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: 

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.