“Knowing”

September 10th

My Facebook friend, Sue, is a sharp-witted and engaging person. We’ve known each other for a couple of years now, long enough for me to have forgotten the circuitous series of connections that brought us together electronically. We share similar ideologies, humour and an overall sense of sarcasm. One day we will meet and have a coffee together and actually chat face to face and get to know each other a bit better. For now, our Facebook friendship works very well.
It is, however, limiting. It’s hard to know a person very deeply through the limited medium any platform like Facebook or Twitter provides, so there’s always room for a surprise or two. Just today, for example, I was surprised to learn that Sue had been married for seven years. I only learned about it when her spouse posted a celebratory note. Up until then I thought they were sisters but obviously, I was totally wrong. Yes, thank-you, I know it’s not the first time…
In my defence, Sue isn’t the type to post lots of lovey-dovey date pictures of her and her mate. So, there’s the issue of Sue’s personal preference of what she reveals about herself. Then, and this is probably the bigger factor, there’s the fact that I am not the greatest detective in the world. There’s a reason I don’t read murder mysteries and figure out whodunnit well before the end. You could definitely say I make a better suspect that a sleuth.
Bottom line, thanks to the limitations of Facebook, Sue and I don’t know each other perfectly, but we’re still good friends despite those limitations.
But it’s not just Facebook that limits our knowledge of the “other”. Just today I learned a new and significant fact about Elizabeth, a friend and parishioner of mine, whom I’ve known for over twelve years. In fact, we’ve had coffee together on several occasions, so you’d think we’d have each other figured out pretty well by now. And you would be wrong. We are good friends, but even given the length of our friendship, there is more to discover.
That’s the wonder and mystery of being created in God’s image. The complex, layered variety of human beings reflects the complex, layered nature of our Creator. The discovery of those layers within our fellow God-reflecting human beings helps us to unravel the mystery and majesty of our Heavenly Creator. Indeed, as we learn more and more about others, whether it’s a friend only known through Facebook or one known in person, whether it’s someone you only ever see at rehearsals or a complete stranger you chat with while waiting in line at the coffee shop, you gain a deeper insight into their hearts and, through them, into the very heart of God.

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“Carpe Vitae”

September 3rd

A chance conversation with a friend revealed some startling news: it was his last day at work; tomorrow he and his wife were going to start an exciting adventure travelling around the world. Think about that for a moment: two people with work they both enjoyed were giving it all up for a big adventure into the unknown of strange languages, exotic foods, and (something quite startling for Flatham, er, Chatham folks) mountains. Some people might think they’re nuts; my reaction was “What a great thing to do!”
Shortly after that, as I sat quietly in a coffee shop enjoying my first break in the day, I couldn’t help but overhear a young woman talk about her adventure starting a small sewing business. What was once a beloved hobby grew to a point where she could even hire an employee; what’s more, she was still having fun sewing and the added benefit of getting paid doing what she loved. “Good for her!” I thought to myself. It’s always great when you (over)hear the story of someone trying something a little out of the ordinary and succeeding.
Then I thought of yet another friend who, along with her husband, actually bought a building so they could pursue their dream. In her own words, they are going “to create a unique centre to help children reach their full potential.” If that isn’t a huge step in faith, I don’t know what is. Suffice it to say I’m pretty impressed by all of these folks as they live out their dreams.
As I pondered these three people doing something they wanted to do without hesitation, I realized that my whole day was about new beginnings and taking chances and following your dreams. Why would I say that? Well, I had just spent the morning at St. Clair College, promoting a new initiative by my congregation on Student Orientation day. So, right there, between the folks at St. James Presbyterian Church trying something fresh (a weekly free Saturday Brunch for St. Clair College Students) and all of the students young and old preparing for their own fresh start, my whole day was all about new beginnings and taking chances and following your dreams.
So, what’s new with you? Are you doing something out of the ordinary for yourself? Taking a tiny chance? Going for something risky? Or are you waiting for just the right moment? Do all your ducks have to be in a row before you start your inflatable toy business? Do the sun and earth and the moon have to align just the right way before taking up astronomy? What are you waiting for? To live truly and to be who you really are means living your dreams out, not just doing what’s easy or safe. A rich life is one that might not be filled with complete success but isn’t filled with regrets over what you didn’t do but always wanted to. God didn’t create us just to sit around and mope. God gave us the talent and imaginative hearts to live lives that reflect and honour our Creator’s own creative genius. To live life fully according to those gifts is to live lives in praise of God.
It’s commonly said we should “Carpe Diem” or seize the day. Me, I want you to think bigger! Carpe Vitae! Seize life! Do the thing you’ve always dreamt of! Try something new! Wake up from your dreams and aspirations and live them out! It’s never too late to “Carpe Vitae”!

“Oy”

August 27th

I am a firm believer in God’s creative genius and mastery over time and space. Thus I have no problem accepting that God created the universe and everything within it. I also believe that our heavenly Creator is a master of rhythm and order, which explains why the motions of galaxies, stars, planets, moons and even asteroids are like one great cosmic dance: with clockwork regularity and precision they move through space, twirling, spinning and generally dancing around and with each other.
The effort and genius required to record and sort out these motions is amazing and has taken generation upon generation of careful, thoughtful observation, recording and wise interpretation. That means that there are very few cosmic events, at least within our solar system, that can’t be predicted and explained by human beings. Well, we can’t fully explain the cosmic forces that move the heavenly bodies, but that does not lessen our ability to understand their effects on those celestial wonders.
This past week, thanks to this ability to predict what happens in our solar system, we were advised of a total solar eclipse by the moon. Simply put, the earth, the moon and the sun’s respective travels ended up, for just a few minutes, lining them up so that the moon was directly in between the sun so from certain places, our big yellow light in the sky was blocked from us. The result was a brief period of total darkness in the middle of the day. A strange phenomenon, to be sure but nothing that couldn’t be foreseen thanks to the dedicated efforts of generations of people observing, recording and interpreting the motions of the celestial bodies around us.
Unfortunately, this natural, predictable and rather amazing event also brought about another natural, predictable and rather amazing event: certain Religious folk completely lost their minds and interpreted the Solar Eclipse as being a sign from God. It’s a warning, they said, of our impending doom. It’s a sign that we’re bad people and bad things will happen if we don’t stop doing bad things. It’s a sign of God’s displeasure with (insert nation here)’s political leadership, or (insert religious denomination here)’s lack of faith, or (insert name here)’s complete immorality and unworthiness.
Oy. What a load of nonsense. To read into a natural, predictable, occurrence, even if it is a fantastic one, something Godly is folly of the highest order. If that’s the case, one could argue that the daily rising and setting of the sun is proof of God’s anger with us for our day’s behaviour, and subsequent forgiveness of us a little while later. An Eclipse, although not as frequent, is just as regular as morning and evening and no reason for either concern or glee. At best it’s very predictability is a sign of God’s love of order and balance, and maybe even dance on a Cosmic scale. To see it otherwise is to put our own Egos and hearts before our Creator’s; it is putting words into God’s mouth that ought not to be uttered. If you really want to know what God’s will is for your life, look not to the sun, moon or planets, but into the heart of Christ. There you will find not only God’s will for you, but also God’s personal, down-to-earth love for you.

“Super Talent”

August 20th

Sad news: Big Ben, perhaps the best known Bell in the west, is about to fall silent. This iconic clanger has been marking the time in London for over a century-and-half but its mechanism, and the Elizabeth Tower in which it is housed, are in need of some major cleaning and repairs. This is a huge task, partly because of the sheer size of the equipment involved (the clock-face is 7 metres in diameter and weighs 5 tons!) and the fact that it’s 55 meters off the ground. That means that only the cream of the crop will be able to work on this amazing mechanical and architectural wonder. Super-talented doesn’t even begin to describe these folks.
This got me thinking: how do these people make themselves stand out against the rest? How do you get sufficiently well-known and skilled to go from fixing average, garden variety clocks to servicing one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Great Britain? Yes, I know, hard work and practice and doing a good job, but somehow, those answers fall short. I firmly believe that some folks have truly extraordinary skills that allow them to take on extraordinary tasks.
Yet when you boil it down, when you see these folks in action, they seem pretty ordinary; in fact, for the most part, beyond their skills, they are plain simple people just like you and me. Right here in Chatham we have our own example of such ordinary yet super talented people: the construction crew disassembling the 5th street bridge over the Thames. When you look at them, they seem like regular folks, just like you or me; but when you see the work that they’re doing, well, it doesn’t take long to realize that they are far from ordinary: they are super-talented people.
God blesses such people to be able to do extraordinary things. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that not all people have extraordinary gifts. Yet there is one gift we all have that can have an extraordinary impact on everyone we meet: love. The ability to love is a gift that, on the surface, seems ordinary enough. After all, we all seem to be able to love and be loved. Yet because it’s so simple it’s easy to miss what an incredible force it can be. It is patient, kind, forgiving, unselfish and a host of other things. And it is a super-talent that we all share. You. Me. Everyone. Sadly, not everyone uses it to its fullest effect. Even more sadly, some folks haven’t felt it to its fullest extent.
Let’s change that. Let’s try to love beyond our comfort zone, reaching out to those we haven’t forgiven, searching out those who seem unlovable, loving even the complete stranger that seems completely different from us. Love: It’s the one super-talent that God has given to all of us, and it’s the very driving force that moves God.

“Memorable”

August 13th

My calling as a Minister gives me the chance to meet lots and lots of people. With every encounter, however brief it might be, I try to make some kind of connection; I’ll ask what a person does, or learn their name or seek some way to know and be known by them. Quite often it’s just a fleeting thing; we meet at an event and then head off our separate ways, never to see each other again. Sometimes, however, even though the meeting might be brief, a memorable connection is made; for some reason or another I will remember that person or they will remember me well after the original encounter.
Being remembered in a good way has opened the doors for me to help folks in times of crisis; as a result of a memorable connection being made I’ve been invited to be with people in times of need or to preside over a loved one’s funeral. It’s a humbling thing to think that you’re memorable; knowing that you have made a positive connection with someone helps put things in perspective as you realize that there is no such thing as a meaningless meeting. Every bit of contact you have with others matters; it’s a chance to know how special someone else might be, and to let them know the quality of your character. To realize that you are somehow memorable, in a good way, is a great honour.
Jesus was memorable to the folks he met because he cared for so many of them; through wise teachings or loving healings Jesus had a positive impact on many lives. Jesus was also memorable to many folks because he challenged them, calling them to account for things they said or did that were less than holy, kind or helpful. Yet while some people might not have liked those encounters, others did, because through them they learned what God expected of people. Still, the truth is that not everyone had positive encounters with Jesus, even though He had the best intentions. After all, Jesus didn’t challenge people in order for them to feel guilty but so that they would understand what God really expected of them.
Learning from Jesus, we realize that when we follow His way, our encounters should be mostly positive; loving and caring for others are good and memorable things that everyone enjoys. But sometimes caring for others means calling them to account for the way they’ve hurt others or acted in ways that are unkind or unhelpful. Those dealings with others might be memorable indeed, but not in a good way; in fact, some folks might want to forget the times that they were challenged or called to account for their actions.
One way or another, all of our encounters with others are memorable; they might last for only an instant, but if we reveal Christ’s love and live up to His standards they should be remembered with joy. Sometimes they might not be as easy, especially when we’re trying to stick to the truth, or someone has to remind us that we’ve strayed from Christ’s side. Those times might not be as positively memorable as we’d like but if they serve to bring about positive change, then in the end they are good encounters. However we meet others, we should always try to let them see and feel Christ’s love and care for them so that our time together, however brief, will be joyfully memorable.

“Modesty”

August 6th

Everyone knows that when the song is over, you clap, and maybe cheer, and perhaps even stand on your feet whilst clapping and cheering, to tell the performers they’ve done a great job. It even happens in churches after a moving offering. The applause is a little more restrained, and I’ve never yet seen a standing ovation, but it’s an acknowledgment of the artist’s skill and of the gift they have used so well. It takes a little getting used to, but hearing folks clap after you’ve played or sung (or both, if you’re really gifted) gives a nice, warm, feeling, albeit mixed with a little embarrassment if you’re an introvert.
Jazz audiences, however, are different. Jazz audiences don’t wait until a song is finished with. People listening to jazz know that jazz is different; it’s more spontaneous and organic; the musicians are creating new things in the middle of a song, so it’s not uncommon for an audience to clap when a person finishes a solo within a song. Who cares if there’s more music to come and the applause drowns it out for a moment or two? When something good happens, Jazz audiences seize the moment and clap, cheer and maybe even get on their feet, even if the song isn’t finished.
Matthew is not a jazz musician. He plays in church, mostly. I met him when he played in the band for a recent show I took part in. Matthew is very good, and he is used to hearing applause after playing an offering in church…
…but when we fellow performers applauded his solo in the middle of song, Matthew was quite surprised; there was still more song to play. It felt very different for him when folks began clapping, cheering and all but standing on their feet after he had blown them away with an excellent rendition of the guitar solo from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But why should we have waited for the end to come? He had done something amazing, so we acknowledged what he had done in that very moment rather than waiting.
Maybe we need to learn from Jazz audiences. They react immediately when a good thing happens in a song, rather than waiting. Some folks certainly picked up on that by surprising Matthew after he had finished his solo in the middle of a song. Maybe we should start thanking and acknowledging folks before they’re finished, too. Thank your waiter in the middle of your meal; let your partner know how great they are before they’ve finished their chores. Tell an acquaintance they’re wonderful, even if they haven’t done anything special. Be like a good Jazz audience and seize the moment to surprise someone with a good word, kind gesture, or some unexpected applause, right in the middle of whatever they’re doing!

“Easy”

June 25th

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