Monday, October 27, 2008

Last Holiday as a Twosome

Yep, your favorite Ritskes' are preparing for Halloween as the last holiday as a twosome! Nolana is 5 days off of her due date so in the next few weeks I'm going to be a daddy!

We had a nice Sunday yesterday. Off to church in the morning, rushed back for an hour to rake the massive build-up of leaves in our yard. It was nice and sunny (while still brisk) and we got 'er done. Then we went off to the Dawes' place with a bunch of other couples to decorate cookies, carve pumpkins and dip caramel apples... now THAT's how Halloween is meant to be done! Here's my pumpkin...

Then we were off to Nolana's parents for a gourmet birthday dinner for Nolana's birthday and some great company and a game of cards.

It was one of those days we were out of the house from the moment we woke up until we collapsed into bed but it also one where you don't mind because you spent it with family and friends and had a great time, ya know?

Keep an eye out here for the arrival of Eric(a) Jr. !!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Nolana has choir tonight. Due to the blustery fall day we had and my resolve to not turn the heat on, I told her while she was gone I was going to pour myself a nice glass of Philips Chocolate Porter and sit in front of the fire. She told me in no uncertain terms that she would like the pleasure of sharing the fire with me and we have limited wood... so no fire. So instead, I poured myself a nice glass of Philips Chocolate Porter and sat in front of the... oven.
Not quite as relaxing.

On a completely unrelated front, this past week we cooked our first turkey dinner and were able to have some family come join us. To those family who were not there - we missed you. But we still had fun!


The music begins to play. It's a haunting, swaying tune that envelops you and leaves nothing outside the realm of possibility. The people in the room are caught up and the air starts to heat up. A minister walks to the front and his message is a passionate one. He speaks of renewal, of recommitting your life to Christ - going further. He speaks of an outpouring of the spirit. People start to cry, to shout, to fall to their knees. And then there is the magic word - Revival!

Or maybe it is simply a normal service like mine was last night. A challenging message on a challenging topic followed by the proclamation: If we get this right there might be - Revival!

The word resonates. When it is invoked people start dreaming of "what if" and start calling for the Lord's spirit to rain down. We've all heard stories of times when mass conversions happened and it impacted history and we called it - Revival!

It got me to thinking. Should we be desiring revival? Is it really that Holy Grail of Christianity - the chance for us to change the world or change our nation or change history? I guess the problem I have with the idea is the very ideas that are ingrained in the term. We think mass conversions, changes in society, a return to a purer form of living, the outpouring of signs and wonders... We want to be history makers.

Nothing inherently wrong with that I guess. Acts 2 records over 3000 coming to Christ in one day due to the original moving of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles after Pentecost. Old Testament records report mass societal changes under good kings such as Hezekiah or Josiah; a return to walking in the way of the Lord. So where's the issue?

Maybe it's in our expectations. A revival involves massive change over a short period of time. We've heard stories of drug addictions cured with a word, cancer with a touch, and conversions within the span of a sermon. THIS is revival! We want the Lord to come, pour out his Spirit and make some changes - NOW. We're fed up with the frustrating pace that we see God working in and want a sign - kind of like the Israelites when they're wandering in the desert. They are tired of the pace of what is happening, and despite signs and workings along the way, they continually demand more and more FASTER!

This is revival. We doubt the timing of the Lord or doubt he is evident in our day to day lives and struggles. We want miracles. Don't get me wrong. I believe in miracle and I think revivals are biblically valid. I just wonder if we value it too highly at the expense of the daily wonders and workings of the Lord. We ignore the struggles that ARE a walk with God. Christianity is not easy and struggle is a sign of a forward moving relationship: we HAVE to struggle against our very nature. Christ says in Romans 5 that perseverance creates character; and character creates hope. Paul boasts about the Thessalonians faith and perseverance.

There are few instances in the Bible that would qualify as revival and even fewer, if any, that would qualify under today's understanding. Instead, Paul often teaches about persevering through trials, revelling in God's grace through day to day challenges, and being strong through weakness. In James he teaches perseverance makes you mature and complete. Maturity desires perseverance. So what does immaturity desire?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


My Flames have opened the season 0-2. Even though at dinner I prayed for God to help them win!!

Just goes to show God can's be harnessed for a cause I guess...

Someone should have told the pastor in Iowa, the one who prayed for God to step in and protect His reputation which will be shattered if Obama wins the election. Someone should also stop by and tell him that the God whose name he throws around is bigger than an election, a candidate, or an issue. Immensely so. You can check out the news story here.

It's all about FEAR. All those Muslims, all those Hindus, all those people you know nothing about but believe to be terrorists want Obama to win. Fear is what drives the woman in Minnesota who told McCain at a rally that she doesn't trust Obama - he's an Arab. Fear is what they are playing on when they accuse Obama of "pal-ing with terrorists".

Only McCain and God can save you (and Palin).... in that order.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Worship Resources

Picture Jesus raging through the temple just before the feast of Passover. Is it graceful or is it raw, unbridled rage flowing out? Do the moneychangers scatter in fear or are the planted in astonishment? Is there silence or mass pandemonium? I think maybe he gets a little sweaty and really gets into it so when he is done he has to sit back, get some air and wonder at it all.

Wonder at the gall of those who would dare pervert the sacred traditions for profit. Wonder at those who worked the system for personal gain.

This was the topic of the sermon at church this week. And as we were getting into the 'why' of it, the speaker realized they were selling CDs in the foyer. He was quick to point out this was not the same thing as what Jesus was raging against. These were worship resources to help us "worship right". And at a reasonable price!

When did christian CDs become a need for right worship before God? It had to be sometime post-Bible writing because I searched through it that afternoon and couldn't find any mention of worship resources in it. I don't mean to rag on the speaker because from what I know he seems like a good guy but it seems revealing to me of the facts we automatically spew without thinking of what we are saying. In varying from his notes he revealed a wide held belief: we need professionals to aid us in "good" worship.

For me there were some more serious parallels between popular Christian music and Jesus' raging through the temple. Why did he rage? Because people were turning sacred traditions in for profit. They were working the system. And I wonder if most of our Christian artists aren't doing the same. Maybe not intentionally but, doing so none the less. There's a belief that we need worship CDs so there's a market for CDs that's isn't going anywhere so there are people to fill the need. Because the need is there regardless of quality we substitute cheesy knock-offs and pop jingles for worship.

Steve Bell states: "The problem with poor art is that people keep buying it. I really think that much of the new worship music is very poor, but the church gobbles it up greedily, and so artists aren't forced to work harder. We've lost our capacity for nuance, complexity and paradox."

And that's even assuming that worship is just music.

I can't help but think that we've perverted the good thing that praise was. We've worked the system for a profit. Don't argue with me that they're not making profit because they are! The artists, the label, the retailer. And not at cheap prices either! I'm pretty sure if Jesus were to walk into the Christian bookstore or a Christian music festival he'd start raging something about a bunch of thieves....

Monday, October 6, 2008

From the Books: Mercy

By the great Flannery O'Conner - if you haven't read any of her stories, Do it!

"He understood that [mercy] grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man... He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it."

From "The Artificial Nigger"

With the little one coming (4 weeks!) I've been thinking about what I would want my child to become. And I've decided the greatest thing they could be is someone who cares about mercy and love. Someone who cares about others and their travails. I guess we pretty much want for our children what we desire for ourselves...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Snapshots of our Lives

It’s hot and as I stride down the dusty street I swat the snotty nosed children begging for “one birr, mister” away like they are flies. I don’t stop because if I do I will be surrounded by the horde of them. My long strides are difficult to match and one by one they fall away, realizing that they won’t get that one birr out of me today.

Then, out of nowhere, one of them has the audacity to touch me. I spin around, readying my most withering glare; guaranteed to make whoever it is stop, back away and run for cover. But it is she who stops me. It is not the outstretched hand begging for that birr but the look on her face. It is slightly apologetic. As if to say “I’m sorry, but I had to. If you were in my situation you would do the same.” It’s hesitant as if when I turned around she lost her nerve but can’t back away because she needs the birr more than she needs her pride. It’s a look of awkward desperation.

And yet there is a hint of a smile in her face. Perhaps it is an apologetic smile or maybe it just a smile to charm the ferenj into giving her a birr. But it is purer than that, more revealing. It is the smile of someone who knows something that the other doesn’t, something more. A smile that speaks of the knowledge of her situation and how she knows that if I were born into her family it would be me begging for change and not her. It’s a bemused smile as she wonders to herself at why I think I have the right to spin around so confidently, hands already on the holster. It’s a knowing smile.

I don’t know how to react to her. I stand staring incomprehensibly as if shell-shocked and she continues to smile, hand out and expectant. I turn and slowly walk away, leaving her standing still in her spot beside the pedestrian bridge.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Who is John McCain?

You can find the original post from BAGnewsNotes here.

The picture was accompanied by this quote:

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things." —the Joker in The Dark Knight

Kinda caught my eye.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Better Off

It was around our 4th month in Ethiopia and I was starting to run out of reading material. We had packed up and moved everything we might need within Lufthansa's weight restriction of 60kg each. While that might seem like a lot of weight to some we had to have everything for a year's worth of living in there and had to make some sacrifices. So out went my extra pairs of underwear, my extra deodorant (they use must have that there right?) and in went as many books as my wife would allow.

Books are heavy though and by the fourth month I was nearing the end of my stash. I had bought and read everything of interest from the only bookstore in Addis that carried English books. I had even ordered some books from Amazon, delivered to Ethiopia: those books were done. I had borrowed books from students; those were also done. I was heading for some hard times.

And then one day my compatriot Rob invited me to check out the new (and only) modern cinema in Addis. I believe Will Smith's I am Legend was playing. I hadn't heard of it and am not a big movie goer to begin with but I gladly accepted. ANYTHING for a taste of home. And it was next to that shiny new cinema I found the greatest thing aside from my wife: a new bookstore.

It was stocked with leftovers from who-knows-where. In English. Everything from medical texts to cook books to sudoku to steamy Harlequins. Piles of books, all over the place. And they were cheap. Way cheap. The price on the back said 10. We were both sure it meant ten dollars but were curious why an Ethiopian shop would sell in dollars (though it obviously catered to foreigners). So I asked the clerk, "Is this in dollars?" She assured me it was in birr. 10 birr = 1 dollar. Hallelujah choruses rang through my head as I tried to reason in my head how many books I could carry home with me.

One of the books that grabbed my eye was this one: Better Off. Since I was a kid I dreamed of living off the land; fed by those rugged Canadian pioneer stories and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. Robinson Crusoe was a favorite as was Swiss Family Robinson. I wanted to be abandoned on an island or to run away from home and have to fend for myself.

As I matured this passed but I have always been interested in the idea of "walking away from it all". Leaving the traps of society for a simpler life. Walden Pond called to me in Thoreau's work. In Vietnam, on a small deserted island I was bewitched and told Nolana I wanted to buy a hut on the beach and grow a garden and fish for a while and I read about a guy who did just that in the Philippines. "Into the Wild" was great right up until the second he dies.

This book was an excellent, thought provoking read. Eric (what a GREAT name!) realizes the limitations of doing this within today's technological society and works to find ways to around what we think is 'necessary'.

And the flame was rekindled. Nolana told me I would have to wait until she passes to move to a deserted island because she's not so keen on desertion.

So I thought of other things. This month I wrote up a proposal for Nolana that outlined why and how we should sell our car and live without electric heat. She threatened to call social services for intended abuse of a not-yet-born baby. Needless to say, we still have our car (though when it looked like it needed repairs she softened for second...)

The point of this rambling story is not to paint my wife as the ruiner of my hopes and dreams. Far from it. In fact she in rather normal and had already followed me to Ethiopia and no running water for 8 months. Rather, it is to point out how ludicrous it sounds to leave it all behind, to make 'serious changes' beyond recycling milk cartons and energy efficient lights. But WHY? I hear of people who did it and the hardships they had and I desire them rather than scoff. I swear life was different not so long ago and people were at least as happy as now. People could be farmers AND scholars. They built their own house AND preached in church. We're so one dimensional these days.

And so I was reawaken by the latest edition of GEEZ magazine in which there was a call of lifestyle experiments for their Spring 2009 edition. In it, someone who I knew a long time ago, shares of how he and his wife and his kids took off and lived for a year in a cabin in the Canadian woods. Wood fires. Cast Iron Pots. Outhouses at -60. And again, I wanted it.

There's something about moderation in this instance that seems dirty. I turn my lights off but who cares. We're going to use cloth diapers but we're still going to buy them at a store. We buy local produce. It just seems so vulgar in light of what could be.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. I want to find a place in the middle of nowhere. Miles from a town but close enough for emergencies. A garden to work. Maybe a lake to fish in. And not much more. Am I crazy?