North Street Band become “buskers” in Parma, Italy…

Francesco had this idea that we should go out on the street, where the people were, do some music and then hand-out invitations to the Friday night concert. To be honest, we weren’t too sure about this. I had my doubts because when I have tried to hand out invites or tracts, I have been thoroughly turned aside. I think this partly has to do with my being a foreigner and people thinking that, something I might give them would be in English and therefore irrelevant. Nevertheless, since we are guests and committed to supporting the ground team, we decided to try it. At two in the afternoon on Thursday we met on Via Farini, an area where many small cafes reach off of the curb and into the streets under large canopies of umbrellas. Usually at lunch (12:30 to 3:30) hundreds of young Italians sit and stand having their glass of wine, beer along with a Panini or slice of pizza. Regrettably, on this day it was unusually quiet with less than thirty percent of what might normally be expected. In spite of this discouragement, Fred, Joel and Asher struck up the Johnny Cash tune, “Grey Stone Chapel” which arrested people in mid- bite or mid-sip. No one expected to hear what they were getting. While the band went from song to song we (Dave Tysoe, the drummer and I) as well as others handed out invitations to Friday nights’ concert at Teatro Toscanini.

Usually, almost all street ministry is unproductive and often counter-productive accomplishing the opposite of what you hope for. In this instance, this was not the case with people eagerly taking our invitational cards. On several occasions I had conversations with English speakers who expressed their appreciation for the sound and skill. When I told them what we were up to, several said they’d come and many of those promises were fulfilled. About fifteen people at the concert were people we met on Farini and Cavour Streets in the center of Parma. Poor Asher had to drag a double-  base from place to place but it proved to be well worth the effort.

Here, I would like to re-iterate what I have said in other places. In all of my years of street ministry in Italy, this was undoubtedly the best reception I have ever had.

Let me give a little final advice at this point. This would not have been nearly as successful with about ninety percent apparently expressing approval if the band had been less than terrific. This is one of the problems with American style street evangelism (mimes and music) in Italy and Europe. Americans do not yet understand that Europeans are culturally sophisticated and will not tolerate mimes that feature tee-shirts turned inside out as costumes and card board boxes with hearts painted on the side as props.

As important as the audience and message might be, we must buy credibility by doing our best at what we do. Any audience must have some reason to listen to us share our story. Europeans are suspicious of the Church, “Christianity” and religion. They come into the conversation already having a bad taste in their mouths. Creating confidence is the big challenge and few will care about the message unless the messenger is credible.

Karen’s idea of “something light.”

Karen is not known for going off half cocked…. 

After all, it was mostly vegetables.

A person would be hard pressed to match this blueberry pie.

When we arrived at their home in the Kanata area, Rob stepped off his porch to warn us about the barking dogs that would signal our arrival for supper. Rob and Karen have three very cute Chihuahuas who ferociously try to protect the Sargent home from the confines of their cages in the living room. The little brown one soon joined us, proving by his sweet face and desire to lick my hand that he posed little real threat. Rob and Karen love animals it seems (also having in their kitchen a beautiful gray African

Carrie

parrot with an amusing way of talking) and have passed on their love to their oldest daughter Carrie. Now 22, she works at a nearby horse farm, cheerfully shoveling and cleaning up after them, riding, and teaching others how to ride as well. Coming in from work just shortly before we were leaving, Carrie is just as beautiful and sweet as we remembered her from so many years ago when we were serving as pastors at Chapel Ridge. Carrie’s younger sister, Katy (whom we didn’t get to see except in pictures) is working part time at Starbucks and also plays bass guitar in a band. She adopted her parents’ love of music it seems.

Karen, Rob and Graycee

When we were at Chapel Ridge, I worked with Rob and Karen on the worship team. It was such a joy to see them share their musical gifts and talents with the church. I appreciated how graciously they put up with my lack of musical training as I led the team. Karen was also very involved in children’s ministry at that time. I’m glad to report that they are both still involved in worship at another church in the area. Karen is currently teaching a large number of piano students from her home and especially enjoys teaching them how to play Christian worship songs.

After enjoying a wonderfully fresh and filling meal of salads, homemade dill bread, and grilled chicken, we caught up with each other’s lives before enjoying one of Karen’s amazing homemade pies – blueberry this time, which is one of my favorites. Served with generous amounts of whipped cream, it was delightful. Thanks to Katy (who supplied the Starbucks flavors), we also had a special fruit iced tea during our meal… Passion Fruit I believe it was called. The best part of the evening, though, was sharing our prayer requests and our spiritual passions with one another. After a sweet time of prayer in the Lord’s presence, we called it a night. Even the dogs seemed content as we said our good-byes.

I am not really Ben Peterkins’ grandfather

My pastel portrait of Ben

We have spent so much time with Mark and Tracy Peterkins, they turn out to be like our adopted children. Hence, their three children, Stephen, Ben and Megan have wound up calling me “Grandpa Tony” and Jeanne, they call “Aunt Jeanne”. They love us both the same but have been taught to be rude to me by calling me an older title than my younger looking wife. It is a fond form of insult they learned from their father. We are neither. Officially, I am not their grandfather and Jeanne is not their aunt, but we are happy to be treated that way. For us, visiting the Peterkins’ would be like dropping in on any of our children and their families.

Two years ago I was here in Ottawa for the purpose of celebrating the older brother’s Christian  “bar mitzvah” (a small coming of age party).

Showing no preference, we timed our visit to coincide with this special event and set aside Monday, August twenty-second for this very purpose. The idea was quite similar to the earlier one. As he did for Stephen, Mark invited both Pastor Ken Roth and I to take part in and pray a blessing over young Ben. Additionally, we were joined by Ben’s real, flesh and blood grandfather, Ed Dooner.

It all started at four in the afternoon as I waited in my car along Riverside Drive. It was Mark’s idea to bring Ben out to the Dooner family cottage that has sat on the bank of the Rideau River for at least seventy years. This is all meant to be a surprise, so when Mark turned the corner and onto the side road where I sat waiting, young Ben seemed slightly mystified by this turn of events. He was especially puzzled when his dad instructed him to get out of the van and take a walk with me. Though he was a little apprehensive, I bought his courage by giving him a brand new, commemorative “Buck” knife (something he has always wanted) that I had bought for him a few days before. He suddenly liked the idea of walking down a bleak country road with an old man. I made certain we had the compulsory and rather serious advisory conversation on the way, and though I didn’t quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” I shared some of the contents along with a complete exegete of  1st Corinthians 11:6 (actually 13:11), including a precise Greek translation of each word : ). Frankly, it was a pretty simple talk that could be summed up by the phrase, “Don’t be stupid.” This concept, he thoroughly understood. The rest of what I said will likely fade from his memory in a very short time.

The Dooner Cottage

Ken would be waiting with a ready canoe, where he would take Ben on a similar tour. Please note that Ken was given the more dangerous of the two chat events. I am well-known to have virtually no center of gravity and both Mark and Ken intended for Ben’s first day of manhood to not be his last as well.

Art Shot, Mark Peterkins

While I am happy to take part in this special occasion, I have a  compelling end in view when Mark makes some colossal meal to punctuate the festivities. I was not disappointed, as he offered up shrimp and sauce, hummus, rice crackers, baguette,  grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon, fried mushrooms, sauce, potatoes, fresh green beans, corn on the cob and more stuff that becomes a blur.

Art Shot, Ken Roth

 

After all of the eating we celebrated by various presentations, including a sword with a blade big enough to kill Goliath if necessary. As a last act we all gathered around Ben, laid hands on him and prayed for him that he will become a man of spiritual valor.

Ken and Ed deep in conversation

 Some might see this as a rather silly way to spend a day, but I think not. Almost all religions other than evangelical Christianity have what they might call “Rites of Passage.” I believe that symbols of this nature, especially where fathers pass a spiritual blessing on to their children, make unforgettable impressions that last for a life time. It is my guess that we don’t do enough of this sort of community event and leave our youngsters to pick their way through the faith on their own. I believe this almost picture perfect day will stick with Ben as long as he lives. 

More Bad News for American Foodies

Most of you have never really tasted an “honest to goodness” bagel. 

Just out of the forno di legno.

Einsteins and Brueggers are not bagels! They are not bagels once you have tasted a real Montreal, Jewish, earlock, Lubavitch, hand rolled and tied then wood fired bagel. There is only one word to describe this: “incredible”.

Unlike Tim Horton's, not on every corner

While most vacationers to Canada would recognize this (Tim Horton’s) – one of the coast  to coast  institutions that, like hockey, give the country cohesion and identity – few might give this ugly little place at 2217 Carling Avenue (above) a second glance. The franchise is now owned by a family from India but no matter, they make the same toasty, but gummy, hand-turned, wood-fired delight. The terms New York and Montreal Bagel are not synonymous. Trust me, there is a difference between those bagels that are firstboiled in water with drops of honey, then toasted in a wood oven. Regular bagels are baked in an oven,  like a cake. Though half the size of those other imposters, these babies are toasty on the outside and chewy on the inside. In my view, no one is a bona fide “foodie” until they can tell and prefer the difference.  

Coffee with Bill and Lorna

Friday Morning, August 19, 2011

In about 1978 we met the Seabrookes when they first began attending our home Bible study and the Merrickville Church. Since then they have remained our friends.

Without meaning to offend anyone else, as everyone has their own good qualities, my personal take on these two is this… next to Jeanne, I have always thought Lorna to be my ideal of the Christian woman – or at least my ideal of what one should be.

Lorna herself had a good start on this since her own mother, Elizabeth Poole (I knew her too), was also an exemplary model. I thought it was about time I told Lorna what I thought of her, so as we sat around the table with tea, scones and muffins, I told her. It is better that I tell her now than saying these nice things at her funeral when she can’t blush at the comment as she most certainly would and did. Perhaps this might be a good policy for all of us –  to tell folks the nice things we think before it’s too late to do so.  

Then there’s Bill, who has some sort of neurological problem with a name I can’t pronounce but can see the effects of… I wanted to tell him what I thought of him too, so I did. I have lots of acquaintances, so many that I sometimes fail to remember people I should know. Yet, with all of my travels, Bill stands out to me as a guy I chose for a friend. Perhaps I haven’t spent much time with him – at least not enough to qualify as a friendship – still, he has been my idea of a good fit for me. Bill is not an anxious sort of guy. He doesn’t talk much (he allows me to talk all I want) and he doesn’t whine (he allows me to whine all I want) a lot. Bill isand always has been quiet and steady. Even with all of this bad news concerning a physical problem there is apparently no cure for, he just shrugs his shoulders and calmly says, “Well, what can I do?” without a trace of resentment.

Bill and Lorna have raised three children. Their two girls are now grown and married. Mark still lives at home. More than thirty years ago, while they were driving home from our house on a bright, sunny, Friday afternoon, they were broadsided by an egg truck in too big of a hurry. This left their only son with a brain injury. Though Mark almost died a number of times, he managed, with lots of prayer and terrific medical care at the CHEO, to pull through and though he may never be able to live an independent life, he is a remarkable, clever and enjoyable person.   

I tell this story, not to remind them again of this horrible event that changed their lives forever but to let others know what has contributed to who Lorna and Bill are. It is no surprise to believers that Christianity is built upon paradox and irony. We all know the topsy-turvy nature of authentic Kingdom living, but few manage to actually engage the promises and fruit of it as have the Seabrookes. They understand that you give to get, lose to win, die to live, suffer with Christ to reign with Him.

One of the reasons I admire the Seabrookes so much is because they made up their minds many years ago and simply did what Peter suggested in his First Epistle,  “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1a). Bill and Lorna made up their minds where they would stand, no matter what, and this has made all of the difference in their world. This decision has made a difference in mine as well.

Part of my reason for writing these blogs is to record a history of my travels and some of the stories of those people who have kept me moving forward. Some may take exception to my occasional mention of those who have essentially “fallen away” from the faith (Here, I am not talking about those people who have taken up drinking a bottle of beer now and then or don’t attend church at least three times a week, but those who outright deny the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work). But the truth is, for every one who falls away, there are ten who stand for Him, no matter what. After forty years, facing the headwinds of life, there are more with us than “a-gin” us. As an example, we will be having dessert with more old friends, Fred and Rosalee Williams tonight.

As a project (and a way of making lots of money in the process), Bill Gaither the song writer has gone about gathering up all of the old timers (southern quartets and gospel music legends) and has made video after video of these folks singing gospel hymns and blue grass classics that the church sings very little or no more at all. In so doing, he has captured a valuable history that might one day be lost without his efforts.

In some respect I attempt to do the same thing by recording the stories of many of these good friends who were part of something remarkable that took place some thirty-five or more years ago in a small town called Merrickville. Those on the outside that still remember this or have come upon this  four-year event refer to it as “The Miracleville Revival.” For those of us who lived it, it was a miracle when a little town was turned upside down by the transformed lives of guitar pickers, hippies, pot smokers, dope dealers along with the common village folk. For those of you who had “ears to hear and eyes to see,” you were there. It was undeniable and for those who witnessed it but now ignore it, you were never REALLY there.

Canadians on Highway 77 at Fort Mill take note… instant money to be had!

Snowbirds, Poutine  and Beavertails

The really good one's actually look pretty crappy by comparison

I often drive up and down Highway 77 in and out of Charlotte, North Carolina and on those days when “Snowbird” migration is at its peak (November and March) I often trail a host of RVs pulling automobiles, bicycles, motor scooters on their way to and from the sunny south. It occurs to me that I have a ready-made clientel should I want to open a “Chip Wagon” with “Poutine” and “Beavertails.” 

With all of their infatuation  for things fried in oil, Americans haven’t yet caught on to these gourmet treats like Canadians have. My wife is addicted to chips(known as French fries in the U.S.) and, should she have the time, she could do a full review of the hundreds of “FRESH Hand-Cut CHIPS” wagons dotted all over the Ottawa Valley. They aren’t hard to find and for certain, there are as many chip wagons in Ontario as there are Canadian Tire stores (since almost every Canadian Tire store parking lot has one).

I stood for twenty minutes at the Kanata Centrum chip wagon as they took in money “hand over fist” for a concoction called by its Quebec name “Poutine,” otherwise known as a “heart attack in a bag.” Poutine is fresh chips, first covered with cheese curds and then brown gravy (go figure?). This item must have originated in Montreal’s Point St. Charles or on Notre Dame Street in the lower end – the same place the Joe Louie and a Pepsi combination come from. My French Canadian friend Paul Laberge once told me that growing up he immediately could recognize who were the French and the English girls. The English girls all had braces and the Quebec girls all had false teeth. Not funny, but in those days of economic disparity, partly true. 

Anyhow, wherever these chip wagons are parked, there is generally a line-up from March to November. There are competitions and arguments about who has the best fries and some folks will drive as far as Arnprior to Wes’ Fries (twenty-five miles from Ottawa) just to buy a bag. Others argue that Glen’s Fries in Westboro are the best and will stand in line for half an hour just to prove this conviction.

Jeanne and I so far disagree on who has the best fries in Ottawa. I am a fan of the Canadian Tire location in Kanata and she opts for the one at Merivale and Hunt Club Road. She thinks the outside is crisper and the inside chewy.

Myths get started about who has the best and some hang the banner which proclaims them “Voted Best Fries in Ottawa 2010” and so forth. When this happens the lines get longer and longer. 

Parliament Hill's Peace Tower

I just spoke to a young couple on vacation here from Saskatoon and had no idea that this fry business was because it is essentially an eastern Ontario cultural icon. I informed them that they have not visited Ottawa unless they had sampled a bag of these little crisp, golden, calorie laden morsels. Next to a visit to the “Peace Tower” on Parliament Hill,  they are the next “MUST SEE – MUST DO ” major attraction in Canada’s capitol city. (Yes, American friends, Ottawa is Canada’s capitol city, not Toronto.) 

While driving south out of the city and through Manotick on River Road (Highway 13), I found this rather high brow version of a chip wagon (above). It is one that Jeanne has not yet tried and should whet her appetite for a drive. Actually, to be fair, I must report that she has seen the light (or rather her waist line) and has sworn off of them for a while.

Beavertails in the Byward Market

Let me introduce our American friends to one more food item unique (or so it seems) to Ottawa and the Byward Market / Rideau Canal area: “BEAVERTAILS.” These were actually invented by some American relative to the Christian gospel singer Dallas Holmes. Somehow he got to Ottawa, started deep fat frying these sweet breads and then slathering them with all sorts of  “Nutella”, cinnamon, and jelly combinations. For almost forty years knowing what these are have been an indicator of authentic Ottawatonian status.

Wings and Things

Kelsey, Lynne and Brody

On Thursday evening we visited with Lynne McDiarmid, Lynne’s daughter Kelsey and her husband Brody at their home not far from where we are staying. The last time I saw Kelsey, she was probably less than ten years of age. It is my guess that her parents Lyn and Lynne, along with two brothers, began attending Chapel Ridge in the late eighties. After several years with us, they moved to Wales, back to Canada (Calgary), then back to Wales. So I had completely lost track of the kids. It was a complete surprise to see a twenty-six-year-old and married Kelsey. Kelsey became a Christian while attending Chapel Ridge, so chances are I baptised her but I just can’t remember. Nevertheless, it is so nice to reconnect with folks who, even with the miles and years  in between, go right on with the Lord. Brody, her husband, once attended our sister church Kanata Wesleyan, now called The Bridge. Kelsey met him when she was but fifteen and after all of the years re-met and married him. The flame never died.

Lyn (Mr. Lyn not Mrs. Lynne) was at a church board meeting so we missed him. After lots of catching up we had their famous “hot” wings and a time of prayer before going home. We await the answer!