Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Like a Weaned Child

I have fond memories of breastfeeding my babies, and now as a grandmother, I enjoy watching young mothers with their children. If I were a preacher, I’d craft a sermon about the family imagery in this bible verse:

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

As a preacher, I would connect this psalm’s Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) example of faith to Jesus’ teaching about spiritual health. Christ told his disciples to respect children and to see them as models for the spiritual life. 

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18 & 19

From the pulpit, I would then acknowledge that there are many opinions on the correct English translation of our verse in Psalm 131, as well as much commentary on exactly what it means. Referring to the New Testament (Christian Scriptures) verses, I would say that the strange term, “kingdom of heaven”, implies a state where life is lived the way its Creator designed it to be lived, under the rule of love, peace and merciful justice. 

With that said, I would offer the following meditation on the psalm's image of an older child leaning on its mother.

It seems that the more we mature as followers of Jesus, the less we will be like newborn babies. Newborns are utterly cherished by their moms and dads, as we all are by our divine parent. And yet, both they and we start out being infantile in our egoism, 
blind to options and choices,
incapable of taking action,
at the mercy of others and of life’s circumstances,
spending the day either asleep, passively observing, or pitifully screaming until our immediate need is satisfied.

Christian belief, like atheism, rejects the idea that we are sucklings who must invent a mythical Super-Daddy/Mommy to get us though life. But Christianity is based on the good news that we are not alone in the universe, left to our own best devices for living life with meaning. 

Christianity teaches that God prioritizes relationship. The bible records many stories of a working partnership between ordinary people and the Ultimate Mystery we call God, a partnership that changes human life for the better. Such personal stories have continued throughout history. 

Healthy relationships, even between God and humans, do not foster infantilism. The compelling verse in Psalm 131 implies that as we grow in faith we become not like breast-fed babies, but like a weaned child, 
independent enough to explore life,
tasting different kinds of food, 
testing our muscles in risky adventures, 
doing our assigned chores even when we don’t feel like it,
braving encounters with strangers,
learning to say we’re sorry and learning to forgive,
strong enough to stand on our own two feet, to fall and still get up again, 
waving goodbye when we’re left at school, knowing Love will be waiting for us at the end of the day,
aware that all good that we see, and all good that we are, is given by God, our parent, without whom we wouldn’t exist at all. 

Unlike the maturity of independence from human parents, spiritual maturity includes depending on an eternal God (Elohim, Allah) beyond our understanding. No matter how “big” we get, when life knocks us into fear or despair, we can find quietness and rest in the One who birthed us. 
“Like a weaned child, I am content.”

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Manhunt in Boston

Have you seen the television show called “Mantracker”? It’s a game show where two contestants travel cross-country by foot, while tracked by two men on horseback. The contestants’ goal is to reach the prize before they’re hunted down. I haven’t watched a whole episode because when I tried, all I could think of is the way white men used to hunt black families who dashed through the woods, trying to escape the prison of slavery. With guns and dogs the slave “owners” would track down human beings like prey, merciless in their greedy pursuit. 

Strangely, some of the response to last week's horrific bombing reminded me of these hunting stories. Before tears of lament could even dampen the streets of Boston, the lust for revenge welled up like a flood. 
“Who did this? Get them!” The American President assured that the perpetrators would "feel the full weight of justice".
A real time manhunt began, a hunt that took on undertones of both a televised game and slavery's xenophobic hatred. I wondered about this reaction to such a sad event as the marathon attack. 

Like buzzing wasps, mass media swarmed in their race for the scoop, “How do you feel? Here, talk into the mic. How do you feel? (not that I care, but I really want a sound bite)."  And millions of us watched.

I flipped from one news channel to another, transfixed by the phenomenon of reporters who had to keep talking when there was nothing new to say. They dutifully filled the hours by repeating the few known facts, accompanied by the same ghastly videos looping over and over. The commentators seemed like ventriloquists' dummies, animated by their profit-hungry bosses. Media competition was so excessive that even an entertainment reporter expressed shame at the behaviour. 

Mid-week, new tragedy in small-town Texas interrupted the Boston story. In a much bigger explosion, fourteen people had died, and many others were injured. With no iconic terrorists or drawn guns, out there in the middle of nowhere, media refocussed on the manhunt in Boston. It was more exciting to watch the chase. Had they found the bombers yet? Grieving Texans got short shrift

It wasn’t only media caught in the frenzy. One police spokesperson was so aroused by the hunt that at the victorious press conference he mentioned confidential evidence that made one security expert gasp in surprise. Adrenalin had trumped the officer's professional discretion.

Fans of the winning team cheered and waved flags as the armoured cars pulled off the playing field of Watertown.They might as well have chanted, “We’re number one!” 
Are we glad then, that a 26 year old was shot to death? Really? Wouldn't a saddened silence have been more appropriate? Did the unprecedented actions by law enforcement who locked down a whole town, ease the heart of bombing victims like poor William Richard? His 8 yr. old son was killed, his 6 yr. old daughter permanently maimed, and his wife brain-injured. Unspeakable grief. 

Who doesn't want to turn away from such senseless suffering and celebrate a win instead?

The problem is that we despise painful feelings that spotlight our helplessness; instead, we revere power and control. Because anger inflates our self-righteous pecs, whereas grief turns us into helpless weepers, we choose anger. We become haters in the blink of an eye, looking for scapegoats to bear our unbearable pain. In fact, that may be why the possibility of a Someone infinitely greater than humanity is unthinkable to many. We don’t want to admit dependence on Someone we can neither understand nor control.

Sadly, the dark side of American patriotism foments callousness toward the "other". As long as prideful arrogance is honoured, peace will never reign. Even respected Christian writer Philip Yancey, in his blog response to the Boston tragedy, can’t seem to get over his sense of American superiority  
How often do the rest of us hear Americans boasting that theirs is “the greatest country in the world”? Admittedly, such nonsense has infected Canada, too, where I scoff every time a politician calls ours the best country in the world. I yell at the screen, ”How would you know?! And what does ‘best’ even mean?” In fact, such arrogance is global, though gratingly hypocritical from a self-proclaimed "Christian" country.

O, Source of all that is good, in Your patience, show us that flexing vengeful muscles is fruitless, only a distraction from our painful inadequacy.
O, God of the galaxies, give us the courage to lament loud and long over human evil, including our own. Help us to recognize both societal injustices and our own judgemental hearts. Heal us and motivate us by Your invincible, forgiving love. Amen.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Still One-Handed

The novelty has worn off and the latest cast on my fractured wrist is heavy. These days it takes more effort to light candles instead of cursing the darkness, but bright little flames keep appearing anyway.

A librarian noticed my injury and watched me with concern as I operated the automatic check-out for my ten books, one at a time. She stood near silently and finally asked, “Are you okay?” It felt comforting to know help was close by if I needed it.

At the mall, after awkwardly juggling a quarter out of my wallet and into the wrong shopping cart slot, I couldn't get it back out to make the necessary switch. Frustration. With only one useful arm, I couldn’t cope with a basket for the few items on my list and needed the cursed cart that was chained to twenty others. As another customer came though the supermarket door, I asked for help.  Managing to fish out my coin, she handed it to me and then, instead of rushing away, pulled the freed cart out of its corral, asked twice if I could manage, and held the swinging barrier open, wishing me “Good luck”.  

On two occasions I was glad that two different friends offered their services as chauffeur. I feel more vulnerable driving with a wounded wing, so I appreciated the rides, one to a local Afro-centric concert, the other to a downtown meeting. 

Other friends have recently surprised me with flowers and homemade food, including a delicious vegetarian nut loaf with mushroom gravy, time-consuming to concoct, I’m sure.

One cranky day I went to my iTunes files to hear some inspiring music and found that my husband had downloaded a gift from our daughters. They had transferred some of our favourite old record albums to whatever that thing is called that you can plug into your computer for downloading (duh). It cheered me up to hear “The Roar of Love” by 2nd Chapter of Acts, 1978. 

 Another time, the woman checking out behind me at a “pack your own bag” grocery store was gracious. I apologised for taking so long to finish my one-handed packing and get out of her way, but she answered with, “No problem - take your time”. What a relief.

Such goodness there is in the human heart – compassion, patience, kindness.
Such good examples for me.

These strangers, friends and family made it easier to follow the wise advice,
“Whatever is true, or honourable, 
whatever is just, pure, or lovely, 
if there is virtue or a reason to praise,
focus on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)