That wind

I was on a brief break last week. We went to Simcoe Island (getting there is a 2 ferry adventure, winter population 20) and stayed in a small cottage overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It reminded me of the cottages my grandparents had in the Kawarthas when I was a youngster. Dusty gravel roads with sunning garter snakes, fireflies at night competing with the stars for your attention, the constant sound of water at night. In other words, Canadian Eden.

What moved me these past few days was the wind. It blew constantly. Each day was hot but as long as you were close to the water the breeze cooled things off. And kept the mosquitos at bay.

I sat or stood (and occasionally napped) in that wind every day, for longer than I would have predicted. It wasn’t strong enough to blow me over. But it was strong enough to blow through me. I felt it pushing through my cells and exiting on the other side. While it was blowing I felt cleansed. Not sand-blasted, just like new life was blowing into me, taking my tiredness and all its causes.

In our faith traditions, including followers of Jesus, we talk about cleansing through the ancient elements. The waters of baptism. The purging of the Spirit’s fire.

Of old we spoke of our sins being washed away, of the fire burning away all the dross in our lives. The symbolism of baptism, being immersed in water for a brief moment, is of dying to an old way of life and then breathing again. Another interpretation could be that of being plunged into the seas from which we emerged to reconnect with the source of all life. Fire symbolises the uncontrollable, often painful, experiences of life that remind us of our true value and help clarify what we value.

Those two elements remind us, daily, of the peril of our planet, as flooding of coastlands and wildfires in California and Siberia and Northern Canada speak to us of the imminent danger of unchecked “controlled” burning of fossil fuels.

The wind, with its own destructive power, was the element the Ancient Church used to describe the Spirit. There were tongues of flame ascribed to Pentecost, but the wind was there too. It drove the early believers beyond themselves. It inspired them to courage and compassion and community. It permeated their existence.

Those of us who need to get beyond ourselves require more time out in the wind.

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Sugar is your enemy for the next 2 weeks

I’m prepping for a century ride in August, 160km in the Muskokas as a fundraiser for the Princess Margaret Foundation. I rode last year, but took it down a notch the day of because I was getting over the flu. 100 km. instead of 160. When I finished I felt great and wished I had chosen to do the 160. Not that it mattered to my sponsors, folks were generous in supporting me and the almost 200 other riders. We raised over $300K. This year’s goal is $500K, and a definite 160 km. for me.

My son designed a training and nutrition program for me to get me ready. It’s smart and helpful. At least the training part. He’s encouraged me to adjust my diet. It isn’t terrible, I understand that the lighter I am the better the ride will go. The focus is on protein and slow carbs. He even supplied recipes. Impressive. Then there were these parting words for the day: “Resist the hunger at dinner, go for whole foods, and skip dessert, sugar is your enemy for the next two weeks.” Got it. Don’t like it, but got it. I mostly skipped dessert, I hope a fresh peach doesn’t count.

It puts me in mind of the author of the New Testament Book of Hebrews writing that we set aside (strip off) anything that holds us back from the high calling of following Christ: "… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, ..." If I carry too much baggage in life, even the sweet stuff, I’ll pay a price. The great (and not so great) literature and movies and even bike rides, when they’re about pleasure, can become our fixations, what we give our time to, our focus of worship. As my friend Abe said, in talking about challenges we face at work, “We’re not just here for ourselves.” The less I carry on my ride the easier the ride. The less we carry in life the less the anxiety.

Can I endure this setting aside for two weeks? Of course. My real concern is that I’ll grow to like it and the ice cream in the freezer will go to waste.

While I’m at it, here’s what I wrote about why I’m doing this ride (other than an excuse to spend a day in one of my favourite parts of the world).

Riding is my escape, my freedom, my health. A good day is going so far I wonder if I can make it home.

Not everyone does. Not everyone has the deep satisfaction of the body and mind bringing you to where you belong. The weight of disease slows and cripples and often ends the ride too soon. Or at least makes us believe we can’t get home this time.

I could tell you that I am riding for a friend or relative or anyone I've sat with, patient or family or friend as they come to terms with cancer, and I suppose it’s true, but my inspiration is the awareness that cancer is a group ride. We’ve all been on it or know someone who has. As much as I enjoy riding solo, I understand the significance of lending our strength to each other on hills and in headwinds.

In August I’ll ride with a group of people through a part of Ontario that has always grounded me, the Canadian Shield. The Northern Pass Ride is an excuse for a beautiful day out in Muskoka. It’s power is in the knowledge that all of us will be carrying hope for others as your sponsorship of us empowers the Princess Margaret Foundation.

I’ll ride as far as I can. Your sponsoring me will help others ride farther than they imagine. Find me here:

Comments? Questions? Contact Cameron,

Black Licorice

I took last week off primarily to ensure, along with Nancy, that our granddaughter got to and from Art Camp at the AGO. Most days it was an hour on the TTC each way. Crowded. She always was offered a seat, but was only really interested if it was the one at the front of the train so she could see where we were going. We enjoyed the trips and the conversation when it was possible. Mostly she likes to observe the people around her.

A typical 5-year old going on 15 years, her usual response when you asked her what it was like was “Okay.” Later in the week she opened up a little to us and allowed that she hated it because they made them work all the time. Fortunately, her mother assured us, she was having a good time but maybe found it a little structured. I get it. It’s summer after all. Judging by the amount of conversation invested in the subject her favourite activity was the egg drop on Thursday. It involved each camper group building a boat with a parachute attached. An egg was nested in the boat and the egg was transported up 2 storeys then released. Although each flight was met with enthusiasm, apparently none of the eggs survived.

At the end of the final day we were invited to the Camp Art Show to see everyone’s pieces on display. She did remarkable work. I say that out of some pride and being impressed with her blending of colours and media. Also because I struggle to make stick figures. Hell, for me, would be an eternal game of Pictionary. There was a happy vibrancy to everything we saw, including her work.

I knew, from my many years as a counselor and camp director, that camp can be difficult for younger children. Day camps don’t generally engender much homesickness (although when we chatted about my experiences she thought it was not fair that I got to go to camp and stay overnight in a sleeping bag) but it’s good to plan ways for a camper to get through each day so they can say they made it when facing the next. Each day I packed her knapsack with an emergency supply of black licorice, for which we share a fondness. It was gone by the end of the day, but she knew it would be replenished for the next day.

Our faith tradition is full of stories of trusting for the future one day at a time. From the daily mannah in the wilderness to Jesus’ words “don’t worry about tomorrow, it has enough trouble of its own” we are discipled in how to deal with anxiety. Seek the promised land, seek the way of the Holy One, and what you need for each day will be provided. Seek compassion and justice, see the persons around you, help design better parachutes, seek vibrancy in colour and texture.

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Rainier Cherries

For our 25th Anniversary Nancy and I spent a week on the West Coast and then went to Edmonton for a few days to celebrate her graduation with her Master’s Degree. The University laid on a wonderful buffet meal after the ceremony. Before it began I was looking for a water fountain and wandered into the dessert room. There was no one else there except me and an 8 year old boy. I don’t know who he belonged to but he was utterly unconcerned as he walked down a long table sticking his finger into the centre of each pie and tasting it. I now understood why some bakers leave that little circle where there is no crust. When I found Nancy later I whispered to her “When you choose a dessert, skip the pie.”

The week before we were at the market on Granville Island and a fruit vendor offered me a sample of a white cherry. I asked why he was selling un-ripened cherries. He only smiled and held it out again. Mercy. “What are these?” “Rainier cherries.” I bought two quarts. A few years later I found them again in our local grocery store. In Ontario. Mercy. Now I watch for them every year. They just showed up locally. They’re candy that’s good for you.

Paul, writing to the Galatians, tries to help a young church figure out its sense of who is in and who isn’t—who belongs and how they decide this. He builds up to a conclusion that asserts that in Christ there are no barriers, no differentiation, no inequalities. He encourages them to test their understanding, include all the pie.

For me the key passage is the end of chapter 5, where he describes the fruit of the spirit. This is pivotal for how we judge ourselves and how we might allow those we trust to judge us. Not by appearance but by what our lives produce: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, understanding, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Some are more familiar in our lives than others. Few will object to our cultivating them and offering them to them. Which I think is outreach: “What (who) are these?” We continue to proffer ourselves and allow people to decide.

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