“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.

“Names”

May 9

I was tasked with replacing a battery in a tiny electronic device. Opening it, I pulled out old power cells, copied down their model number, and a quick search for them on the website of our local hardware store. Drats! There was no such thing in their inventory.
Since I’ve played this game many times before, I turned to Google to see if they were known by other model numbers. Huzzah! I was correct. What I had identified as “G13-A” microcells turned out to have at least 5 other identities. Some of these depended on the manufacturer, others on different world standards and organizations overseeing how things are named.
Charged up with this new information, I returned to my virtual hardware store and tried several searches with each of the different nomenclatures until I found the right product. Huzzah! I found the replacement batteries I needed. Drats! The shop informed me that they were out of stock! Huzzah, again! The clerk found a different version of the batteries, and before you know it, I had replaced the old ones and brought the device back to life. Double “Huzzah!”
You know me as Pastor John. Or maybe Reverend John. Or John. Some folks call me PJ, short for Pastor John, if you’re anyone but my daughter, Anna, for whom it means “Papa John”. The government knows me as John Anthony Giurin. My original birth-certificate has me down as Giannantonio Giurin. I’ve even been known as “Giuseppe Falegname”.
You get the point. I, like many others, have more than one way we’re identified, variations on our names or the way people refer to us, depending on the context in which we find ourselves, our relationship and our degree of comfort and familiarity. In professional settings, I’m “The Reverend John A. Giurin”. My friends just call me “John”.
While the name or identifier we or others use might change, our essence does not. While different contexts may call on us to refer to different aspects of ourselves, we don’t change; we simply present a specific view to meet a specific need. As a result, folks see us differently, depending on where or why we interact; yet if we saw each other in different places or contexts, we would gain a deeper insight into each other. We are, after all, complex beings who exist in a complex relationship to one another and to our world.
The only one who knows us more fully and completely than ourselves is the one in whose image we are made. God knows our true selves no matter what we call ourselves or what situation in which we reveal ourselves. God knows our strengths and weakness, hopes and dreams why we succeed and why we fail. The amazing thing about God’s knowledge of our true identity, is that each of us is known as a child of God whatever we may call ourselves. Huzzah!

“Clean”

May 2

I recently had to attempt a repair on our sofa; it’s one of those things that lets you stretch out the seat and have a foot-rest pop out. A La-z-boy, but not that specific brand.
A sofa is a clean thing, I thought. It might get crumbs and the odd beverage spilled on it, but mechanically I expected it to be grease free. After all, looking at the thing, even under a bright light, didn’t reveal any oily or grease spots. There must be some lubrication in order for it to operate smoothly and quietly, but, it’s not a messy old car leaking oil, grease, fuel or coolant everywhere
I thought incorrectly. By the time I had finished diagnosing the problem, attempting a few different ways to solve it, and concluding that there was nothing I could do, my hands were more messy that I had thought. I wasn’t covered in grease up to my elbows and my T-shirt was unmarked, but I was still unfit to handle anything I wanted to remain clean.
Despite the fact that no grease or oil were evident to my eyes, there was nevertheless enough to soil my hands quite thoroughly. And, of course, since I was dealing with oil and grease, it took a lot of soap and scrubbing before my hands were clean enough to resume handling things that I wanted to remain unsoiled. Don’t even ask what the sink looked like after washing my hands.
It didn’t take much grease and oil to make a right-royal mess of my hands. Had I not been diligent in washing them immediately after finishing my task I would have made an even bigger mess of our house. Greasy fingerprints are not a suggested decorating option.
In the same way, our little sins and boo-boos can often make a far bigger mess of us than we might expect. A truth stretched a tiny bit can lead to other truths having to be stretched even more. A quietly muttered unkind word can not only hurt the person it’s directed to, it can do untold damage to our reputations. A wee selfish denial, “just-this-once!” might not just deprive someone of needed help, it might lead to a pattern of holding back the gifts we’re meant to share.
There is no magic bullet to avoiding mistakes or unkind actions. We’re frail and failing human beings, after all. The trick is dealing with them right away. Own up to whatever we’ve done. Seek forgiveness. Make amends. Clean up the mess as soon as we realize it’s happened. And where we fall short, Jesus takes up the slack. He won’t clean up our mess for us, but He’ll be the first to forgive us, and he’ll support us all the way as we try to set things straight.
The mechanical bits of my sofa didn’t seem that messy, but that didn’t mean I didn’t get dirty. It’s the same with life. Even our kindest, most thoughtful, loving and well-intentioned efforts can go wrong. When they do, things can get messy, but that’s simply part of life. I know that some folks say “cleanliness is next to Godliness”, but to me it can be a sign that we’re too worried about the mess, and not worried enough about doing our best.

“Fun”

April 25
“Fun”
My eclectic choice of virtual and hard-copy reading material ranges from pressing social issues to obscure machinery. Usually the streams are so different they don’t connect, but each adds to my understanding of the world. At times I am challenged and have to rethink things. At times I am affirmed, firming up my foundation of self-knowledge. Whether challenged or affirmed I am sure of one thing: I have fun with my eclectic reading material.
Every once in a while the stars align and a single theme emerges from the variety of articles and sources that feed my curiosity. Recently, “success” has been a common thread, whether it’s inventions that had no impact in the world or relationships are valued. This got me to thinking about how I measure success in life, and the thought that rang true is how much fun are you having?
OK, this might seem facetious or frivolous. Fun is usually defined as going to the fair, parties or silly times with friends, but there’s more to it than that. By fun I mean deriving pleasure and excitement from whatever you do. Does your connection with your spouse or a friend bring you joy and fulfilment? When you think about your work or that tasks that fill your day, do they bring a smile to your face? Does worship nurture your soul and, even when it is challenging, bring you a sense of satisfaction?
Having fun, to me, means more than the thrill of your favourite carnival ride; it means celebrating every aspect of life and being able to deal with its challenges and struggles in a positive, healthy way. Success, as I see it, is having fun in and with life.
Does measuring life in terms of fun mean that I don’t take life seriously? Absolutely not; life is a beautiful, precious gift and every part of it matters. But if life is joyless and flat, what point is there? God did not create us to suffer and wallow in misery; we were created to live life to the fullest and to celebrate our Creator in every way possible. This is indeed serious work, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to savour every moment and to do whatever we do joyfully and thankfully.
I realize that measuring life in terms of fun might not tickle everyone’s fancy. It might seem too frivolous a measure for something as important as God’s gift of life. That’s OK, however. We’re all unique in our gifts and approach to our existence. We all see things differently and value different things so success means different things to each and every one of us, and I respect that. In fact, learning about our differences helps me to grow and mature as a child of God, just like my eclectic taste in reading material. If you remember, I have fun with my choice in virtual or hard copy literature…
…just as I had fun pondering and preparing this little group of thoughts, and that’s good enough for me.

“Falling”

April 18

When I was in my teens, I used to go swimming in the big pool at the newly minted Etobicoke Olympium. It featured an Olympic sized swimming pool and two 10 metre diving towers. Every once in a while I would actually jump off from the top of one of the towers, pointing my toes and straightening out my body in order to make a clean entry. I didn’t have quite the courage to do a proper dive, but I was good enough to enter the water safely just jumping in.
When I grew older and finished high-school, I stopped going to the Olympium. There were other pools and other pastimes. One day, however, I had the urge to go back and do a little swimming and reminiscing and try the big tower again. The swimming went fine. It was great to be back in a huge pool. The diving tower, however, not so much. I got all the way to the top, looked over the edge, and I couldn’t jump. I didn’t panic, I just couldn’t make the leap. No matter how hard I urged myself on, there was no way I was going to get to the water from that height. I climbed back down and enjoyed the rest of my time in the big pool, taking the odd dive off the raised springboards. That much I could do to enter the water from up on (relatively) high.
My experience at the top of the tower gave me even more respect for stunt-people who regularly fall down stairs, off tall buildings and out of aircraft. Even just falling to the ground without using their arms to cushion the impact is pretty impressive. It’s just not natural for human beings to fall down willy-nilly.
Given this personal attitude towards letting gravity propel one to the ground without restraint, I was somewhat taken aback when one of my friends in ministry used the image of “Falling upon God” while praying for a group of us. Alton’s prayer suggested a deep, unwavering trust that God would receive us and protect us in our most desperate moment. It also implied our willingness to give up control totally, even to the point of letting ourselves fall, so that God could care for us.
One other thing that comes to mind is that in falling, rather than leaping or jumping or propelling ourselves towards God in some way, we are not simply giving God control, we are also getting completely out of the way of ourselves so that it’s all about God’s will for us and not ours.
It was, admittedly, a startling image, but in a good way. Alton’s “falling into God” made me think about how I approach prayer and, more broadly, my overall relationship with God. I want to be in control, at least a little bit. I don’t think I’m alone in that desire. But in reality, only when we give up control and fall into God can we be fully supported and empowered by the One who knows what we really need. You could say that the only way for us to truly stand tall is by allowing ourselves to fall into God.