The Wages of Sin | Tom Smail

The wages of sin is death, because, if our life has its basis in our relationship to God and to other people and if these relationships are corrupted, our very life is threatened to its core. … Sin threatens not just moral condemnation but ontological disintegration.

—Tom Smail, Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 238, 271.

Revelations | Elaine Pagels

The cover of Pagels' RevelationsFrustrated again.

I should know by now not to make assumptions based on the subtitle. When I read, “Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation,” I assumed Pagels would be exploring the politically subversive nature of John’s Revelation. Instead, I read a book about the reconstructed political factions of the early church that Pagels believes comes to light in John’s Revelation.

An example of this is her discussion of John’s message to Smyrna:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9 ESV).

Pagels suggests that John’s talking about Paul and his disciples here—those Gentile believers who claim to be included in the seed of Abraham but who eschew Jewish law.

Returning to her bread-and-butter, Pagels describes a conspiracy by who would later be called Orthodox Christians to suppress minority opinions and alternate writings. For her, John’s revelation is the only one which survived because the powerful could use it to increase their power.

While I do agree that many scriptural books have been horribly misused in the name of power against the aims of Jesus, I can’t give the alternate books the credit Pagels does. When I read (what remains of) alternate texts like the Secret Revelation of John, and the Gospel of Truth, I don’t see the sort of sort of scripture-soaked reflection I find in John’s Revelation.

Of course, given my theological viewpoint, I believe the Holy Spirit had a role in preserving the canon. If God could use tyrants like Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish his purpose, he could certainly use Constantine.

If you’re intrigued by Pagels’ thesis and have spent time reading scripture, I encourage you to read the apocryphal texts for yourself. Form your own opinion before turning to Pagels’ Revelations.

—Elaine Pagels, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (New York, NY: Penguin, 2012).

Spanish River East Branch 2013

The moments before a trip begins, when old friends all converge in one place, are always full of excitement.

Brian Lachine arrived in Bracebridge first for a wedding. His friend Alex Patterson arrived Saturday night. Brian and I tag-teamed the church service at Wellington Street Pentecostal Church. Shane Metcalfe was next to arrive from Petrolia on Sunday afternoon. Matt Douglas from Mississauga rounded out our team of five people: two tandem canoes and one kayak.

By 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, our caravan of Brian’s truck with canoe on top, Alex’s car with kayak on top, and my Escape towing a gear trailer with a canoe on it hit the highway. We arrived at the Agnew Lake Lodge at dusk.

The lodge gave us a patch of grass down by the lake to camp on that night. In a few minutes we had our tents set up and a campfire blazing.

Agnew Lake Lodge Campsite:
N 46° 20.239′
W 81° 51.963′

Day 1: Duke Lake to Breadner Swifts (30 km)

We awoke at 6:30. As the sun rose over Lake Agnew, the mist was lifting.

Our Dew-laden tent at Agnew Lake

Our Dew-laden tent at Agnew Lake

We met our Lodge-supplied driver, Gary, and set out for the 2.5 hour drive to the put-in on Duke Lake. Brian rode shotgun listening to an Gary’s stories and an old Johnny Cash cassette. (My favourite Gary moment was when we first met and introduced ourselves. Matt said, “Hi, I’m Matt”. Gary replied, “Sure.”) Matt and I rode in the back of the cab. Alex & Shane drew the short straws and were stuck bouncing along in the cab.

We put-in at Duke Lake.

The whole crew at the Duke Lake Put-In

The whole crew at the Duke Lake Put-In

Duke Lake Put-In:
N 47° 23.416′
W 81° 50.949′

A gentle 5km paddle made it feel like we picked up right where we left off a year earlier (except we were Nate-less). The next ten lakes were appropriately named Tenth Lake through First Lake. The “swifts” marked on the map to connect them were negligible. We all gave credit to Alex who paddled a whitewater kayak all day across flat water.

The “Adventure Map” we used as a guide mentioned pictographs on Ninth Lake. They were easy to find, and quite impressive.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

Ninth Lake Pictographs:
N 47° 19.004′
W 81° 51.619′

We stopped for a lunch of cucumbers, baby carrots, hummus, salami, Triscuits, and chocolate bars on Eighth Lake. I threw my line in the water where the current from Ninth Lake came around the corner, but nothing bit.

Lunch at Eighth Lake:
N 47° 17.404′
W 81° 51.463′

Even on days without spectacular rapids, there is always plenty to see and admire. I watched a kingfisher dart along the shore of one of the lakes just ahead of our canoe. We also managed to hit the fall changing of the leaves perfectly. Most of the deciduous trees were poplars with yellow leaves. The odd maple tree with flaming red leaves painted a bright contrast.

Maples turned red

Maples turned red

First Lake was interesting. What at first looked like a drift-wood shadow along the eastern shoreline turned out to be a large black bear. We paddled toward him but he fled into the bush before we got very close. Next we paddled to the west shore to check out Snake Rapids in the hope that we could find something runnable.

Alex at Snake Rapids

Alex at Snake Rapids

The rapids were beautiful, but they were more waterfalls around rocks than open water.

Snake Rapids

Snake Rapids

First Lake from Snake Rapids

First Lake from Snake Rapids

I caught a big pike on my second cast at the base of these rapids.

I caught a pike!

I caught a pike!

The end of the day was a boulder-coaster run through shallow water to our campsite at the northern end of Expanse Lake.

We feasted on stir-fry with fresh peppers, glass noodles, and a butter-chicken sauce we packed in a Lock & Lock container. This meal was a huge hit—we’ll reuse this recipe on another trip.

After a long chat with good friends around a warm campfire, we went to sleep with full bellies.

Expanse Lake Campsite:
N 47° 07.632′
W 81° 50.882′

Day 2: Breadner Swifts to Pogamasing (31 km)

We awoke to the sound of wind and rain on the tent. I laid in my sleeping bag for a few minutes imagining paddling into the teeth of that wind up the length of Expanse. We filled up on pancakes before breaking camp and setting out. Fortunately, the lake that looked long and straight on the map was curved enough to offer us shoreline features to tuck in behind out of the wind.

Expanse Lake in the morning

Expanse Lake in the morning

We rested our arms and shoulders by a big beaver house at the end of the lake before hitting a run of fun swifts in deep-enough water. This effortless paddling was welcome after Expanse Lake. We raced down to a campsite at “The Forks,” where the East and West branches of the Spanish meet.

View north from The Forks

View north from The Forks

“The Forks” Lunch Site:
N 47° 02.178′
W 81° 51.223′

The campsite was marked by 1/3 of a canoe resting against a tree—an omen?

Someone failed their rapid run

Someone failed their rapid run!

The bugs on this site were incredibly thick (something we didn’t expect on October 1st), but they only added protein to the delicious meal of Triscuits and Tuna Cheese melts Brian cooked up. Alex tried to exit the campsite with an epic kayak slide.

Our afternoon paddle brought us to some fun rapids and swifts including the Upper and Lower Athlone rapids. My favourite moment in these rapids came when I called on Shane to power paddle across the moving water to catch an eddy on the far shore. We shot through the water like a bullet. For a moment I thought we might climb the far shore!

Scouting Athlone Rapids

Scouting Athlone Rapids

Later in the afternoon the wind turned against us which made paddling more difficult. We also met the train—a loud violent screeching train rounding the corner by the Pogamasing Dam. I caught a small pike here on a spinner.

We arrived at our campsite after passing the tiny railway community of Pogamasing:

Pogamasing Campsite:
N 46° 54.039′
W 81° 46.381′

There were an unbelievable amount of bugs here until the sunset when they all vanished. We ate Naan bread coated in garlic, fried in butter, and smothered with melted extra old white cheddar. It tasted like paradise. We followed it up with our best batch of Angry Red Lentil soup yet. I tripled the recipe and used a whole scotch bonnet pepper in it. The heat was just right.

We had another good campfire (which took a little persuading due to the wet wood) and quickly fell asleep. Twice during the night we were woken up abruptly by passing trains. They were close enough to this site to shake the ground!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Day 3: Pogamasing to The Knuckle (32 km)

We left the air scoops on the tent open last night, so it was a chilly wake-up! There was a beautiful mist rising off the river.

The best way to get warm in the morning is to just get on with it, so I jumped out of my sleeping bag in my compression shorts and got dressed outside on the dew-drenched pine needle carpet. Fried apples and oatmeal made for a filling breakfast.

Today’s paddle began with 5 km of swifts and rapids. What a great way to warm up!

A chilly morning paddle

A chilly morning paddle

Another 5 km or so of flat river (with a solid current) brought us to Cliff Rapids.

Cliff rapids curve to the right around a height of land with the portage crossing it. The cliff it was named after is a large face of granite rising above the Eastern side of the river. We all portaged to the end and scouted up the shoreline before deciding to run it. It was short but fun. There were some big waves to crash through. (It’s a shame that footage from the shore never does justice to the rush of the moment.)

A few kilometres later we found a spot to eat lunch by Mogo Creek.

Mogo Creek Lunch:
N 46° 46.267′
W 81° 43.207′

Just before we arrived, the stainless steel bolt that hung Shane’s bow seat from the gunnels snapped off landing Shane on his back in the canoe! The weight of the drop also snapped the wooden dowels which held the seat together. Fortunately, Alex was well prepared for any emergency. At our lunch site he bound the seat together with some extra strapping. He used his multi-tool to take the nut off the snapped piece of bolt and affix the seat in a higher position. Crisis averted.

For lunch, we feasted on black bean burritos (I should mention that we brought enough Crispers to feed an army. We learned years ago that a salty snack is critical when you’re sweating all day. The Crispers came out at every stop.)

Black bean buritos

Black bean buritos

The little swift by our lunch site combined with the heat of the mid-day sun was too much to resist. Brian, Shane, and I stripped down, waded into the water, and rode the current by our site. It was so much fun, we did it a second time. By now, the peer pressure was too much to resist so Alex and Matt followed suit. I rode it out a third time. How refreshing!

Swimming time

Swimming time!

Our hooting and hollering drew the attention of the people in the small camp just upstream of our lunch site. They got in their small motor boat and putted over to the top of the rapids we were swimming in. We tried to say “hi,” but when they saw people swimming in October by their camp they just turned the boat around and let us be!

The afternoon was a long stretch of flat river paddling along with a run across Spanish Lake. The wind helped us here.

After Spanish Lake, we paddled about 1 km to Zig-Zag rapids. On our way, Shane and I met some inquisitive otters who kept popping up around our canoe and snorting at us.

Zig-Zag rapids was a lot of fun—it lived up to its name!

Shane and I ran it slowly, taking every opportunity to eddy out and get video of our friends running it.

In the last part of Zig-Zag, I called for Shane to eddy-out to the right. He executed a strong cross-bow draw … before the end of the wave-train we were riding out! We hit the haystacks sideways, causing Shane to drop his paddle and grab the gunnels to prevent jumping it. What fun!

A lot of fast water took us to our campsite by “The Knuckle”:

“The Knuckle” site:
N 46° 39.084′
W 81° 42.781′

We arrived relatively early so we enjoyed the sun and prepared a good campfire.

Sunset at the Knuckle

Sunset at the Knuckle

Brian noticed a couple grasshoppers getting affectionate on his tent fly!

Amorous grasshoppers on a tent fly

Amorous grasshoppers

We ate pasta mixed with Shane’s homemade pesto and a bunch of chopped sundried tomatoes. This has become one of our go-to meals. After supper we were in bed by 9:20. Thankfully, there was no train to wake us up this night!

Day 4: The Knuckle to Eagle Rock (42 km)

Today promised the best whitewater on the trip—unfortunately it was also the morning the batteries of my camera died.

Breakfast was what we dubbed, “diabetes delight”. We fried granola in butter and stirred in chocolate chips! We broke camp and paddled down a lot of fast swifts as we passed “The Knuckle,” “The Wrist,” and “The Elbow.” We had at least 3 kilometers of swift moving water. The wildlife was beautiful—we saw a Bald Eagle flying from tree to tree ahead of us and a large owl visible on the shoreline.

The trail to Fox Lake Lodge & Spanish River Outfitters is very obvious.

The major rapids were next. We were able to run the first half of Little Graveyard Rapids before portaging around the drop. Alex with his whitewater kayak was in his glory. We watched him run paths we couldn’t even consider with our canoes.

We ran “Lift Over” Rapids (just to spite the name) before stopping at “Big Graveyard”. It required a portage if we were to spite its name too! Cascade Rapids required another lift over. Brian caught a nice pike at the base of these rapids. Shane and I had a great moment at the base of a rapid. We paddled into the wave-train where Shane snagged his paddle on a rock, dropped it, and almost flipped the canoe. Good times! We caught up with his paddle and reminisced about Brian losing his paddle on the Upper Missinaibi a few years earlier.

Agnes Rapids was a beast. It was long, straight, and full of foam and buried rocks. We all pulled off to the right and scouted by walking the shoreline. There’s only so much you can see from the shore.

Shane and I went first. My paddle snapped in two just after the entry when I tried a powerful draw to slide around a submerged boulder. Fortunately, I stashed the spare paddle right in front of me so I was able to grab it without missing a beat. We drew left and right around rocks, back-paddling to spill speed before hitting a big standing wave and taking in some water. We almost made it out unscathed, but the end of the rapid was a solid wall of whitewater. We picked the wrong spot to exit and bounced off a rock. We lost some protective strip off the stern but made it to shore safely.

Alex came through next, unscathed in his kayak. He spotted my broken paddle shaft bobbing in an eddy and tried to grab it, but missed. A few moments later it came drifting by the shore where we were drying out. I launched the empty canoe in a hurry and caught up to it. It’s a great souvenir!

Next we signaled for Brian and Matt to follow. They ran the course perfectly. I tried to signal the proper exit to them with my paddle and they came through unscathed. We paused to dry out gear and eat homemade pita-pizzas.

We paddled through some more swifts and hit Cedar Rapids, a long curving rapid with a lot of flow. Shane and I misjudged the power of one of the standing waves and took in a bit of water.

The afternoon was a delight. The map called this section of water the “Royal Ride” which featured over 20 km of moving water! I have never experienced anything like this before. We traveled at 5 km/hour without paddling! It felt strange seeing downhill “S” curves.

We went so fast so effortlessly we decided to push past our planned camp site and sleep at the 10 km mark. It rained this afternoon so we paddled in rain gear. We tied up a tarp at our campsite, then set up our tent under the tarp before moving them out into the rain.

We feasted on another pesto & pasta meal under the tarp. The rain let up and the temperature got colder—perfect for sleeping.

10 km Site:
N 46° 24.934′
W 81° 50.778′

Day 5: Eagle Rock to Agnew Lake Lodge (10 km)

We awoke at 6 and got the coffee rolling with images of Chinese Food dancing in our heads for lunch. We paddled the final 10 km across Agnew Lake to our vehicles by 9:15.

We arrived in Espanola before the Chinese buffet opened, so we drank coffees at Timmy’s before hitting the buffet.

In the end, the shuttle service cost $96 total, and the food worked out to $55 each. It was an amazing trip at a great price.

Guitar Zero | Gary Marcus

The cover of Marcus' Guitar ZeroMany people have told me, “I wish I followed through with my music lessons when I was a kid.” The prevailing understanding is that it’s much more difficult to learn a musical instrument when your teenage years are fading in the rear-view mirror. Marcus challenges this assumption in Guitar Zero.

When middle-aged Gary Marcus decided that he wanted to play music, he threw himself into the project. His training as a cognitive psychologist allowed him to only to learn, but to reflect intelligently on how he was learning. That’s what makes this book interesting. The chapters in Guitar Zero flow freely between Marcus’ attempt to stretch his fingers onto the proper frets and perceptive analysis on the nature of learning a new task.

Yes, it is easier to learn a new skill when you’re young—but with determination, you can follow in Marcus’ footsteps and take on new challenges regardless of your age.

I might not be picking up an instrument as quickly as an adept child might, but as an adult I still had some advantages. I had a greater capacity to understand the abstractions of music theory and a better sense of music composition as a whole. If practice, determination, and a greater conceptual understanding hadn’t entirely overcome the twin obstacles of age and lack of talent, they had at least made for an even match (192).

—Gary Marcus, Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age (New York, NY: Penguin, 2012).

Playing God | Tom Smail

We are often told that to intervene in the process of nature and especially in matters of life and death is to play God. But if we are made in the image of God, then to play God is exactly what we are invited to do.

—Tom Smail, Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 162.

God’s Problem | Bart D. Ehrman

The cover of Ehrman's God's ProblemYou know the old saying about what happens when you assume …

Let’s look at the subtitle of Ehrman’s book and unpack the assumptions: “How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer”.

  • Assumption Number 1: Our most important question is, “Why do we suffer?”
  • Assumption Number 2: The Bible was written to answer the question “Why do we suffer?”

“Why do we suffer” is clearly Ehrman’s most important question. In an autobiographical first chapter he describes how this question led him to dismiss the evangelical Christian faith he was raised and educated in. In his words, “The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith” (3).

Reading this book from a Christian perspective, the first chapter evoked pathos and a desire to walk with Ehrman through his intellectual and faith struggles. Unfortunately, his use of tragedy for shock value combined with an air of intellectual superiority quickly undermined any sense of empathy.

Ehrman brutally describes human suffering. From the Nazi concentration camps to children dying for lack of clean water, nothing is exempt from his eye. While it’s critical in a book like this to state the depth of human suffering, he uses graphic suffering to bludgeon carefully nuanced and sincere attempts towards an answer.

The bulk of God’s Problem consists of chapters which describe how different biblical authors wrestled with the question of suffering:

  1. People suffer because God judges sinners
  2. Suffering is a consequence of sin
  3. Suffering is the path to redemption
  4. Suffering makes no sense
  5. God will even out the scales in the afterlife

For Ehrman, these views are often mutually exclusive. His historical method precludes any systematic understanding of the whole canon. In the end, he accepts the view of Job (without the prelude and conclusion)—that suffering simply makes no sense.

Let me offer one more implicit assumption—that we should be able to fully comprehend the biggest mysteries of life including, should he exist, the mind of God and the nature of suffering. This was the sort of theological arrogance that God challenged Job about.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know why a good and powerful God allows evil to exist. I do know that Ehrman’s disdain of any attempts to reach towards an answer is no help on the journey.

—Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008).

Freedom & Love | Tom Smail

God’s freedom can never be understood apart from his love. When he creates us, it is in love and for love; when he judges us and rejects us in our sinfulness, it is because we are living and acting in contradiction to that love; when he redeems us it is because that love cannot in the end let us go and gives itself utterly to bring us back to itself.

—Tom Smail, Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 155.