Another photo challenge

I get very irritated by a lot of stuff that floats around the internet and lands on my Facebook page, especially the “pass it on” posts that are simply a newer version of the age old chain letter. Once in awhile, however, something more interesting comes along.

A couple of years ago, a friend and former student nominated me to take part in a Facebook nature photo challenge which I enjoyed very much. Over the past week, I participated in second photo challenge that was a little more difficult. The idea was to post one black and white photograph every day for seven days and to nominate one other person on each of those days to take up the challenge. The instructions were “Seven black and white photos that describe your life. No humans. No explanations.”

I found the “no humans” part of the exercise more challenging than I would have anticipated, especially given that the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and my “Still alive at 65!” birthday party fell in the middle of it. People and relationships are really what life is all about! I was surrounded by friends and family, but I couldn’t include them in any of the photos.

I also discovered how much colour adds to my life. I rarely convert my photos to black and white. I found that some looked good while others completely lost their impact. For example, here are a couple of photos of the heavily laden Mountain Ash tree in our backyard.

Take away the vibrant green and the brilliant red of the berries and the photos are just plain drab. Needless to say, I didn’t use them in the Facebook photo challenge.

Here are the photos that I did use and since this isn’t part of the challenge, I can even add some explanation!

#1   I love this one… open Bible, laptop, a library book, a steaming cup of green tea, and sunshine streaming through the window. This is where I can typically be found in the morning.

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#2  I love the texture of the grass in this one taken during my last round of golf before the course closed for the season.    

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#3   I spend part of every day in the kitchen where there’s usually a bowl of fruit on the counter and often a fresh loaf of multigrain bread cooling.    

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#4   No, that’s not my house. That’s the view from our front window; the huge, unfinished house across the street. Construction started in the fall of 2008 and almost nothing has been done to it in the past five years or more. The inside is still completely unfinished and no one lives in it.  😦 

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#5   This is the view from our back door with the Mountain Ash on the left. Notice that you really can’t see the berries at all in a black and white photo.    

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#6   When my daughter saw this one, her comment was, “Yes! This is you!” I’m what’s known as an arctophile, a person who collects or is very fond of teddy bears. These are just a few of mine who spend every day sitting on our bed. I’ve had the biggest one since I worked in a toy department one Christmas season while I was a university student in the early 1970s.    

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#7   Travel is very much a part of our life, so this morning our suitcases were packed again!    

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All of these photos were taken with my easy to use Canon point and shoot camera.

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A new, updated look

Yes, you’re in the right place! I decided awhile ago that it was time to give Following Augustine a new, updated look and I’ve been tinkering with it for awhile to get it just right. Thankfully, WordPress made it easy.

The first and most important step was choosing a new theme which is the overall design. That might sound simple, but WordPress has hundreds, perhaps thousands, to choose from! After looking at quite a few of them, I settled on this one called “Hemingway Rewritten.” Of course, as an English major, that led my mind down a rabbit trail! I knew who Hemingway was, of course, and had read his work many years ago, but what was it about his style that prompted Swedish designer, Anders Norén, to use his name for a blog theme?

Hemingway’s writing style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably influenced by his early career in journalism. I believe that it was this minimalistic style that inspired Norén to use his name for a blog theme with a clean, uncluttered look; a look that was exactly what I wanted for Following Augustine.

It was very important to me to choose a look that was not only visually appealing, but easy for you to read. I chose a font and a background colour that are meant to be easy on the eye. I refuse to read blogs with white print on black backgrounds. They’re simply too hard on my eyes. I didn’t want a stark white page either, and so I chose a subtle blue.

Have you ever noticed how many major social media platforms use various shades of blue? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype all use blue, a calming, relaxing colour. As a background, it tends to disappear rather than distracting the eye. Blue also represents communication which definitely makes sense for a blog!

And now, I want your opinion. Do you think I was successful in coming up with a simple, attractive, and easy to read format? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? After all, the blog is for you, the reader!

Reflections

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I’ve been reflecting a lot on last week’s post about what it means to be an evangelical Christian; a teller of good news.

Why? Why do we, as evangelical Christians, believe that it is our responsibility to share our faith with others? Not every faith does this. So why do we?

Well, first of all, as I mentioned last week, the Bible very clearly instructs us to. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

But why? Why does the Bible tell us to do that?

Is it to earn Brownie points with God? To earn our way into heaven? Sadly, there are faiths that take that approach, but that is not true Christianity.

Is it to grow our churches? To put more butts in our pews? To add dollars to our offering plates? I certainly hope not for that is not true Christianity either!

Is it to attempt to make the rest of the world more like us? Again, I hope not! Sadly, some early Christian missionaries equated evangelizing with Westernizing, but that was never God’s intent nor should it be ours.

It all comes down to that Greek word, euangelion, which means good news.

After all, if you have good news, aren’t you eager to tell someone? If you found the cure to cancer, wouldn’t you want to share it?

We believe that we have found something even better, the key to living an abundant life now and forever! Jesus said it himself. ” I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Isn’t that news worth sharing?

Is it arrogant to believe that we have found the one true way? It might seem that way, but if there is really one true God, doesn’t it make sense that he might offer one true way? Isn’t it at least worth considering? The opportunity to do that is what the true evangelical Christian is offering.

Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

 

What is an Evangelical Christian anyway?

Christian terminology can be confusing even to Christians. We have a tendency to use words that aren’t part of the everyday vernacular of most people and sometimes we don’t even agree on what they mean!

When the word evangelical entered the conversation at our dinner table recently, a non-Christian guest asked what it meant. I was embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t readily come up with a clear and concise definition off the top of my head.

Then came the media reports of unprecedented flooding when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas forcing more than 30 000 people from their homes and leaving the area in a devastating state of emergency. When it came to light that Lakewood Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, pastored by televangelist Joel Osteen, allegedly refused to open their doors to hurricane victims seeking shelter, the media had a heyday. Mainstream and social media immediately began to paint all evangelical Christians with the same brush. Ignoring the fact that hundreds of them were, in fact, slogging through the mud and water striving to bring help and hope where it was so badly needed, evangelicals everywhere were suddenly uncaring hypocrites.

Please don’t get me wrong! If Lakewood Church did, in fact, turn a blind eye to those in dire need, they acted in a most unChristlike manner and deserve no one’s sympathy. Personally, due to conflicting news reports, I have no idea what really happened at Lakewood or why. I do know that I have problems with Joel Osteen’s theology as he preaches what is often referred to as the “prosperity gospel” or “health and wellness gospel” which teaches that that financial blessing and physical well-being will always come to those who have enough faith. This could not be further from the message of the Bible. Rather than guaranteeing them a life of ease, Christ told his followers that “In this life you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) If wealth was a legitimate goal for the Christian, Jesus would have pursued it himself. Instead, he was a poor itinerant teacher with “no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) In fact, the only disciple who concerned himself with financial wealth was Judas Iscariot.

I am not here, however, to defend or attack Lakewood Church or their pastor. I simply want to correct my own shortcoming and ensure that from now on when I use a term like evangelical, I know for sure what I’m talking about and can clearly communicate it to someone else!

So what exactly is an evangelical Christian?

Christian is the easy part. The term, first used in Acts 11:26, simply means a follower of Jesus Christ. But what makes us evangelicals?

That term comes from the Greek “euangelion” which means good news. An evangelical Christian, then, is simply a follower of Christ who believes that it is important to tell others the good news that through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins and that by his resurrection, he conquered death and provides everlasting life to all who follow him. It is a message of divine intervention; a message of hope for mankind who, no matter how hard we try, cannot save ourselves.

In the public arena, however, the phrase evangelical Christian is used in different ways, some of them derogatory. For some, it is simply a title used to differentiate between Christian denominations. Generally speaking, evangelical denominations are those that believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that individual believers must accept Christ’s gift of salvation for themselves and enter into a personal relationship with God. For others, the term is equivalent to “wing nut”, “intolerant extremist”, or “right-wing, fundamentalist Republican”. There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview, but being an evangelical Christian most definitely does not demand allegiance to a specific political party!

In reality, all Christians should be evangelical Christians; tellers of good news! The Bible very clearly instructs us “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

Segway adventure

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Several years ago, our youngest son started giving us experiences for Christmas instead of things. One year it was a helicopter flight, another year tickets to a dinner theatre. Last Christmas, we received gift certificates for a one hour Segway adventure in Edmonton’s beautiful river valley.

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Though River Valley Adventure Co. operates Segway tours year round, we waited until summer for our adventure and I’m glad we did! The conditions were perfect.

Our experience began with a short safety video followed by a hands-on training session with our experienced guide. We learned how to mount and dismount the Segway, how to stand still, start, stop, turn, speed up, and slow down. Since the Segway balances automatically, it was really quite simple. Before we knew it we were riding the trails, going up and down hills, and even slaloming between trees!

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To operate a Segway, you simply lean forward to make it go and backward to make it slow down or stop. Tilting the handlebar slightly to the left or right turns the machine in that direction. By standing upright and tilting the handle, you can actually turn 360º on the spot.

At the end of our tour, we received our Segway Operator’s License which allows us to skip the training session if we return for another try.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! It was a blast!

Abracadabra – the Christian and social media

We spent the final week of our recent vacation with over one thousand other people at Camp Harmattan, a Church of the Nazarene camp in the valley of the Little Red Deer River. While there, I attended an afternoon session that continues to resonate with me. The topic was the Christian and social media.

We talked about whether or not we, as Christians, should be using social media and whether this is a topic that the church needs to address. I think the answer to both questions is a resounding YES!

We cannot/should not/dare not hide our heads in the sand and avoid the world around us. The Old Testament tells the story of Queen Esther who, when her people faced extermination by the Babylonians, was told by her cousin, who urged her to speak to her husband on their behalf, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14 – italics mine) We, too, have been born for such a time as this. Our place in history is not random or some accident of fate. I firmly believe that God intended each one of us to be here on earth at this exact time. In other words, we were meant to be living in the age of social media and if that’s the case, we ought to use it, but we ought to use it well.

The Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs, has much to say about how we communicate. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) The same might be said of the keyboard.

Though the origin of the magician’s incantation, abracadabra, is uncertain, it is thought to derive from early Aramaic or Hebrew. The Hebrew word bara means “create”, while dabar means “word” or “speak”. Together they become abracadabara, literally meaning “I create as I speak” or “I speak therefore I create”.

When we use social media, what do our words create? How do they shape the people we interact with? Whether written or spoken, our words have the power to tear down or to build up, to encourage or to destroy.

It isn’t a matter of whether we, as Christians, should use social media, but rather a matter of how. Colossians 5:6 reminds us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace”. Before we post or respond, we need to consider the possible effect of what we write. What will our words create? Will they result in conflict, pain or discouragement? Or will they be a blessing? We also need to keep in mind that the written word, which lacks the non-verbal cues of face to face conversation, such as tone of voice and facial expression, can be more easily misunderstood. What we intend to communicate and what the reader understands may be two very different things.

We should also be very careful about what we repost. Before we do, we need to ask ourselves some very important questions. How reliable is the source? What are its biases and underlying convictions? What is the motivation or purpose behind the post and why do we want to share it? Very often, we should also take the time to do some fact checking to ensure that it’s actually true.

Our session on social media also touched on its addictive nature and some of the negative effects that it can have on our lives. While there’s no official medical recognition of social networking addiction as a disease or disorder, it has become the subject of much discussion and research and some studies seem to indicate that it is as addictive as nicotine. Some suggest that spending excess time on social media networks can even trigger anxiety, depression and ironically, isolation from others. Perhaps social media addiction might simply be defined as spending so much time using Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social networking that it interferes with other aspects of daily life such as careers and relationships.

Extensive use of social media also has the tendency to place a person at the centre of their own universe. As Christians, we definitely want to guard against becoming so caught up in the “selfie” world that we find ourselves constantly wondering or checking to see how we are being admired and followed by those in our social media circles. Instead, we want to use social media to strengthen relationships and connections and to have a positive impact on our world.

Just remember, abracadabra! Our words are powerful!

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Ten years!

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At the end of this week, it will be ten years since Richard and I walked out of our Alberta classrooms for the last time and entered a brand new phase called retirement! Where did the time go? It amazes me to think that we’ve been retired for an entire decade already! Over the past few days, I’ve been looking back and marvelling at all the things we’ve done during that time.

I often say once a teacher, always a teacher. We knew that even though we were retiring, our teaching days weren’t entirely behind us. We’d long had a dream of teaching English overseas after we retired and we accomplished that by spending one year in Japan and a semester at a university in China. Those were amazing experiences and we treasure the memories and the friendships that we made! I’ve also spent some time doing online mentoring and we both volunteer with our local literacy program. I meet once a week with two young women, both members of the Old Colony Mennonite community that moved into our area over the past few years. They are fluent in English, but neither of them ever had the opportunity to learn to read or write, even in their own language, so I’ve been teaching them. Richard tutors one of their husbands.

We’ve discovered that there are no end of things to do in retirement, even in a small community like ours. Richard has been serving as the Deputy Director of Emergency Management for our town for the past few years, a volunteer position that involved quite a bit of training. He also serves on our Community Hall board. Because we come and go a lot, we hesitate to commit to too many activities that require us to be present on a regular basis, but we give our local food bank a thorough cleaning once a month and occasionally work a shift at the thrift store that’s operated by three local churches. In addition, we hold positions in our own church and participate in many activities there. Lately I’ve even had to say no to some opportunities because I felt that I was becoming too busy!

Two of our grown children were already married when we retired, but our family has grown over the past decade to include another daughter-in-law and five grandchildren! Though none of them live very close to us, being grandparents is one of the best things about this stage of life and we spend as much time as we can manage with our little ones.

The past decade has brought some surprises, some good and some not so good. We certainly didn’t anticipate becoming seasonal farm labourers, but I believe in living life to the fullest and I’m always ready to try something new. As a result, this city bred girl learned to operate some pretty big machinery and loved it! For several years, I drove tractor in the spring and combine in the fall as we helped a farmer friend with seeding and harvest.

Travel was always part of our retirement plan. During the first few years, we visited nine Canadian provinces and fifteen American states plus Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macau, Saipan and Costa Rica. In 2013, I was diagnosed with a little-known incurable cancer which slowed us down a bit and keeps us from being out of the country for extended periods of time, but since that time, we’ve managed to tour Israel and visit Mexico twice. I’ve also been on a girlfriend trip to Las Vegas and we travel to Vancouver regularly to spend time with family. Last fall, we spent two weeks in Nova Scotia and celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary while we were there.

We continue to stay physically active. Golfing is a summer passion for both of us. We also love to hike and we recently purchased a tandem kayak. During the winter we keep active lifting weights, bowling in the local seniors league, and going to dances.

Writing was always something I always knew I’d return to in retirement. Though I’ve had one magazine article published and I’ve done some freelance editing, it’s blogging that I’m most passionate about these days. I love the opportunity it gives me to interact with my readers. Even my blog has changed over the past decade though. I originally started it to share our Asian experiences with friends and family back home, but I loved writing it and I’ve kept it going ever since. Though I still share travel stories whenever I can, it has morphed into more of a lifestyle blog that includes a weekly fashion post reflecting another interest of mine that grew and developed in my retirement years.

Perhaps that’s been the key to a successful and happy retirement… we’re still learning, growing, and exploring new interests. I am extremely grateful that we were able to retire as early as we did. I’m just now approaching 65, traditionally thought of as retirement age, and Richard is 67, but we’ve already been blessed with ten wonderful years of retirement. We loved our teaching careers, but as we watch our younger colleagues wrap up another school year and see their weary, stress filled faces, we don’t for one moment regret retiring when we did!

What will the next ten years hold, I wonder? Much will depend on my health, but at this point, I’m doing well. With a few restrictions, I’m able to lead a normal and active life. I don’t think we’ll be leaning back in our rocking chairs and putting our feet up anytime soon! There’s still a lot of world to see and new adventures await us!