“Deflators”

April 23rd

It takes a bit of work to blow up a balloon. The rubber resists efforts to stretch and some folks find it hard to blow that hard. Then there’s the whole tying up thing; it requires a remarkable amount of dexterity to stretch the end of the balloon and wrap it around your fingers and pull the little end through so that it’s a nice tight knot ensuring that the balloon stays inflated after all that effort. It’s worth it, however. You can’t be sad when you have a balloon to play with.
Deflating a balloon, by contrast, is remarkably easy. It takes no effort at all to stick a pin into the rubber and ruin the hard work that created it. No effort at all. Just prick the side with a needle and away it goes, loudly and instantaneously. For some people that’s half the fun of balloons. For most people, however, especially young ones who tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves, it’s no fun at all. In fact, it’s just plain mean.
Many of us have a sense of self-confidence that’s as hard to inflate and as easy to deflate as a balloon. We like to think the best of others but don’t always do unto ourselves as we would do to our neighbour in that regard. And I think that most of us have to work a bit harder to find joy and happiness than to delve into sorrow and sadness. At the same time, it doesn’t take a lot to blow it all away; just a sharp little word or phrase and our joy or our self-confidence bursts, albeit with a whimper or sigh rather than a loud “Pop!”
Some folks are natural-born “Deflators” whether by intent or ignorance they often speak in pin prick and needle jabs. Their reaction to a positive suggestion is a litany of reasons why it’s not such a hot idea. Their sarcasm is more “scarcasm” than playful banter. Your cup may be half full, but they’re going to make sure the water is dirty, or to tip it over. You might have had something nice happen to you, but it’s not nearly as nice as what happened to them, and they’re not going to let you forget it.
Deflators aren’t necessarily mean or spiteful; more often than not they’re simply thoughtless; not uncaring, but simply unaware of their negativity. Sometimes they think that they’re “telling it like is” or “just being honest” or even that their words are really kind and loving, but usually there’s a wide gulf between what they perceive as helpful and what actually might benefit another person. Honesty is always the best policy, except for those times when it trumps love and kindness, in which case silence is an even better policy.
Being a deflator is easy. It takes a little more work to be an inflator, to be someone that helps build others up. or to fill their cups nearly to overflowing, or to simply appreciate their joy. Sometimes it’s hard to see others being happy when we’re in the dumps or to think of something nice to say when we can’t even say something nice about ourselves. It can be hard to be an inflator, but it’s worth it; there are enough folks waiting to poke another’s joy away; we need more people who are ready and willing to encourage and to spread a little happiness in the world.

“Empty is the New Full”

April 16th
“Empty is the New Full”
In Graphic Design, what isn’t there matters as much as what is there. The white space around a bit of text helps the message stand out; the voids between images declutter the page; emptiness is built into a design to provide visual and emotional balance or to direct the eye to where it should go. In a sense, empty places help to fill a design and bring it to life; they are not there by accident; they are deliberate and considered as carefully as the text, images and overall content of a page.
The Cross is the central image of Christianity. In the Roman tradition it features Jesus hanging from its cross-beam. The design is deliberate and purposeful. The body is a reminder of Christ’s suffering and death for us; it is a powerful visual symbol that reveals, in graphical detail, the sacrifice Christ made for humanity. In turn, it points to our guilt and shame for the sin that sent Him to His crucifixion and death.
In the Protestant tradition the cross is empty. Christ does not hang from the Cross; we do not have a graphic representation of His death or His sacrifice. Instead we have only the tool of his execution visible. That might seem odd. Do we venerate the means of His death? Are we celebrating the two pieces of wood that formed the Crucifix? No; not at all; the significance of the cross is in its emptiness; it’s not what is seen, not the golden or silver miniature version of its larger wooden counterpart that matters, but what is not there. The empty space is the crucial part of the design; it points not to the sorrow of the sacrifice but to the rejoicing of the Resurrection.
The Cross Protestants use is empty and it is that void that we celebrate; the void means that Christ is risen; He is not on the Cross; He is not in the grave; Jesus rose from the dead, robbing the Cross of its power, stripping it naked of its horror and shame. More than this, it means that not just death, but that our sin has also been defeated. There is no reason for us to feel guilty! Instead, we are called to be happy because Jesus lives; Jesus continues to work; Jesus makes Himself known to us; Jesus reveals Himself in the hands and hearts of those who follow Him faithfully. Rejoice! Empty is the new full! The bare Cross points to Jesus’ Resurrection and the fulness of the new life that we have through Him; it is a cause for celebration; it is an invitation to live fully and joyfully. He is not on the Cross, He is not in the grave! Hallelujah, He is Risen!

“Rot”

April 9th

A piece of Terrazzo trim broke away from the baseboard near the rear entrance of the church. A large window is leaking around the edges. The leak went unnoticed until recently. Clearly, it’s been going on for quite a while, because the supporting concrete behind the bit that feel away is in bad shape; concrete doesn’t just fall apart; this is an issue that’s been going on for quite some time. Unfortunately, the water didn’t seep out into the entranceway; instead, it most likely went down and into the ground around the foundation so there was no way to tell what was happening or how serious the issue had become…
…until a piece of Terrazzo trim broke away and revealed all.
A dedicated Board of Managers takes care of all things building-related; they are ever-vigilant in spotting problems before they arise; floor tiles that lift up are repaired instantly, broken windows replaced, dead lightbulbs swapped out. When a problem is spotted, it’s either dealt with immediately or noted and monitored. Therein lies the problem: it has to be spotted, it has to be obvious; there has to be an immediate risk of tripping or darkness or two sections of glass where there should be only one. A leak sneaking in behind the baseboard isn’t obvious; only when water poured in and a piece of Terrazzo fell away did the problem become spot-able. The Board of Managers was blindsided.
This is a reality for a lot of us. Problems and issues are not often visible; they lurk beneath the surface and creep up on us slowly; an unkind word eats away at a friendship; a few forgotten anniversaries and birthdays bug one half of a happy couple; a guilty pleasure back then causes guilt now. Things fester and rot within us, creating a sense of ill-ease, inducing unhealthy behaviour, leaving us in turmoil. Sometimes we make the problem worse; we know it’s there, but pretend it’s not; we know it matters but fool ourselves that it doesn’t, but rot is rot, and if left unattended, never goes away. We need to act; to face reality; to get help to see what it is that’s eating away at us.
The beam in our eye isn’t easy to spot; rot hides beneath the skin; but with prayer, support from a loving friend or counsellor and deliberate introspection we can indeed discern what’s eating away at us and deal with it. God has provided us with friends, healers and even a Heavenly Brother to lean on, to trust, to help us see within ourselves to the thing that’s gnawing away at our joy and sense of fulfilment. Seek; ask; knock; let the One who Created you help you to be whole and happy through the resources our Creator has provided in the Christ-like souls around you.

“Cleanliness”

April 2nd

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is an expression that I’ve heard for as long as I can remember. Apparently it was first used in a sermon by John Wesley in 1778 but despite that strong lineage it’s not really a strong Biblical concept; certainly it is reflected in the purity rituals of the Temple sacrifices and in terms of one’s acceptability in polite society, but that’s more a matter of a requirement rather than comparison. Yes, cleanliness is important, but it’s not right up there with being Godly.
Cleanliness matters in a big, broad sense because it not only reflects God’s desire for those who desire to be close to God, but also because it is the normal state of creation. Our planet is a very balanced system; left to its own devices nothing is wasted or out of place. Animals or vegetation that die are broken down by bacteria and return to the food chain one way or another. Droppings are similarly recycled and become compost. Areas destroyed by fire are quickly returned to life and fruition in the wake of their devastation. Bacteria, algae and plant life in swamps and wetlands take care of animal waste and decay so that the water in everything from wee creeks to mighty oceans is kept pure and clean. God has done an amazing job of creating a world of life that works together to grow and regenerate itself.
Unfortunately, we humans don’t seem to play nicely with the rest of creation. Our ability to not only create waste, but then to just leave it lying around, pour into lakes, or create massive mountains of garbage, far exceeds the ability of natural systems to clean it up. For some reason we just can’t clean up after ourselves. Even worse, we don’t seem to care about the mess we’ve created. If cleanliness is a measure of Godliness, then according to our bad environmental behaviour, we must be the least Godly creatures in all creation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It can’t be this way. The waste and pollution we are creating is destroying the home God created for all living things. It’s that simple. We are the fly in God’s ointment, the foul stench in God’s nostrils. We have to clean up our act. We have to think seriously about the way we pollute the land, sea and air and start figuring out how to live cleaner and more in balance with the rest of creation. It’s not impossible; God has given us the wisdom we need to change things; we just need to apply it in more holy ways, ways that are in harmony with the way creation works. Our lives depend on it, not just physically, but Spiritually. If cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness, then we desperately need to clean up our act.

“Adaptation”

March 26th

My wife, Lois, and I were waiting for our dinner in an Indian restaurant. As you might expect, Indian music was playing in the background. Music from that culture is quite different from that of the West. (or, if you prefer, Western music is quite different from that of India…) Indeed, their very culture is not at all like what we know in our part of the world, and it is also much older; some of their ancient texts are 5,000 years old. So here I was, sitting in this restaurant, enjoying both the conversation with Lois and the music playing in the background when I noticed a remarkable thing: while the songs and tunes playing were distinctively Indian, there were elements within the music that were distinctly Western. What was even more remarkable to me was that the composers and arrangers of the music hadn’t just tacked on certain North American pop-culture bits; they had integrated them seamlessly into their own musical stylings; it was clear that I was listening to Indian music but there were also familiar rhythms and styles that belonged to my own culture. I was fascinated by the way an ancient culture was able to adapt and use elements from a newer and very different one.
Abraham, Moses, King David, Daniel, Isaiah, Peter and Paul, some of the heroes and shapers of the Old and New Testaments, would hardly recognize the religious life they helped to form. The Old Testament folks would be amazed that their Messiah had come; the New Testament folks would be amazed at how an entirely new form of worship and understanding of God had developed. Even within recent generations of Christians the change and adaptation would be fascinating to them. Yet change and adaptation must occur in any human endeavour. I believe that one reason for the longevity of Indian culture has been to adapt and include elements from other cultures. It remains unique, yet it is clearly flavoured by the West.
It’s a powerful, fascinating message for us; we can change and adapt whilst remaining true to our core values. God’s sovereignty, Christ’s love and the words of Scripture are the constants that root us; yet how we act on and profess our beliefs should change and adapt to speak to the culture in which we live. What worked for our forebears and even those who helped formulate the Christian faith does not necessarily work today. Their central message still holds all of its original power, but the language and methods by which they conveyed it doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight today. To remain fixed and static means losing relevance and power within our society. Simply using a tool because it is familiar or it worked well enough before isn’t good enough any more. Only when we adapt our approach so that we can be heard and felt within our culture will we thrive, grow and have a positive impact in the world.

“Service”

March 19th

I am a fairly decent ‘Google-detective’ and often manage to find exactly what I’m looking for. This morning I set out on a quest to find the sheet music for a song I like and want to use with the St. James’ Praise Team one day. After following leads to various rabbit holes, dead-ends and unrelated items, I finally found one to the composer of the music, if not the music proper.
Sadly, I thought, the only contact offered was through an agent and a company email. What’s more, the composer in question is based in England, so I thought that, between the corporate nature of the contact and the time difference (the UK being six hours ahead of us) that I would be waiting a long time for any kind of answer.
Surprise of all surprises, I received a response back within less than an hour! Not only did the contact person respond, they also provided me with an electronic version of the sheet music and all the licensing information I needed so that we could use the song legally. Wow! I certainly didn’t expect such quick and perfect service! It made my week to have had a virtually instant answer to my request. Naturally, being the thankful type, I let Valerie, my contact and helper, know that I appreciated her work greatly and that she had indeed made my week!
Good service matters. We need to be able to trust retailers, technical support and one another when we ask for something to be done. Doing a job well and on time and with a cheerful disposition is good service. Great service, however, like that which inspired this week’s thoughts, offers something beyond that. It is going above and beyond the call of duty, of acting quickly and kindly, of doing something that makes someone’s day or week.
As followers of Christ, we are called to be a servant people. To love others, to care for them, to challenge and inspire them is the service that we provide. If we do it well, our service is a blessing to those we touch. That’s good service; it makes a positive impact on the lives of others. Great service, I think, offers a little more. Great service happens when we not only bless others, but in that blessing we point beyond ourselves and reveal Christ Himself as the one really doing that service. It’s actually not that hard to offer great service; it’s just a matter of getting out of Jesus’ way so that He can work through us in loving and caring for others.

“Characters”

March 12th

Some websites limit the space you can use to describe yourself. Lamenting the situation, one friend wrote: “How can anyone describe themselves in 150 characters?”. A valid question, I thought. 150 letters makes for a pretty sparse biography. However, I also thought about a different type of character, that is, a character found in a novel, comic strip or movie. So, while using only 150 letters is indeed limiting, choosing 150 characters, or personalities, to describe oneself opens limitless possibilities.
Are you a little bit of Superman, steadfast and strong, mixed in with a little bit of insecure and self-doubting Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Are you a confident and extraordinary Xena, Princess Warrior in some ways while in other areas you’re a hapless, Charlie Brown? Using 150 different characters you can colour and shade an image of yourself pretty accurately.
Of course, we could take just the characters from Scripture to describe ourselves. From the tricky Jacob to doubting Thomas to the great yet flawed King David, there are a great number of choices that could be combined and mixed in order to really express the real you.
With so many character choices, it is my prayer that in each and every one of us we find Jesus mixed in. None of us can ever be fully Christlike, but we can have a bit of Christ within us because He best expresses the characteristics of love, kindness, mercy and grace. There is no-one who better reveals these traits than Jesus. Thus, if we want those characteristics used to describe us, then there is no reason not to include Jesus in the 150 characters we choose.
Sure, there might be some odd combinations; I would probably have to mix Doubting Thomas, Flawed King David and Wavering Peter together along with Loving Jesus in a reasonable, honest description of myself. Odd company for Jesus, you might say, yet it was exactly the company He kept.
What about you? Who might be found in the 149 characters used to describe you? Why only 149, you ask? What happened to the other one? Well, I’m assuming that you would want to have love, mercy, kindness and other beautiful traits as part of your self-description, so I’ve simply included Jesus in the mix for you. What better example could we use to describe a genuine, caring person than Jesus?