shot silk Indian tunic and pants, with purple trim; and sandals on her bare feet. 

She began counting the people in the line, by saying, "I always count flexibly, and never count children." In that sentence she summed up the ethos of the Ten Boom family, which took in and hid Jewish people during the war, always making room for more. The whole story can be read in Corrie's book, The Hiding Place. In the end this cost many of Corrie's family their lives when they were betrayed by a Dutch Nazi collaborator. They were arrested, and deported to a concentration camp. She never saw her elderly father again as he became ill and died, shortly after arrest, and her beloved sister Betsie died while imprisoned in the concentration camp, along with other family members.

Corrie was set free due to a clerical error and survived into old age. After the war she opened places of respite and restoration, not only for people traumatized and displaced by the war, but for Dutch citizens who had collaborated with the Nazis and were despised. Later she traveled the world telling the story of God's love, the hiding place, and how he had enabled her to forgive even the guard who had treated her sister with extreme cruelty--a grace that only God could give.

I can't know what threads of hope and faith were woven into our granddaughters' hearts and souls that day; that remains between them and God; but the opportunity to expose them to heroes whose faith meant action--that was even more wonderful than I had hoped.

We made our way to the pancake house we'd spotted that morning-A Crepe Affaire. It was whimsical and funny, and the crepes were delicious!

Food for body and soul.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Lessons from the Past

My agenda for our trip to Amsterdam was deeply personal and born of a desire to share family roots, culture and history with our grandchildren. I had thought that I might share some of the history I have already written about, but in the end I chose instead to stay "in the moment" during the precious time we had with them and let them learn through the experiences to which we exposed them.

I had been talking to Tippy, Katherine and Tori about this trip for a couple of years. Our excitement and anticipation grew as we planned details. One highlight on my agenda was the Anne Frank House. Anne was someone whose life I wanted to speak into theirs. Two of them had read her diary earlier in their teens, and, like many teenagers they had read the heartrending romance by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. in which the Anne Frank House plays a significant part. 

On a weekend in early August, in preparation for the trip, we watched two movies together. One of them was a DVD of the 2009 BBC mini series, The Diary of Anne Frank, with British actress Tamsin Greig playing Anne. It was incredibly well done and moving, capturing Anne with honesty, as a human being that they could relate to.

I couldn't get tickets online for the dates we'd be there, however I found that you could also skip the lineups if you booked a visit as part of a larger trip, so I booked us in for a five hour tour. I had no idea how interesting the whole day would turn out to be!

We started at 1.30 with a tour of the Gasson Diamonds Factory. In 1945, at the end of WW11, it was founded by Samuel Gasson, who had escaped deportation by the Nazi's by fleeing to Switzerland earlier in the war. He had worked at the company when it was owned by another Jewish family. Diamonds that he had smuggled out of the country in his shoes, enabled him to found the factory anew at the end of the war. Those who remained in Amsterdam faced the relentless call ups to report at Amsterdam's Central Station. Most were never heard from again. Every time an employee was deported, their name, and the date they were taken was engraved on the windows with a diamond. Seeing those names, over 70 years later, bearing silent testimony to real people who lived and died, during a time of terror, was poignant.

The Nazis seized ownership of the factory from the original owners, who were sent to concentration camps, where they died.

The rest of the factory tour was fascinating, with opportunities to learn a lot about diamond cutting, as well as the fact that the only diamonds in Rolex watches are Gasson diamonds!

Next, we walked to an old and beautiful Portuguese Jewish synagogue. Our guide told us the history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam and we learned that antisemitism is still rife and growing, resulting constant police presence to ensure safety. To get in, we entered through two sets of double doors. The second doors were not opened until we had all entered the space between them and the first doors had been closed behind us. There was so much history, so much to see and read, but the time available seemed all too short to fully take in the wealth of Jewish history on display.

A tour bus was waiting to take us to the Anne Frank House. As we drove towards the building where Otto Frank, Anne's father had his business office and in which the secret annex was housed, the lineup did indeed stretch for what looked like miles.

We looked up and saw the beautiful Westerkerk, the church that Anne could see from the annex window.
 It was early evening, and the historic clock chimed the hour as Anne would have heard it do all those years ago. I came with a sense of pilgrimage. Since my teens I had known of this remarkable girl and now she felt so close.

To actually walk quietly through the doorway that was hidden by a bookcase, and up the narrow stairs to the hiding place, and wander through the rooms that remain exactly as they were left, felt like walking on holy ground. The postcards and photos of movie stars are still on the walls, where Anne pasted them. It was incredible to see the place in which the domestic drama described in Anne's diary took place. Of the eight people who hid there for just over two years until they were betrayed, only Otto Frank survived the war. 

Anne's young voice survived in her diary, though, and we hear it, so full of life, hopes and dreams. 

While Paul and the girls waited, I had one more thing to do. I joined the line of people waiting to sign the guest book. It felt important to record the fact that we had been here, evidence that this place mattered to us.

Ahead of me signing the book was a girl of about 13. She wrote and wrote and seemed to be pouring out her heart on its pages, oblivious to the line of people waiting behind her. No one murmured, or stirred impatiently. There was a feeling of respect, as though each person's moment here was their own, and not to be rushed. When she put down the pen, I stepped to the book and recorded our names and reason for coming all the way from Canada to be there, "So that our grandchildren would know that all human life has value." It wasn't profound, and didn't begin to capture the deep emotion in my heart as I wrote it, but our names were in the book! 

I put down the pen and turned to join the three girls, so full of life, waiting for me with their grandfather. We stepped out into the sunshine of the Amsterdam evening, and a world in which they will live much longer than we. On that evening it felt like we had done something important to prepare them. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Waffles and Waterways

I'm afraid it might sound as though I planned our vacation to the Netherlands and England around my own agenda. We did plan together, listen to each other's wishes and try to fit them all in! 

We left the visual feast of the Van Gogh Museum for a feast of a different kind. A friend had told Katherine about a waffle shop across from the museum, which we "had" to visit. She'd spotted it on our walk to the museum and we headed for it afterwards with an appetite ready to experience the waffles. However we stood before such an array of waffles (or "wafels") such as we had never seen before. We can buy "stroop wafels" in Canadian grocery stores, but these were, just made. Agonizing over having to choose, we opted to experience these--fresh--and were not disappointed. The delectable crispy parts and gooey, warm, sweet parts melted into our mouths deliciously. Katherine texted her friend to report, "Mission accomplished," only to be told, "No, those weren't the right ones."
Obediently, we tried the "right ones;" with strawberries and cream. :)
On our way to the waffle stand we had passed a sales booth for canal boat tours, and had booked one for later that afternoon, since the weather was so warm and sunny.

It was just us and a lovely family from Los Angeles, California, and our "captain," Erik, who did a great job of telling us what we were seeing.

Tori and Katherine took lots of photos, while Tippy sketched.
Paul said that this was the best part of the vacation so far. We all enjoyed the peaceful, relaxation of the boat ride through a city with centuries of history on every hand.

But getting back to my agenda, I did have one, and it unfolded over the next couple of days...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Life Force

Did you know that every year the Van Gogh Museum has 1.5 million visitors, who come to Amsterdam from all over the world? That is an average of over 4,000 visitors a day! 

On our third morning in Amsterdam, we walked from our little apartment, down pretty streets lined with tall, gabled houses; over flower lined bridges that spanned canals; all the while dodging the bikes which seemed to approach precariously from every direction. We arrived at the museum early, to find a line already well formed, of people waiting for the museum to open.  We joined and waited with them, with a sense of approaching something sacred. Well, that's my version. Paul waited impatiently because he hates to wait for anything.

As soon as we entered the doors, Paul announced wearily  that he was going to the cafe, mumbling with a pained expression, about not being able to take another museum! We have mostly figured out how to "be" quite happily, in spite of, and sometimes because of, our different tastes. So I left Mr. B. to his coffee, and prepared to enter a state of ecstasy in contemplating the work of Mr. VG. The girls went on at their own faster pace, while I lingered, to my heart's content, staring and admiring, and being overtaken with emotion as I followed the progression of Van Gogh's work as laid out chronologically in the museum, along with his copious letters and personal history. His tragic life's end came just as he seemed to be touching the finger of God himself with his art, which is so full of vibrancy and life force.
"A Vincent Van Gogh" by Vincent van Gogh - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
It must have been an hour later that I came across Paul, not in the cafe. He was carrying a golden shopping bag with Van Gogh Sunflowers on it. Eyes alive and energized, he told me about an amazing painting he'd seen, describing the colours. 

Today I was with Tippy and I asked her what she enjoyed most on our trip. "Oh, the people," she said, "meeting them all (her uncle Bob and cousins) and putting faces to names; but the museums were pretty cool too."  I mentioned her grandfather at the Van Gogh Museum and she said, "Yes, he was pretty excited about the art there. He told me he didn't like abstract art but said this was amazing, and that I should do this." 

I almost forgot the golden shopping bag. "I bought this for  you," Paul said, pulling a book called, "Master-pieces," from within.

Epiphany? Conversion? Baptism of fire? I don't know what you 'd call it, but seeing it was so much fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


If I had imagined any granddaughter in particular as an enthusiastic partner in my epic plan to visit the Rijksmuseum, it would have been Tippy. She who eats, sleeps and breathes art! 

But at some point in our journey to the Netherlands, she said to me, "I have to let you know that I'm more interested in doing art than looking at it; I hope that doesn't disappoint you." And her gentle brown eyes peered into mine searchingly. (That talk I gave the girls on "authentic self representation" seemed to have "taken" with Tippy too.) I just smiled into the honest face I love and said, "Of course it doesn't." 

I, on the other hand had enough excitement to cover the five of us if necessary. I even loved the name: "Rijks" museum. "Rijk" is a Dutch word that means "riches," and "abundance," and I could not wait to see this place of aesthetic beauty, filled with works of the Dutch Masters, displayed in a way that allowed the public to get up close. I explained to the girls that even the colours on the walls were from the palate used by the famous painter Vermeer.

So the day after we arrived in Amsterdam we set out on foot for the Museum Quarter in search of a dream about to come true.

Early birds, we arrived at the exquisite building just as it was about to open for the day. 

We started in the elegant cafe, with delicious, strong, black, Dutch coffee for Paul and I, and tea and hot chocolate for the girls; with a selection of Dutch cookies that Katherine declared, "Fancy."

And then began a feast of another kind in which we were drenched in the finest Dutch art of the past 500 years or so.

On the top floor, to the rapid click, click, click, sound of an old movie projector, a film was playing. It was by film maker Andor von Barsy, and was called, "De Stadt die Nooit Rust," which means, "The City that Never Rests." It was made in Rotterdam in 1928. I sat down on one of the plain wooden benches in the room and watched the evocative and historic footage, as my eyes filled with tears. I thought about the fact that somewhere in that busy city on the day Andor von Barsy made the film, there was a little girl of two years old, named Pieternella, who would one day have a daughter named Belinda! You can watch the film by clicking here (note: it has been uploaded to You Tube in two separate clips. ) 

In the same room that the film was showing was a beautiful propellor plane, which I found Tippy sketching.

A curator peered over her shoulder to look, and with a nod, said approvingly, "Good."

Tori and Katherine explored the museum together, taking photographs. All of us were absorbing the riches of the Rijksmuseum  in our own way.

We left at midday for lunch, but Katherine and I came back to tour the special exhibition on the history of fashion magazines. 

Beneath the arches of the museum, there is a bike path. Nothing, not even a revered museum can stop the Dutch from riding their bikes!
And as well as bikers, there were buskers. We saw three of them that day, taking turns: a young violinist, a saxaphonist, and an an accordianist with a haunting and beautiful voice. 
The acoustics were outstanding and all of us were captivated by the music.

When the young singer looked into a distant place in her imagination and sang, La Vie en Rose, that beautiful and haunting song, originally by Edith Piaf, the tears were back, and by now the girls were getting used to it. :)

There was much, much, more, but this is a blog and not a book. Let me just say, my heart was full when Tippy turned to me, and meaningfully said..."Thank you."