Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Shocked into Humility

You never know when something’s going to hit you. Today I was struck by some vivid language in the bible book, “Jude”, shocked by how it reads like a current newspaper column about irresponsible politicians or corrupt financiers or faithless church leaders. 
What an accurate description Jude gives of people who are slaves to their own ego, and blind to the limitation of their own perspective. Adamant that they matter more than anyone around them, they machete a bloody path through life, careless of the pain they scatter on all sides.

I’d love to know who comes to mind when you read these excerpts:

“They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame…” 
“…grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.”
“It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.” 

Oh, those bad guys! 
Whenever I express concern to my little grandchildren about their watching animated shows full of explosions and “Pows!” they protest “but those are the bad guys!” 
Sadly most of us haven’t fully outgrown such simplistic dualism. Just like many of our leaders we divide humanity into good and bad. 

If so, which am I? Do I ever grumble? Have I ever flattered someone so they'd like me? Do I ever add to the divisions between people by negative comments about some group? I don’t know about you but I am too aware of what I see in the mirror to imagine that I deserve to wear a white hat. A Michael Jackson song comes to mind.

Because we are not purely good guys, the Church season of Lent calls us to self-examination, and a humble turn-around toward God’s better ways. The more clearly we see the mess, the greater our gratitude for Good Friday and Easter morning.

 Jude goes on to encourage us:

“But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ… 

“To him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Michael Jackson, bless his heart, sang that we needed to change the world by first changing ourselves. Jesus said that if we follow him, God's Spirit will give us the ability to live into that change.

Enjoy the music at: 
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PivWY9wn5ps


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

Is it true love?
What is that fleeting feeling and why is it just the best? You know what I mean -  the moment when you find yourself not just on the same page, but with the very same perspective as another person. I’m not talking romance here. It might be with a stranger or a relative with whom you have little in common when, for a split second, you both connect so fully that you’re like one person instead of two. 

It can happen when a cashier patiently waits for a slow customer rooting through his wallet and you, in line behind him, share a fond smile with the clerk. You catch each other’s eye, just for an instant, and bam, a flash of empathy. 
Babies in public places prompt many such moments – beaming faces all round unite in delighted adoration. 

One wintery day, as I passed a security guard on the sidewalk in front of my bank, I thought I heard a tune being hummed. I did a u-turn and asked "Are you singing?"
He answered, "Oh yes, I am" and broke into "My Girl" a pop song from my youth. I joined him in a street corner duet, "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day...". Pure joy for both of us.

I wonder if these moments are a taste of true love, the mystical idea of universal oneness, the kind of communal connection that Jesus offered humanity.  Does that instant of joy, untainted by any of the usual divisions and egocentricity, show us what the Easter promises meant? Are we glimpsing the coming world where True Love rules, the kind of human wholeness for which “all creation groans”?

I was at Pike Place, the popular outdoor market in Seattle, Washington. Tourist websites had all mentioned the stall where workers threw fish to each other, so I made a beeline there to ask what I had to do to see a fish get thrown. 
“Buy one!” the aproned man replied. Duh.
After I explained that I was on the road and couldn’t cook anything, he cheerily carried on chatting. 

As we stood next to each other, waiting for someone to order a fish, I suddenly felt hands kneading my shoulders and realized that the tall young worker was treating me to a quick massage as he waited for his next customer. If I hadn't been his mother's age, it would have creeped me out. As it was, I relaxed into the pleasure of his strong fingers digging into my tense muscles and then grinned up at him. 
“Will you marry me?” 
He hesitated and quipped, “Uh, how do you feel about student loans?”
We shared a laugh of true love…joy, peace, kindness, goodness. 

Whether we receive Valentine gifts or not, true love surrounds us. Celebrate!

Monday, 2 February 2015

January Fails

January 2015 wasn’t much fun, that’s for sure. 

First I had to endure several outlandishly awful hours for a medical test “they” say is a good idea. I started out feeling just fine before they got their hands on me. Then life stopped for two days of fasting and, shall we say, cleansing. After test day I staggered out of the clinic and typed, stamped, signed, and mailed to my family doctor a vow that no matter what, I will never endure that test again. In my opinion, every person who prescribes a test should experience that test at least once.

Then a beloved in-law died of cancer long before her time. She was exactly my age. For weeks we heard sad updates on her deterioration until the end came in January.  We researched flights, funeral locations, and family preferences in between empathetic tears of sorrow for her children and the grandchildren who would have no memories of this vivacious, athletic woman. I find death unbelievable – how can that lively person be gone from the face of the earth? Impossible reality.

Next I was stricken with gastroenteritis, the fancy term for what we used to call stomach flu. Oh, the tricks one’s body plays while it fights dastardly invaders – REVOLTING and exhausting.
Samuel Johnson said that the prospect of being hanged wonderfully concentrates the mind. Fear and pain likewise detour any determination to be grateful. It’s hard to think about anything but how much it hurts. From the bathroom floor, death by hanging starts to appeal.

During January I heard of people dying in Paris and Nigeria, of suicides and illnesses. Such news added to my own trials, tempting me toward gloom. As you know, all of the Wise Ones affirm the bountiful by-products of suffering. Christianity promises that one day God will fix the mess but meanwhile, what do I do with January’s fails? 
As I age, the probability of more pain ahead, both physical and emotional, is taking centre stage, and I want to know for real how those lovely theories make any practical sense. As my guts twisted I wondered how there could be any good at all in this suffering. HELP! 
Through tears over personal and global pain, I asked God for more understanding re bible statements like, “I can do anything through Christ’s strength in me” and,  “Everything works together for good to those who love God and want to live according to God’s plan.”

God answered me in my distress. Here’s January’s short list of goodness.

1.  The medical test woke me up to the need to take my own welfare in hand and make informed choices now instead of trusting any professionals, beyond mining their expertise as part of my research. No specialist cares about us as much as we care about ourselves.
2. The loss of a fine woman brought about tender and intimate conversations and ways to show loving care that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Maybe shared tears accomplish in a relationship what shared laughter cannot. 

3. A temporary but overwhelming illness deepened my appreciation for my amazing husband with whom, on regular days, I am in continuous frustrating negotiation. Who’s driving when are we leaving are you free then did you eat yet you missed the turn forgot your sunglasses, blah blah blah scream.  During my ugly incapacitation he nursed me patiently, running errands and cooing sympathy, and even afterward continues to tell me I’m beautiful. I could describe what I looked like when I was sick but you do not want to picture it, believe me. I feel so warmly toward him for his faithful caretaking that I haven’t growled for several days now.
And I’m relieved to say that I didn’t lose my temper with him at all while I was ill either, so maybe we can do some things by God’s strength that don’t come naturally.

The forage for goodness continues.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

All Clean Again


Don’t tell my husband, but I just took our car up the street and paid twelve whole dollars for the carwash staff to scrub off the filth. It’s an extravagance we rarely allow in our family’s money management, but our white Honda Fit was covered in dried mud and it’s a beautiful sunny day so I splurged. 

I was a novice at the local carwash so I shamelessly asked the driver waiting in front of me how it worked. She sweetly explained without sneering.

I smiled at every worker I encountered, all men, and without fail they glared stone-faced back at me, poor things.  I wouldn’t feel smiley myself if I were in their boots.

When I reached the cash counter a young woman took my receipt and we chatted. 
Since there was no one waiting behind me I thought it was a good chance to get rid of the heavy coins in my wallet. I took out a $5 bill and emptied my change onto the counter. After finding only five dollars in “loonies” I apologised and started to put my change away, digging for another bill. 
She stopped me.
”No, No, wait, maybe it’s here.” The two of us went through the change together, counting out quarters and dimes.
She was right. We found $7 in coins. Satisfaction, hers. Gratitude, mine. Happiness, shared.

 I moved outside and watched five men towel off my shiny car, with nary an answering smile to my own appreciative grin. Oh God, help them, these cherished sons of yours.

Driving the clean car along in the sunshine felt almost as good as having freshly washed hair. How exciting to be able to see clearly when you’re driving. 

It seems there are metaphors everywhere for spiritual profundities. 
Do I notice them due to my saintly eyes of Christian faith (not), or because a retired person has the time to pay attention, or is it just the effect of my long ago studies in English Lit.? Whatever, I'm grateful.

In Jesus, God offers us the free car wash of redemption (weird religious word). 
Although the process feels painfully slow, God patiently welcomes the worst messes, carefully cleans up what can be used, and sluices away the detritus to bring new clarity and joy.
We get to choose. 
We can grimly endure whatever splashes us, or take it to God, smiling at each other with hope that, one day, the change will all add up.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Playing with Desert Goats and Habakkuk

"God is my strength, giving me feet like the feet of a deer, 
enabling me to go on the heights."
 (Habakkuk 3:18)

It was a California desert trail between the brownest of mountains, no northern evergreen trees or snow-capped glory. The ground was dry, dry, dry, and the steep rocky slopes were covered in gravel. 
There, above us, wild goats, old bearded ones and newborn kids, tapped out a hollow percussion as they hop-skip-jumped from rock to rock. They could turn on a dime, running swiftly up daunting hillsides. It looked like they were having fun and occasional stumbles didn’t take them down.
(If you look hard at the centre-right of the photo you may see a white adult goat looking tiny compared to the huge boulder jutting out from the left.)

God of Jesus, please give my spirit the agility of a mountain goat, the kind of confidence that Habakkuk expressed above, after his lament at the mess in his world (Habakkuk 1:2-4). 
Let me believe, as he did, that with You I can hop, skip and jump over everyday bumps and unwelcome news from near or far. 
Let me hear Your wise direction for my next turn. 
Help me stand firm or take action with a peaceful heart and a playful optimism. 
Remind me, as you reminded Habakkuk, that with You, unimaginable things are possible.

"I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe, 
even if you were told." 
(Habakkuk 1:5)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Here It Comes, Another Year.


When I open my eyes in the morning, I don't always feel excited about the day. After I get coffee in one of my artsy mugs, I head for the computer to boost my mood. I start by opening my email inbox and reading the inspiring thoughts generously sent, without charge, from sites like: 

www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/dailystrength/
www.ecswisdom.org/
www.cqod.com/
ccca.biola.edu/advent/2014/

This morning, New Year's Eve day, in one of the emails I saw the following bible verse, and thought, yes, this is what I will hang onto as the calendar turns to 2015.

For God, who said, 
“Let light shine out of darkness,” 
has shone in our hearts 
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, 
to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 
(2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

What can steady my hope for the coming year? I am 65 years old and hearing more often about  contemporaries dying. Others my age receive bad news about their bodies' ailments. I am all too aware that any day my own life could change dramatically and not for the better. Of course this could happen to any of us at any age.

The dazzling biblical assertion above hit me today as an epiphany.

The One who created, from nothing, a blazing star that sustains life on this planet, who added earthly lights like fireflies, blinking jellyfish and spontaneous combustion, the One who designed light to multiply by reflection and to refract into exquisite sunsets and rainbows across our sky, this same One "has shone into our hearts". 
The verse refers to the light of knowing God's "glory" through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Jesus gave humankind a glimpse of life's most glorious truth. Here it is: 
Ware actively loved by the One who birthed us and urges us toward wholeness and justice for all. It is our choice to "let the sun shine", as the Aquarius song goes, or to turn away, averting our eyes from God's enkindling presence.

Really? The First Cause Creator God who said, "Let there be light" has shone into my heart? My scarred, cranky, lazy heart?
Oh yes, I am like a lantern made of breakable clay - no doubt about it. My willpower and self-confidence can crack at the slightest insult or bump in the road. My faith and peace shatter easily.
But God's unsnuffable light keeps shining. There's a way to stay hopeful through whatever 2015 holds. As our quote says, "...the surpassing power belongs to God and not to ... ME!"
WHEW... and...
YIPPEE! 
If I had a New Year's Eve noisemaker I'd blow it hard! 
HAPPY NEW YEAR!



Friday, 19 December 2014

So...Christmas

How to make sense of thousands of people who don’t care about the Christmas story fussing over gifts, decorations and multiple parties because…why? 

Who legislated this annual festival of connecting with relatives and acquaintances that we ignore the rest of the year? 
If it’s not about God’s gift to humanity in Christ, why is this the one time people think about being generous?

What’s with the fairy tale of Santa Claus – how did it become the focus of school concerts and our most massive cultural celebration?
Don’t you think it’s weird? Hollow? Kind of pathetic?
I don’t agree with doing things automatically, just because we’ve always done them. I thought we ditched that idea in the 1960’s.

 On the other hand, is it possible to seriously believe that, one night, angels scared sheepherders by announcing a virginal birth happening just down the road? to believe that Jesus was unique in all of human history and somehow made it possible for us and our planet to be healed into peaceful love?  that beyond the killing bombs, the vicious rapes, the mean gossip at Christmas parties, that underneath and behind and above, the healing is in process? that the promise of Revelation 21:4 will ever come true?

As I stagger between bizarre nativity pageants and reports of weeping Pakistani parents, my sore heart is touched by Advent art: exquisite music, thoughtful writings, drama and paintings. These welcome gifts take me to places of hope beyond the ugliness, of grateful joy in spite of disappointments. They renew my faith in what I cannot see, the Love that finally wins.


( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8V0OG9XE5g There’s nothing that attracts me about kings or pretty ladies with wings, but still this lullaby prayer…)