“The Right Words”

September 13th

A strange thing happened to a Priest serving in Chicago. It was discovered that when he was Baptized, an incorrect word had been used. The Priest presiding over the procedure said “We Baptize you” rather than “I Baptize you”. The fallout from that single syllable slip was staggering. In an instant, the Baptism was nullified. Since the Baptism was nullified, he was not member of the Roman Catholic Church. Since he was not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he could not be a Priest. Since he was not a Priest, none of the Baptisms, or any thing he had done were legitimate. Since nothing he had done was legitimate, the souls, as well as legal and religious effects of all his actions were rendered null and void. What’s worse, all of the folks he had Baptized were now doomed to Hell.
True story. The Roman Catholic leaders and thinkers overseeing this unfortunate Priest’s ministry all believed that because the ritual had not been performed exactly as it was written, he was not actually Baptized, with all the resultant consequences. There was no grace, no mercy, no allowing for a mistake. The Priest had not been baptized, therefore nothing he had done counted, since he couldn’t be a Priest without being properly Baptized.
Thankfully, the leaders quickly performed the Baptism once again, perfectly correctly, then made him a member of the church, then re-ordained the unfortunate man as a fully fledged Priest, thus legitimizing everything he had done when we was not, according to Roman Catholic law, a real Priest.
Crazy, isn’t it? And yet it’s a true story. An unfortunate story. A story of pettiness, unkindness, small mindedness and an adherence to human rather than Godly standards. Rather than simply accept the first Priest’s mistake and carry on, the affected Priest was put through a legalistic Hell that caused him great pain, shame and embarrassment. Truly, there was nothing Christlike in the leadership that oversaw one of their own.
However…
…a strange thing happens in the Bible, our one source for Godly behaviour. In the Bible stories are told in different ways. There are two different versions of the creation of Human beings. The books of Kings and the Chronicles tell the story of Israel in slightly different ways. The four Gospels have slightly different retellings of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection, not to mention that each has miracles and other events in His life the others don’t mention.
Strange as it may seem, the words within the Bible tell the story…
…but they are not the story itself. The story that matters is that of the Living Word, the Word made flesh, Jesus. How we tell that story doesn’t depend on the right words or rituals spoken perfectly. We tell Jesus’ story by how we follow Him, how we use our gifts, and how we love others as He loved us. What we say matters since the spoken word does have its own power, but what matters more is how our lives speak to Jesus, the Word made flesh.

“The Best Stuff”

September 6th

“New stuff is the best stuff” the ad proclaims proudly. Really? Is new stuff really the best stuff? My favourite word processing program was rewritten and made “new” and the the supposedly improved version is nowhere near as good as the old one was. That’s one reason new stuff isn’t always the best stuff. Sure, quite often new things are better than what preceded them. I am forever thankful that wringer washers are a thing of an increasingly forgotten past and that new ones are truly better in every way. New stuff can indeed be the best.
But what struck me about the ad was not the veracity of its claim. What struck me was the use of the idea as a marketing tool, pushing a wasteful and thoughtless agenda that is very much against my core principles.
First off, do we always have to have more stuff? Does buying a few new things, even if they are better, make our lives truly better? I don’t think so. More is not better, by any means, and new, even if it is an improvement on the old, does not justify buying more stuff.
The other thing is that most of us already have more than enough material things. My dresser is packed with clothes, so much so that the drawers don’t close easily. I also have a closet and an armoire that are quite full. Do I need more stuff to stuff them even more fully? While Lois, my wife, would suggest that quite a few things could well disappear without being missed, they wouldn’t have to be replaced. More stuff, even new stuff, isn’t always better. Sometimes making do with what we have is the best thing of all.
The final thing that bugs me about this ad is that it is from a company that professes it’s a good brand that wants to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Is it environmentally friendly to invite customers to be wasteful and to buy things just because they are shiny and new? And is it socially responsible to imply that a better life can be had by buying new, better, stuff? On both counts my answer is a big fat “No!” My stuff might make life a little more comfortable and easier, but it certainly does not make my life better in any way.
Jesus once tried to teach a rich young person that it wasn’t what he owned that mattered, but his attitude towards life. The young man blew it and chose his stuff over the best life possible following and serving Jesus. New or old, good our bad, it’s not our stuff that determines our joy or fulfilment. It’s how we love our neighbour, welcome the stranger and glorify our Creator that really matters. What’s more, when we look to serving and honouring God we get new stuff every day! Every day is filled with new opportunities to do good and to celebrate life and it’s free! No purchase necessary! All you have to do is enjoy the blessings God offers you when you follow Jesus faithfully and lovingly.

“Wee Seeds”

July 26th

I’ve noticed an interesting thing when I wash my hair. After rinsing as thoroughly as I can, if I take just a small drop of shampoo, I can get a really good, very bubbly, second wash. I guess that even with the best efforts at a thorough rinse, there is enough shampoo residue left to generate another good washing. All it takes is a wee seed to get the bubbles forming.
Wee seeds are like that. They make stuff happen, whether it’s summoning up another good batch of bubbles or giving rise to a fresh crop of tomatoes.
Wee seeds don’t have to be physical. Sometimes they are a word or and idea.  They have the ability to generate spirited debates, create new thoughts and even change hearts. It might be a word in passing, or spoken in excited haste. It might be one that means little to us but triggers something big in another person.
Sometimes it’s not even a word, but an action or an emotion. Any small act of kindness might generate personal growth that leads a softer, more loving heart or more positive view of people. A tiny, harsh or aggressive act may be the seed of resentment or a closing off of the heart.
Small things can have big results, personally or to others. As followers of Jesus, that’s a wonderful gift. Few of us are comfortable with big, extravagant actions. We’re not good with fancy words or powerful speeches. The power of wee seeds empowers us to do great things with very little. We might not have the wealth to end poverty, but our small contribution to a benevolent organization helps it to grow and thrive. We may not have the wise words to answer a friend’s deepest questions, but our wee words of support and care can help them work out a satisfying solution. We might not be able to perform miracles, but a wee, kind, gesture goes a long way to soothing a suffering soul.
The tiniest seed can have a mighty effect. What wee seed can you plant today?

“Unfriended”

July 19th

I happen to like Anchovies, whether in their original, fresh-from-ocean-form or when they are salted and packed in oil. It is not a position held by many. In fact, most of my friends and family are not fans of what I think of as a great treat. We remain connected and close, however, despite our different opinions. It is a matter of taste (and texture, for some) so I have no problem agreeing to disagree. As long as you let me have my anchovies and I agree not to force them on you, we can get along just fine.
Agreeing to disagree is not always that simple. It’s a matter of both style and substance. For instance, if you were to make gagging noises or leave the room because my Pizza had anchovies on it, we would have a problem. We would have an even bigger problem if you mocked me for my flavour preference or tried to deny me access to the treat I enjoy. Agreeing to disagree comes in various (pun intended) flavours, not all of which are just or acceptable.
I have unfriended various people, both in the Facebook sense and in real life because of we can’t really agree to disagree, and not over Anchovies. When the discussion centres around broad justice issues or personal beliefs it is hard, if not well nigh impossible, to turn a blind eye, which is a big part of agreeing to disagree. You might not like Anchovies, but you don’t make a big fuss about it when I enjoy one or two. My pleasure does not detract from yours, so you just ignore what I’m eating, and I don’t make a big fuss about my enjoyment versus your lack of enjoyment.
Not all issues are like that. If I were to believe that slavery was right you would have every right to call me to account or to unfriend me. When someone is clearly professing or doing something that is hurtful, hateful, ignorant or just plain wrong, there is little room to agree to disagree or to turn a blind eye. Or, if I were to become abusive about my love of Anchovies and call you a name or insult your taste or intelligence, there is no reason for you to stick around. Agreeing to disagree should not be a source of pride or pain.
Some folks argue that it’s not worth losing (or dumping) friends simply because you can’t see eye-to-eye. That’s very true when it comes to my love for Anchovies. But when someone bashes the LGBTQi community, or mocks a disabled person, or takes advantage of a neighbour or does anything that hurts, diminishes or asserts privilege over another human being, chances are that I will unfriend them. I will first try to help them see the pain or suffering they are causing but if they continue their harmful ways or direct their unacceptable behaviour towards me, you can be sure that I will part ways with them.
A friend is a special gift from God. You might not always see eye-to-eye with them about what to put on a Pizza, but you can accept their eccentric tastes and still be friends. Those are the people we should treasure and hold dear and who will never give us cause to unfriend them.

“No Pain, No Gain”

July 12th

“No Pain, No Gain” is the mantra frequently heard during physiotherapy or exercise class. It’s not a call for great physical suffering, but a recognition that building muscle mass or endurance is demanding. The body is pushed to its limits, and just a little beyond, causing shortness of breath or sore muscles or both. The pain is not anexperience of suffering caused unduly. It is a reaction to stress imposed carefully and willingly
Learning is not necessarily painful, but there is stress and discomfort involved. I  learned math by memorizing the “Times Tables” along with repeated, and increasingly complicated, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division exercises. They were time consuming and a bit frustrating but it was the price to be paid for learning and mastering new things. “No Pain, No Gain” certainly applies to learning.
Growing and maturing from childhood also features the “No Pain, No Gain” theory. It is through the experience of loss, or struggling with change or learning to get along with others that we develop wisdom, understanding and strength. Tears, anger, exuberant joy, complete confusion or other emotions are not only a healthy way to express ourselves, reflection on their cause and effects help us learn how to manage them so that they become a healthy part of our existence rather than something that drags us down or causes us to react inappropriately. “No Pain, No Gain” is part of growing up.
The “No Pain, No Gain” concept even applies in a healthy faith life. The Bible and the life of Christ are not simple, straightforward, things. There are complex ideas and difficult events. Dealing with the violence of the Hebrew Kings, or the complexity of Mosaic law is challenging to say the least. Getting a grasp of the Christ who is not always gentle, meek and mild should cause us to pause and reflect in order to fully grasp who He is and how best to follow Him. The letters that follow the Gospels are equally challenging, as they not only guide us how to live, but also express concepts that don’t always apply to our modern context. “No Pain, No Gain” is true for learning about and understanding, who and what we are as God’s children through Christ.
Following Jesus is also a “No Pain, No Gain” experience because His calls for mercy, love and justice are so often unheard and unheeded. Seeing the poor made even poorer by our economic system, hearing the cries from the Black Lives Matter or Me Too movements, seeing the world’s beauty ravaged by human greed and ignorance is painful and heartbreaking. Yet out of that heartbreak we should find the courage to change unjust systems and start living as part of Earth’s great ecosystem rather than its masters. For followers of Jesus, “No Pain, No Gain” is a part of life…
…doubly so.
To follow Jesus means loving others even when we think they don’t deserve. It’s giving up our treasures, time and talent when they become our idols. It’s letting God’s will overrule ours when our talk is bigger than our actions.
“No Pain, No Gain”. It’s a challenging idea indeed. However, if we are to be the best God made us to be, it is one we must not only accept, but embrace.

“Discrimination”

July 5th

I have to admit that I grew up on and with Television. My parents were among the first adopters of the habit of watching TV at night. I can’t imagine what evenings were like before “the Tube” dominated Europe and North America. Living in Toronto we had the luxury of three Canadian and one American channels in the mid-sixties. We could pick an choose what we watched and felt like the masters of our own entertainment world, even with the limited choice in programs.
As the technology advanced and even more programming was offered it often felt like an embarrassment of riches. There were so many channels, so many options, and we drank deeply from the entertainment cup, even consuming the the dregs at times. And, oh yes, there were some really, really bad programs, a trend which definitely continues today.
I have to admit that Television is still a big part of my evening’s entertainment. Lately, however, I have noticed that my level of tolerance for the dregs has become less and less. It’s not that the programs are any worse than what I remember from TVs early years. It’s more that I am more discriminating in my tastes and less willing to put up with badly produced or offensive content. Where once I would just let things ride, now I am more likely to change the channel or simply turn off the television and do something else.
What I’ve also noticed is that I’m not just more discriminating about bad programming (or what I think is bad…) but also the social message being spoken and the values being projected. That means that I have far less tolerance for programs that either promote or operate from a position of wealth and privilege. I am repelled by the shows “Ultimate Pools” and “Pool Kings” because they speak to an ostentatious display of wealth that is only achievable by a very few people. What’s more, in some places where water is scarce, it’s an absolutely obscene waste of a valuable precious resource.
I have also become much more sensitive to programs that are all “White” and do not represent the diversity of humans found in real life. Hallmark movies might be light, frothy entertainment but they are also very much colour-blind, in that they feature mostly white actors. There are a few folks of other ethnicities thrown in, but more often than not it seems like they’re there to meet diversity requirements and not as actual people. Another irksome thing for me is how beautiful and slim everyone is. As you might guess, I’m not a Hallmark fan.
I’m not a fan of a lot of other programs, either. As I become more aware of the #metoo or #blacklivesmatter movements, or learn about micro-aggressions and gaslighting I have become much more discriminating in my TV viewing habits. As a result, I opt for more quality time in front of the “Tube” even if it means less actual time watching it. In this case, discrimination is a good thing!

“Petty”

June 28th

I started talking to people in a counselling capacity way back in High School. For whatever reason, there were a couple of girls who talked to me about the things that were worrying them, and I did my best to help them. They weren’t world-altering conversations; most often the chats centred around boyfriends or worries about school, but for the young ladies that confided in me, they were things that really mattered, and in many ways, things that resonated with me.
Over the years I have received formal training in basic counselling, and have spoken with many, many women and men. One pattern stands out in those conversations: folks with a small world-views tend to focus on very small things. Folks with a larger world-view, meanwhile, worry about bigger things, and usually the time spent together is more productive, as those people seem to be able to move forward, mature and heal.
I can’t say that for the folks that focus on the petty things. For them, there is little I can offer other than a listening ear, as their limited view of the world keeps them from seeing the possibilities beyond themselves. Petty hurts are never released. The world is out to get them. Things are black and white with very little room for grey.
When Jesus taught His disciples He challenged them by using examples they understood, but also with parables that often left them wondering. His teaching caused them to open their minds so that they could receive a message that was radically different from what they expected. Even His own life experience gave them the opportunity to understand things in new ways. Imagine Jesus telling them about His temptation by Satan and the way he argued with him using the Bible lessons the disciples knew so well? Think for a moment the way He reframed the Sabbath for the religious and legal leaders, and how His followers understood what he said while the experts felt insulted.
Those leaders had a limited world-view. They only understood their faith based on tradition and legalism that made them look small and petty. Even though challenged by Jesus and given every opportunity to learn, they failed to grow and lost out on the opportunity God had presented them through Jesus.
Jesus’ followers and disciples had the wherewithal to expand their way of thinking. They listened to His lessons, saw the way He lived and matured in their relationship with God. Their original, pre-Jesus world-view might have been fairly narrow; when they paid attention to Him, a whole new world of possibilities opened up to them.
Challenging things are happening right now. There is a great deal to think about and even more to learn in terms of race relations, living with COVID-19, climate change and many other concerns. We could, of course, focus on the little irritations and petty concerns, but that wouldn’t help anyone or change anything. Only when we listen to Jesus with an open mind will we get the bigger picture that will help us grow and thrive in these trying times. Only by seeing the world from His loving perspective can we really make a positive difference in everything we do, say.

“Democracy”

June 21st

“Democracy”. What a wonderful word. Simple, direct, the combination of two Greek words, a foundational term in the American experiment…
…and a word that no longer means what it actually means.
Demos: the people; Cracy: the rulers
“Democracy” means to be ruled by the people. That’s it, that’s all. It means that the citizens of a nation have assumed responsibility for it. They are the governors, the leaders, the Arch-ists, the ones who ensure that whatever their country stands for is upheld and maintained.
Recently, folks have gotten the word “Democracy” confused with freedom. Sorry, wrong! To be part of a “Democracy” means that you agree to be subject to the rules you and your fellow citizens lay down. It means you pay taxes, drive on the agreed upon side of the road, conduct your business dealings and private life according to the appropriate laws and live by the terms laid out in whatever constitution upon which your “Democracy” was founded.
Living in a “Democracy” does not mean you can do whatever the heck you please. It does not mean your government is out to get you. It does not mean that you can ignore the laws or regulations your leaders have established.
Whoops! Let me rephrase that.
“Democracy” does not mean you can ignore the laws or regulations YOU, as part of the “demos” that is the “cracy” of your nation, have established.
To live in a “Democracy” means that you are responsible for the governance of yourself and your fellow citizens. Nobody is exempt. Nobody is above the law. You and the other members of your democratic community share the responsibility of ruling your nation.
For people following Jesus, it’s more complex. There’s another layer to our governance that supersedes whatever form of government our nation has in place. That extra layer is the reign of Christ. We are bound first and foremost to Jesus, not our governments. As long as the laws of the land follow the heart of Christ, we are to obey them. When we have some say in the law of the land, as we do in our democratic nation, we are to see that they are written in a way that honours Christ-like values. When those laws do not follow His values, we are called to resist them and try to change them from within the system.
The beauty of our democratic system is that it gives us the freedom to worship as we see fit. Worshipping God within the Christian context, however, binds us to Christ. Being bound to Christ gives us the best life possible regardless of what type of government rules our physical bodies. As much as possible we are to follow the law of the land, as long as it does not contradict Christ’s rule of love, mercy and compassion.
It is a wonderful thing that our democracy gives us a say in our government.
It’s even more wonderful that through Christ, what we have to say is holy, loving and blessed.

“Newsworthy”

June 14th

If you are of a “certain age”, you remember that the most newsworthy items in a newspaper were expressed in a BIG HEADLINE! If it was really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy, all the major newspapers right across this great nation of ours would share that newsworthy bit, with only slight variations in wording.
Newspapers are pretty much a thing of the past, but sharing newsworthy items is not. Instead of headlines we have hashtags, #thelatestnews, on our social media feeds, and if a thing is really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy, all of the memes and hashtag feeds share it, with only slight variations.
Christians have a particularly newsworthy item to share in the “Good News” of the Gospel. It’s a timeless truth that speaks as powerfully now as it did way back when the first Christians shared it in house churches or by word of mouth.  In those days there were no printed newspapers. Instead, letters intended to be circulated from house to house or gathering to gathering, heralds, missionaries and travellers were tasked with sharing the really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy stories that people wanted or needed to hear.
That our particular story, the Good News of the Gospel, has survived all these years is a wonder, and something of a Good News story in and of itself. But the reason it has continued to be spread as successfully as it has is because it has always spoken to the newsworthy headlines or hashtags of the day. For Jesus’ followers, telling the story of Jesus is never a separate bit of news. It is always part of the news, in the form of a response to what is happening, a tool to deal with it, or as an unchangeable standard giving people a sense of stability in the midst of great change or upheaval.
The strength of the Good News is the constancy and consistency of Christ. Jesus’ message is one of love no matter who the person is or what they have done. It is one of justice and mercy in all situations. It is one of resistance against evil and forgiveness when we mess up. No matter what the news of the day might be, Jesus’ Good News helps us deal with it, underscoring the truth of a happy story or challenging us when the tale is troubling.
Jesus Himself is our most newsworthy, earth-shaking, important and very gossipy story. No matter what the headline or #thelatestnews might be, His Good News helps us understand it and deal with it. The example He sets and His teachings are foundational for His followers, but earth-shattering for those who don’t know how much better their lives could be by following Him. In a time of crisis and confusion, Jesus anchors us firmly on the ground of love and justice. And in our everyday lives, Jesus offers us great gossip, with stories of healing, helping and standing with those odd neighbours nobody else likes.
Looking for some good news today or any day? There is no more newsworthy story to tell than that of Jesus, author and hero of the ultimate Good News.

“Discomfort Zone”

June 7th

We all have our “safe” spaces, the places where we feel comfortable, a space where we might stay forever, if it was possible.A “safe” space, a comfort zone, can be physical. That’s the obvious and most literal definition but it can also be a mental or emotional space. A friendly chat over a shared hobby, a favourite song on the radio, a moment to dream our best dreams can transform us, putting us at ease as we hang out in an emotional or mental comfort zone.
For Christians, our most common emotional comfort zone is the Pasture, a place where we are safe with other sheep and guarded by Jesus. It’s an ancient concept, described eloquently by King David generations before Jesus. Well watered, fed, protected and treated like royalty, David’s green pastures are echoed by Jesus and longed for by many of us.
Right now, time spent safe, secure and not having to worry about appropriate physical distancing from our fellow sheep sounds pretty good. But there’s  a disconnect between David’s comfort zone and what Jesus offers. David speaks of a place for at the centre of God’s attention. His idea of “safe” space, makes sense, given that he once was a shepherd protecting and caring for his flock.
Jesus, however, describes Himself as our shepherd, offering we sheep many of the same benefits David did, but here’s the thing.
Jesus never actually describes our pasture life, nor does He really talk about the pasture itself. Jesus, it turns out, is offering Himself as our “safe” space. Jesus wants to be our comfort zone, the place we find ourselves nourished, equipped and protected. Our pasture? It’s only a metaphor, along with that of Jesus as our good Shepherd. Where Jesus really would like us to be in real and practical terms is in our discomfort zones, the places where we are challenged, and tested, and maybe even pushed to our limits.
Think of where Jesus sent His followers. Think of what He asked them to do. He sent them amongst the sick and broken, into the homes of the outcast and the rejected. He challenged his followers to turn the other cheek when struck and to feed their hungry enemy. Travel light, He told his followers. Be as cunning as you need to be, He warned them. If you are rejected, walk away, but never reject anyone who needs you to love or care for them.
And when you need a safe space, a comfort zone to heal and regroup and prepare yourself for the next adventure in your discomfort zone, Jesus will welcome you. He will provide for you that safe person, that comforting conversation or gentle touch you need. But when you’re ready, your next discomfort zone awaits, and when you’re there, serving the needy, or comforting the grieving widow or welcoming the stranger, a strange thing happens. A wonderful thing takes place when you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, your safe place, and put your heart on the line. When you do that, you become the safe place for another. You become the comfort zone for them, putting their hearts at ease and revealing to them Jesus, alive and well, and working through you.