“Icebergs”

July 18

Potiphar, a pivotal character in Andrew Lloyd Webers “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” appears on stage for less than five minutes. Despite that very brief time on stage, the actor portraying him spends countless hours rehearsing his role. You see the tip of the iceberg when Potiphar changes the life of the titular character in the play, but there’s a whole lot more the audience never sees.
In fact, there’s even more to that iceberg, because Potiphar is surrounded by other actors, who have also spent a great deal of time getting ready for the show. Add to that the Orchestra that supports the singing, the Set Designers and builders that transform the stage into a palace in Egypt, the Costume Designer and her crew, the Choreographer, the Musical Director, the stage hands, Stage Manager and her assistant, Director, Producers, Front of House folks and heaven knows how many others, the tip of the iceberg looks pretty small when compared to the rest of it. Staging a musical is a big, complicated thing.
As people of faith we often summarize what we believe and how we interact with the simple phrase “Love one another”. If you’re really fancy, you might say “Love one another as you would be loved. It’s a wonderful, pithy, easy-to-remember expression that also happens to sound great. No wonder we love to share it with others and use it as our guiding principle for life.
It is, however, what I suggest is only a “Tip-Of-The-Iceberg” expression because, despite its simplicity and directness, there is way more to it than it might suggest.
Think, for a moment, what that phrase means to you. How do you personally unpack it? For me, it means caring for others no matter who they are. It also means forgiving others when they hurt you; support people; welcome the stranger; practice justice; model Jesus’ way of life; call people to account when they don’t act lovingly. See what I mean? Saying “Love one another” is just the tip of the iceberg when you start to think about what it means and what it looks like in real life.
One more thing. From the surface, it looks like Icebergs are set apart and far off from one another. Yet below the surface, where they spread out to their full size, I imagine them being in close contact with one another. Some might be neighbours reaching out in friendship. Others may be strangers bumping into to one another. There are caregivers comforting their charges, leaders urging others on, curious crowds living their lives or throngs of worshipers gathered together to praise God.
Sometimes all we see are the tips of the Icebergs that fill the sea along with us. But when we follow Jesus, we are closer to one another than we might think, loving one another in more ways than we can possibly imagine.

“Roots”

July 11

This year has been shaped by the COVID 19 Pandemic and what I can only call the “Great Gypsy Moth Caterpillar Invasion”. Let’s call it the GGMCI for short.
The GGMCI saw countless caterpillars crawling on any surface available, making an outdoor walk or sit an uncomfortable experience. Worse than that, they completely defoliated any number of trees, leaving behind nothing but bare grey trunks and branches. In one area, the Torrance Barrens, where the land is little more than small trees and exposed, moss covered rocks, the effect was particularly notable. The combination of bare rock and stripped trees made it look like a scene from a post-apocalyptic horror movie. It was quite moving and disturbing to say the least.
There is an upside to this story, or at least a not so bad outcome. As I cut my lawn last week I took a close look at the two Apple trees near the rear of our property. Apple trees are a particular favourite of the caterpillars, and ours were completely stripped of every single leaf. They look like very sad plants indeed. I noticed, however, that they still looked pretty healthy, despite being bereft of leaves. Whilst the branches had been stripped, they had not been damaged. Similarly, the root systems of our two little victims were also intact.
With that in mind, I realized that the trees might actually survive their ordeal. After all, they reminded me of what they look like at the end of fall, after the leaves drop naturally due to the change of season. Wasn’t this a similar situation? With the root system still connecting the trunk and limbs to the earth and feeding them, could they not recover?
The other day, I saw my answer: leaves were starting to sprout and grow. The healthy roots had enabled the trees to survive the GGMCI and bounce back to life. Sure, they probably won’t produce apples, they made it and will be ready for next year! Huzzah!
Jesus talks about well rooted plants bearing fruit and well built foundations allowing houses to withstand whatever comes at them. Good roots are good foundations and more. Not only do they hold a tree fast in the fiercest storm, they also provide the nutrition needed for it to grow and survive even when leaves are completely stripped.
Our roots in Christ do the same thing. Not only do they hold us fast against life’s toil and trouble, they also provide us with the Spiritual nourishment to survive even the worst devastation. They do need to be fed and cared for. They need the good soil of study and prayer and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Whatever happens to us, when we are rooted in Jesus, we can rest safe in the knowledge that He will see us through even the greatest challenge.

“Repeatability”

July 4

I have long been believed that a craft being pushed directly by the wind can only  go as fast as the wind is blowing. Recently a couple of clever people disproved that myth. Rick Cavallaro and John Borton built “Blackbird”, a wind-powered land yacht that was able to go more than double the speed of the wind propelling it.
This seemingly impossible feat was hotly debated before Blackbird’s successful run, and it continues to be questioned and argued. Many folks believe that Rick Cavallaro and John Borton’s efforts were a hoax, or that there is some kind of trickery involved.
Their success, however, wasn’t a one-off event. Others have been able to repeat their experiment. Xyla Foxlin, an engineer, designed and built a miniature craft that proved that Blackbird had done what seemed to be impossible. Her little vehicle demonstrated that it could go faster than the wind pushing it along. Well, Xyla’s experiment involved a treadmill, but the principle remains and the outcome remains the same.
Where she differed from the efforts of Rick Cavallaro and John Borton is that her device was designed to be recreated easily, by anyone with moderate tinkering skills. While the original Blackbird could be duplicated, it is a far more complex machine requiring greater expense and skills than Xyla’s simple craft.
Often, when there is uncertainty, solid proof is hard to obtain. As a result, when only one person appears to successfully prove a challenging idea, others remain unconvinced. Unless they too can repeat the same experiment and get the same results the original question remains unanswered. In other words, the key to a solid proof is repeatability. When everyone can build a machine that travels faster than the wind pushing it, there is no more room for debate.
For people of faith, it can be hard to show others Christ’s impact on their lives. Without His physical presence it’s understandable that there are folks who doubt that He existed or that He continues to work in the world today. It takes people of faith following Jesus intentionally, doing Christlike things to benefit our community, to provide irrefutable proof of His presence in the world today.
It can be frustrating when our efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated. It might make no sense to give when it seems like what we’re doing has no positive, lasting effect. Yet it’s only through our repeated efforts that we can make a difference. Yet, when we work in our own Christlike way, God honours our efforts, even if we don’t see their long-term effects. What’s more, what we do to serve others is repeatable by them. That repeatability is the key to revealing Christ alive and well and at work in the world today.
Why?
Well, what better way do we have to know and feel Jesus than to do exactly what He does, albeit in our own way? There’s no better proof of Christ’s existence than when we can reveal it for ourselves.

“Shortcuts”

June 27

I was waiting for a table at a restaurant, sitting on a bench near the front door. While I chatted with my son on the phone, I watched people coming and going from the patio to the parking lot. People watching is an interesting pastime, providing great insight into human behaviour. I was not disappointed during my wait to be called in to dine.
The patio door leads directly to a short sidewalk leading to the main access point from the parking lot and another seating area. This sidewalk is separated from the other destinations by a narrow rock garden (peppered with a couple of small bushes) about 12 feet (4 metres) long. It’s so narrow that it can be stepped over easily allowing virtually instantaneous access to the parking lot, shaving off the whole 10 or 11 seconds needed to go the few extra steps to go to the proper access point.
Virtually everybody, staff and customers alike, took the shortcut through the garden. Most stepped right into the middle of it, which resulted in the garden looking shabby and forlorn. While I wasn’t surprised that customers took the shortcut, I was a bit disappointed. It seemed disrespectful of the intention of the rock garden, and its own tiny bit of beauty. After all, it did provide a visual break from the expanse of concrete leading to various parts of the restaurant, and it represented a sense of order. What’s more, I would have thought that the staff would respect their property and not have trampled carelessly over it.
I chose to go the long way ‘round when it was my turn through the patio door.
We all like shortcuts when they make life simpler. Nobody likes to do more work than they have to, a truth revealed by the many folks I watched going from place to place in the restaurant through that patio door. There was a shorter path that saved a whole 10 seconds and two steps and they took it.
What does that say about us as people, especially as people of faith? If we’re not willing to take an extra couple of steps in order to follow the path laid out and not tread on a place not meant to be tread upon, what shortcuts will we take on our faith journey? Fewer prayers? Not bothering with daily devotions or regular Bible study? Scrimping on our offering or only doing just enough to look good while helping others? Loving others only when it’s easy or convenient?
I get it. Shortcuts can make life easier. As a woodworker, there are any number of tools designed to avoid tedious, unnecessary work. Those tools, however, require that a person knows what they’re doing in order to benefit from them. Sometimes, however, a shortcut can lead us astray, especially when it comes to honouring and serving God. God loves us passionately and whole-heartedly. and that’s all God asks of us in return. And if you’re wondering what path to follow. No shortcuts are available or needed. Jesus will show you the way.

“Details”

June 20

Lois and I live in a house that is seventy or eighty years old. It is built of logs that haven’t been finished; they’re roughly straight, and roughly the same size, but no two are alike which means that the walls are only roughly straight.
Thanks to scheduling issues, we’ve had two contractors renovating the top floor and the basement. Both have had to deal with the roughly straight walls and the less than level floors. Both have done so with great care and attention to detail, compensating for the roughly straight house by carefully trimming and adjusting the very straight lumber modern technology offers.
In addition to dealing with a less than level basement floor, the chap working there had the extra challenge of fitting the flooring around the chimney. While most chimneys are made of brick and pretty much straight, ours is not. It is made from rough-cut stone blocks which are flat on the top and bottom, but even less straight than the logs that form the house. As a result, the contractor spent several hours trimming and shaping the flooring in order to fit tightly around the uneven chimney. It took him as long to finish that job as it had for him to completely lay the floor in the main room in the basement. That room, by the way, is just a little less than half of the house.
Needless to say, his attention to detail was phenomenal, and the result looks great. Kudos to his patience and talent, and to that of the upstairs contractor, too, as he had many unique challenges dealing with his part of our roughly straight house.
When these two people were doing their work, their focus was on our project. Occasionally they had side jobs that took them away for an hour or a day, but we were pretty much their only customers. Focussing on us, and being the kind of workers they are, it makes sense that I can tell you of their meticulous craftsmanship and their shared attention to detail.
Thinking bigger, however, thinking about God, who deals with all humanity, and all creation for that matter, you’d think that maybe God didn’t pay so much attention to detail. God is pretty busy, with a lot to think about and do, so it would make sense if God just took care of the big things and left the details up to Creation and the lifeforms that fill it.
That’s not the case at all. God handles the needs of each sparrow individually and even counts the number of hairs on we human being’s heads. Each flower that blooms, each atom that spins, is under God’s watchful eye. God’s attention to detail is beyond comparison.
More important than God’s concern for birds, physics or whatever hairline we might (or might not…) possess, is God’s concern for what’s happening in our lives. No detail is unimportant. No prayer or thought is tossed off as not important enough. God cares for you from your smallest worry to your biggest joy. Correction: God cares for each and every one of us from our smallest worry to our biggest joy. Even if you think something is too trivial to bring to God, it’s not. God loves you so much that even the tiniest detail matters.

“Confess!”

June 13

When I was a boy I was a member of the local Roman Catholic church and did all of the things that were required of me. In the Roman church, Communion is only offered to people after a long “Catechism”, which is basically indoctrination into the ways of the denomination and learning about the important Bible stories.
Catechism is a one time deal. Once you’ve learned what needs to be learned, you can take Communion freely. Taking Communion, however, isn’t just a matter of showing up for worship. Before doing that, you have to confess whatever sins you committed since your last Communion. The Priest then absolves you of your sins and you’re free to take Communion.
This rigid act of confession is a little weird for children. Although we were taught what it meant in Catechism, the concept of owning up to our sins is beyond a child’s grasp. Most of us tried to figure out which of the 10 Commandments we had broken. Often, it boiled down to a laundry list of offences that we thought were grievous enough to bring to God, but not so big as to cause embarrassment sharing them with the Priest.
True confession is more than presenting ourselves to a Priest out of duty. Confession is admitting to God how we’ve blown it, not just by breaking of a Commandment or two, but the ways we’ve failed to follow Jesus or fallen short in loving others as is our due. True confession lets us take stock and bring to light not only specific boo-boos, but patterns and habits that are not Christlike.
Confession is also surprisingly cleansing. By admitting our shortcomings, by actually speaking them out loud, we lessen their power as they flow from our lips out into the open. It’s the opposite effect of hearing words that hurt us; admitting to ourselves, or to another person, our painful truths gives us ownership and control over them and helps us put them in the past so that we can move forward. Being armed with that knowledge of where we were lets us avoid travelling that same road again.
I was taught that you had to confess to a Priest, as they were the only ones that could then forgive you, since only the Priest could make it right with God. Of course, that’s not true at all. Jesus is the only one who can and does intercede between us and our Creator, so we don’t need a Priest to hear our confession. Any loving, supportive ear will do.
Confessing ourselves to God, whether in a private prayer or to a trusted friend, is a holy, helpful thing. It lets us take the load off our shoulders and leave it with Jesus. It allows us to get a bigger picture of what we’ve done and change the view if necessary. Finally, it shows God that we are taking responsibility for ourselves and doing whatever it takes to be better people.

“Strong”

June 6

Spelling words in Italian is easy; there are very few rules, the rules always apply and letters are only pronounced one way. Well, mostly one way; some letters are a little more flexible, but the rules are consistent and unwavering as to how that flexibility works.
The letters in question are “c” and “g”. Normally they are “hard”, as it car or garage. In other circumstances they are soft, as in “church” or “gentle”. What changes their pronunciation is the vowel that follows right after them. If it’s an “a” “o” or “u”, they stay hard, as they do if they are followed by a consonant. Should they be followed by an “i” or an “e”, then they become soft. It’s that simple.
There is, however, one way that they can stay strong and remain hard letters, even in the presence of the nasty “i” and “e”. All it takes is the placement of the letter “h” in between the “c” or “g” and the offending vowel. The “h” itself goes unpronounced; it is always silent; it only serves as a buffer between certain consonants and vowels that might change the way they are pronounced. In the Italian language, the letter “h” might be silent, but it is strong, having the power to keep “c” and “g” from being affected by certain powerful vowels.
We prize strong, silent humans, too. We appreciate the ones who are able to protect the weak and do mighty deeds without much fuss or ado. Everybody likes a hero. Nobody likes a hero who brags and boasts about themselves.
Strength, however, is not always a physical thing. Sometimes strength is being able to intervene on behalf of someone who can’t act for themselves, or who needs the help of another. And sometimes that intervention or support is not silent at all; sometimes it is a voice calling others to account or calling for them to stop their harmful ways. Sometimes being a strong, noisy person is just the hero we need.
No one who helps or protects others acts alone. We have God’s full strength and support behind us. God is, after all, loving and just and wants the best for us. God’s son, Jesus, shows us what true strength is. Jesus’ commandment to love one another is our mandate and our strength; when we act out of love we are strengthened and equipped to get the job done.
One last thought. Protecting, helping or speaking out for others isn’t always a mighty deed. The letter “h” simply stands in between a weak letter and a strong one. It just has to show up in order to make all the difference in the world. Being strong for another person can simply be standing beside them in love.

“Auditions”

May 30

Some of you might have noticed I have a fairly pleasant voice. A few folks have even compared me favrourably to the late, great, Canadian legend, Peter Gzowski, whose pleasant, mellifluous voice and style graced the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations for many years.
Those favourable comments about the way I speak led me to try my hand at voice-acting work. I deal with a London, Ontario based company that allows would-be voice-actors like myself to audition for jobs from the comfort of my own home studio. Well, it’s not much of a studio; it’s just a quiet space in the house with a professional quality microphone and my mighty MacBook Pro laptop to record and share my offerings.
So far I have had one job out of 569 auditions. Yep, you read that correctly. 1 paying gig out of all the times I have submitted a recording to a customer.
Yes, I know, it’s not a great ratio. It gets a bit better when I see that slightly more than half of my auditions were even looked at, but it’s still not a great track record. I can only think that my success ratio is roughly comparable to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. Thank goodness it’s just a side job I do for fun rather and what I do for a living.
Trying to get hired as a voice-actor is something of a crapshoot. It’s highly competitive, and getting chosen often depends on who you know as much as it does how good you are; I understand that the odds are stacked against me. Still I take time to audition knowing that I will most likely be rejected, but hoping for the best. If nothing else, the sheer volume of work might help get me noticed and on the “listen to this guy” list. One can hope.
Most of the rest of my time is not spent auditioning. It’s spent living, and for that there is no practicing or recording auditions. Me, you, the new neighbours down the street, are all in the midst of the greatest performance of our lives. From the moment we’re born to the instant our run is done, we’re on. Life is what we make of it while we’re living it. We might be able to audition for a part in a play, spend years training for a career and have a couple of trial interviews for a job, but pretty much everything else is, as they say on TV, “Live!”
That’s OK. God isn’t looking for a great performance. God isn’t going to hire or fire us based on an audition or two. God’s grace allows us to live our lives as best we can. All God really asks us to do is to be the best we can be; to try to reflect the sacred image in which we were created and to use our gifts to bless others just as we have been blessed. Sure, as the years go by we might get better at loving and blessing others, but whatever we have to offer, as long as it’s done with the love and passion our Creator put into us, is going to be exactly what God wants from us.

“Stand Back”

May 23

I was watching an Arborist (tree surgeon, (or tree-lopper if you’re Australian) working on a tree the other day. With care and precision he removed large limbs and tiny branches from his subject. I was impressed at how he directed their falling so that he was always safe. I was also impressed at the way he would occasionally stand back from his limited view beneath the tree, away from its limbs and foliage so he could gauge his progress and determine when it was time to stop.
I love watching pros like him at work.
I love, as well, the Arborist’s example of getting a broader view of a job. From beneath the tree he could see which limbs contributed to the overall health and well-being of the tree, and which did not. When he stood back, away from his patient, he could see the net effect of his labour and ensure he was maintaining its ideal shape. Balancing between close-up and big-picture perspectives was the only way to do the job properly.
How often do you follow the tree-lopper’s example in your own life? Do you ever take a few minutes to step back from all you’re doing to see the overall effect of your effort? It makes sense for a tree-surgeon or other professional to stand back and take in a big-picture perspective. They are, after all, focussed on a very specific task or skill and want to do it well. But beyond your particular skillset, whether it’s as a professional or an amateur, do you ever think about the direction of your life, overall? Do you ever stand back to see where you are, where you’ve come from and where you’re headed?
I think that a lot of our dissatisfaction or worry comes from concentrating on the up-close, day-to-day living, without taking time to stand back and think about what we’re doing. Jesus took time to pray and meditate. He stood back from teaching, healing and helping to concentrate on Himself. He also talked to His disciples in big-picture terms, empowering to look and see where they were and where they were headed. As a result, they were able to go forward when He ascended to heaven and left them to accomplish His earthly will for them.
Yes, there’s always something to do. Living a full, rich, life is a busy thing. If we’re too caught up in that busy-ness, however, we risk losing sight of what we’re doing and where we’re headed, which might lead us to unpleasant results. When we stand back, we can ensure that we’re headed where we should be.
The other thing about standing back, as the Arborist did regularly, is something I didn’t mention earlier about him. When he stood back, I could see the look of satisfaction as he appreciated the beauty of the tree he was helping to help and enhance. When we stand back, it not only helps us ensure the best result possible for our lives. It also gives us a chance to simply appreciate where we’ve gotten, and the beauty and joy of the life God has shaped for us.

“Braining”

May 16

We’ve all had those moments. You wander into a room and wonder what you’re supposed to do next. You’re talking to a friend of many years and all of a sudden you can’t remember their name. You think you wrote a brilliant sentence but it makes no sense to other people. You show up five minutes early but two days late for an appointment. You’ve known a particular fact all your life only to realize one day you’ve got it completely backwards. I could go on but, well, I actually can’t, because I can’t think of the other things I had thought of mentioning.
It’s not an age thing. It’s not an intelligence thing. It’s a common, universal reality that there are times when braining is hard. Sometimes being under pressure causes us to forget everything. Sometimes we’re so tired that a mental fog blurs out everything but the most important survival skills. Sometimes we’re poorly informed without realizing it. Sometimes we have too much information and are paralyzed by the vast array of choice. Sometimes we plain old mess up for no reason whatsoever.
Braining is hard at the best of times, but stress makes it harder. Conflicting choices, like drawing someone’s unkindness to attention without hurting their feelings, makes it harder. Not knowing where you stand or who you really are makes it harder. The complexity of our world makes it harder.
Braining is hard, but it’s also our best way forward. Knowing ourselves helps us make the best decisions regarding our health, how we spend our time, and how we deal with others. Being well informed with reliable facts and a broad understanding of our world helps us to contribute to society and make a positive difference in the lives of others. Thinking critically helps us to understand our gut feelings and interpret them in helpful ways. Braining is hard, but it’s crucial we do our best.
Braining is hard. Just ask Jesus’ follower, Peter. Despite his zeal, best intentions and Jesus’ warning, he still managed to deny knowing Jesus three times. Still, despite his brain-fault, Jesus used Peter to inspire and equip countless followers.
Braining is hard; we know it about ourselves; God knows it about us, too. Yet, armed with that knowledge about us, God still trusts us to make good decisions, to choose love over hate, to follow Jesus’ example as best we can, and to use our gifts of mind and body wisely. And when we don’t brain well? God’s grace has us covered. It’s just as easy for our Heavenly Creator to forgive us as it is for us to need a reason to be forgiven.
Braining is hard, no doubt about it. But it’s also the only way for us to honour the all-knowing, all-loving God who gave us our minds in the first place.