“Serve”

November 24th

At a faith-based retreat in a time long, long ago, these words came to me: “and you are to serve my people”. It was the end of the retreat and we were sharing what we had gotten from our time praying, studying and chatting. As one gentleman had just spoken his truth to us, those words came directly to me, unbidden, unexpected, unapologetic: “and you are to serve my people”.
It was a life changing moment that caused me to (eventually) quit my job as a Computer Service Technician so that I could pursue God’s call to me.
The statement of that call, “and you are to serve my people”, was very specific. “My people”. I assumed that I was being invited to serve other Christians like myself within the context of an organized church. So, I became a Minister of Word and Sacrament within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Simple, no? Upon Ordination, or upon taking the steps to becoming Ordained, I had fulfilled the terms of God calling me “…to serve my people”.
Not so simple, however.
Not the serving part. The “my people” part. At least, the “my people” as I had thought it meant. I thought that it meant faithful, if imperfect, people like myself. Not just Presbyterian folks, but Christians in general, but here’s the thing. All my life, even as a “Computer SERVICE Technician, I have been serving people. As far back as High School I was chatting with folks and helping them figure things out. Which means that, as I grew more and more comfortable in my Call to serve God’s people, I grew more and more broadminded in who those people were. Yes, I continue to actively serve a congregation within the Presbyterian Church in Canada as an Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament within that denomination, but those aren’t the only folks I serve.
In answering God’s call “…to serve my people” I have come to realize that, faithful or not, we are all God’s people and that is who I am called to serve. What’s more, I have learned that it doesn’t matter who or what a person is; we are all children of our Creator God, each reflecting the characteristics and qualities of our Creator in our own unique way. Gender identity, Race, Creed, political status, wealth, power, poverty, saintliness or sinfulness, wholeness or brokenness might identify and divide us, but none of that matters in who God has called me to serve. God’s people are all of humanity, and it is humanity I serve, however imperfectly that might be.
One final thought. God’s call to me used the word “serve”. Over time, I have come to realize that the core of that service is to love God’s people. As such, it’s not the easiest call. Serving is detached and uninvolved. Love is not. Yet reframing my call in terms of love makes it all the more worthwhile and helps me to see all God’s people through the eyes of our Creator and to understand just how privileged I am to have been able to answer God’s call.

“Offensive”

November 17th

It’s happened again. Someone said something that was well intentioned, but came out all wrong. The delivery was rude and crass. It was unkind and so the result was predictable. The message was lost in the midst of the offense it caused. That’s unfortunate. It was something that people need to hear. It mattered. But despite that reality, the bigger, more significant reality is that when something is spoken in an offensive manner, it doesn’t matter what’s said. The offence is always greater than the words.
That’s bad enough. It’s bad enough that a good message ended up offending people, but what’s worse is that people have taken umbrage to their offence. Yes, people are offended that people are offended. And so, they mock them. They belittle the word “offence” as if it’s meaningless. They call the people who have been offended snowflakes or other unhelpful things. So, now there are two offences. The original, less than helpful sentiment, and the belittling of those offended.
Let’s rethink that word, “offended”. Would it be better to say Shamed? Demeaned? Insulted? Assaulted? Abused? Wounded? Or how about plain old hurt? You might not like those words. You might think they’re too strong. You might think they’re not appropriate or that they don’t apply, but the truth is, they are all equally good substitutes for the word “offended” and whatever word you would prefer to use rather than the offensive offended, people were hurt by a well-intentioned but poorly spoken message.
People have been hurt this way before. They are being hurt right now. They will continue to be hurt. They will continue to be offended, shamed, demeaned, insulted, assaulted, abused, wounded, or hurt by poorly spoken words.
Words have incredible power. We can say things that shape the lives of others in both helpful and hurtful ways. Sometimes what is intended to be helpful comes out the wrong way and it ends up offending the very person we want to help. And at that point we have to consider the pain of the offence and, more importantly, we have to own up to that truth to find a way to make things right rather than belittling the person for being too sensitive.
As people of faith we are called to love others and, by implication, not to hurt anyone. We also  have a wonderful message to offer. How we deliver that message matters. Some people might not like what we have to; that’s their choice. But, if we share God’s Good News is in ways that shame, demean, insult, assault, abuse, wound or hurt we are offensive to both them and to God.
After all, Jesus tells us that whatever we do to a fellow child of God, we do to Him. So, if we offend a friend, we offend Jesus. On the other hand, if we treat a friend kindly and make a positive difference in their lives, then that’s what we offer to Jesus. Which would you rather do?

“Play”

November 3rd

I was watching a video of a fantastic band, “The Quadraphonnes”, offering up a live performance. “The Quadraphonnes” refers to the four saxophone players that make of the heart of the group, but they also have a very tight rhythm section that adds a deep, rich dimension to their sound. At one point Leah Hinchcliff, their Bass player, knocked an astounding solo out of the park. While her mastery of the instrument was evident in the ease with which she played, what really blew me away was how cool, calm and collected she was the entire time. Her solo just seemed to flow from her soul to her fingers.
Reflecting on how naturally she made music opened my eyes to a different take on performers of her ability. She doesn’t simply “play” the Bass, she plays with it. I don’t mean that it’s a toy; rather, her consummate skill lets the music flow from her. She doesn’t think about the basic mechanics or theory. She just makes music.
When I play drums or piano, I have to concentrate on each action and note, focussing my attention more on getting things right than actually making music. For someone like Leah Hinchcliff the opposite is the case. She is so well-practiced and gifted that she can play with her Bass and make it sing as easily as you or I can breathe. It is truly a pleasure not only to hear her make music, but also to see how that music flows from her. I can play a piano and make moderately musical noises. Leah Hinchcliff plays with her bass and makes astounding music.
Of course, not all of us can devote the time and effort it takes a musician like her to master an instrument or skill. That’s why it’s such a blessing to see and hear consummate professionals like Leah play. It’s a reminder of what humans can achieve and the beauty we can create.
As followers of Jesus we’re challenged by His command to love one another and by his example of what love looks like. It can seem like a task that we might never master, but love isn’t about skills; it’s what we’re made for. And it’s not about getting it right. Love is about bringing joy to one another, helping each other when we struggle, celebrating when we succeed and giving to God what God first gave us.
What God gave us is a wonderful, beautiful world in which to live as well as talents to share and enjoy. Most importantly, Our Creator-God gave us love that binds Creator and Creation together. That same love lets us bless friends, families, enemies and strangers alike. Because it is part of who we are, love isn’t work; it something we do joyfully, thankfully, generously. Love might even be something we do as naturally as Leah Hinchcliff plays with her Bass. Maybe we can reach a point where don’t have to think about loving one another. Maybe we can reach the point where we just love one another as easily, naturally and masterfully as Jesus loves us.

“Say Something”

October 27th
“Say Something”
Common wisdom, usually attributed to a universal “Mom” figure, suggests that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Which is an excellent piece of advice. It’s so good, I wish more people would take it seriously and say nothing whatsoever. The world would certainly (and sadly) be a quieter place. But here’s the thing: if, in response to Mom’s wisdom, you find yourself saying nothing a great deal of the time, then maybe it’s time to worry less about saying nothing and start pondering why it is that you have nothing to say.
I get it. There are traits in other people that drive others bonkers. Simply thinking about them is enough to still even the kindest tongue. Still, not all folks call for the silent treatment all the time. Most folks are pretty decent, to say the least, and require little effort to talk about whilst still honouring Mom. But if you manage to find little that’s nice, or good, or helpful, or kind, or even totally loving to say about someone, or many someones, then maybe it’s time to think about why. Why is it you can’t find something nice to say about others? Why is it that another adage, “Silence is golden” is your go-to choice when it comes to your friends, pew-neighbour or the new family that just moved in across the street?
James, one of the Bible’s letter writers, talks about the human tongue this way: “(it) runs wild, a wanton killer” (The Message). Strong but often true words. What we say can hurt others, which is why Mom suggests that we keep quiet at times. But the tongue is not an independent operator. It is driven by our minds and our souls. What we say, whether good or bad, reflects our own hearts and how we think about the world. The tongue only speaks the truth as we feel and know it.
Jesus doesn’t mince words either. Jesus tells us quite bluntly, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” Love one another. It’s an order, not a suggestion. And if we follow Jesus’ order truly and faithfully, then we should be talking about others very freely because we will have only nice, or good, or helpful, or kind, or even totally loving things to say about someone, or many someones. If we take Jesus’ words seriously, silence becomes a missed opportunity rather than a golden moment.
To love others as we are loved totally transforms how we understand our friends, pew-neighbours or even the new family that just moved in across the street. Such love takes us to the core of how God sees and knows us, showing us as beloved, desired children worthy of praise and support rather than tearing down or keeping silent about. It’s not the easiest path, to be sure, but it’s the one that will free us to say things about others that reflect how God loves each and every one of us.

“Tryptophan”

October 20th

I was going to write about Tryptophan, an Amino acid found in Turkey (and other meats) that can help you sleep. There’s a lot of interesting information about that particular chemical compound and how it contributes to feeling tired and ready for a nap after that big Thanksgiving dinner many of us enjoyed recently. However, in doing my research, I came across other interesting information about how the body processes Amino acids. Which opened the door to a few things about chemistry. And then science in general. Followed by scientists. Which inspired a peak at history, which, eventually led to an adventure in distraction and a whole new train of thought for my thoughts which only thought of Tryptophan in a secondary way.
So, thanks to Tryptophan, I’m actually thinking about how easily distracted we humans can be. Sure, most of the time we stick to the one task, but all too often we find ourselves travelling down the proverbial rabbit-hole, whether it’s in the course of a conversation that’s supposed to take five minutes but takes an hour, research that leads to far too many things being studied, or chores that seem to multiply as the desire to clean the house eventually leads to a trip to Toronto in search of that original Barry Manilow vinyl LP that you finally didn’t buy the last time you wandered your way to the record shop when looking for a good used Muffler and matching hat…
…anyhow…
I think that a lot of times people aren’t bad, even though they might hurt others. I think that a lot of times we’re simply distracted. I think that our own self-interest distracts us from loving others fully and without reservation. I think that our busy-ness trying to get ahead distracts us from helping others along their journey. I think that we’re so preoccupied with getting life just right that we’re distracted from simply enjoying it and doing our best.
Jesus was clearly focussed on His work. Yet he could be distracted along the way, like when a woman challenged him to help her even though she was a foreigner. He was distracted from prayer by a crowd hungry for Spiritual food and in need of a dinner midway through His teaching. Yet, as distracted as he might have been by those little side-trips each one still contributed to His primary goal of drawing us closer to God.
Distractions are normal. They are a part of life, a part of interacting with others and letting them ask questions not related to the conversation you’re already having. Distractions can relieve stress, open our minds to new ideas or maybe even take us to where we actually should be. And, like Jesus, when we’re focussed on God and what God desires of us, even our distractions can be holy moments.
And now, we should probably all get back from this little distraction to what we had actually intended to get done today…

“Destiny”

October 6th

In the dramatic, climactic scene between the evil Darth Vader and good Luke Skywalker, Vader says to the hero “It is your destiny”. Barely clinging to life and struggling
I think that’s the way of life as well. I think that we often find ourselves in one mess or another without really knowing how we got there. Was it a misspoken word said to the wrong person? Was it a gut-reaction to one situation in the past that had a negative ripple effect on our present? Are we prone to making the same messy mistake without realizing what we’re messing up or that we’re doing it all the time? Sometimes it’s hard to say where the messiness comes from. Sometimes we just have to accept that we’ve messed up and figure out how to fix it.
While we might not always be able to figure out why our non-touch screens still get covered in fingerprints or how we ended up in our current state of messiness, we can usually figure out how to tidy things up or make amends. And, if truth be told, we humans are messy creatures. We don’t always make the right choices, say the right things or do everything perfectly. Messiness might not be a way of life, but it is certainly a constant factor in our existence.
The other constant factor in our existence is the forgiveness, grace and mercy Jesus offers us. Through Him, we know that our Spiritual messiness is both forgiven and fixable. When our mistakes go against God’s will (and, let’s face it, pretty much every way we mess up dishonours our Creator), Jesus assures us of our forgiveness and models ways to not make a mess of our lives.
As careful as I am, I know that I will always have to clean my laptop’s screen of the fingerprints that mess it up. As careful as we are, we know that we will repeat some mistakes and quite likely find new ways to make a mess of things. Know, however, Jesus’ forgiveness is far greater than our messiness. While we might not always know why we mess up, we know that it is because of God’s great love for us that forgiveness is always there for us.

“Messiness”

September 29th

My lovely Macbook Pro laptop computer has many wonderful features. One that it is lacking, however, is a “touch screen”. Any work I have to do requires either using its keyboard or trackpad (the laptop equivalent of a mouse…). Here’s the weird thing, however. Despite lacking a touch screen, the screen still gets covered in fingerprints. I honestly don’t know how it happens. I don’t think I actually touch it too much, if at all, but I can’t deny the smudgy messiness I have to clean up weekly.
I think that’s the way of life as well. I think that we often find ourselves in one mess or another without really knowing how we got there. Was it a misspoken word said to the wrong person? Was it a gut-reaction to one situation in the past that had a negative ripple effect on our present? Are we prone to making the same messy mistake without realizing what we’re messing up or that we’re doing it all the time? Sometimes it’s hard to say where the messiness comes from. Sometimes we just have to accept that we’ve messed up and figure out how to fix it.
While we might not always be able to figure out why our non-touch screens still get covered in fingerprints or how we ended up in our current state of messiness, we can usually figure out how to tidy things up or make amends. And, if truth be told, we humans are messy creatures. We don’t always make the right choices, say the right things or do everything perfectly. Messiness might not be a way of life, but it is certainly a constant factor in our existence.
The other constant factor in our existence is the forgiveness, grace and mercy Jesus offers us. Through Him, we know that our Spiritual messiness is both forgiven and fixable. When our mistakes go against God’s will (and, let’s face it, pretty much every way we mess up dishonours our Creator), Jesus assures us of our forgiveness and models ways to not make a mess of our lives.
As careful as I am, I know that I will always have to clean my laptop’s screen of the fingerprints that mess it up. As careful as we are, we know that we will repeat some mistakes and quite likely find new ways to make a mess of things. Know, however, Jesus’ forgiveness is far greater than our messiness. While we might not always know why we mess up, we know that it is because of God’s great love for us that forgiveness is always there for us.