Tools

Tools

My son broke the baby gate this morning.  He stood on it, leaned back and the whole thing came crashing down.  The baby gate is not designed for a nearly six year old to stand on it.  It’s meant to deter tiny ones from attempting death defying feats as they navigate through the house.  It wasn’t a crisis though, as I had the tools to fix the problem.

We’ve been talking a lot about tools around here lately as I try to explain how things work in our lives to my son. We’re covering hard topics involving laundry machines and their use, microwave ovens and what they do and how utensils can be harmful as well as helpful.  As I’ve been teaching him about tools and their uses I realized today that I’ve overlooked one important tool that I use regularly, my Bible.  The Bible is a tool for me, a navigation map of sorts to help me figure out who I am in this faith that I live.  Each morning I strive to open this tool and dig into the story of those who went before me.  Each morning I hope to glean a piece of information which will help me on my day.  This tool is essential for living a light filled life for me. This tool is perhaps the most important tool I use.

As I continue my discussions with my son I think I will introduce the Bible as a tool to him. I will encourage him to continue reading his own and help him when he stumbles across something that’s confusing. When you think about it, that’s another tool we have in faith.  In faith we have each other. This community, the collective, the engaged if you will are another tool we can use if we recognize it as such. Together we can learn and grow, be healed and transformed in our faith if we access the tools we’ve been given, if we band together as one and serve one another on the journey.

Tools are important in our lives for many reasons. We build houses, cook food, keep clean and move forward all with the help of tools and the things they create. All things in our lives need tending, tuning and maintenance.  It’s important for us to remember it’s not just the physical, but the spiritual as well. How are you using your tools? Are you maintaining and repairing your life and faith as needed?

Will we serve God or serve ourselves?

Can I lock my kids up forever?  Ok maybe not forever, perhaps just until 30ish?  I’ve been doing some preparations for the coming year.  We are homeschooling my son while he continues therapy so I have to get everything ready for Grade 1.  The curriculum has arrived and we are in the process of seeing what he knows, what he needs to know and trying to determine the best schedule for him.  It’s going well I think and I’m excited to see what and how he learns over the coming year.  It’s been wonderful to watch him grow and learn, expand and discover.

Why would I want to lock him up then?  He and his brother truthfully?  It might have something to do with the fact that in the last 48 hours I’ve learned more about people than I wanted to know.  I’ve heard from mainstream media sources that Ashley Madison was hacked.  You know the site I’m talking about, the one where married people go to find others to have an affair with.  Yes, that one.  I found out via Facebook that Josh Duggar allegedly has an account there.  Too much information for me and so devastating for his wife and family.  Then this morning I happened upon an article from Vanity Fair exposing Tinder and the Hookup-Culture of today.  It’s all too much for me.

Before you think I’m naive, or a prude or judgemental I’d like to say I’m not. Oh I guess we’re all a little judgemental but that’s not what my reaction was to any of this.  My initial reaction was relief and horror at the thought of a society built around easy hookups and no true connection. I kept imagining myself in this kind of dating world and breathing a sigh of relief that my husband and I are friends and partners. I know these things happen in our world but I don’t want to participate in them. I question a culture that values the needs of the individual at the expense of the other. I wonder where love, service, devotion and faith fit into a world that tells us we can have what we want, when we want it with no expectation of connection, relationship or true knowledge of the other. It’s terrifying to me that my boys may grow up in a world where relationships aren’t valued, where there is no desire to know another, where everything is about the self and how you can please that ‘self’.

I’m old fashioned I know but these attitudes about sexuality are not just about sexuality, they have permeated more aspects of our lives than we care to admit. It’s becoming acceptable to be selfish. It’s normal to proclaim that we deserve happiness or money or whatever the flavour of the month is. Selfishness is acceptable now. In fact I think it’s almost expected. This concerns me. I see it permeating every aspect of life and find myself fighting it. I fight back against the idea that I should not serve others. I fight back against the idea that I should always come first. I fight back agains the idea that I deserve anything and I try to remember that what I have is a gift from God to be used in service to him.

As a follower of Jesus I find myself turning to him as an example for how to live life. He placed others ahead of himself, shared stories of grace and love and taught his followers to go out into the world living as he himself lived. He didn’t say go out and take care of yourself before others. He said get out there and share this great thing that you know. Get out there and give what you’ve received to others.

That’s what’s missing in this world today. The give what you’ve got to others mentality. We’ve built a society around the idea that we can acquire, accumulate and control what is on this earth. We must let that go. In order for us to be healthy, for our Churches to thrive, for our people to be cared for we need to let go of what we want and move forward with what God wants.  Our selfish ambitions and desire for success, for comfort and control are preventing us from truly living the light sharing, Gospel spreading life that we are called into.

We need to fight back. We need to fight against the notion that we serve ourselves over others. We need to remember who we serve and live as Jesus lived. It’s a fight, no doubt.  It’s a constant struggle against what we hear but when we do it, when we live this way we see great things happen through God.  Are we ready to surrender our desires and expectations for God’s vision and purpose?  Are we ready to serve God or will we serve ourselves?

It all began with a mustard seed.

The rock that was a seed

Yesterday I handed out mustard seeds at church. Have you seen a mustard seed? No? You’re obviously not a fan of grainy mustard. Mustard seeds are many things. They are delicious and spicy, small and fully of promise. The mustard seed is more than meets the eye. Obviously I preached on Mark and the mustard seed and all manner of good things that can come from small packages. I love worshipping with this congregation and it was a wonderful day but something happened at the end of it that made me realize just how important small things can be.

The minister of that congregation (I withhold his name only because I don’t know if he wants to be an internet celebrity – ha ha) had just returned from a pilgrimage to Iona. He gifted me with a rock from the beach where Saint Columba landed and said to me “who knows, maybe he walked on this rock”. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t but this rock and I have bonded over the past 24 hours. I turned the rock over and over in my hand as we drove home from church marvelling at it’s smooth surface and the pristine qualities of it. I found myself telling Alvin stories of Iona and my longing to go there. We spoke of travelling there together and weren’t hindered by road blocks but instead spoke positively as if it could happen. I thought about ways I could get more involved in the church again and began thinking that perhaps it was time to think beyond the present. This rock, this small white rock was a gift filled with possibilities for me. When it arrived in my midst it became more than just that rock, it was a seed. A seed that if planted will grow in it’s own time, in it’s own way.

Each day we are presented with seeds in our lives that if planted will grow and become something bigger than ourselves. The  key thing we often miss is the actual planting of them. When ideas strike, opportunities happen or something just seeks to work out we often hesitate and prevent things from beginning. I find myself thinking of the farmer from yesterday’s passage who just scattered the seeds and things grew. If only we as God’s people took what we had and scattered it far and wide. Imagine what would grow then. Imagine the possibilities that might be realized.

Are you afraid of the dark?

I walked out into the hall carefully shutting the door behind me. Only 10 minutes since I’d gone to bed but there was something (or rather someone) nudging me to go try and be alone in the dark for a while. “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that saved my life over and over again, so there really is only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.” She said. That she being Barbara Brown Taylor who wrote the book I was reading Learning to walk in the dark.

Go out and experience it, she urges. Meet yourself in the dark and discover what you find.

I crept into the hall quietly, determined not to wake my husband or the baby. Closing the door I found myself looking at nothing. Not a haze of outlines or even shadows of grey. There was nothing in the darkness. Nothing ahead or behind. It’s a cavernous hallway of nothing.

Nothingness as most of us know it is not so bad. I’ve never been afraid to be alone with myself. I love to read and have spent many an afternoon tucked away with a good book. I have often slept in the sun like a cat on the love seat in my living room on Sunday afternoons away from the world and it’s distractions. There can be nothing happening in the house and I am happy to putter and move around completely content to be alone and quiet. This nothingness as we know it in our culture is different from the nothingness that comes from being in the dark. This nothingness is chosen. Darkness just comes, each night to meet you if you let it.

When vision is no longer an option you’re left relying on other senses, other ways of experiencing the world and that can be challenging when one is used to seeing. Those of us who have vision rely heavily on sight. I hadn’t really thought about how heavily until I started reading Rev. Taylor’s book. What we see often pulls us away. We see dinky cars and lego scattered on the floor that needs to be dealt with. We see piles of dishes and stacks of paper that need to be put away. We notice things that must be done and find ways to entertain and distract ourselves. In the dark I see none of those things. I just exist in this moment and space. Any distractions are of my own making. I have to control my thoughts and surrender to the nothingness. I started to get a sense for why she encouraged this exploration. The darkness offers something completely different to the light. Did I want to accept what it offered? Was I ready for what it could give me?

I come face to face with myself in the dark. In the quiet stillness I can hear more of what is being whispered to me. With no distractions I am able to commune with God on a different level if I allow it. The question remains, do I want to hear it? The darkness brings with it a forced time of reflection and contemplation. If I turn off the lights and embrace what darkness offers I have chosen to exist in a way that was long ago forgotten. This is the age of street lights and night lights, of monitors and digital alarm clocks. Darkness in this age is hard to find. I wonder if the extension of day into night in our age of progress and productivity is merely a reflection of our fear of being alone with our thoughts and our God. I wonder what would happen if we consciously embraced the darkness and all it offers.

When dishwashers attack.

Dishwasher

This morning started out like any other day. I got up and brewed myself a decaf Keurig coffee. I drank it pretending it was fully caffeinated and then set about making breakfast. The boys then went their way while I went mine and as I was making the bed before my shower I walked into a large puddle of water. I wondered if I had walked through the room with water and spilled it. Then realizing that I had not in fact done this I started searching for the source. It was water from the dishwasher seeping into the bedroom.

We live in a bungalow which is great except in cases of emergency. This will be the second time in 8 years that my bedroom has been completely ripped apart due to water damage. This time I’m quite pregnant and not at all looking forward to sleeping on the couch. At least I won’t have to move out. They can contain the dust and mess by shutting the door and opening windows. There won’t be cutting and stripping and fumes which would run me out of the house. I’m pleased with that but I am not really looking forward to putting everything back together.

Just when you start to feel sorry for yourself, life has a way of putting everything into perspective as it did this afternoon. The insurance adjuster showed up and told me his next call after ours was a fatality due to fire. I realized in that moment that our problem isn’t that big a deal.  So our life is a little messy for a little while, who cares? We are lucky to have one another. We have not lost a loved one. We are blessed to have a God who cares and is invested in us. We are fortunate to be covered by insurance. We are able to replace the appliance that caused us trouble in the first place. Things could be a lot worse.

I’ve never been one who believes that ‘everything happens for a reason’. I find that poor theology. It takes away from the choices that we make in life and doesn’t account for the truly horrible things that happen seemingly just because. What I have always believed is that things happen and we can deal with them through strength we find in God, in one another and in ourselves. God goes with us in our lives and supports us as we live them but things happen and not always for a reason. How we deal with those things makes us who we are.

While the cleanup is happening and we are moderately inconvenienced I shall endeavour to remain positive.  I will remind myself it could be worse and I will not waste time wallowing in self pity or despair. After all Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians,“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT)

If everything we do is to be done for the glory of God than people should see the light and glory in everything we do. Our actions and reactions should reflect the grace and peace that we are offered. Over the coming week I will try to shine light in this world and with as messy as our house is going to be I anticipate being in the world a lot more than usual for the next little while.

Poke the bear

Panda

For some unknown reason my son has started getting up between the hours of 2 and 3 every morning. He sneaks into our room quietly and then stares at me until I wake up. It’s kind of freaky. He doesn’t want to wake me as he knows he’s supposed to be asleep but he wants me to wake up so I can give him a hug and get him settled again. Waking up to someone staring at you is unsettling and I suspect my mother would say it’s payback as I remember doing this to her.

In some ways I think he’s afraid to ‘poke the bear’. He wants to engage but doesn’t want to wake me because he knows that when I’m awake actions will follow. He will have to go to bed but he wants that hug, that assurance in the dark night. He’s not sure what to do. It’s a difficult dilemma for a little boy so he does what we’ve all done at one time or another and just waits for me to make the decision for him.

As I lay in bed last night waiting to be certain he was asleep and not sneaking back down the hall to get my attention again, I realized that this is often how we engage God. We stand at the sidelines, watching and waiting to see if he will engage. We’re uncertain of whether we should move in and poke. Do we really want a response? If we get one we know there will be consequences and do we want to live with them? We know that engagement with God means being present and when we are present we need to notice, listen and respond. We cannot just stand still once we’ve engaged.

Do you find yourself on the sidelines of faith? Do you find yourself unsure of engagement and what it means?

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7 that there are no easy roads in faith and connection with God. That connecting means commitment and commitment means action and attention.  Are you ready to poke the bear or will you just stand and stare?

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.  
– Matthew 7:13-14 The Message

We rise again

sign
Ash Wednesday brought with it a lot of statements on my Facebook and Twitter feed reminding me that I was going to die. I know this. I also know that meditating on the fact that from dust we came and to dust we shall return can be a good exercise. None of us should believe we are immortal. Being aware that life is finite forces us to live. Regardless I found some of the comments to be a bit lacking. The grace that is offered, the fresh starts that are given, the resurrection that we hear of and experience time and again are important images in our faith. We cannot forget these things in the midst of contemplation.

As I’ve lived lately I’ve witnessed signs of new life all around. It’s not yet spring, but there is about an inch of grass peeking through at the front of my lawn underneath all the snow. Our doves have returned to their roost and are planning a nest I’m sure. The time has changed and everyday I see the light linger in the sky a little longer. I feel my son within me twisting and turning, yearning to burst forth when the time comes. The dormant period has come to an end. The season of quiet hibernation will soon give way to growth and opportunity. Life happens when we push forth. Life happens when we embrace this beginning.

I was surprised this week when I saw the message on our neighbourhood Roman Catholic Parish’s sign,We rise again from the ashes to create ourselves anew“. Usually it just lets us know when Mass is but it would seem the Priest wanted to remind us that from death comes new life. When things burn it looks terrible but soil can be rejuvenated and life can burst forth in a fresh, unique way. Destruction and devastation can bring forth great things. Life’s challenges are not pleasant but sometimes when we look back we can see when we felt most burnt out and hollow how our life changed, how we sought renewal and rebirth in that moment. I’m not suggesting these trials are part of a greater plan, more reflecting on how we react to the things that happen to us and around us.   

Renewal comes at unexpected times. It is something we all need, crave even. After a long winter we pine for spring. After the time change we long for sleep. Today as we step into the unofficial first day of the week we find ourselves contemplating the hours and longing for the weekend. As we live this, let us not forget the possibilities that lie within this period. In the burned out, broken down moments of our lives we can find hope for tomorrow and a promise for the future. After all winter will not last forever. Sleep will return once more. Our struggles may continue but we will persevere and if we look there will be others to help us carry the load and push us past this moment in time.

Today we possess the power within to create, to rebuild, to renew. Today we can choose how we will live this moment. Will we remain as we are or burst forth into something new? With God’s help this is possible. Will we allow ourselves this opportunity? Will we break free from the past, burst forth into newness and find hope in what is to come?

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
    scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
    set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
    give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
    or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
    so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
    and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
    I’ll let loose with your praise.

                                                       Psalm 51:7-15 the Message

Where would we be now?

“There were a lot of political films coming out of Europe during the late ’60s. Movies like Costa-Gavras’s ‘Z’ and stuff like that. I used to go see all of them, and I realized that my righteous indignation was a form of entertainment for me. I loved getting pissed off at injustice. I didn’t do anything about it, I just liked the feeling of being pissed off.” 

                                                                                                                          – Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis made me laugh. He made a lot of people laugh. From Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day there were so giggles and belly laughs tucked in with bits of wisdom along the way. Today while I was catching up on some news I happened upon an article that celebrated the contributions he made to the world of entertainment. As I read a quote by Mr. Ramis something resonated inside me. “…I loved getting pissed off at injustice.  I didn’t do anything about it, I just liked the feeling of being pissed off.”

Sometimes when I’m reading blogs and articles on the church I get caught up in the momentum of the ‘movement’. The idea that change is needed and the truth is I do believe it. I come from the Reformed tradition. I believe that we should always have movement and growth, that we should always be seeking and discovering. The words are inspiring, the ideas thought provoking and emotionally charged. There never fails to be a response from within when it’s written well with passion. The trouble comes after the reading. With thousands of people reading these blogs, where is the response? Where is the action? Where is the moment when we step out from behind the words and into the moment Jesus is calling us?

I think criticism is important. Much of our history is built upon the art of self-critique and growth from it. But what happens when we think of the ways we need to reform and fail to move into action?

Jesus often talked of what was necessary. He spoke of how we should live, love and relate in this world. Jesus used words, he was ‘the Word’ and we need those words in order to grow, expand and change. But it shouldn’t stop there. Words are alive and need to be lived. It’s not enough to read or even absorb them. They must put into action and stood behind if they are to have power.

Jesus was God in action. As Christians we must surely be people of action. We must take the words that we read, that we share, that we know and live them. When I signed in to Twitter this morning to meet my #hellomornings group a quote from Nehemiah flashed on the screen which got me thinking about a life filled with action and purpose.

“so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”” – Nehemiah 6:3 NIV

While the context is not one in which any of us would wish to be found with enemies seeking to harm us, I find this to be a great representation of what I want my faith to be. I want to read and reflect as I find it essential for growth in my personal faith life.  But I don’t want it to stop there. I want to to be interrupted in life, to be able to say “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down”. This is what we should be doing. We should be carrying on great projects for God. Doing the things he calls us to do. I don’t want observation to be all that my faith experience is in this life.

It’s not enough to see. It isn’t enough to comment. As a people we must act upon these observations. We need to respond to the paths God shows us. Imagine if all Jesus did was observe. Imagine if he just provided commentary on the world as he saw it. Where would we be now?

Sometimes it’s hard…

Sometimes it’s hard to go to church.

I know.  It’s a horrible thing to say.  Nevertheless it’s true.

There are some Sundays where it’s really difficult to get myself out of bed and drag myself into the shower.  As a pregnant woman I don’t find the pews particularly comfortable. My son does not enjoy the company of other children in Sunday School and thus stays up with us. This would be fine if I was was preaching but for some reason when we go to my Dad’s church he does not like entering the sanctuary. He feels we should be able to hang out in Grandpa’s office until it’s all done and that means it’s a struggle for my husband and I. I sometimes miss contemplative music. Also if I’m honest I miss music that I know. As I’ve been busy working up to this point I don’t really know the music at my Dad’s church. I find this hard. I really respond to hymns and music in worship and when I don’t know them, it’s difficult for me.

Sometimes it’s hard but we persist. We continue.

The issue of church attendance and comfort has popped up on my Facebook feed a lot lately. Donald Miller recently wrote a blog about how he doesn’t attend church very often and people are going crazy. Apparently quite a few people I know have very strong feelings about this. It would seem many feel church is a necessity. Some have said that you meet God in the liturgy. Others have shared another follow up post by Geoff Suratt on why he will never leave the church which would often receive comments and statements which affirm people’s comfort and positive worship experiences.

None of what anyone is saying is wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m thrilled that so many people get so much out of corporate worship and feel a sense of connection with God there. The truth is, for me I don’t always feel that way. With the distractions and lately the discomfort of the pew as I sit there in this awkward pregnant body I don’t get the ‘high’ or the sense of peace and tranquility that so many do. I go for other reasons. I go to be part of a community of believers. I go to lift others up. I go to worship and participate as I am able. I go for my son. I go for a whole host of reasons but truthfully, I really don’t go for myself.

My greatest spiritual awakenings and understandings have most often come in a moment of solitude. My morning prayer with God, the study and readings I do alone often fill me with greater peace and understanding than church does. There are moments and times in worship when I do experience a great sense of wonder and awe but it’s not a constant, consistent thrill for me. I live for quiet moments of faith. I long for God’s whisper in moments scattered throughout my day.

Often when people talk about how important church is and how we all need to carry on the traditions as they have always been I find my mind wandering to the ministry of Jesus. I think of the teaching he did around tables, on hill sides and at the well. I wonder if we should remind ourselves that he made a pretty big stink in the temple and he prayed in gardens alone. There are many ways to meet God. Many worship styles, experiences and learning methods at play. There is no one right way in which to do it and while it might work for you, it won’t work for everyone.  I go to church because I want to go. For my son, my family and the community. I go because it’s right for me where I am in life right now. I want to facilitate change. To help create more open, accepting environments. I want to make God accessible to more people, in more ways. I go for many reasons, important reasons but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.   

I think perhaps it would be wise for us as people who worship together to remember how much easier it is to not go. As we seek to be an inclusive church, to create inviting environments perhaps we should look at what we are up against. How the warmth of a cup of coffee, a good book and your pyjamas might be more enticing than heading out the door on a winter morning. How difficult it is for people who do not know the rules and hidden structure of worship to jump in and participate. How hard it might be to focus on a sermon when the last time you sat through a lecture was 10 years ago in school. It doesn’t come easily to everyone and when it does, they are the lucky ones. Maybe if we look at the reasons people don’t go or don’t want to go we will see ways in which we need to change. We may discover areas of improvement and perhaps become the accessible places we want to be. Sometimes it is easier not to go. I guess it’s our job to create a worship experience that is so inviting that people want to go anyways.

Awake my soul.

The weight of discouragement hangs heavy on my shoulders.
I see the need for things to change and realize that change is not always possible.
Change requires action.
Action requires decision.
Decision, well it’s not something we do well.

I am troubled.
Troubled by our path.
Troubled by the lack of vision and decisive action.
Troubled by the lack of faith and motivation to live a different life, to be a different kind of people.

Awake my soul.
Awake our soul.
Awake something…

When are we going to wake from this?
When will we realize we are dry bones?
When will we ask for living water?

There is good news out there.
Stories of redemption and change.
Stories of action and decision.
Stories of trust and faith.
I am glad these stories are told.
They need to be shared over and over again until people hear them and begin to believe in possibilities.

We need to wake up.
We need to be shaken from our slumber.
We are dry bones. We need living water.

Awake my soul.
Awake our soul.
Awake us Lord…