“Easy”

June 25th

When I audition for voiceover work, I describe my voice as “easy-on-the-ears” to potential clients. I like to think of my voice as being pleasant and comforting and nice to listen to. The other day I spent some time with a truly wonderful friend; she’s the type of person that makes you feel better just by being in her presence. As we departed and went our separate ways I started thinking about her kindness and gentle nature and all of a sudden, out of the blue, came the notion that some folks, like this particular friend, are “easy-on-the-soul”.
We humans, despite our resilience and strength, are delicate beings. Our souls, that essence that distinguishes us from animals, can be bruised easily and all-to-readily. Unkind words pierce us; a wounded friend can hurt us almost unwittingly; the loss of a loved one breaks our hearts; regret and shame weigh us down. Some folks add to the burden; they are needy or quarrelsome or not nice; being in their presence costs our souls dearly; they exhaust and wound us. But some people do just the opposite; those are the folks who are “easy-on-the-soul”, folks like my friend, who help us heal or grow or simply enjoy a good day even more.
Jesus, I would suggest, was “easy-on-the-soul”. It was His nature to care for others and build them up. He certainly challenged His followers, but it was always for their good, not His own. Jesus always had the best interest of His Disciples at heart; even when He knew He would leave, He assured them that they would not be left alone; the Holy Spirit would see to their Spiritual needs as well as He did.
What Jesus offered His disciples, both in terms of the Holy Spirit’s support and His own “easy-on-the-soul” presence is available to us as well. It is His great gift to us and it is both a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort because there is nothing like being loved by God’s own Son. It is a challenge because those who would follow and honour Jesus are called to be “easy-on-the-soul”.
Maybe challenge is the wrong word; to be “easy-on-the-soul” isn’t a hard thing, nor is it something we do because we are forced against our will or competing for a heavenly reward. The right word might be “blessing”; just as Jesus has blessed us with His “easy-on-the-soul” presence and example, we are invited to bless others. You may have people in your life that are “easy-on-the-soul”, the people that, no matter how bad things are, manage to make things better, whether it’s with a kind word or simply being with you when you need them. People like that are treasures, true gifts and blessings that reflect Jesus’ love and kindness. Can that be said of you? It’s not too hard. If you love others as Jesus loves you, then you too can be “easy-on-the-soul”.

“Discovery”

June 18th
“Discovery”
I am not a great gardener but I do take pride in my lawn. I’m careful to cut it regularly and ensure that it is properly watered and fed. One thing that I haven’t been so careful with is keeping it neat and trimmed where it meets the curb, pathways or other hard surfaces. As a result the grass around the Giurin homestead is not as neat and tidy as I would like it to be.
That’s all about to change, however, as I just found my newest, most favourite tool: a powered lawn edger. There it was, in my neighbour’s garage, waiting to be tried and mastered. Now, let me just explain that I also take care of that same neighbour’s lawn, so it’s not as if I’m stealing her tools; it’s for our mutual benefit, and not just because I love power tools that I’m borrowing her machine. Well, OK, I’m also borrowing it because it’s fun, I admit it…
The discovery of this tool was not just fortuitous and timely; it was also a great surprise! Who would have thought of such a miraculous machine? Who knew they existed? Growing up I used a special tool with a rubber tire and spikey metal wheel. It was a lawn-edger to be sure, but it was also a ton of hard work and not all that effective. In fact, I haven’t seen one in years, so I imagine that it was such a useless piece of kit that it was simply dropped from the gardener’s normal arsenal of tools.
So, my new favourite power tool ever (unitl the next great thing comes around…) was not just something that happened to land at my feet at the right time, it was also a completely new discovery to me, and a very happy one at that.
I’m not exactly sure how it is that I had never heard of it before. Maybe it’s because I’m not such a great gardener. Or maybe it’s not a very common tool. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Why doesn’t matter; what does matter is that I now have a new favourite power tool (until something shinier or differenter strikes my fancy) and my lawn will look all the better for it. Whoo hoo!
Ok, so maybe it’s not that exciting for me to have discovered a new tool. But here’s the thing. In God’s creation, there’s always something new to learn. It might be the existence of a useful tool or a new skill. It may come in the form of a clear understanding of an old, confusing issue, or an unexpected friendship. Perhaps it’s a new species of bird you’ve never seen before, or a valuable lesson about life.
Ultimately, life is a great process of discovery and the more we discover about God the closer we’ll get to know the truth of God’s heart and love. If you haven’t discovered that for yourself, dig deep and seek it out. It’s the greatest discovery you’ll ever make.

“Helper”

June 11th
“Helper”
Two songs. 10 seconds. One costume change. This was the situation in which I found myself during a recent show I participated in. The technical description for this combination of things is “Yikes!”. Ok, it was simply a matter of slipping on a lab coat, but, given that said coat had to be off-stage and that 10 seconds feels like about 3 when panic strikes in, it was a bit of a challenge to say the least. Or, in my case, a “Yikes!” moment.
The only solution was to have a helper, someone ready and willing to grab my lab coat and help me get it on during those precious few seconds between songs. Enter castmate Crystal; Crystal willingly stepped up to the plate (stage, actually) and made sure I was properly costumed and ready to go without undue fuss or muss. I am eternally grateful to her for her help; it made all the difference in the world not just to my performance, but also to my soul knowing that folks are willing to help each other out.
Oh, and did I mention that Crystal herself was under pressure as well? Yes, she too had some costume things to do, so the fact that she took the time to help me was all the more appreciated. It’s one thing to help when it’s easy; it’s another thing entirely when you’ve got other things on your mind. Hence the extra appreciation extended towards Crystal.
Helpers are a good thing, for the obvious reason that they make our lives easier, but also for another reason entirely: helpers keep us humble. At least it keeps me humble; it’s not easy for me to ask for help; it’s not easy for me to feel beholden to somebody. Yet with Crystal and other genuinely kind helpers there’s never a sense of a deal or an exchange; she didn’t ask me for a favour in return; there is no debt to be paid later on; she helped me because she could, because it benefitted my performance and because it made the show just that much better.
In terms of faith, Crystal’s action could be called any number of things: a blessing; a gift; a Christ-like moment. In the broadest sense it is the fulfillment of Christ’s command to love one another and to treat the ‘other’ as we would like to be treated ourselves. Would it be too far to go to say it was a Holy moment? You might think so, on the surface. After all, it was just a matter of helping me put on a lab coat in between songs during a performance of Billboard hits; certainly a secular rather than religious moment. And yet…
…and yet, can any act that is kind and helpful and asks for nothing in return not be a Holy one, even if it’s in the middle of a show meant to entertain rather than inspire? I think it can. Crystal might not have been thinking to herself “What a great chance to be Christ-like in this moment” but for me, to be helped by her reflects what Jesus calls us all to do for one another, and that surely is a Holy, blessed thing.

“Straddlers”

June 4th

In my “Twitter” biography I describe myself as a “Full blooded Italian born and raised in Canada”. The 140 character limit imposed by this online messaging system means I have to get straight to the point, and when it comes to my heritage, that’s the best I could come up with to describe it. I suppose I could have made it even shorter; I could simply have written “Straddler of two worlds” and left it like that. I might yet change it, since it describes me very accurately.
Having Italian parents who were proud of their heritage and who helped me understand it with frequent trips back to the “Old Country” that gave me a strong sense of personal identity as being Italian. At the same time, being born in Canada and growing up here has firmly cemented me as a dyed in the wool Canadian. This is my home. It is the place I love. It is the place that has shaped and formed my values…
…but it is not the only influence or the only place where my heart lies.
Having traveled to Italy I got to know my family; having spoken Italian with my parents while learning to speak English means that I was shaped by my heritage as much as my birthplace. In fact, I sometimes feel more at home in Italy then I do here; it’s hard to explain, perhaps harder to understand, but there is an emotional and spiritual connection to Italy that is beyond anything I feel here. That’s not to say I don’t love Canada or want to move away; it’s just that Italy has a special call to my heart that I cannot deny.
And so, I am in truth, a Straddler; I live not in one place or the other, but both. In Canada I long to be back in my Italian hometown. In Italy I long to be in Canada. It is not a longing that hurts; it’s not that I am never at home in any one place; rather, I am comfortable in both places. Both Canada and Italy are home, albeit in slightly different ways. I am, indeed, a Straddler.
Human beings are Straddlers. We straddle the physical and Spiritual; as creatures of the earth we belong in these bodies; they are our home. Yet we are not simply creatures that sprung from the earth by chance; we were created by God, as were all other things, whether the animate things we call life or inanimate things like the earth from which we were made. Amongst animate things we humans are unique; we are aware of having been created and of the Heavenly Creator that made us; we are aware that while we were created from the earth, our Creator is not of that same stuff; our Creator is Spirit and thus we too are of the Spirit; our bodies may be earthly, but our minds, the very breath that gives us life, and our true essence is Spiritual.
We are indeed Straddlers; we are not one or the other; our physical selves are as important as our Spiritual selves; to deny either part of our nature is to the detriment of our full being; to favour one over the other belies the truth in which we were created; God made us out of dust; God breathed His or Her own Spirit into us to give us life. We are earth. We are Spirit. We are Straddlers.

“Dance”

May 28th

You don’t expect to see dancing at a busy intersection, but that’s exactly what I saw the other day while waiting to make a left turn. It all began when a young man lost his hat while riding across the street. A young woman, crossing in the opposite direction, saw the flying cap hit the ground and did a quick two-step to get it before the wind took it away; meanwhile, the rider did a neat pirouette to collect his cap, while the young lady did the same to face him. The hat was returned and then both dancers turned around to resume their journey. The dance, however, was not yet finished; a truck, was waiting patiently to make a turn while the woman finished crossing the street; acknowledging his patience, she quickened her pace to get out of his way, and then, with a slight light leap up onto the sidewalk, the dance was done.
I’m not sure I would describe this little pas-de-deux-plus-one as beautiful, but it was intriguing and elegant. Unchoreographed and unprepared, this decidedly non-traditional dance happened spontaneously out of the rider’s loss of a hat and the woman’s kind heart in returning it. None of the steps were what you would find in a dancer’s repertoire, yet the motion of all the players, even the truck, waiting patiently, were dance-like; it was a happy sight indeed, and it all happened in less than the time it took for the traffic light to change.
This was a moment of unforced grace; an instantaneous and unexpected rhythmic exchange of need and fulfillment. No one could have predicted it; there wasn’t time to organize it; the dance just happened; the hat flew, the woman responded; if the dance itself was not beautiful, the kind act was. Nobody is required to do something nice. Nobody expects something nice to happen when you lose your hat whilst crossing the street. Nobody expects another person to take a moment out of their lives to think of you and you alone; but she did; without a thought she scooped up the cap from the ground, turned around, and delivered it to its rightful owner.
Sometimes God works in our lives through a caregiver with Christ like hands; sometimes God offers a particularly touching scene that moves us to tears; sometimes we reveal Christ-like kindness in a spontaneous dance of losing and returning in the middle of a busy intersection. If we are conscious of God’s presence in our lives, we can see the signs everywhere. Even more wonderful than that is the fact that we can dance God’s love and kindness into reality through a simple act of helping another person.

“Manifest”

May 21st

It was a curious thing; two nice people asked me how I was doing. The first person, during a Pastoral visit, turned the tables after we had talked about her for a bit, and asked me what was happening in my life. Her stare was intent, her interest genuine. I shared a bit with her. The second followed not too long later, with a pointed question about how I was doing based on observations of how I had been behaving on a couple of occasions. As it was a phone conversation, I couldn’t tell if the asker’s stare was intense, but her voice expressed the same genuine interest and, again, I shared a bit with her.
We Pastors don’t always have the tables turned on us; usually we’re the ones with the intense stares and genuine interest; it’s not that people don’t care, it’s more that there is a sort of understanding that we are the caregivers on most occasions. But most occasions aren’t all occasions, and there are a handful of people that we can trust within our congregations that care for the caregiver.
Whatever direction the care goes, it is a visible, audible, palpable expression of Christ-like love. To care for one another makes Jesus’ presence manifest; it reveals Him at work through those who genuinely love Him and follow Him.
Jesus does make personal visits from time to time, with select people, but those occasions are few and far between. It’s not that Jesus isn’t interested in us personally or that He is so busy doing Heavenly things that He has no time for Earthly matters; rather, it’s His expectation for us to care for one another in His stead; we are called to make manifest, to make real, His love, because it is what we are meant to do.
Exactly how we share that love depends on our God-given gifts. Some folks show their love by fixing their friend’s car; others do it with meals for the needy; yet others reveal their Christ-like selves by asking their Pastor pointed personal questions. In more ways than can be counted, we make Jesus manifest in the world through our care of others; whether it’s a “How are you doing, really?” landing on the ears, the aroma of freshly baked bread or the roar of an engine finally coming back to life, we reveal Christ working in the world for the good of others by using the gifts God has given us to bless friend, neighbour and stranger alike.
As you go about your day, what gift can you share that will make Christ manifest to someone?

“Give”

May 14th

I love the Canadian Blood Services motto: “It’s in you to give”. It’s a great play on words, reminding us that we can donate blood because it is something that is within us, and at the same time pointing out that it is human nature to give. And in case you’re wondering, or haven’t figured it out yet, Canadian Blood Services is the agency responsible for collecting blood and distributing it to the hospitals, labs or other institutions that need this life-saving gift.
I enjoy being able to give blood. It’s mostly painless, takes only a little bit of time and blesses others in a way that is truly life-changing. Without the donation of blood, our medical system would not be able to save or improve lives. It’s that simple. So, since it’s that simple, I do it.
Since I’m a pretty healthy guy, I don’t give blood because I think it will help me one day. The only benefit I expect is knowing that I’ve helped somebody. That’s it, that’s all. The free snacks after donating are a bit of an incentive, but I would still give blood even if I didn’t get a packet of Bit’s n Bites or a few Oreo cookies. Again, it’s not about me; it’s about helping others.
As a person of faith, that’s how I look at other things as well. I’m very blessed in my vocation as a minister; my stipend gives me and my family an excellent lifestyle, and there’s enough to share with others. One way I share is by paying my taxes and contributing towards our health care system. As I said, I’m a fairly healthy guy, so I don’t often need the services of our hospitals or doctors. That means I don’t contribute to our health care plan for my benefit; I do it because, as the Canadian Blood Services motto reminds me, “It’s in me to give.” I have the financial resources to give to others, and I have the desire to do so, again, not for my own benefit, but because I know that the Canadian health care system is a blessing to many, many people. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the right thing to do.
Christ didn’t command us to love one another so that we would be loved. It wasn’t an order that came with a reward. It is simply a command to do. The part about “as you would want others to do to you” wasn’t a carrot, a promise that if you care for others they will care for you. It was a standard to follow: love the way you want to be loved. Care for others the way you want to be cared for. Or, to rewrite the Canadian Blood Services motto slightly: it’s in you to love. So go ahead; give; love; care, not because you will receive those things in return, but because you can.