Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Presents

"Presents!" The shout goes out. It’s so much fun to choose a gift for someone you love, or even for a stranger in one of the charitable Christmas drives. It warms your heart. If you’re there when the gift is opened, you look forward to seeing the recipient’s face light up. And no matter how old you are or how much you own, an unexpected gift is always a pleasure.
I hope your festive week holds many happy moments as you give and receive tokens of love.
Then again, have you ever been given a gift you didn’t like at all? It’s hard to smile sincerely and express enthusiastic appreciation to the giver. I laugh at the funny videos of children opening a present they didn’t want – a little mouth opening into a wail of disappointment, a cute child suddenly throwing the disappointing gift across the room in a tantrum. To be honest, my burst of laughter quickly turns to a headshake over these visuals of human ego at its worst.
Since an evil fairy attending my birth cursed me with the unwelcome gift of a mood disorder ( as they now call depression and its fellows), I have spent many years learning to appreciate the positive. Now that I’m mostly free from the curse, I write this blog to help me and others enjoy the bright side, to be thankful for the daily gifts that life offers. 

Indeed, in this season of giving and receiving, I am conscious of the gifts that even curses like mental illness can bring. One of God’s awesome names is “Redeemer” because of the way S/He brings value to the worst disasters by re-making, out of agony and loss, carefully crafted, valuable, treasure. You and I would far rather not get the painful and disappointing surprises in the first place, but since that’s not an option, I’m glad we can hand them to the Redeemer for transformation. 
I share with you a tough comment on gift-giving from William Willimon

“…I suggest we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people.
We prefer to think of ourselves as givers–powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. 
 [But in the birth of Christ] God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

Party on, dear readers! No matter the messiness of your Christmas..or your life, celebrate the best gift ever!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Painful Paradox

The unspeakable news from a small town in Connecticut has slapped us wide awake again. Another wrenching tragedy has shattered any dream that the next self-help guru or political effort can save us. Like a poisonous snake, evil appeared in a primary classroom, spewing death and agony in all directions. Such evil lays bare the emptiness of our explanations for the way the cosmos works. Simplistic advisors and preachers stand exposed like the emperor in his so-called new clothes. This latest horror in a world of horrors silences any religious fantasies of a Santa Claus-God who will give us what we want if we’ve only been good enough. 

In the clarity brought by this appalling lightening flash we see our powerlessness to fix the dark side of human nature. Although there is the usual outcry for solutions and preventions, honesty demands humility, an admission that we cannot end evil. Nor can we understand why our Divine Creator does not intervene in ways that would seem obvious to us. Strike the shooter dead before he can shoot! Where are you, God?
Spiritual wisdom avers that the One who gave life to these sweet children and their teachers, deeply cherishes each one, including the young man who senselessly killed them all. How can this be?

Like Job, and David, we lament again, 
“How long, Lord? Will you forget us forever? 
How long will you hide your face from us?
How long must we wrestle with our thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in our hearts?” Psalm 13

Perhaps you saw the short video that I saw in the middle of hours of TV coverage. One young teacher told about her experience of sheltering several young children in a barricaded room. As the attacker banged on their door, she thought that hers might be the last words these little ones would hear on earth. Acknowledging that her action flouted the current restrictions on teachers, she admitted that she held each child’s face in her hands, looked into their wet, frightened eyes and said “I love you and it will be alright.” 
Awesomely, she embodied God’s loving presence in the midst of unfathomable terror and destruction. 

As the devoted teacher sensed, when fear and evil strike, we need to hear those words, once written by medieval nun, Julian of Norwich, “All will be well. All will be well.” 
A life of faith accepts the aching paradox.
There came a time for Jesus when his hard and complex teachings about God’s ways for human life drove away many of his followers. (John 6) 
He turned to his devotees and asked, “Are you going to leave me, too?” 
In the centuries since, most Christians have come to a similar crisis when things like Friday’s slaughter have happened. How can I trust a God who is beyond my understanding? After many tears and much soul-searching, after research into history and theology, eventually we reply like Peter, “Jesus, to whom would we go? You have the words of unending life.”

King David cried out the “How long?” lament above, but afterward went on to write,
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13

Dear Readers, through tears of empathy for those poor families, colleagues and emergency workers who could not save the children, I echo this confession from the Jewish scriptures, and gently offer the testimony that follows: 

“My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not occupy myself with things too great or too mysterious for me.” 
“But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131

May the hurting folks in Connecticut, and we, fully grieve evil, keep working to bring healing, and yet find God’s peace in the midst.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Wise Encircling

       Advent season begins for me on December 1, when I get out all the Christmas decorations and turn on the seasonal music for a day’s pleasure. One of the best parts is setting up five unusual Nativity crèches, none of which I bought. 
One is a sorry little scene I formed out of homemade playdough, decades ago - three sheep, and the Holy Family. When the figures were baking they puffed up so much that when one sweet relative saw them she exclaimed delightedly,
“Oh, an Eskimo crèche!” 
A prettier grouping comprises several fragile figurines, painted white and gold, packed home from Mexico by a kindhearted friend years ago. 
Then there are the four wise men from Thailand. A tiny peach-coloured stone nativity was a thoughtful present from my brother and his wife, who live in Vietnam. The “lowing” animals include an elephant and a water buffalo, complete with nose-ring.
An African creche made from glowing acacia wood, takes its place on the fireplace mantle. Accompanied by camel, lamb and donkey, the human figures are six inches tall, their carefully carved faces tipped skyward as if in awe at the mystery. A long-time friend astonished me with this loving gift one Christmas after she returned from helping out at a hospital in Angola.

The lowliest of nativity scenes in my living room is a tacky little plastic set two friends gave me as a joke, insisting I unwrap it while they watched. The set came in a small drawstring bag and my friends could hardly contain themselves, waiting for the punch line, as I drew out one ugly piece after another:  two white sheep, two cows, black and brown, one shepherd, three kings, Joseph, and Mary, all cheaply moulded and prosaically coloured. At the bottom of the bag, my fingers finally found the baby in a manger and when I saw it I yelped with laughter. The baby was covered by a pink blanket, obviously a daughter. We three feminists enjoyed a long hilarity together. 
“Why do all the statues of Mary show her with a bowed head and somber face?”
“Because she wanted a girl!” 

I’m grateful for this happy variety of crèches from around the world. Most of them are too breakable for children to touch, but the other day, during the chaos of a family visit, my three-year-old granddaughter was getting bored. I pointed at the plastic set strewn on a side table and told her she could play with them. Our adult conversation continued and it wasn’t until hours later that I saw the arrangement she had left behind.

There was the plastic baby, surrounded by a perfect circle of sheep, cows and humans, all facing the newborn miracle. My heart caught for an instant at my grandchild’s intuitive wisdom. I believe that God sees you and me the way I see my African crèche, as a carefully crafted work of art, rich with meaning, a cherished treasure. But sometimes we feel and act more like ugly bits of plastic trash. At least I do. 
I sat still for a moment, taking in the message. Whatever the colliding realities of life, the Christmas baby should be at the centre. 

“Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God
something to be used
to his own advantage; 
rather, he made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
—even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue acknowledge 
that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Sad Day Every December 6

I guess I was 40 in 1989 when I heard the horrifying news from Montreal. It made me sick with rage and grief.

As a younger woman I had been forbidden certain roles within the church, although  my brother was invited to fill them, roles of leadership and preaching. When I got married I was expected to quash my own preferences and personality in order to encourage and support my husband’s (not by him, mind you). As a mother of three young daughters I suffered with them when they hated their hair or felt too fat, knowing that they had imbibed our culture’s stupid emphasis on women’s appearance. It has never been easy to be a woman in a world still led mostly by men with traditional male values, like competition and coercion.

On that Wednesday, Dec. 6, 1989, I gasped with true shock at the report of a young man's killing of 14 female engineering students at  Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. I watched the TV coverage all day and cried. One of my daughters still remembers sitting beside me on the couch, worried by my tears. A high school student, she had just learned that engineering was a field she would be suited for. 
Almost immediately after the murders were reported, I heard first-hand denials and dismissals: “This crime had nothing to do with …” gender, or feminism, or the injustice of our political, corporate, educational and social systems. Despite what the shooter, Marc Lepine, had written and said about hating women, many men and some women willfully closed their minds to making any connection between this event and our cry for change in attitudes about boys and girls.

To me this event was a blatant, dramatic expression of the thousand cuts girls and women receive from the day they are born into patriarchal cultures.
My 3 yr. old granddaughter is already being taught that to be considered “pretty” is  very, very important, since strangers constantly tell her that she is. My grandsons don't get the same comments. Toy stores are worse than ever with their “Girls Toys" aisles drowning in pink and purple and princess, "Boys Toys" aisles filled with camouflage-coloured guns and monsters. A more glaring example is the heartbreaking story of Malala Yousafzai, the  15 yr. old who agitated for the education of Pakistani girls, and was shot recently by angry men who wanted her to shut up.

On many December 6ths since 1989, I have wept again as I listened to the reading of at least 20 new names, the names of women killed by their partners just that year only in our province of Ontario! I’m not crazy about the word “feminist” since it has been twisted into a mean-spirited caricature. But none of us should forget that boys and girls are still being treated unequally, a habit that warps and stunts both genders, and hinders the shalom we want for our human family.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Mixed Feelings

It happened again today. 
I got on a crowded streetcar and as I moved down the aisle, a young man looked up from his seat, stood, and motioned to me, “Sit here”. I’ve heard others complain that no one ever offers a seat anymore on busses and subways. They say that such etiquette is a thing of the past. Not true when I travel. This experience isn’t even unusual for me, despite how little time I spend on public transit. Sweet and thoughtful people look at me kindly and rise to let me sit down. 

I can only assume that it’s because they have noticed my white hair. My brunette hair began to grey in my 30’s and it’s been white for years, although I haven’t yet reached retirement age. I’m healthy and without physical disability. Caught off guard by their gesture, I usually say, “Oh, thank you, but I’m fine!” with an appreciative smile, but they insist, and their faces are so eager and solicitous that I take their place even though I don’t want to. Today, after the young man had vacated his streetcar seat and I, just to be agreeable, sat down, I then had to crane my neck awkwardly and raise my voice to continue the conversation with my still-standing companion. She’s young and blonde but no one relinquished their seat to her so that we could chat comfortably. Why would they?

 Truth be told, I enjoy the swaying sensation of standing in the rocking vehicle’s aisle, hanging onto a support pole, because it’s a rare chance for me. I am not employed and when I travel by mass transit, I’m happy to leave any available seat to the poor souls who endure tiring commutes between home and office.

 I feel heartened that folks are so generous as to offer their respect and consideration. I’m also grateful because whenever this happens I get another chance to practice patient humility as I thank them and obediently sit down.
And then there are some other emotions, like chagrin. These friendly folk don’t suspect that they are betraying how elderly and feeble I appear to them. I imagine their thoughts, “Poor old thing!” Their motives are purely kind, but they leave me wondering. Did I not leap up the bus stairs fast enough? Was I slouching? Am I wearing outdated clothes? Have they not seen anyone under ninety with natural grey hair? Should I get a brush cut and streak it with bright orange? Tattoos, maybe? Some chains, piercings and black leather pants? Is it make-up I lack? A facelift (shudder)?

Mixed feelings.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Small Delights

One November morning in Toronto I was walking to my optometrist when I neared a couple of men talking. They were standing beside a row of parked cars and from one car window a woman was reaching to give some cash to one of the men. He offered it to the other man, whose truck was parked adjacent. The money was refused. I gathered that the younger guy had boosted the first man’s car battery and as I continued past I smiled at what I was hearing.
“Oh no, that’s okay, thanks.”
“Come on. I really appreciate your help!”
“Nope. Really. No – I’m not going to take it, man. But thanks.”


Twenty minutes later I was returning home and shared grins with a young woman walking toward me. She was holding an ipod with its speaker on and singing aloud with the tinny- sounding pop song, careless of what any of us might think.


Later at a grocery store I overheard two employees teasing each other about how much they had contributed last year to their Christmas project. Their voices were full of goodwill.


May your day sparkle with small delights.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Love by Listening

Was there anyone in your childhood who ever gave you their full attention - a teacher, grandparent or neighbour? They looked into your eyes with a smile and asked you friendly questions, listening for a moment, at least, to whatever you wanted to tell them. What a feeling!
How often does that happen to you now? 

Sometimes conversations feel like competitions. Self-absorbed talkers apparently think that you have nothing to say that’s really worth their attention. To them, there is no sound as sweet as their own voice. If they pause long enough for you to make a comment, whatever you (quickly) say reminds them immediately of something in their own life and instead of expressing any interest in what you just said, they respond with another comment about themselves.

They don’t seem to realize that what they’re actually communicating is, “Well, what you just said about your life  (your job, your illness, your child, your vacation trip) is a good excuse for me to talk about myself again (my job, my illness, my child, etc.). All that I’m really interested in is ME.

I’ve often left this kind of exhausting and futile type of interaction wondering why these folks don’t just stay at home and talk to a wall, or a mirror. They don’t seem to care whether others make any response to what they say. They certainly have no regard, let alone love, for their listeners.

Although the bible clearly says that we "should be quick to listen and slow to speak." (James 1:19), I admit that I had to consciously learn how to listen well. 

My education in this skill began when I attended local parenting classes, soon after I became a mother. I was fascinated to discover that when toddlers are screaming “Mine!” we can often defuse the situation by temporarily removing the toy from the fray and listening to the little combatants. 
“Oh, poor you. You really, really want this car, don’t you?” Tearful nod.
“And you really don’t want Jason to have it, do you?” Vehement head shake.
”And Jason really wants it too, right Jason?” 
“Yes! It’s MINE!”
“Oh dear, what should we do? Both of you really want this car.” 
I was astonished that even three year olds could often compromise after they felt properly heard. They would suggest taking turns or one would volunteer to use a different car for playing.

Decades later I witnessed the same technique offered in marriage counselling. Labelled “active listening”, it is one of the clearest expressions of selfless love. When you speak, I look at you with attention, nod, smile, and make encouraging sounds. When you finish I ask you questions so that I can understand you better. I listen carefully to your answers. Later it will be my turn to speak and yours to actively listen to me.

This works on every level, whether we’re in conversation with a child who says, “I hate school”, or a friend who tells us about an exciting vacation. We don’t immediately start talking about our own school days, or about the time we skied across Antarctica. There will come a time when those comments may be welcomed, but not until we’ve heard the other out.

One of the ways our Creator has always expressed the deepest love for humanity has been by listening to us. 

“Before they even call out I will respond; while they are still speaking I will hear…Does the one who made the human ear not hear? 
Call on me in prayer and I will answer you. I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about” 
(Is. 65:24, Psalm 94:9 Jer. 33:3)

It’s quite simple, really. If we don’t truly listen, we don’t truly love.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Shalom, Peace, Enjoy!

When did you last turn sideways and crab hop along a pedestrian crossing? 
Me neither. 
I smiled today when I noticed a young girl doing just that on her way to school. She personified joie de vivre. Her lighthearted dance reminded me of a paragraph quoted in an exquisite art and faith book titled, Dwelling With Philippians.

The author mentions enjoyment as inherent to "peace", or as the greeters at my daughter’s synagogue wish us, “Shalom”.

The peace which is shalom is not merely the absence of hostility, not merely being in right relationship. Shalom at its highest is enjoyment in one’s relationships. A nation may be at peace with all its neighbours and yet be miserable in its poverty. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself. 
(Nicholas Wolterstorff)

Lately I’ve heard more non-Jewish use of the Hebrew word, ‘shalom”. The English word, “peace,” has felt a little shopworn ever since it started being used as a casual greeting by ‘60’s hippies. Especially on Remembrance Day, we identify with the Christmas carol's lament: 
“There is no peace on earth…for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” 
To Hebrew speakers, the word, “shalom” may sound equally hollow, but I was inspired by Wolterstorff’s suggestion of a deeper meaning, that the peace offered by God includes the full enjoyment of life’s rich relationships. 

Enjoyment offered by God - what a concept! The Hebrew scriptures and the gospel of Jesus tell us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours, yes, even our neighbouring enemies. That can sound more like Herculean labour than enjoyment. 

Recently I went through a bout of trying harder to be a good girl. There’s no quicker way to take the fun out of life. I needed reminding that when the Great Mystery brought all of creation to life S/He said, “It is good.” Jesus said, “I’ve come so that you can have abundant life.” Early Christ-followers wrote that when we trust God, we can experience a surprising inner peace that affects every relationship.

Gazing at a friend’s newborn baby, watching a schoolgirl skip across the road, hearing words of mercy after failure, counting on the One for whom nothing’s impossible: this is shalom. 
(now there’s a shopworn cliché...)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

“Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die.”

I’ve often quoted the above line from Tennyson’s poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, without knowing who wrote it nor its context of the Crimean War.

I quote it when I don’t understand a situation, especially in government offices, and airports, but I’ve always quoted it incorrectly, “[Ours] is not to reason why, [ours] is but to do or die.”

It hit me today that the correct version, “to do and die”, sums up a hard fact of life, even for grateful children of God. In fact, as people of faith we have to do and die without knowing why.
According to Jesus, with God as our strength, ours is to “do”: to revere our Creator, to be thankful for Her good gifts and to add some hope and healing to our world, even when nothing makes sense.

I don’t understand why life is so unfair, why random natural disasters end the lives of thousands in a day, why humans foment hateful conflicts, small and large, and why personal tragedy comes to some and not to others. 
Most of us have asked  “How could a loving and powerful God allow so much suffering? It makes no sense.”
Know-it-all Christians (and others) are either simple-minded or arrogant. We can’t know it all.

I’m glad that brilliant people like physicist, John Polkinghorne, confirm for me that we don’t have to be stupid to follow Christ. Christian faith isn’t nonsensical. 
But we sure do have to be humble. It takes guts to trust Christ’s leading when we don’t understand, especially when we’re all heading to the grave like the cavalry brigade in Tennyson’s poem, without knowing exactly what will happen afterward.

The famously mistreated bible hero, Job, who lost everything, despite his faithful obedience to God, said this:
“Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him.”
And then continued,
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him”
I love how realistic the bible is about human nature; nothing’s sugar-coated. Job trusted but did not understand, and talked to God about his confusion.

God refused to explain, but during a lengthy tour of nature, reminded Job that he wasn’t God. The story includes an oh-so-familiar detail; Job covers his mouth. We can hear him thinking, 
“Oops. I forgot who I was talking to. Please don’t kill me.” 

Then Job says to God:
 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. 

Jesus, help us to remember what you said,
 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

P.S. I recommend these two excellent books on this human conundrum. 
 Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

 Can God Be Trusted? by Dr. John Stackhouse 

Friday, 26 October 2012


Just saw a photo of a shepherd playing with one of his sheep in a meadow in Israel. 

Couldn’t help but think how big and dirty the sheep looked. They weren’t those cute, fuzzy babies you see at petting zoos. These animals were shaggy and horned, kind of ugly really, with their varicoloured coats of black, brown and grey-white, bits of debris caught in their wool. I guess they poop, too, at least as much as the raccoons in my backyard.

Thought of how sentimental we get about Jesus as humanity’s Good Shepherd, picturing him cuddling a small white lamb. 
Thought of what a rough, messy bunch His flock of humans are – hooves, horns, dirt, loudly bleating, always consuming, “munch, munch”.

At funerals we listen to the sweet Psalm 23, comforted by the warm welcome of a dinner table, green grass and still water. Can you imagine how real sheep would wreck that family picnic?

Just feeling awed by the radical Christ – cosmos-creator who morphed into a faithful, rescuing shepherd of unruly sheep.

 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10)

Dear shaggy Reader, let us be thankful, so thankful.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Light in Every Ghetto

My clever, kind doctor relocated her office recently. It used to be in a neighbourhood just like mine – a middle class, comfortable ghetto where people’s gardens are like mini-parks and we say hello to strangers when we pass on the street.

Because she is the perfect family doctor, I have followed her to her new office in a very different area, closer to downtown. Driving there takes nerves of steel to avoid jaywalkers, delivery trucks and street cars. I park in a crazy mess of an outdoor mall where it’s unclear exactly which part of the pavement belongs to cars and which to pedestrians. As I walk toward her office I’m stepping on polka-dots of old gum. How can people just spit the contents of their mouths onto the ground?! Ugh.
There isn’t a tree, flower or blade of grass in sight. Instead I notice a chewed chicken bone beside an overflowing garbage can. Yuck.

I dodge two older folk riding bikes toward me along the sidewalk, neither one meeting my eyes, careless of any bylaw that requires them to ride on the street. I suddenly sense someone closing in from behind. I turn in time to step aside for a scary-looking body-builder, swaggering past in his sleeveless t-shirt. I notice a building across the street whose facade holds three gigantic red boxing gloves - his training gym, I guess. 
The intersection is dominated by a large building painted in a repulsive black and yellow giraffe pattern. 
At the traffic lights I smile sympathetically at a swarm of scowling students glumly heading for the stairs of their Secondary School. To them I'm invisible.
After crossing I enter the medical centre’s lobby and say “Excuse me. Thanks.” as I squeeze by the huddle of drug addicts waiting for their methadone treatment. It’s true. I checked. I feel sad.

This neighbourhood is not my home. I wouldn’t want to live here. I don’t like coming here. I don’t feel safe and it’s so ugly. 
Romero house is nearby. It’s a home for immigrant refugees, led by one of my heroes, Mary Jo Leddy (see her book, Radical Gratitude).
I wish I had her guts to be part of a community like this. I wish everyone had my choice of neighbourhoods.

Back in the parking lot I glance up at the grey sky that seems to match my concrete surroundings. A flock of pigeons flap above me, their pale feathers pretty against the dark clouds. I’ve heard some people call them “rats with wings” but I gaze at their flying loveliness for a moment of relief. I give thanks for the birds and for my doctor and for Canada’s universal healthcare.
I pray again for the energy to add my meagre bits of light and love to this unjust world.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


For goldenrod and purple asters banking a highway exit ramp
For neighbours, thoughtful and friendly
For the weightless majesty of hawks soaring
For non-profit artists who share their creative gifts at street festivals
For rainbow miracles when sunlight shines through a glass prism
For a three year old who runs grinning into my arms and lets me hug her tight 
For red and rusty garden mums that faithfully bloom in the dying season
For Canada’s political freedom and safety, imperfect though they are
For writers who have kept my Christian faith alive
For nature’s music in birdsong, river rapids, blowing pines trees, crickets and a crackling fire.
For all who labour persistently to bring justice
For pumpkins, apples, cranberries, onions, potatoes and farmers
For bodies that endure and heal themselves
For three daughters who are compassionate women.
For the breathtaking glory of deserts, mountains, oceans, and forests
For all musicians, from reggae to motet, from viola to conga drum
For sleep. Ahh.
For religious freedom and gender equality laws
For relatives and friends who put up with me
For the tiny wonders: grasshoppers, frogs, snails, moss and mushrooms
For all who feed the poor, cure the sick and visit the prisoner
For the astonishing star-filled night sky and scientists who discover creation’s deep secrets
For all who tell the good news of Jesus, Light of the world

“I will exalt you, my God; 
I will praise your name forever and ever.
I will meditate on your wonderful works. 
One generation commends your works to another. 
They tell of the power of your awesome works. 
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness
and I will proclaim your great deeds. 
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
My mouth will speak in praise of God. 
Let every creature praise God’s holy name forever and ever.” 
(Psalm 145, excerpts)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ludicrousity (I know it's not a word but...)

In the midst of highways, condos, construction sites and two million Torontonians, wild animals survive. We see mallards, hawks, beavers and muskrats, opossums, foxes, coyote and deer. 
And then there are racoons. Thousands of racoons entertain city residents with their aerial acrobatics in neighborhood trees and cute troops of babies. 
Since I learned not to leave compost garbage out overnight, I have thoroughly enjoyed spotting them. I’m thankful that we don’t have to drive for two hours before we can enjoy nature.

But now…

We arrived home after a two week vacation to find racoon droppings spread over one quarter of our back lawn. After much unpleasant internet reading I can tell you that racoons typically designate “latrines”, family toilets that they and their relatives use every night. Some prefer rooftops, others, a crotch in a tree, many, a cosy corner on someone’s deck. Although we’ve seen racoons on our property for decades, they had never before situated a communal bathroom near us. Ugh!
My long-suffering husband dutifully shovelled up dozens of messes until the yard was poop-free. 
For one day. 
Back they came the next night.

If you ever want a laugh, read the internet suggestions for stopping this animal behaviour. The posts go like this:
One person declares, 
“What worked for us was _______”, describing a technique about which the next person writes,
 “We tried _______ but it didn’t work.” 

I started our own skirmish by sprinkling garlic powder, not because anyone had suggested it but because I had a stale bottle at hand and figured the smell would repel any animal. They have sensitive noses, don’t they? The next morning, when I walked out to the back with my coffee, the whole property stank of garlic and there was a new dropping right in the middle of the sprinkled area. 

Then we tried one of the internet recommendations, red chilli pepper flakes. We used a seed spreader to strew $12 worth of vicious smelling stuff over the lawn. With our usual smooth marital team work we managed to get pepper into my eye, but the area did now look a scary orange colour. That should do it. 

Apparently not.

The City of Toronto’s website advice was to cover the area with “pure soap flakes”. This also had been recommended elsewhere on the Web. What are those and where would one buy them? I asked for help on Facebook and got absolutely none from my knowledgeable FB Friends.  When we took our request to staff at hardware stores and grocery stores they stared silently at us with narrowed eyes before they muttered, “Sorry. Can’t help you.” and sidled away.
 One middle-aged Sobey’s manager said, 
“Soap flakes. Oh, I remember those. Hmm. I don’t think we carry them.” He came with us to search and we all agreed that it sounded like something that might have been used in the 50’s. There was no such thing on his shelves. We suspect now that some city employee had copied what they found in an ancient printed manual about deterring racoons and typed it into the current website, chuckling with the gleeful knowledge that NOTHING gets rid of a determined raccoon. We, however, were innocents as yet.

Soap? Alright, then. I didn’t like the “natural” but ineffective dishwasher detergent I was using so we sprinkled the rest of the box over the red grass. Next morning? More droppings. After a couple of days we noticed that the orange corner of the lawn was turning brown. Maybe our soap wasn’t pure enough.

My affection for wild life was starting to fade.

What about light? Would a bright light convince these furry, masked poopers to relieve themselves elsewhere? Our neighbour scoffed aloud at the mere idea. Nevertheless, my husband hung a spotlight focussed on the large patch of dead grass and left it on overnight. 
The next morning, victory! No droppings!
Alas, the second night, the racoon apparently decided that it didn’t mind spot-lit glory and there were new droppings. After she saw our latest attempt, our neighbour phoned to tell us that Nuit Blanche was not for another couple of days. Haw Haw. 
I started referring to our nightly backyard display as a son et lumiere.

The next thing I knew, my husband was rummaging through the Christmas lights. If a spot light had scared off the beast once, maybe more lights would up the ante. As darkness fell I looked out to see a cheery, celebratory display, with the white spotlight now joined by a string of blinking red, green, and blue bulbs. 
I glanced around for video cameras. We were becoming cartoon characters.

Another morning of celebration - No poop! 
But we were sceptical by now. What would the next night bring? No guarantees that the war had ended. Battle fatigue was creeping in. 
On a planet that holds starving children and heinous crimes, I’m embarrassed to make this confession. We sat during our morning prayer time counting our blessings and reminding each other that it could be worse. I’m serious. Listen to two ‘mature’ Christians trying for a godly perspective on the unspeakably trivial:
“At least we have a backyard. At least we’re well enough to shovel up the droppings. At least we don’t have little children who need to play on the lawn. At least…”
Pitiful. Just pitiful.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Just a Cold

How quickly illness can take us down. I’ve been sleeping around the clock for two days because of a cold bug.
You know what it’s like. You’re clicking along in the day’s schedule and gradually start to realize that your throat is kind of sore. After a couple of hours it’s hard to think anything except, “My throat hurts”. You feel shivery and then hot; the aches begin. Your deepest longing is to lay your head on your pillow and let the world disappear. Juice, kleenex, blankets, tea, antihistamine!

I wish I had the self-discipline of renowned atheist, the late Christopher Hitchens. His widow has released a book written while he was dying. I heard her tell a CBC radio interviewer that Hitchens “never complained”, neither when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, nor during his illness and deterioration.

Please do not tell my husband about this. 

If I can’t bear a common cold cheerfully and stoically, what hope do I have for courage when the real trials come? If Christian faith makes a difference, shouldn’t the believer’s behaviour trump the atheist’s?

HA! Think again.

Here’s the truth. I trust my life to Christ because I’m inconsistent, often weak, and downright selfish. Unlike Christopher Hitchens, I’m not tough and self-sufficient. As far as I can tell, Jesus came to offer us God’s loving acceptance and the chance to become better at being joyful, compassionate and principled, to find in God the very strength that we do not have.  

I’ll never be as good as you probably are, but I’m pretty sure I’m better than I would be if I didn't keep trying to rely on God.  I love reading the Bible biographies of characters who failed right, left and centre. These histories remind me that our Creator doesn't give up on wimps like me.