“Balance”

March 22nd

I am writing these “Thoughts” on March 19th, 2020, the day of the vernal equinox for this year. This is the moment that the length of day and night are exactly the same. Tomorrow will see slightly more day than night, a pattern repeated until the number of daylight hours peak, and we start moving the other way. It’s a weird, complicated thing that’s due to the way our planet revolves around its tilted axis and how it travels around the sun. All I know is that today is a day of harmony between day and night. There is balance between them.
For me at least, it’s a nice thought, this idea of balance. Even though it will soon change and daytime will have a slight edge over nighttime, for an instant they balance each other off. I imagine it in my mind as a sort of solar truce between them. Neither wins; neither loses. Each gets just, fair and equal representation today.
In addition writing on the day of 2020’s vernal equinox, I’m also writing on the fourth day of my church having suspended worship and all public gatherings in the building. I’m in my office, alone, continuing to work in the midst of the rising COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s kind of weird. In so many ways, nothing seems to be happening, but connecting through phone calls and social media, people are still living their lives. Despite the worries and fears, despite the closures and voluntary self-isolation, good things are happening.
It’s all about balance. Yes, we need to worry and be a little bit afraid. These things keep us on our toes and make us aware of the risks we face. But those two emotions have to be balanced with hope and courage. We can’t control what will happen on a global scale, but we can make a difference by carrying on with our lives as best we can. A healthy bit of fear keeps us from doing anything foolish, like gathering in groups and risking exposure. Courage, on the other hand, empowers us to get up and face another day in whatever degree of setting ourselves apart we need. There is shopping to be done. Restaurants are still offering meals via take-out or delivery options. With Spring slowly making itself felt, there’s a whole outdoors waiting to be enjoyed even more than we do in winter.
Balance. Or maybe not. Maybe a little imbalance is what we need. Maybe we need to lean a little more towards the positive and hopeful, towards the courageous, towards the empowered, towards the holy and the sacred. I believe in a god of love. Jesus is not about balancing good and evil. He seeks to overcome evil’s power with love, mercy and grace. That’s how Jesus leans. Perhaps we should follow His example more closely and lean towards love and goodness, patience and kindness, mercy and care. Perfect balance is great for today, the vernal equinox. But for day to day living? I pray that we tilt the scale towards Jesus and the way he shows us how to love one another.

“Stories”

March 15th
“Stories”
Those with an inclination towards fishing must be adept with the rod and reel. This skill, however is inversely dependent on their ability to tell a good story. People with great success catching fish either have the photographic proof after they release them, or a bucketful of fish ready for the frying pan should they keep them. No other proof is required, as the tale is in the visual or edible evidence they offer, so they need not be great story-tellers.
Those with below average skills with their chosen tools cannot provide adequate evidence of their ability. Thus, they have to have greater talent as story-tellers so that they can describe in great detail the adventure nearly snagging that big one that got away, or the time their record setting Bass was eaten–right off the line, darn it!–by a monstrous Muskie. Them that can (Can or can’t?) do it might be said, tell great stories. They might not be true tales, but what they lack in veracity they make up for in ingenuity and entertainment.
For people who like to fish, telling tall tails, er, tales, is part of the fun. They are taken with a grain of salt and enjoyed knowing that there is a grain of truth buried somewhere in there. The massive Muskie that ate their big Bass might have been a lot smaller, and the big Bass only a mini minnow, but it was eaten right off the line, so the only thing that changed was the scale of the tail, er, tale.
For some people, however, stories are told not to entertain, but to pull the wool over the listener’s ears. Sometimes they’re long tales of woe and despair. Sometimes they are tales of having been cheated or been done wrong by someone. Sometimes they are delusions built on a skewed world view or mental health issues that are beyond a person’s control. Sometimes they even contain a grain of truth buried deep within them. Always, however, they are meant to deceive the hearer by playing on their heartstrings and seeking their emotional or financial support.
I hear a fair number of these stories in my vocation. Most of the time they’re from sad souls seeking financial support; cash for a bus ticket to a job far away; money to feed their estranged family; a “just once” loan to get them on their feet after a bad patch. The tales are often heart-wrenching and hard to resist…
…but over the years I’ve learned that quite often, they are far from the truth, and recently it was only a matter of minutes before I learned I had been told an outright, bold-faced lie.
You know what? Unless I know for certain that someone’s story is absolutely false, I will help the out as best I can. Unless I know I’m absolutely being played or lied to, I will do what I can to help someone when they’re in trouble.
I do it not out of guilt, but because I can; I do it because we are called to help one another. And I do it because I would rather be called a fool for falling for a falsehood than being called unkind or un-Christlike. And sometimes, even if I know it’s a whopper of a tail, er tale, I figure it’s worth the price of admission just to having been reeled in by a few lines of great invention and imagination.

“STOP”

March 8th

Everyone who gets annoyed when drivers fail to halt their vehicles completely at a “STOP” sign, please raise your hands. Just as I thought. Nobody likes it when people don’t bring their cars to a complete stop. It’s annoying. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s dangerous. It’s ILLEGAL. “STOP” means that the car tires must cease revolving and that there be no forward, sideways, or rearward (when you’re facing uphill..) motion of your automobile. There are no “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it. “STOP” signs are not a suggestion. They must be obeyed.
So, how’s your prayer life? Everyone who takes time during the day or evening to pray, both regularly and spontaneously, please raise your hands. Be honest with yourselves. I’m not judging or looking. I am guessing, however, that there were some folks who hesitated a bit. And maybe even one or two who admit that they pray regularly, but not every day.
That’s OK. If you hesitated before raising your hand, or maybe don’t have a regular prayer habit, there’s no reason to feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed. That’s one of the things about being human: we’re not all the same, and we don’t always get things right the first time, or even after a long time.
Wherever you might have fallen on the hand-raising spectrum, whether it was faster than a lightning bolt, as slow as molasses or not quite all the way up, it’s all good. As long as you pray, even if it’s sporadic and hesitant, it’s OK.
Here’s something to think about, however, whatever your prayer style is. Like coming to a full stop at a “STOP” sign, prayer is not a suggestion, or for other people. Prayer is mandatory. It is the way we keep in touch with our Creator, our personal link to God whenever we need it. Praying daily, on a regular schedule, is an excellent discipline. We might not have much to say on a particular occasion, but if we’re in the habit of chatting with God daily or nightly, when we have something to say, or God needs to say something to us, the doors are open and we’re ready to go.
If you haven’t settled into a regular pattern of prayer, it’s never too late. Pray first thing when you get up and as the last thing you do before going to sleep. It’s a great way to start and finish your day. Praying when you wake up helps set the tone for your waking hours. Praying as the last thing you do before going to sleep is an excellent way to debrief from the events of the day and to leave your worries and concerns with God.
Prayer is the simplest, most effective tool we have to establish a healthy, open relationship with God. As such it is not an option or something we can take or leave. Prayer is mandatory, just like stopping at a “STOP” sign. And, just like obeying those “STOP” signs can save your life, praying regularly is a life-giving part of being a child of God.

Longer

“Longer”
Christmas is predictable. Firmly set at December 25th, we always know exactly when it is and we can plan around it accordingly. Easter, not so much. Easter seems to come randomly, the only guarantee being that it will be celebrated on a Sunday in either March or April. While that general understanding is helpful, it’s still pretty vague. It’s hard to book a flight back home to celebrate Easter when all you can tell the airline is that you have to leave on some Saturday in either April or March.
The date for Easter is actually fixed, in a way. It was set way back in 325 by the Council of Nicea. It was not given an actual day on the calendar; rather it was determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Since the date for Easter is based on the rhythm of the moon rather than an actual calendar date, it seems to occur rather randomly to those not in the know, but in reality, there is a logical way in which it is determined.
Easter takes place after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is a significant and hopeful occurrence. It is the day in winter when sunset and sunrise are exactly twelve hours apart. Daytime and nighttime are of equal length and getting longer as we move towards Spring. So the date for Easter is one that is based on the days getting longer and the renewal of spring getting ever closer.
Christians start their journey towards Easter forty days in advance with the season we call Lent. Lent is an abbreviation of the Old-English word, Lenten, or “to get longer”. It’s a reminder that the days are getting longer, there is more sunshine and less darkness, and the hope of new life and the resurrection of Christ are just around the corner.
Of course, we have to go through the Crucifixion first. The empty Cross we celebrate Easter morning can only happen with Christ’s death on it three day earlier. So Lent marks a journey not only to hope and new life, but also to the death of our Saviour.
This stark contrast is the challenge of the season. While the days get longer, we are still buried in snow and surrounded by bare, empty fields and forests. Death, despair and sorrow hang in the air alongside the possibility of just a few more minutes of light and, perhaps, a bare patch of ground where the snow has finally melted away.
The progressive longer hours of sunshine during Lent mark our journey towards the Cross. Let these forty days be a time to reflect on the price paid for the empty Cross that marks our new life and hope in Christ. Take time to think about the way you might have led him to the cross, to the ways that you hurt others, disobeyed God, or even did harm to yourself out of selfishness, greed or spite. Don’t wallow in those moments or let them get you down. Rather, turn them over to God so that they might be placed on the Cross to die and be buried, and prepared to bask in the hope and joy of the empty Cross that marks not only Jesus’ resurrection, but your forgiveness and new life in Him.

“Tire Chucks”

February 23rd
“Tire Chucks”
A passenger plane the size of a 747 takes a lot of energy to move. When it’s soaring through the air the engines are generating incredible amounts of power to keep aloft. When they land, it takes an equal amount of energy to slow them down and bring them to a complete halt. It’s an impressive thing when you think of the energy required to make them move or stop.
All that energy, however, can be easily thwarted when they are at a complete stop and have to get going. Simply placing a tire chuck, a heavy rubber or plastic wedge, in front of and slightly under the tires, will make the plane next to impossible to move. It’s not that the chucks are expending any energy and actively resisting the aircraft’s motion; rather, they are directing the power expended by the engines in the wrong direction. The wedges make the tires think they should roll uphill at a rather steep angle…
…and that, combined with the great mass of the plane, is just too much for the jet engines to overcome. No matter how much power the pilot applies, with the tire chucks in place, her aircraft is going nowhere.
The idea of a massive airplane being stopped by a simple pair of tire chucks reminds me of readers getting stuck by a simple title. Yes, friends, I know of people who have been so offended by the title of a book or article they have been unable to read any further. Sometimes it’s not even the whole title. Sometimes it’s just a single word or idea that puts them off. Like a huge, heavy airplane locked in place by a few tire chucks, they are stuck by a some words.
In today’s contentious society, those words can be as simple as “The Bible”. There are many folks who have heard bad or confusing things about our sacred text. Or, they might have a passing knowledge of its content, but their view of Christianity prevents them from exploring it further. Some folks just don’t care for religion, so words like “The Bible” or “The Koran” or anything with a religious sound is enough to keep them away.
As God’s written Word, the Bible is our go-to document. We read it to know who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. At the same time, we can be its ambassadors by showing others what it’s about in the way we live. Not everyone learns by reading, but most can learn from the example of others. How we follow Jesus and express God’s love removes the tire chucks from the Bible so that folks can read it without ever cracking it open. What’s more, while it takes a lot of effort to move an airplane once the tire chucks are removed, it takes very little effort for us to move a friend’s heart with Christ’s own love.
The two simple words of “The Bible”’s title may be the tire chucks that keep people from reading it. Nothing, however, can keep them from understanding it when we reach out to them with the Christ-like love we find in its pages.

“Cling-on”

February 16th

Our family cat, Jack, is a Cling-on. No, not a Klingon from the late great TV show, “Star Trek”, but a clingy critter that will assume the most uncomfortable positions imaginable in order to get in a few snuggles. Whether it’s lying on the edge of the bed so he can nudge up to my chest or clawing into the arms of a high back chair for a chance to lean on my arms, Jack will assume the most precarious positions possible just to hang out with a human.
It’s an endearing quality. Our chubby little Cling-on likes the company of people and happily lies in close contact once he’s figured out that no, I will not pet his head indefinitely. And it’s rather cute when I’m on my side facing the edge of the bed and he finds just enough room in front of my tummy to squeeze in and hang out, even if it means precariously close to him tumbling down to the floor.
It’s not so endearing, however, when he insists on lying on my pillow squished between my head and the headboard whilst flicking his tail at me. And sometimes it would be nice to sit down without Jack stretching out on my lap and spilling onto my laptop computer. Still, his clinging is usually a nice thing.
Our sense of touch matters. It doesn’t just help manipulate objects without breaking them, it also provides a great deal of comfort. There’s something nice about a hug, or a cuddle, or even just touching one another ever so slightly when we’re sitting side by side. Physical contact is a way of saying “I love you” or “Be safe” or “See you again soon”. Sometimes, however, we need to cling to someone because we need to be held up, or empowered to rise from the ground, or to remind us that we are loved and lovable.
God sent Jesus as a fully-formed, huggable, handshake-able, lean-up-against-able human. He could touch and be touched, be felt against the pressing crowd, reached out to, stroked by a full head of hair. Now, in his resurrection form, we are the intermediaries that allow Him to be felt and touched. When we love as He loved, those who cling on to us are clinging onto Christ, just as we can cling on to Him through those who love us in a Christ-like way.
Sometimes Jack can be most annoying Cling-on when he won’t take “no!” for an answer when I’m too busy to hang out with him, or he gets too close for too long. People do that too, and there are folks who don’t understand boundaries and make us feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does it’s hard to feel Christ-like because we have to protect ourselves. When people are too clingy we have to set clear limits and make sure they’re honoured.
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer someone a shoulder to lean on, or to Cling-on in an appropriate way when we’re feeling blue. Sometimes, however, when we can’t cling onto others be clung to, we can always cling on to God through prayer and meditation. It might not be quite the same as appropriate physical touch, but with God, we don’t have to worry about being too clingy or needy. When we’re Cling-ons to God in our prayers or times of meditation, God’s patience is limitless and we are welcome to cling on as long as we need.

“Reality Shoes”

February 9th

A mum and her wee daughter came in to our “Caring Closet” to make a donation of clothes. It was a wonderful gift, not only because of the two large bins she provided, but because she was teaching her toddler about the joys of giving and sharing. The young future giver was wearing a pair of bright pink and white rubber boots that were almost has happy as her great big smile. I mentioned to the mum how much fun the boots were. She smiled and then mock-grimaced, saying “Yeah, and we have to wear our “Reality Shoes”.
Yes indeed, there comes a point in life when fun footwear seems to go by the wayside in favour of comfortable work shoes, practical winter boots, or well-worn runners ready for the track or gym. Bright coloured boots that are more pretty than practical? Not so much. Adulting means donning the appropriate footy apparel, otherwise known as “Reality Shoes”.
Or does it? Are adults confined to comfy, bland hospital shoes that all but yell “Borrrrrring!” or tough as nails construction boots that look like armoured cars? Well, yes. And, if we’re honest, we even make sure that our kids have the right footwear for safety and comfort reasons. After all, there’s nothing worse than a toddler with cold, wet, sore feet after a caregiver lets him wear the “cool shoes” on a wet, slushy day.
There is a place for “Reality Shoes”. At times safety and comfort have to be of paramount concern. But on Sunday morning, when I’m only leading worship in a nice, warm, dry sanctuary, the fun shoes come out. The Loafers. The Oxfords. The shoes that look good but might just be a tad on the tight side, or might not offer quite enough support for a long, rigorous hike. Forget the “Reality Shoes”, I want something stylish, even if they’re not perfectly comfortable or practical. For one hour or so. it’s worth it.
God created us with the ability to do hard work. To make intelligent choices. To be safe and practical. To choose the “Reality Shoes” over the bright pink happy boots that make fun noises when you tromp around in them. God also created us to lie on the grass and guess whether the cloud above looks like a dragon or a ’31 Ford Coupe. We were created to sing loudly and joyfully even if we can’t hold.a bucket in a tune, and to wear the Loafers that look good but feel a little pinchy after a while. That too is our reality: moments of being serious with times of having fun. Fun boots and boring work shoes. Mowing the lawn or laying in the grass. And, curiously enough, there are times when our reality is the best of both worlds, as we take pleasure in what we do, enjoy the fun boots worn by a toddler learning to be a sharing, caring person, or even wearing “Reality Shoes” whilst happily donating clothes for a good cause.