“Creators”

January 17
“Creators”
I have always been a maker. My earliest memories of “making” was in the first house I remember living in. I was four or five years old and had received both a box of Lego, which are pretty small building blocks, and Flintstone foam building blocks, which were big enough to create a boy-sized shelter. While the Lego lasted (and is still part of my collection…) the foam blocks were too soft to survive physically, but they will forever remain in my heart.
In my next home Lego and Meccano (a steel building set that used nuts and bolts together) were the order of the day, until I discovered plastic model kits. Thanks to those kits I was able to own everything from a wee VW Beetle to a massive Ford Freightliner 18-wheeler. Heady times indeed for a boy who could barely reach the pedals of a real motor vehicle.
Thanks to my Dad’s skills and interests, I learned to take and print Black and White photos, basic home renovation skills, simple automobile mechanics and got into electronics, as well as woodworking. Over time I bought my own woodworking equipment along with other tools that have allowed me to build numerous pieces of furniture, machines and models of all kinds.
In addition to these physical creations, I also learned to make music, write opinion pieces and even compose music and lyrics. Listing all these things makes me think I can’t stick to one thing for very long, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re curious about everything. As I said, I have always been a maker, and will keep on making things for the rest of my life.
One skill I lack, however. I am not a creator. I write non-fiction because I don’t have the creative mind to create interesting characters, fantastic settings or tightly woven plot lines. The furniture and the electronic projects I built were always based on someone else’s designs. Other than being able to compose original melodies, I don’t really have an inventive bone in my body. I may be able to connect ideas that will lead to an interesting message or a slightly different perspective but I can’t write an original story from scratch.
I don’t mind being a maker rather than a creator. It gives me all the more appreciation for those imaginative geniuses that think of a new design for a coffee table or lead us into fantastic new worlds with the stories they create. I also don’t mind that I’m not a great cook, can’t sew and have no interest in gardening, other than trying to make my yard look somewhat acceptable. Each of us has our own unique gifts, and with those gifts we reflect our Creator.
We were all imagined and made by God; each of our talents and skills reflects part of God’s image. Whether you are a maker or creator, caregiver or entertainer, whatever you do that moves and fulfills you, you are a physical expression of our Creator-God. What’s more, as you use your gifts, you make God’s creative genius visible and tangible in your own unique way.

“Thanks!”

January 10

Dear readers, I have been remiss in my duties. If we were to meet in person, I would make every effort to sneak in a word of praise, thanks or appreciation. That’s not a boast or a desire for a pat on the back, but a promise that I make to myself with everyone I encounter. In trying to be a kind, loving and positive person, I try to bring out the best in others. Part of that effort involves the words I use and the way I communicate in person. Rather than leave my appreciation for you as an assumption, I do my best to speak it out loud.
Keeping with that train of thought, I try to look for what is good in everyone I meet. It’s not just a matter of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. It’s a process of actively seeking out the nice things about a person instead of passively making judgments. Sometimes it’s difficult to do so. On a few rare occasions it’s pretty much impossible, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Look hard, scratch a little more deeply, ignore the naysayers and most of the time there is something worth appreciating and being thankful for in pretty much everyone you meet.
And so, friends, I thank you for reading these “Thoughts” and for the feedback you offer. I’m especially thankful for those of you who reach out and engage me with your feedback, challenging my misconceptions, offering me a deeper understanding of the articles topic or sharing with me how my writing has moved you in some way. I also appreciate the simple fact of being able to offer my “Thoughts” and to have enough of an audience to make it all worthwhile.
Now I turn the idea of thankfulness and appreciation over to you. No, not for me, but for someone you might have overlooked. Have you been remiss in expressing your gratitude to someone, as I was? Is there a person in your life that would love to hear a kind, supportive word for you? Have you been touched by a loving soul without ever giving thought to the positive impact they have had on your life?
Sometimes we take people for granted. Sometimes, as in the relationship between me as a writer and you as a reader, things aren’t so obvious. Sometimes we’re just plain unaware of the person behind the kindness extended towards us, or their giftedness, or even that they have contributed towards making us feel better to make us better people.
Think of the folks involved in your life. Think of your interactions with them. How many times have you asked something of them? How many times have they made you smile or shared a burden with you? How many times have you let them know you are grateful or that you appreciate them? How many times have you too been remiss, as I have been?
Say the words “Thank you”. Speak your appreciation out loud.
And, if you haven’t figured it out already, I thank you all for being in my life, and I appreciate you very, very much.

“Instantly”

December 20

The Giurin household is blessed by a trio of happy partiers that dance whenever the sun is shining. Well, OK, it’s a collection of solar powered Bobble-body figures that move back and forth or side to side. Wallace, Gromit and the sheep (or the Rave, as my adult daughter calls them) bring me great joy both because of their happy-go-lucky dancing and the way that they instantly respond to the sun.
Actually, saying that they respond to the sun is a bit of an exaggeration. The Rave happens happily even on cloudy days, as long as it’s bright enough. And there’s no hesitation or waiting, no slow ramping up of the choreography, just an instantaneous dance party that starts once the bare minimum light threshold is surpassed. I love it.
As a human-thingy who often takes a long time to get up to full speed, and a participant on many committees that often move more slowly than glaciers during the ice age, I appreciate the instantaneous response of the Giurin Rave. No achy joints slow them down, and there is no prolonged discussion or planning process to determine just when to start. Once the right amount of light hits their wee solar panels, they’re off and dancing without a care in the world.
Sometimes I wonder that I, or anyone else for that matter, gets anything done at all. Ideas take time to process and sometimes never take flight at all. Sometimes the will is there but the energy is not. Sometimes there are just too many distractions to start, let alone finish, a project. Sometimes it just takes too darn long to get all the ducks in a row, and once they are, they don’t stay there very long. Any number of excuses can be found to delay starting something.
The Giurin Rave doesn’t care about any of those things. As long as there’s enough sun, they’re off, dancing their hearts out until the light finally fades below their minimum energy requirement.
Of course, along with their instant-start, I love that they are driven by the light of the sun. All they need are right number of photons and they’re off. What a great metaphor for we human thingies. Jesus, the light of the world, is all we need to move and thrive. It shines brightly even on our darkest days. It guides our feet through our difficult journeys. It beckons to us with hope and possibility. If only we could all respond to Him as readily and quickly as do the three little solar-powered figures in my kitchen window; if only we could dance as freely and joyfully as they do in the presence of Christ’s divine light.
Maybe one day. For today, I’m thankful that we are blessed by Him, and that He is patient enough to wait for us to respond in any way whatsoever. It doesn’t have to be an instantaneous response, or an enthusiastic one. Jesus will take us where we are, whether it’s dancing joyfully or simply leaning on him hopefully. We might be slow and hesitant, but His response is instant and loving. We never have to wait for His light to shine upon us. It’s always there for us. All we have to do is seek Jesus it out in our own time.

“Endurance”

December 13

I love it when the timing works out well. I always listen to Classical music when I’m driving, so when a piece begins just as I set out, and lasts just about the entire duration of my journey, I’m tickled pink. As most Classical tunes and car rides last longer than the traditionally “radio friendly” three to five minutes, enjoying one extended sound bit is very satisfying. It’s as if each individual voyage has a theme set by the particular piece of music chosen by the radio station. I love when that happens!
Thinking about this happy coincidence, and pondering the many pieces of music I like within the Classical genre, a particular thought came to mind: “Wow! Those players have great endurance!” After all, once they start playing, there is very little rest for much of the orchestra. Realizing that some scores last forty minutes or so, it’s staggering to think that some players play for almost that entire length of time. That’s what I call endurance!
Much of our culture isn’t used to music that might last for an hour or so. Indeed, much of our culture isn’t used to anything that lasts too long. From shopping for groceries to staying in one job, we’ve become more and more accustomed to brief spurts rather than long-haul experiences. It seems like we are living more in terms of the quick, three minute “radio friendly” song rather than the long, carefully paced symphony. Forget the marathon; we’re all sprinting now. Endurance? Who needs it?
Well, all of us do. While our lives play out from day to day, most of us have thousands of days to live. Each day builds on those that went before it and informs the ones that are to come. Sure, sometimes we’re so busy that one day flashes by in an instant, while others seem to drag on for eternity. But every day is more like a breath, a continuous inhaling and exhaling that sets the pace for our existence. There are a few lives that are quick sprints; they come and go almost before we know it. For most of us, however, whose lives are measured in decades of years, life is a long, steady run that requires patience and endurance.
God created us for the long haul, blessing us with gifts and talents to use and enjoy along the way. Christ accompanies us on our journey, like a beautiful song blessing us with hope, strength and joy. As we make our way through our existence, we are invited to share our blessings with others, helping them to more forward just as they often help us. Throughout, our God’s Holy Spirit fills us with the life and wisdom we need for our travels so that we might not just endure the journey, but enjoy every moment of it.

“Verification”

December 6

It could all have gone so badly.
Gabriel: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary: “What in the world? Who are you?”
Gabriel: “This is God’s Angel, Gabriel. Can you please answer a few questions so I can verify that you are the correct ‘Mary?’”
Mary: “I beg your pardon? Who are you? How do I know you are really God’s Angel, Gabriel? Nobody around here as ever seen an Angel before. You could be an impostor or a terrible salesman.”
Gabriel: “Well of course it’s God’s Angel; here’s my ID badge. Now, I really need that you please prove it’s really you…”
Mary: “That badge could be fake. I looks like it came from the Dollar Store.”
Gabriel: “Yes, well, what about my wings?”
Mary: “Very impressive, I’m sure, but I require at least two legitimate forms of identification that aren’t physical attributes or purchased from the Dollar Store.”
Gabriel: “Oh for heaven’s sake…”
In today’s world we are extra careful making sure that we know who we are talking to. We don’t want to be fooled; we don’t want to be scammed; we don’t want to victimized. While we are cautious and seek to verify that folks are who they claim to be, we often have to prove that it’s us as well. A lot of on-line interactions require a two-step verification process that involves both a password and a security number before getting to where you want to go or doing what you need to do. That’s the reality of our modern day existence. Without verification of our mutual identities, very little can happen.
When Mary was sought out by God through the Angel Gabriel, there were no identity checks. God knew to whom the Angel should speak, and Mary instantly recognized God’s messenger. She might have been nervous, but there appears to be no doubt that Gabriel was truly an Angel sent by God.
When God is really talking to you, you just know. You know you’ve been blessed by an Angel when an unexpected kindness comes your way. You know it’s God at work when a locked, sealed and barricaded door finally opens. You know it’s God speaking when you say just the right thing without thinking about it. You know it’s God reaching out when you feel genuinely loved by the person sitting next to you.
Occasionally, God speaks to us through Angels and their glorious presence requires no verification. More often than not, God speaks or reaches out to us through the people around us, family, friends, strangers serving as God’s palpable presence in our midst. In those blessed moments, no verification is need. When God reaches out to us, God makes sure that we know who it is.

“Playfulness”

November 29th

There are many words associated with a workplace: professional; personable; focussed; industrious; diligent; conscientious, and a great number of others. One word, however, would probably not make the list of most offices, shops, factories or restaurants: playful. Playful is for backyards, nursery schools, dog-parks and beaches. It is not usually associated with a place where meaningful work is done and goods must be prepared and served quickly and efficiently.
Em’s Cafe, in my hometown of Coldwater, breaks the mold. While the staff are indeed professional, personable, focussed, industrious, diligent, and conscientious, they are also the most playful people I have ever seen just about anywhere. Manager Kathy and employees Kim and Laura provide excellent service and delicious food and beverages. They take their jobs seriously and are clearly good at what they do, but it’s their interpersonal relationships that stand out.
Watching them work is a study in friendship and cooperation: one of the most frequently used phrases amongst themselves is: what can I do for you? They constantly have each other’s back and make sure that no-one is left lagging. They don’t walk behind the counter as much as they dance, moving around and past one another with efficiency and grace that would vie with the best ballerina. And they laugh and joke with one another in a way that fills the space with an infectious joy I’ve rarely seen in any other cafe, let alone any other workplace. In short, playfulness seems to be the order of the day creating a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that complements the quality of the food and coffees beautifully.
As a person of faith and a follower of Christ, to see people working together so well brings great joy to my heart. The sound of laughter accompanying the sounds of coffee brewing and soup pots bubbling is genuinely music to my ears. For me, the joy and playfulness of the three women behind the counter brings to mind a world where we humans genuinely enjoy one another. Their constant calls of “how can I help you?” or “what do you need?” speaks to me of a world where we look out for one another not as an obligation but out of a sense of true appreciation and love for our neighbour.
How would you describe your world? How would you describe the way you relate to others? If the word “playful” is one of the first words that comes to mind, you are truly blessed. If not, you might want to spend some time at a place like Em’s Cafe and see just how much a sense joy and playfulness can add to your life. There’s nothing like an excellent coffee served with a sense of care and joy that blends professionalism with a genuinely Christ-like appreciation of one’s neighbour.

“Church”

November 22

“Listen up, “Church!” Hey, Church.” Amen, Church! “I want to share this with you, Church” “Welcome, Church.” “Are you with me, Church?” I’m not sure if you’ve heard a Pastor or religious type person call folks “Church”, but I have, and it drives me crazy. Here’s the thing: no matter how you slice it, a church is a building or an institution. It is a place where people gather, either physically to worship, or spiritually as a (mostly) cohesive unit. It is not, however, a useful way to refer to a group of people when speaking to them.
When I write, or preach, or hang out with a group of people, even if it is in a churchy building, they are friends, co-worshipers, siblings in Christ, fellow children of God or any other personal identifier. They certainly make up the church, either as a congregation or in the broader sense of the institution, but to call them church is to lessen their humanity and deny me a personal connection, or at least the sense of being connected.
Imagine calling students “school” or prisoners “jail”. What would it feel like if store clerks refefred to you as “store” or even worse, “cash”? Yes, people are the church. I get that, but even when we sing “we are the church” we sing “the church is a people”. Ok, the grammar is terrible, but the message is clear: people make up the church but they are not “church”.
Am I being too picky? Maybe. But my pickiness comes from the belief that Jesus isn’t about “church”. He laid the foundations for His church on Peter, but Peter was not the church. In fact, that was the only reference Jesus ever made to “the church”. He wasn’t creating an institutionalized organization; He was building a relationship building model that, if truth be told, doesn’t actually need a “church”.
Friends, I don’t want to belabour the point too much. I simply want to let you know that you are important to me for who and what you are; as such, I will never, ever call you “church” (unless that happens to be your name…). You are not a pile of bricks or a set of rules and regulations. Each of you is a weird and wonderful fellow child of God. You are fellow travellers on the amazing journey we call life. You are followers of Jesus. Heck, you are the living presence of Christ Himself, frail and failing human thingies embodying our Heavenly Creator with your own unique style so why would I ever refer to you in any other way?

“Inspiration”

November 15

A Facebook friend of mine (and fellow Pastor), Maren Tirabassi, is a blessed writer. She has a gift for timely prayers that speak to current events or things she has observed in her own life. One particularly inspired prayer arose from a Squirrel dining on (and in one photo she shared, in) a post-Halloween Pumpkin. Her inspiration came from the cuteness of the image and the simple act of a creature enjoying the free meal offered in a discarded pumpkin.
My friend’s inspiration, however, is not found simply in things happening on the world stage or on her front porch. She is literally “Inspired” as well, as her reflections and prayers are led by God’s own breath of wisdom. That’s what “inspired” means; it means that the Holy Spirit is driving Maren’s actions, empowering her to give earthly life and breath into God’s work within her.
For me, as a writer, Maren’s inspired creations are a source of awe and wonder. She speaks to the heart of things in an honest way that goes straight to the heart. The way she picks up on Scriptural images and plays with them gives a depth of meaning and beauty that transcends simple understanding. Most incredible is the simplicity with which she offers her deepest thoughts and feelings; her prayers are easy to read and understand yet beautifully complex in the way she blends common phrases, Bible verses and her prayers.
Again, as a writer, I can recognize, however imperfectly, where Maren gets her inspiration. It is from real life, from the headlines, from the people and situations that influence and impact her. While I can’t claim to share any of her talent, we do have the source of inspiration in common. What I write about comes out of the people and situations that fill my life.
I share this common source of inspiration because I would like to invite you into my process of writing and preaching. Fantasy writers like Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) or Frank Herbert (Dune) seem to find inspiration out of thin air, creating fantastic characters, plot-lines and worlds that are, quite often, out of this world. Maren and I, on the other hand, find our inspiration here on earth, so what we write about reflects the real world in which we live and move.
Maren’s friendship and writing are part of my life, an inspiration to do a better job praying and preaching. That’s why I’m sharing these thoughts with you: you are all part of my inspiration. You help shape not only how I pray or preach, but what I pray or preach about as well. God blessed me with the ability to write, but it is you who bless me with content. God inspires me to serve others. You, in turn inspire me to serve God in a constant circle of inspiration that, I pray, allows me to share my gifts as best I can.

“Job”

November 8th

What happens when you kick a good man not just once, but twice? What happens when you do something bad to a good person who has never known anything bad in their lives? What happens when a good person who is so faithful he even offers sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of his children, just in case they have been naughty in some way?
This is the question posed in the book of Job, named after a good, faithful man who seems to have everything going for him. When God points Job out to Satan as the perfect example of an excellent human being, Satan responds with a question: would Job be just as faithful if something bad happened to him? God takes up the challenge on Job’s behalf. Without knowing why things go south for him, Job stays faithful to God. God is vindicated, Satan defeated.
It’s a strange, difficult story to read and comprehend. Satan is not necessarily an evil being, but an instigator, an adversary to humans. Satan simply points out to God that Job is a good person because of his many blessings, and that in the face of adversity Job might well turn against God. Rather than simply make the case that Job is exactly who he is because God made him that way, God allows Job to suffer in order to prove his true nature.
This permission to make Job a victim is a troubling issue when trying to understand God. Why did God let Job become a victim simply so that Job’s true character be revealed and Satan’s doubt be overcome? There is no easy answer to be found in the book of Job. That’s not what it’s about; the story is all about Job’s constant fidelity in the face of outrageous fortune. We need the whole Bible in order to understand God’s true, loving nature; one book, especially “Job” isn’t enough to get the whole story across.
So what is the “takeaway” from this troubling book? For me, it’s Jobs great strength and fidelity to God. He is self-aware enough that he did nothing to deserve either his good or bad luck. Job knows in his heart that, despite the bad things that happened to him, God is good and worth trusting. The same heart that drove Job to offer sacrifices and prayers for his children “just in case” drives him to stay faithful to God, even if he is personally frustrated and just about ready to die rather than suffer any more.
The book of Job is a troublesome text, but it does reveal that even in our biggest troubles, we can struggle through. Job made a conscious decision not to give up when he was knocked down. Despite the challenge to his faith, he remained faithful. He lost everything except for his trust in God. In the end, God rewarded Job for being so faithful, but Job didn’t know what would happen to him before that. Job simply believed in the face of adversity, and that strength of character, for me, is my greatest takeaway from the book of Job.
We have two choices when we’re troubled: give up, or do our best. You’ll notice that in the case of the troublesome book of Job, I chose not to give up on it. I did my best by following Job’s example of strength and fidelity.

“Named”

November 1st

A Facebook post featured a newspaper clipping from way back when. Printed in 1960 it provides a fascinating look into what was happening, a window to a past that isn’t all that it cracked up to be. Sure, in some ways it offers nothing new. The tribute to a citizen who had died is touching, but it’s something that, sadly, will always be newsworthy. Also consistently newsworthy are the updates on local affairs. Knowing what’s happening in the clubs and organizations in our community will always be important.
As interesting as this newspaper clipping was in terms of providing a window in to past current affairs, what was really fascinating was the unspoken message in the caption provided for the single image that appeared on that day.
It was a picture of the local Legion Ladies being honoured for their years of service. Great! Local history revealing the faces behind the story and bringing it to life. The caption helpfully identified the women and that’s where I found a sudden, huge disconnect between yesterday and today.
That disconnect was in the way the local Legion Ladies were identified. Or, more honestly, unidentified. The naming was not of the women, but of the husbands. The caption did not read “Mrs. Jane Doe” but “Mrs. John Doe”. I suppose it was the cultural norm of the day, but even having grown up way back when, I was shocked. Maybe it’s my more modern perspective, but it was as if those women were all but erased. They were not people without their husband’s names being attached to them. Marriage, it seems was all about the man in the relationship. The female simply didn’t matter.
While in many ways women are still second-class citizens in our society, they are at least themselves, in print or in person. We would no more think of calling a woman by her husband’s name than we would calling a man by his wife’s name. Women are named for who they are and in that naming are given both their full identity and power.
That newspaper clipping was enlightening. It speaks to why things must change, to the progress made so far, and the long road still ahead for women to be fully appreciated, honoured and empowered to their full potential. What’s especially curious to me is how, in a time when the Bible featured much more prominently in society, that text didn’t devalue women in quite the same way. While not necessarily a paradigm of women’s rights, when it came to naming women, it got things right. It was Sarah, not Mrs. Abraham. It was Mary, not Mrs. Joseph. It was Priscilla, not the wife of a prominent early Christian. When it came to naming women, the Bible got it right most of the time.
We must get it right. God did not create women as second class citizens. They are a specific expression of God’s image, each with their own name, gifts and purpose. They do not find their identity in anyone but God, and even then, their identity is not subservient or secondary. Women are fully children of God, blessed creations who need no man to be fully known and appreciated.