“Get Outta The Way!”

May 31st

“Get Outta The Way!” come the excited words. The Star is moving through the crowd towards the stage, so we give her room to pass. She is the priority; we are not. The Doctor is rushing towards the victim, so we make room on the sideway for her to get through. Saving the injured one is all that matters. The Herald has big news to share, so we stand aside and give him our full attention. The information is too important to miss.
Sometimes we are not the most important person in the room. There are occasions when we have to “Get Outta The Way!”, moments when we’re not only the least of all, but when we are blocking someone or something that really matters and, whether we like it or not, we have to give way.
Priorities matter; when we’re the audience, the Star is the centre of attention and we must give her room to pass by; when someone is hurt, we must give the Doctor or first responders lots of space to get to the victim quickly and safely; when there is news of note that impacts us all, we must give centre stage to the Herald. Smart people know enough to “Get Outta The Way!” when necessary.
There are occasions, however, that it’s not a Star, or Doctor or Herald that needs us to step aside. There are occasions that we get in our own way, and while we should know enough to “Get Outta The Way!”, we don’t.
Whether it’s fear, pride, or lack of confidence, we can’t seem to give ourselves the space to succeed, or try, or admit to an crucial truth. It’s the “I’ll get to it tomorrow”, the “I could never do that”, the “What, me change?” and all the other excuses we empower to seem to get in our way block our progress.
Be the star of our own lives? Let someone help us when we are down? Learn something new? Our most likely response is “Get Outta Town!” rather than “Lemme At It!”. For whatever reason, we simply can’t, or won’t, get out of our own way.
But why? Will letting our fear, or pride or lack of confidence trip us up? Each one is a little lie undermining the truth of our own power, deserving, need to grow. God created us as wonderful, blessed beings of worth and importance.  Why not celebrate who and what we are, just as God does? Why not use your gifts fully? Receive whatever help is offered graciously? Why not learn and grow and mature into what God intends for you to be? Don’t let them win. Instead, go ahead and simply and emphatically tell your fear, pride and lack of confidence: “Get Outta The Way!”

“Useless”

May 24th

I have been called a “Useless White Knight”. When trying to defend the weak and the least in my neighbourhood I have been told to “STFU”. (If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s rather rude; you can look it up, but you’ve been warned!). I have been challenged in general terms as a minister serving in a religion that is only after people’s money.
Believe me, I’m not complaining. I’m writing this with a wry smile on my face and a skip in my virtual step. (Hard to step and type, you know). Anyone in any caring profession or vocation has been called these things and worse. I’m not bothered at all by rude or ignorant comments. In fact, if people were not criticizing me, I’d be worrying that maybe I wasn’t doing my job well enough.
At the same time, all joking aside, is the truth that those comments and insults are far more useless than anyone’s attempts to do a little good in the world. During this time of physical distancing and a frightening disease, anything kind, helpful or loving we can do is vital. People are sad, depressed, feeling useless, unwell and in any number of other painful states. Sure, I will certainly not be able to cure anybody with my prayers, and I might not offer complete and absolute hope to someone feeling down, but I can at least try.
Those who criticize caregivers or people like myself because we might not be accomplishing much are not helping in any way whatsoever. Their comments are truly useless. Worse than that, their comments might actually hurt someone. I’ve been around the block a great number of times. I have thick skin, sharply sarcastic wit, and the ability to shrug off ignorant or rude comments. Someone who is more sensitive, or hasn’t yet learned how to deal with unkind, abusive commenters, might be cut to the quick. They may be truly hurt and be made to give up their loving endeavours. I can’t describe how evil such a result would be.
So who is truly useless? Those who would try to make a positive difference or those who would tear them down? Is it more useless to help as best as you or to stand back and do nothing perfectly?
At the risk of repeating myself (I know I’ve written about this before…) I would rather be a “Useless White Knight” fighting an uphill battle against the forces of fear, hate and disease, than do nothing. Indeed, if caring, loving people didn’t do their best to try and make a positive difference in the world, then, and only then, could they be called useless. Personally, I would rather avoid that fate and continue to do whatever I can to help. How about you?

“Vantage Point”

May 17th

Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, in Orillia, Ontario, is set up on one of the many hills in the city. While the building itself is only a few stories tall, its location offers a commanding view of the city, so when I visit patients, I always take advantage of the vista and make sure to pause and admire the view.
Looking out over Orillia from the fourth floor you can see houses, restaurants, shops, a huge medical clinic, small factories, schools, a bit of Lake Simcoe and some of the surrounding countryside. It’s definitely worth a look.
From that vantage point I not only see the buildings, roads, greenery (or snow) and all that makes up a wee city, but also a myriad of people living their lives, going to eat, to work, to physiotherapy, to whatever is part of a normal life. I am all too aware, however, that all this is taking place while I am in a hospital, visiting folks for whom life is not at all normal. They are receiving palliative care, or getting new joints so that they can have greater mobility and less pain. They may be recovering from an illness, or in transit from living on their own to a long-term care facility. For whatever reason, I am visiting folks in crisis.
Meanwhile, life goes on in Orillia, with folks unaware of what’s going on in the hospital. Not only do they not know about what the patients are dealing with, they don’t really care. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not being critical. Their lack of concern doesn’t mean they are heartless, cold, or selfish. They don’t care because they are not involved in the lives of the people in the hospital. They have their own worries, concerns and pains. They have their own circle of family and friends they care about, their own spheres of influence where they laugh, cry and share their feelings. They may know someone in the hospital, but then again, they might not.
From the vantage point of a hospital window, seeing folks living life as normal, I realize how disconnected we can be. People living their lives in Orillia may know somebody receiving medical care at Soldiers’ Memorial. I might well meet them in the halls or on the street and commiserate with them about common connection. But, then again, they may not know anyone currently in Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. In this time of their lives they may appreciate its presence, but it has no direct bearing on them.
Yet as I look over Orillia from up on high, I know that we all live life together. I may not know any of the people I see out there, they might not know anyone I’m visiting in the hospital, but we are all living our lives together, sharing the same kinds of highs and lows, joys and pains, suffering and celebration that is part of being human. As such, we are all God’s children, united in God’s loving heart even if we don’t know one another. From up on high in a hospital window, I can see a lot going on, but I don’t see or know everything. God, on the other hand, sees and knows everything that’s going on. What’s more, God cares for each and every human and, through Jesus, shows us what that looks like.
We might not be able to know or to care for humanity the way that God does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t care for the folks that we can see from our own particular vantage point, whatever it might be.

“Heroes”

May 10th

In our current state of affairs the word “hero” has been bandied about quite a bit in reference to first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so.
To call someone a hero is to say that this person has gone above and beyond the call of duty. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hero as “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities.” When someone knowingly and willingly puts themselves at risk for the safety of others, I believe they deserve to be called “heroes”. Anyone whose achievements include helping strangers or providing much needed provisions or services despite the possibility of making themselves sick is a hero. Anyone who is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice is a hero. First-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so definitely deserve to be called heroes.
Not all people would agree with this opinion. I recently saw a Facebook post that would deny first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services the title of “hero”. This post suggests that only those who served in times of war deserve that particular appellation. Let me assure you that this post is absolutely and completely wrong.
From a strictly literal point of view, that is, according to the dictionary, warriors are certainly included in the definition of a “hero”, but it is not the only definition. Thus denying anyone but a person who has been in a war is wrong, period, full stop. More importantly, from a moral point of view, anyone who performs a noble act is a hero, and doubly so when that person is willing to sacrifice their lives. Don’t tell me that the doctors, nurses and other caregivers who died directly because of their exposure to COVID-19 patients weren’t heroes. They were, plain and simple. They gave their lives trying to help people who could not help themselves.
One of the great blessings God gave us is the ability to care for one another, often at great risk to ourselves. It is, perhaps, the highest expression of Jesus’ command that we love one another as we would be loved. The heroes taking their stand in the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, whether it’s the caregivers or those making sure our communities are safe and our essential needs provided for, demonstrate that love purely and profoundly.
And to those heroes, the first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so, I would like to offer my deepest, most heartfelt thanks. May God bless you and keep you safe as you reveal the highest possible form of love in real, tangible ways. You truly deserve to be called “heroes”.

“Thoughts”

May 3rd

In the letter of “James”, one of the few Gospel documents in which the writer names himself, we are told about how a tongue, a wee small thing, is like the rudder of a boat. Although both are tiny compared to the object to which they belong, they have great influence over them. Rudders allow the ship to be steered wherever the pilot desires. It is under their control and its effects are known. The tongue, however, is also under the control of its owner, but its effects are not always as easily predicted. While the rudder only reacts with the water, and does so predictably, the words the tongue helps to create can land on the desired audience or the wrong one. What’s more, those words might not be appropriate or helpful even for the desired listener. Indeed, their influence might not be at all what the speaker desires. Such is the tongue’s power.
I wonder what James would make of a propeller and its effect of moving a ship forward. While he would have been familiar with oars and sails, the fairly recent innovation of a spinning set of blades to move a boat would have been completely unknown, probably even inconceivable, to him.
Not to put words into James’ mouth, I’d like to take moment to play with the thought of how he might have run with the idea.
“Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are powered by a very small propeller wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, a thought is a small part of the body, but it causes great motion.”
The propeller, usually unseen in the water beneath a boat, moves the boat forward according to the pilot’s will to drive the boat forward or backwards. Thoughts, likewise, move us forward, according to our will. One might be the ultimate expression of our will, others might be what formulates that will, yet others may decry or undermine our will. Our thoughts propel our words, our actions and even our reactions and even though they are invisible often have a very visible influence on us.
Our tongue is not always needed, just as the rudder only comes into play when the pilot wishes to change direction. Our thoughts, however, just like the propeller, never stop if we are moving anywhere in life. When a the propeller stops, the boat simply becomes an oddly shaped structure floating on the water. When our thoughts stop, we become nothing. Paraphrasing Descartes very roughly, to think is to be.
Our thoughts, although invisible, make us who we are. Like a propeller, they can drive us forwards or backwards. Positive thoughts move us ahead, negative ones can hold us back or cause us harm. Just like the tongue and the propeller, they are under our control. It is up to us to choose which way we are going, whether it’s stagnating or moving backwards, or growing, maturing and moving forwards. Or, to play with James’ words again:
“With our thoughts we can honour our Creator, and with them we dishonour the one in whose likeness we have been made.” So, what way are your thoughts leading you?

“Elephant”

April 26th
“Elephant”
Twenty-two (22) deaths in Portapique, Nova Scotia. The staggering reality of the recent mass-murder in this Atlantic provice is a hard one to understand. In Canada, the scope of the violence perpetrated by just one person is unprecedented. Yet while it took place far away, it has hit every Canadian hard. We are at a loss for words. We feel helpless. Too many people are grieving and facing great losses. The peaceful community of Portapique, the last place you would ever expect a thing like this to happen, will never be the same.
I hate writing this. I’m sure you’re not pleased reading what I’m offering. These are difficult words; the reality that has inspired them is even more difficult. I can hardly believe it less alone accept it. However, it is the truth; 22 beautiful souls, including an RCMP constable who was trying to keep people from dying, were murdered. That is the plain and simple, albeit awful truth…
…and truth, however terrible, must be spoken and acknowledged.
Sometimes we deliberately walk around the Elephant in the room, looking in the other direction, pretending it isn’t there. Unfortunately, the Elephant doesn’t care; it moves about, tripping us up, knocking us down, causing us grief and misery even as we try our best to avoid it. There is no other way than to open our eyes and to see it for what it is, to acknowledge it and accept that it is an undeniable fact of life. Today’s Elephant is an unbelievable death toll and the grief and sorrow of so many innocent people across our vast nation.
As hard as it is to write these words, as hard as it is to stare the Elephant in the eye, it is also the only way to deal with our pain, mourn the victims, support those who have been impacted by the tragedy and…
…make the Elephant in the room go away.
To speak the truth is to take control of how we deal with it. We can’t change it, but we can let it sink in without letting it overwhelm us. We can speak about it together so that we don’t have to bear its full weight alone. We can discuss what it means, the whats and the whys and learn from what happened. And slowly but surely, one staggering step at a time, we can accept it and move on.
It is a painful truth we are dealing with. It is a horrible, awful Elephant. But if we don’t speak of it or acknowledge it, a terrible truth can overwhelm us. The only way to keep that from happening is to write or speak the words so that what they address will not cause us any further harm.
Jesus said: “The truth shall set you free”. He was talking to those who refused to believe Him and what he taught. When we bind ourselves to the truth of Christ, then there is no earthly truth, or Elephant, that can overwhelm us.
If we are to overcome the truth of the tragedy in Portapique, Nova Scotia, we must speak first it.

“Maturity”

April 19th

I am blessed to have some truly talented friends. One of them, Christy, is a water colour artist; I’ve known her for over 10 years. In the past little while she has been able to focus more and more on her art and the results have been truly astonishing. Not only the pieces beautiful, they also reflect a maturity to her skills that almost make the process transparent. Looking at her paintings makes me feel that the images come directly from her soul, almost bypassing thought and physical effort. The result is more than pretty pictures; it’s a series of creations that speak beauty and joy directly to the viewers soul, almost bypassing sight and thought.
That’s one of the blessings of growing and maturing. As we progress in age and the miles start accumulating, we build and refine our inherent gifts and talents. Lessons aren’t just learned, they are absorbed and ingrained into our natural rhythms and routines. Muscle memory becomes deeply imprinted so that complex tasks become automatic, allowing more time to be spent on creating rather than doing. For an artist like Christy, it means that what she envisions can be executed with far more attention to detail than simply getting the task done.
The ability for us to grow and mature into our giftedness is a gift in and of itself. It is a blessing that we can refine what we enjoy doing and comes naturally to us, enabling us to be more effective with less effort, and to be able to enjoy the task at hand. When the painter has to focus on individual brush strokes or the singer on breath control, they cannot do the whole painting or song the justice it deserves. Only as the mechanics of their craft become ingrained can they truly create beautiful works of art.
Maturity is not an end goal. It does not come only near the end of an artist’s career. It is present as soon as their actions require less thought and they can concentrate more on what they’re producing rather than the act of production.  Maturing is itself a process, one that continually improves one’s ability to create art or to do whatever one’s gifts might be.
Maturity is a gift from God that we all share. It brings about something “other” to our giftedness. It allows those gifts to flow naturally and seamlessly from the depths of our souls so that, in turn, we can touch the souls of others with whatever we have to offer.