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Friday, 31 January 2014

Dominican Republic #1: A Team Built by Building

   In elementary and high school I was never the athletic type, so I missed out on the experiences gained by being part of a sports team.  In later years I have been part of committees and a school staff, where in some ways we function as a team for a common goal.  However, I would have to say that my best and most genuine experience of being part of a team occurred on foreign soil by doing construction work.
   Although we all attend the same church and had some acquaintance with each other, the service trip to Dominican Republic made us into a team.  We varied in ages from 15 to 65+, with three married couples, a single, and four individuals whose spouses stayed back home.  The team members had skills in the areas of business, education, skilled trades, problem solving, concrete forming, management, music, photography and writing.  Some had previous experiences in the D.R. and other Latin American countries.  We all had something to contribute, and it was such a blessing to see how each person was given the space to try different jobs on the work site.  Genuine concern was shown with simple questions like, “Do you need a break?” and “How are you feeling?”
The team minus Joyce, who was ill this day.
   By mixing concrete, scooping it into pails, carrying pails in a relay, hoisting them to the second story, passing them to the “pourer” and retrieving the empty pails our team made progress on the upper level of a school by making all the columns and the over half of the bond beams.
   But really, upon reflection, our team was much bigger than the eleven of us.  The Dominican skilled carpenters and general labourers, who knew how to make the forms for the concrete and had the muscles and stamina to do the heavy work of mixing the concrete and hoisting pails with a hook made of re-bar, were also part of our team.    Our translator, Victor, and our driver, Daniel, facilitated our labours through communication and transportation. Without these men and the guidance of the site foreman, Lucas, we would not have accomplished anything of value.  How can I forget the women who prepared healthy meals for us three times a day and did our laundry?  The “team” gets even bigger when we think of the individuals from Burlington who spent 10 days prior to us making the block walls (exterior and interior) and the teams lined up in coming weeks that will put on the roof, parge & paint the walls and finish up the classrooms so that they can be used to address overcrowding and to add a further year of high school to this K-10 school.

Bent re-bar used as a labour saving device

   Even those not directly involved in building but who donated money, prayed for us and gave us permission to leave our homes and workplaces for a time were part of the team.  Now I can see clearly that there’s no room for “lone rangers” in the kingdom of God.  We are hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters), as the Dominican people are quick to call fellow believers.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Not a Waste: the Short Life of Robert Murray McCheyne

At times I’ve heard people say, “What a waste,” when a person of great promise dies young.  When a life is cut short by a preventable tragedy, there is a particular sadness that seizes the mourners.  On the other hand, I have been intrigued in the past by remarkable Christian workers who died at a relatively young age.  This is the first in a series of posts exploring some of these short lives that were not wasted.

Image taken from the website cited below
   Robert Murray McCheyne was born in Scotland in the year 1813.  He was a prodigy in his ability to learn the Greek alphabet at age four, and he entered university at age 14.  Following the death of his elder brother, Robert began to take faith seriously and entered seminary at the age of eighteen.
   He became a pastor who was known for the presence of the Holy Spirit in his preaching and way of living.  He spent time each day personally reading the Scriptures, singing hymns and praying.  His sermons were based on his careful study of God’s Word.  Although they were considered long in his day, he was frequently invited to preach in other towns besides his home base of Dundee.
   McCheyne was modest, delighting when a revival broke out in his church under the leadership of an interim pastor, while he was away in the Middle East.  In his journal he wrote of a time when someone came to faith under his ministry, saying “I was but an adoring spectator rather than an instrument.”[1]
   In 1839 he was in the Middle East to explore the possibilities of mission work to the Jewish people living in Eastern Europe and the Turkish Empire.  During this time, pilgrimages to the Holy Land were rare due to dangers from the Turkish rulers.  It is thought that he and his delegation were the first members of the church of Scotland to visit Jerusalem.  It made a deep impression on McCheyne to see what the Psalmist saw and to walk where Jesus walked.[2]
   Just two months shy of his thirtieth birthday, Robert Murray McCheyne died at home, after a two-week illness that may have been typhus.  Even when feverish he continued to pray and quote Scripture.
   One of his friends, Andrew Bonar gathered together McCheyne’s writings into The Memoirs and Remnants of Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne.  I would be pleased to find a copy of the 1966 edition of this volume, so I could hear his words for myself.

“A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.”
-attributed to McCheyne

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, 50 People every Christian should know (2009), page 83.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Pledge to My Readers

It is now 2014 and I’d like to take a moment to promise some specific things to you, my readers.
  1. I pledge to write with honesty and to avoid exaggeration.
  2. I pledge to be diligent as I research particular stories, especially by sharing my sources.  The internet has too many urban legends posing as truth.  Users of this medium also tend to be lax about telling where their ideas and information came from.  I will continue to use footnotes.
  3. I pledge to live up to being a “thinking place” on the World Wide Web, as one of my readers called this blog.  I don’t want to add to the “ecosystem of interruption technologies”[1] by placing advertisements on these pages.  I will also avoid the overuse of hyperlinks, which distract readers from the main point. 
  4. I pledge to shine the spotlight on God’s work, past and present.  When I share my opinions I will be careful that they are biblically informed rather than self-serving.

Please hold me to these pledges.  I value accountability.

[1] This term comes from blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow who wrote an article called “Writing in an Age of Distraction” in the January 2009 issue of Locus magazine.  I found this quotation in Nicholas Carr’s 2009 book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Tyranny of a Now-Driven Culture

   Those who market goods have been pairing these words for some time--“new and improved” and “latest and greatest”.  Whatever is the most modern expression of technology, entertainment, literature or medicine is automatically held up as desirable.  In the realm of ideas, humans are quick to scoff at so-called backward and primitive ways people thought and acted in the past, even a few decades ago.
   There is a human tendency to assume that where we are now is superior to anything that preceded it, and that tendency includes a kind of arrogance.  I’ve noticed it for years because I tend to be cautious regarding cultural “advances.”  I’m not the first to embrace a new technology until I have observed real benefits and discerned pitfalls.  I’m glad to have finally discovered a name for what I object to: “chronological snobbery.”  

   British author and professor C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) spoke out against it in his day.  In a recent biography of Lewis, it states: “We must, Lewis argues, break free from the shallow complacency of ‘chronological snobbery,’ and realize that we can learn from the past precisely because it liberates us from the tyranny of the contemporaneous.” [1] At his inaugural lecture at Cambridge University in 1954 he put forth the thesis that it was faulty to characterize the Middle Ages as a “drab and degenerate period between the glories of classical culture and their rebirth and renewal during the Renaissance.”[2]  This way of interpreting English literature was driven by an agenda to make certain works part of a fabricated “golden age.”  Each age thinks its contribution to culture is more excellent than the last, but whether it truly endures remains to be seen.
   When we allow the weekly best sellers list, the latest news tweets and the newest apps to dominate our choices and opinions about what really matters, we may find important things lacerated by the cutting edge of culture.  My seeing value in the past may label me as a conservative, but without looking back I do not have a healthy perspective on where I am.

[1] Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis—A Life, Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale, 2013, page 184.
[2] McGrath, page 317.