This Blog has MOVED!!

Greetings ZAAKISTAN Readers,

I've decided to migrate my entire website and this blog over to the delightful Wordpress platform. The blog whole blog exists there and you can read my latest posts there now. My website is slowly being rebuilt too and I will focus the site on my Blog, Life Goals, Photographs, and Feature-length Documentaries. Note that I haven't deleted my old site yet as I'm copying page content from it, but you can view the staged new site as it grows.

Come and See: http://zaakistan.com/wordpress/


Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

Just west of Calgary is this very new provincial park. We had never been until last weekend. I can say that I really appreciate the beauty that the prairies and foothills possess. The multitude of grasses. The expansive sky. The trembling aspen. The Rocky Mountain frame.


Calgary Reads Big Book Sale

This is our family's fourth time attending the frenetic Calgary Reads Big Book Sale in the 7 years living in Calgary and I think it will need to become an annual tradition. I met my family there after work. They spent the day downtown already for the Children's Festival.

I have to be very careful not to binge purchase as there are so many books I would love to have on my book shelves. I even put 2 selected books back making my count 11. All were $3 each except my collectible Tolstoy volume which was $8.

For me:

  • Something Beautiful for God: The Classic Account of Mother Teresa's Journey into Compassion (Malcolm Muggeridge)
  • Thoughts and Meditations (Kahlil Gibran)
  • Glimpsing the Face of God: The Search for Meaning in the Universe (Alistair McGrath)
  • Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (Eugene H Peterson)
  • Can You Hear Me? Tuning in to the God who Speaks (Brad Jersak)
  • Becoming Human (Jean Vanier)
  • The Imitation fo Christ (Thomas À Kempis)
  • Stories and Legends (Leo Tolstoy)
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Jean-Dominique Bauby)
  • Life After God (Douglas Coupland)
  • I Am America (and So Can You!) (Stephen Colbert)

I'm sure you can discern my penchant for books on Christian Spirituality.

My family got in on the action too. Blaise was wiped out from the day so he only had the energy to hunt down three books. He is by far the family's most prolific reader. I think he passed me in number of books read before he turned 8. My son carefully picked out 2 books by Jean Little, a reknown Canadian author and one by Gary Paulson, author of a book he recently read and loved called Hatchet.

Acadia is also careful. She's into Bible stories (like her papa) and dogs (not like her papa or her mama).

Amber cost us the least. I think she should have gotten more books. She uses the library better than me.

Brew 10: Chocolate Hazelnut Porter

How could I not make a beer called chocolate hazelnut porter? From the Brewing Classic Styles:

Grain Bill:
    11.5 lbs Canadian 2-Row (1.5-2.1°L)
    1.5 lbs Munich (6-10°L)
    1 lb Crystal Light (40°L)
    1 lb Crystal Medium (75°L)
    0.75 lb Chocolate Malt (450-500°L)
    0.5 lb Black Malt [black patent] (500-600°L)
2 oz East Kent Goldings (3.4%)
2 oz Willamette (4.7%)
American Ale (Wyeast 1056)
0.5 lb of cocoa powder at end of boil
15 ml Hazelnut Extract at bottling
3 1/2 hours last night after work and I was done in time to watch some TV with Amber. I enjoyed some homebrew witbier during the boil.


Hockey Team Allegiances

The great Edmonton Oiler years in the last half of the 1980s were the milieu in which I developed a keen interest in watching hockey. From grades 5-9, I faithfully memorized the players names, numbers and stats. In junior high, several of us would surround the newspaper in the library and check the scores from the previous night's games - many of which couldn't be published in time as the games finished after the paper's deadline (3 or 4 time zones later). We collected Upper Deck, O Pee Chee, Score, Pro-Set hockey cards and poured over the Beckett price lists to see if we had any valuable cards (we didn't). I got to watch the odd Oilers game when they played the Canadiens or Leafs or Bruins since they were closer to our time zone, but mostly it would be in the morning sports news highlights that I would catch the cool goals.

My interest in hockey faded though high school and college, just as the skill and success of the Edmonton Oilers faded too. Once I entered the work force, I discovered the Memorial Cup and World Junior Championships and even perked up when Edmonton leapt into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

The last couple years, I have begun watching the Montreal Canadiens. Their fast style of play, amazing goal tending, and deep heritage have stirred a little bit of that junior high boy that is still left in me. The Habs have shown amazing team work in the regular season and this year finished second overall. Last night they lost their bid for the cup in the quarter final, but last year they made it to the semi-final.

Last night Blaise stopped watching the game after the second period because he was bored. I can see why - the Habs were losing, not much going on outside the neutral zone, hard to tell who the players are.

So why was I glued to the screen? I think there is a deep desire for victory, even a proxy victory through tough, hard working, highly skilled men. I think there is a value in elevating the excellent within your tribe and celebrating their highly developed skill. I think it should inspire and encourage others in that same tribe toward excellence in their fields.


Book Review: The Case for the Psalms (NT Wright)

I remember hearing in a podcast of Thomas Hopko (Speaking the Truth in Love) about how at one point in history, bishops were expected to have memorized the entire catalog of Psalms (all 150 of them) in order to be ordained as a bishop. In fact it may have been just to enter the priesthood. I have to confess that I have never been into Psalms. I found most of them repetitive, irrelevant, and not as engaging as the gospels, Old Testament narratives, or Paul's letters. So, while I didn't avoid them deliberately, I didn't exactly seek them out. That has now changed.

Anglican New Testament scholar N. T. Wright makes his case for the Psalms in this small and easy to read book. He accurately points out that the biblical psalms have been drifting out of western Christianity's daily life and church life through the introduction of new choruses and by eliminating the liturgy. I would add that most personal devotional books also don't have you singing Old Testament psalms either. Wright points out that we have become impoverished greatly by this omission from our faith.

In essence, Wright gives us context as to why Psalms were so elemental to early Christians, to 1st century Jewish culture and to Jesus himself. The primary features of the Psalms time, space and matter as they relate to the Kingdom of God.

The psalmists and singers of the psalms look forward to the time when God's kingdom would be established on earth, but they also hearken back to the days when God delivered them and often lament the great peril they are suffering now. Time ends up folding, combining the lament with remembrance and promise.

A major theme in the Psalms is God coming to tabernacle (or set up residence) among His people. This is characterized mostly through the temple in Jerusalem, that Holy Mountain. But then, without a clear understanding of Kingdom theology, one might consider a literal establishment of Israel's kingdom - a real belief among some Evangelicals. All we have to do is refer to God taking up resident in our lives to now see ourselves as that Temple the Psalms celebrate as God's space. God now lives with us.

Finally, matter matters to God. The earth itself proclaims the glory of God. Jesus mentions something about this when he enters Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday if you recall. When we read/sing the psalms, we join with all creation in praising God and worship God and looking forward to ultimate redemption.

I lead my first class of the day in a 10 minute devotion which includes 8-12 verses from a psalm. I have been struck repeatedly since having begun and subsequently finishing this book that the truths Wright outlines leap from the couplets. I am far more aware of how each verse points toward the kingdom of heaven (now and not yet) which is the reign of Jesus.

I am now challenged to begin the memorizing and singing of the psalms to bring them into a more central part of my life. They point to Jesus, so this will make Jesus even more central too.


"Runnin" Lyrics - Frazey Ford (maybe)

I just love this song by Frazey Ford.

Are these right? I tried to find the lyrics to this song, but they are nowhere online, so I submitted these to a lyrics site in hopes someone would jump in to correct me.

Who are the one-eyed? ​(pretty sure this is wrong)
Aha! For Something else ​
I know why no one gets out ​
Cause, you'll find I'll come with you out ​
You'll find that you can do it ​
All by yourself ​
Nothing is just so fine ​
All alone to find ​
Hey yeah 

​​Cause you're the judge (oh yeah) ​
I never doubted you ​
I never doubted you ​
Cause you're the judge 
I never doubted you ​

Hey, you have always 
​Paid to testify
Hold the world beyond destruction ​
So nobody asks a question ​
Cause you're getting tired ​
Everyday that ends
You're alone in your mind ​
Running in circles in your heart ​
Hand over hand

Cause you're the judge (oh yeah) 
I never doubted you 
I never doubted you 
Hey you're the judge 
I never doubted you 

Cause you're the judge (oh yeah)
I never doubted you 
I never doubted you ​ ​

Cause you're the one holding yourself


Products of a Static, Literal, Inerrant Bible

A few days ago, a childhood friend of mine shared this video to Facebook. He grew up in the same church as I did and about 3 or 4 years ago he abandoned his faith to become an agnostic. Following the video are some comments between him and one of our high school classmates who, as you can tell, is still a Christian.

Bill Nye The Science Guy says this was the craziest moment from the 2014 creationism debate.
Posted by Business Insider on Thursday, April 9, 2015
Agnostic: All very good points. I must admit that the "Noah's Ark" story was one (of many) things that made me realize the bible is largely fictional. Just doesn't make sense for lots of reasons, one of which he articulates very clearly.
Christian: Never set limits on Jesus...He's fully capable
Agnostic: So he created all of these new species without anyone noticing? Lol. And that is one of the smallest problems with the Noah story.
Christian: Are you saying He can't?
Agnostic: Yep, I am. But, in fiction, anything can happen. My bigger problem is with a God that would destroy his "creation" in such a cruel way. Imagine little children who have done nothing besides being born to "evil" parents being forced through the horror of watching their parents die in such a horrible way and then to die by drowning. If there was such a god...think I'd crucify the SOB myself . But, I draw comfort in the fact that the story is obviously made up...our modern knowledge of geology and archeology really don't leave much doubt anymore. So, if there is a god (and I don't deny it is at least possible), he did not destroy the world with a flood and he (she?) is not what the bible depicts. Anyway, just my thoughts. Hugs
Christian: There are some things I cannot explain nor understand this side of heaven.....but I choose to place my faith and trust in Jesus....someday I will get the whole story but until then I trust in His plan.
First, let me say how pleased I was at how civil the comments were to one another. There is a rooted respect for the other and any disparaging comments were accompanied with hugs or admitting that this is their choice of belief or opinion. Refreshing, no?

Here we have two literal understandings of Genesis 6-8, where because of the wickedness on the earth, God sends a yearlong flood to destroy the earth, but saves 8 people and all flood surviving species in an ark. It is a darling story in Sunday Schools and Sabbath Schools because of the prolific images of giraffes, elephants and polar bears poking their heads out of a semi-circle wooden boat. The narrative of global destruction is glossed over for kids (and many adults) with selective reading focused on the saving love of God.

Agnostic's understanding is rooted in the dissonance of a loving God who has no problem wiping out almost all life on earth, with the added complication of scientific dissonance (sheer numbers of species, geological evidence, and the way too recent timeline). He has decided that the whole Bible must be false, or in his words, fiction. Of course, he has many other reasons not to believe that the Bible is fiction, this being just one.

Christian's understanding comes about since she was taught that the story of the flood must be taken as a literal, factual account. If this is not a factual account, then the Bible can not be accepted as God's word thus falsifying the resurrection of Jesus for instance. She resolves the evident dissonance with childlike faith (a practice endorsed by Jesus) and casually explains away scientific problems as events God could easily orchestrate since He is God.

But is there another way to understand the story of Noah, and other stories from the Bible?

I have been impacted by Mark Noll's excellent book on the history of Evangelical Christianity in North America called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. As a result I am far better able to approach historical Christianity and ancient Christian doctrine (and understand why all these new churches came to exist in North America). In short the story is this: When the British churches came across the Atlantic, they abandoned church authority and became a deregulated enterprise. Anyone with a fresh look at Scripture or a charismatic preacher could start a new denomination, especially if they filled pews or tents. Preaching on hellfire was pretty popular as were exciting new interpretations of Revelation. Next came the Darwinists and the real possibility that churches were going to lose members so Christians reacted by actively trying to denounce teachings on evolution. (this is far to brief a telling, hopefully readers can extrapolate).

The result was an almost wholesale rejection of 1800 years of church tradition, which in some ways was important because of corruption. But in the end a great treasure trove of wisdom was lost by the new denominations. One of those treasures is the traditional way the Bible was interpreted. The early church and the churches who preserved these traditions (think Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican) had ways of interpreting everything from end times theology (which is virtually non-existent by the way), who Jesus was, and of course Genesis. The Bible was not viewed as a book of facts - even Jesus words are probably not all quoted verbatim, but rather a book of truth and story helping reveal God's work among his people. Ultimately, God reveals himself through his Creation as well, and most importantly through His son Jesus through the incarnation.

Back to the flood. If I read the story of Noah as fact I am faced with a dilemma: accept Bible and reject science or reject Bible and accept science.

What if I read it as a narrative to reveal another prelude to the Gospel: end of sin through a cleansing of water (think baptism), salvation of man and creation. Eastern Orthodoxy calls Mary the ark because she carried salvation in her womb. Noah is called out in the New Testament because by faith he inherited righteousness. The "days of Noah" are referenced a few times in the New Testament too as days of wickedness, times where redemption was needed. Imagery of cleansing water appears throughout the Bible.

So, do I believe the Bible to be true? Do I believe the story of Noah to be true? Yes.

Do I believe that all the stories in the Old Testament are factual accounts? Better: Do I have to believe that all the stories in the Old Testament are factual in order to believe that they convey truth and ultimately the truth about Jesus? I don't think so. And I think there are very good reasons not to. The Old Testament is a collection of various authors over many centuries in an ancient world very different from our own. Their use of stories differs greatly from the way we think of stories (think accurate reporting, a team of fact checkers, scholarly review, etc.). The Israelite people conveyed stories to bring identity and meaning and purpose and hope of deliverance and to share what they had come to know about God. They weren't meant to be referenced in geological analysis or as source for speciation in the biology lab. Noah and the Flood teach me that God hates wickedness; God can do incredible things when we are faithful.

I do believe a guy named Noah who was faithful to God existed. I also believe that there was a destructive flood, an ark, saved animals, etc. It isn't important to me whether or not he was one of only 8 living people on the planet after a worldwide, cataclysmic flood. It is important that his story tells a truth about who God is and who we are.

I would certainly appreciate Bill Nye's response to this latter understanding of Noah and a smaller scale flood.


At one point in the comments, God's righteousness is questioned since he would have killed innocent children along with the wicked. This is a much deeper problem that Christians ought to wrestle with. This along with the wiping out of entire tribes in Canaan (genocide?) or certain Psalms where the one sings for the destruction of their enemies in some pretty violent ways (reference as the imprecatory psalms or the cursing psalms). How do we resolve this perceived picture of God with the ultimate and most accurate revelation of God through Jesus? Jesus calls on his followers to love and pray for their enemies - not curse them. Instead of calling down fiery sulphur onto the wicked Romans, he allows them to crucify him. Dissonance anyone? I won't get into how I resolve these in this post, but it is certainly worth discussing at some point. Randal Rauser does a fine job in his book which I just reviewed last week (The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails) and at his blog. I'm also keen to read the upcoming A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak as he tackles these very legitimate concerns.


Travelling to Northern BC

Every year. Every year since I've met my wife*, I have made the trek north to Smithers, Hazelton, Kispiox, etc., BC to visit her mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends.

It's a very long drive. Interestingly, it's essentially the same distance from Edmonton as it currently is from Calgary: 1,150 kms. While it would only take light under 0.004 seconds to travel that distance, it takes us 12 hours.

12 hours in our little Toyota Matrix. The kids sleep, eat, read, eat, play on the iPad, ask for snacks, tell me to turn down the music, and eat.

The first 4 hours take us through world class national parks Banff and Jasper. I never tire of driving Highway 93 through the Columbia Ice Fields.

Everytime I've driven Highway 93 at this time of year it has been covered in a thick pack of snow. This year it was bone dry allowing us to make good time. And it didn't muck up our undercarriage.

Amber reserved us rooms at the Hostels International in Jasper, which is just outside of Jasper. The common area is beautiful and peaceful. I played card games with three guys I met after Amber and the kids went to bed. During that time however, there was a group of 8 guys who were very loud and very rude.

We had a private room. My kids were tickled to sleep in a bunk bed. I had a hard time getting to sleep with all the comings and goings and loud conversations and dance music (?!).

The next morning, I drove to McBride, BC where we stop to pee. We pass Mount Robson, the highest mountain in British Columbia, on this leg. Amber drove the next 2 hours to Prince George. She got to drive through the blizzard. The weather can be different every 2 hours as you cross through different mountain ranges.

We stopped to stretch our legs less than an hour from Smithers at the little highwayside park in Houston. They boast the largest fly fishing pole.

Then we enjoy the warm hospitality of our hosts and the cool mountain air and bits and pieces of northern life.

*Almost every year. Every year minus 3, so just 15 times.


Brew 9: Scottish Heavy, Stout, India Amber Ale, Oktoberfest

This is my first real collaboration with another brewer. I was contacted by my brewing mentor a week ago to see if I would like to come brew 4 batches of beer to help use up 50 lbs of left over grain and some aging hops. I supplied the yeast and my brewing equipment so we could brew 2 batches at a time.

I borrowed Alex's equipment for my first five all grain brews and ultimately modelled my nano brewery after his, so we've been in touch a fair bit over the last year. He put together recipes to match his load of munich and vienna malts. We looked at the hops he had left from competition wins and agreed on some combos.

Here are our recipe outlines:

India Amber Ale
Grain Bill: 4.5 lb 2-Row, 4.5 lb Light Munich, 1 lb Crystal 60º, 0.67 lb Victory, 0.25 lb Chocolate, 0.125 lb Melanoiden
Hops: 2.5 oz Experimental P09-2 (60 min), 2 oz Falconer's Flight (5 min), 2 oz Falconer's Flight (0 min)
Yeast: Wyeast 1203 Burton IPA

Grain Bill: 7.7 lb Light Munich, 4.5 lb Vienna, 1 lb Crystal 60º, 0.1 lb Melanoiden
Hops: 0.5 oz Aramis (60 min), 0.5 oz Aramis (30 min), 1 oz Aramis (15 min)
Yeast: Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager

Stout (Foreign Extra)
Grain Bill: 7 lb Vienna, 3.75 lb Light Munich, 0.7 lb Black Patent, 0.5 lb Victory, 0.5 lb Chocolate, 0.44 lb Melanoiden, 0.14 Peated Malt
Hops: 1 oz Experimental P09-2 (60 min), 2 oz Experimental P09-2 (30 min), 1 oz Experimental P09-2 (15 min)
Yeast: Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

Scottish Heavy 70
Grain Bill: 4.75 lb Munich, 4.7 lb Light Munich, 1.7 lb Vienna, 0.3 lb Black Patent, 0.25 lb Chocolate, 0.25 lb Peated Malt, 0.125 lb Melanoiden
Hops: 1.5 oz Triskel (60 min)
Yeast: Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale

We brewed from 10 am through to about 4 pm and Alex was going strong when I left with a fifth brew of his own. We plan on sharing our beer with our church's Man Scouts.

Book Review: The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (Randal Rauser)

The debate between those who believe in God and those who do not has often devolved into shouting matches or insults. What I have always appreciated about Randal Rauser is that he is as interested in listening as he is at being understood.

I was introduced to Dr. Rauser has been a regular fixture at the ACSI teacher conferences I attend annually and I invariable attend his sessions even though they have nothing to do with my subject. I experience him as a philosopher first and theologian second so the guy can think. His presentations typically deal with controversial subjects like the imprecatory psalms or brainwashing or biblical genocide. What I really like, besides the controversial topics, is that he is able to present thoughtful alternative positions on a topic without mocking or belittling any of the sides.

He brings this generosity to this book on apologetics. The book presents philosophical and theological arguments for and against belief in God and then specifically for and against the Christian God. What is most unique is the setting and characters: it is held entirely in the Beatnik Bean, a coffee shop where he, a fictional atheist character named Sheridan and we the reader sip americanos and discuss flawed arguments and flawed theology. It reminded me of the little I read of Sophie's World - the philosophy best seller of the 90s which was set as a conversation between a teenage girl and a philosophy prof, but The Swedish Atheist is far more engaging.

Rauser initially tackles the more or less weak arguments that the new atheists have used to attempt to debunk belief in God in their assertion that they believe in reason and therefore put them beyond reproach in their epistomology. He then faces some of the more difficult questions specific to YWHY in relation to the ordered mass killings in the Old Testament and the western doctrines of eternal conscious torment in hell. Ultimately, no one has really changed the other's mind, but there is mutual understanding that the other isn't crazy - and that's saying something.

The book is playful, funny, and profound. I'm glad I picked it up and I look forward to reading more of Rausers many books.


Brew 8: Imperial IPA

When I read that Russian River brewmaster had shared his recipe for Pliny the Elder, I had to try! Pliny is consistently a top rated beer (currently #7 overall at BeerAdvocate). Picked up the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, a must for home brewers.

It becomes readily apparent that this is a robust brew considering that it cost me nearly $90 in ingredients (and yes, I know I could have save money had I ordered stuff online).
$25 in malted grains
$10 in yeast
$55 in hops
To give a sense of how many more hops this recipe calls for, a typical non-hoppy 5-gallon batch of beer would likely call for 2 ounces of hops. This one uses 16 ounces.

As far as home brewing for economic reasons, this one still makes sense since the typical imperial IPA costs double other beer. Still pricy though.

6 ounces of hops in the boil for bittering:
2 oz Columbus (15% alpha acids) 90 min
2 oz Chinook (12%) 90 min
1 oz Simcoe (12%) 45 min
1 oz Columbus (15%) 30 min
This gives the beer a ridiculous measure of International Bitterness Units: 336 IBU. Alexander Keiths India Pale Ale has a 28 IBU. Lagunitas Maximus Imperial India Pale Ale is 78 IBU. Nelson's Full Nelson Imperial IPA is 90 IBU. I found a few beer with 100+ IBU, but that's all they state: 100+ IBU. Bushwakker Trephination Double IPA 100+ IBU and Alley Kat Dragon Series Green Dragon Double IPA 100+ IBU.

Then some hops are added at knockout, the moment the boil ends in order to take advantage of the aromatic oils that are released when hops are added. If they are added any earlier, the oils (which add aroma and flavour) are boiled away and only the acids remain (which only bitter as they are boiled - alpha and beta acids play different roles).
2.25 oz Centennial (strong citrus tones)
1.5 oz Simcoe (passion fruit, pine, earthy, and citrus tones)

Fermentation emitted the most amazing aromas and the initial froth seemed cleaner than all my other brews despite a hop bag bursting in the boil and a bunch of grain getting out of the mash tun.

Then, after the initial fermentation is over, more hops are added. This process is called dry hopping. This process continues to compound the aromatic and flavour profile of the ale. The first dry hopping will last 13 days until bottling. The second will be added 5 days before the end.
2.75 oz Columbus (citrusy and slightly woody)
1.5 oz Centennial
1.25 oz Simcoe
0.25 oz Columbus
0.25 oz Centennial
0.25 oz Simcoe

Hopefully the end result will vaguely resemble its Russian River inspiration. All about hops and balance.