“Reality Shoes”

February 9th

A mum and her wee daughter came in to our “Caring Closet” to make a donation of clothes. It was a wonderful gift, not only because of the two large bins she provided, but because she was teaching her toddler about the joys of giving and sharing. The young future giver was wearing a pair of bright pink and white rubber boots that were almost has happy as her great big smile. I mentioned to the mum how much fun the boots were. She smiled and then mock-grimaced, saying “Yeah, and we have to wear our “Reality Shoes”.
Yes indeed, there comes a point in life when fun footwear seems to go by the wayside in favour of comfortable work shoes, practical winter boots, or well-worn runners ready for the track or gym. Bright coloured boots that are more pretty than practical? Not so much. Adulting means donning the appropriate footy apparel, otherwise known as “Reality Shoes”.
Or does it? Are adults confined to comfy, bland hospital shoes that all but yell “Borrrrrring!” or tough as nails construction boots that look like armoured cars? Well, yes. And, if we’re honest, we even make sure that our kids have the right footwear for safety and comfort reasons. After all, there’s nothing worse than a toddler with cold, wet, sore feet after a caregiver lets him wear the “cool shoes” on a wet, slushy day.
There is a place for “Reality Shoes”. At times safety and comfort have to be of paramount concern. But on Sunday morning, when I’m only leading worship in a nice, warm, dry sanctuary, the fun shoes come out. The Loafers. The Oxfords. The shoes that look good but might just be a tad on the tight side, or might not offer quite enough support for a long, rigorous hike. Forget the “Reality Shoes”, I want something stylish, even if they’re not perfectly comfortable or practical. For one hour or so. it’s worth it.
God created us with the ability to do hard work. To make intelligent choices. To be safe and practical. To choose the “Reality Shoes” over the bright pink happy boots that make fun noises when you tromp around in them. God also created us to lie on the grass and guess whether the cloud above looks like a dragon or a ’31 Ford Coupe. We were created to sing loudly and joyfully even if we can’t hold.a bucket in a tune, and to wear the Loafers that look good but feel a little pinchy after a while. That too is our reality: moments of being serious with times of having fun. Fun boots and boring work shoes. Mowing the lawn or laying in the grass. And, curiously enough, there are times when our reality is the best of both worlds, as we take pleasure in what we do, enjoy the fun boots worn by a toddler learning to be a sharing, caring person, or even wearing “Reality Shoes” whilst happily donating clothes for a good cause.

“Identities”

February 2nd
“Identities”
Early in my faith journey I started signing my correspondence and emails to fellow people of faith “Your Brother In Christ, John A. Giurin”. Eventually, for the sake of brevity in emails I made an acronym out of the words so I would simply sign off:
YBIC
JAG
It didn’t take long before YBICJAG became my standard monicker for things like email addresses (you can still reach me at ybicjag@teksavvy.com), user names and other places where I needed some kind of an identity.
Now, however, I’m rethinking the place of YBICJAG as a public identity. For the longest time, both my Twitter and Instagram accounts used YBICJAG as the core identifier. On the surface, it’s just a bunch of letters with no obvious meaning. If you are the auditory type, you can pronounce it as if it was a word, yi-bic-JAG, further distancing it from it’s core value: Your Brother In Christ, John A. Giurin. Yet this distancing only takes a moment to undermine. If someone wants to know what it means, I will tell them. At the same time, it seems to me that I’m effectively hiding who I really am by using this acronym.
That’s why I am slowly dropping it from public forums and just going straight to my name. I want to be fully transparent and not hide behind a secret identity. More than that, I want to be sensitive to those who don’t identify themselves as Christians, or even as people of faith. If you don’t believe in Jesus, I can’t be your “Brother in Christ”; it becomes a point of isolation, if not outright contention. I doesn’t mean I hide who and what I am from people who don’t share my ideas about faith; it just means that I am meeting them on the level playing field of our common humanity. Of course, my thoughts will be informed by what I believe, but I won’t assume that we believe the same thing or that faith even has to enter into the conversation.
As one human being amongst billions, our names help to identify us and separate us from the crowd. They are not our entire identity. The are only one element that lets others know who we are. When we do use our names to make a statement, or choose nicknames that speak to our beliefs or core values, we add an extra element to our visible identity that might actually isolate us from others.
To people who share my faith in Jesus, I will always be their brother in Christ, not just in words, but in the way I treat our relationship. Beyond that tight circle, however, I will be just plain old John. I am not giving up my identity as a child of God in any way. I am simply trying to open myself up to all people, no matter what they believe.

“Duck On The Pond”

January 26th

Heard from a wise chef responsible for leading his crew in a large, famous, quality restaurant:
“You have to be like a duck on the pond. Your legs are going a mile a minute, but you’re calm and focussed.”
What we see in others is only part of the picture. A strong leader appears calm and focussed to their crew, but below the surface, things are happening. They might be stressed by the layer of governance above them. There may be conflicts in their team that they have to deal with. They are busy planning, strategizing, doing all the work needed for their organization to move ahead, but as far as the people working for her know, she is cool, calm and collected. Good things are happening. The leader is leading her team to success. There is no reason to panic, worry or be concerned. The team is in good hands. They don’t have to worry about it, right?
Appearances can be deceiving. Maybe those legs going a mile a minute are stressed. Maybe they are being pushed to the limit. Maybe the leader is trying to figure out how to cut the dead-weight from the team, that one member that has exhausted their three strikes are really needs to go. Maybe upper management is putting pressure on her to do more with a smaller staff and budget. Maybe the business isn’t growing despite the leader’s best efforts. Maybe the calm demeanour is just a front to keep the staff from worrying.
We never know what’s truly happening below the surface of a person’s life, whether it’s a leader or a member of the team. They might be doing all kinds of amazing things and love every minute of their life, even if they’re going a mile a minute. Or maybe they are unhappy, or unfulfilled, or in need of a rest.
Jesus had a way of getting people to open up. They seemed willing to go to Him with their need to heal, or questions or concerns. They let Him see their legs going a mile a minute, let Him see their need. His love and compassion was an open door to others.
When we love others as Jesus loved us, we are invited to look beneath the surface, beyond their calm demeanour, and ask how they are doing. Is the leader stressed or rejoicing. Is our friend happy or sad? Are the legs going a mile a minute as they move forward, or are they just going in circles. It’s worth asking. It’s worth taking a moment together to show you care. Maybe everything is OK. Maybe it’s not.

“Christmas Work”

January 19th

“When the song of the angels is stilled.
When the star in the sky is gone.
When the kings and the shepherds have found their way home.
The work of Christmas is begun!”
These lines from Jim Strathdee’s song, “I Am The Light Of The World” rang out in my mind this morning. Well, maybe they were a little bit different:
“When radios stop blaring Christmas tunes
When the star on the tree is packed up
When the Manger and the stocks are all packed away
The work of Christmas is begun”
Yes, today all but the exterior Christmas lights frozen to the porch is packed and stored and ready for next years decorating extravaganza. And, as Jim Strathdee’s song reminds us, the work has begun. What God set into place through Jesus is set into action through us. The past celebration of His life is constantly revisited in the present revelation of Jesus alive and well and working through us.
What does that look like? Here are the remaining verses to “I Am The Light Of The World”
“To find the lost and lonely one,
To heal that broken soul with love,
To feed the hungry children with warmth and good food,
To feel the earth below the sky above!”
“To free the prisoner from his chains,
To make the powerful care,
To rebuild the nations with strength and goodwill,
To call a man your brother everywhere.”
To bring hope to every task you do,
To dance at a baby’s new birth,
To make music in an old man’s heart,
And sing to the colours of the earth!”
This the work of Christmas, in the middle of January, as I pen these words. In a blustery March when the weather can’t decide what it’s doing. During the invigorating rains of Spring or soul-warming glory of summer. We live because Jesus lived. We love because Jesus loved. We work because He lives and loves through us every moment of our lives.

“COOL!”

January 12th
“COOL!”
It was the coolest thing, ever! OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that exciting, but I thought it was a great idea at the time. Nothing world shaking, just a friend’s phone that not only rang and vibrated when a call came in, but it flashed as well! How can you go wrong with THREE! different ways for your device to let you know what was happening? I wanted in! I had to have it! And within a few moments my friend had programmed my phone to flash whenever a phone call or a message came in. COOL!!!!!!!!!
Day 2: COOL!
Day 3: Cool.
Day 4: cool…
Day 5: cool?
Day 6: Turned off.
Change is good. New ideas are great. But sometimes, what seems cool or exciting or interesting at first glance isn’t nearly as thrilling as it appeared to be at first blush.
That’s OK.
It’s a mighty big world out there. God has given us the kind of creativity that knows no limits and we use it to its maximum potential. On top of that, God has made us unique in both our abilities and our tastes, so we we have lots to choose from when it comes to new ideas. Some, like having a light flash when someone is texting you might appear frivolous, but to hearing-impaired folks, they’re a great idea when receiving messages. It all depends on one’s needs and situation.
Trying that option on my phone might not seem like an earth-shaking decision but it points to the larger reality of trying new things or changing course. Not everything works out. What seems like a great idea in theory might not be such a wonderful thing when put into practice. When that poor choice makes itself known there is no shame in admitting it and moving on. It might not be easy. There may be consequences. Even with careful thought, planning and prayer, doing a new thing may not end up being the right thing. But there is nothing worse than not trying something new or different.
Who knows? Maybe trying something different might help us appreciate what we have all the more, or perhaps point to an even better idea that does work out in the end. One thing is for sure: if you don’t try something different you will never know for sure whether or not it was the coolest thing ever.

“Instants”

January 5th
“Instants”
In an instant, in less than the blink of an eye, a new year has begun. 2019 is gone, long live 2020. Of course, what happened in a flash took 365 days to arrange. Or, rather, it took 940 million kilometres, since a year is really measured how long it takes for the earth to travel around the sun. It just so happens that as it makes its orbit, it also rotates around its own axis, which gives us 365 nights and days from the beginning to the end of its journey.
Well, sort of 365 days and nights. The rate at which the earth rotates isn’t perfectly matched to the time it takes to go around the sun. It actually travels for another 6 hours or so, one-quarter of a day, so every four years we have to take up the slack and add one more day to our calendar.
Of course, we don’t notice this cosmic dance of earth travelling around the sun, spinning all the way. Well, we notice the spin, since it give us the slow progress from light to dark and back, but we don’t really feel the motion of the earth itself, either as it orbits or rotates. So, we have this majestic, massive thing happening around us, one that has happened for millions of years and will continue happening for millions more, and once a year we mark the instant that the second hand of the clock takes us from last year to next year.
We give that instant a whole lot of weight. We see going from one year to the next as the end to what has gone before and as the beginning of what is yet to come. Some folks use the occasion as a way to change something in their lives. They resolve to lose weight, forgive past slights, or to try a new hobby. Some folks use the occasion to look back at the past year and choose the best, worst, funniest or strangest things that happened. In an instant, we condense 365 days into memories and try to figure out what will happen for the next 365.
The instant we mark the new year is only one of many. A life is made up of instants beyond counting. Sometimes we notice them, as with a sudden life changing experience. Sometimes we don’t notice them at all, and it’s only after a period of slow growth that we realize how many instants have passed and how far we’ve travelled. Sometimes instants spread out over time, as friends or family we see only infrequently pop back into our lives momentarily although it seems like no time has passed since we last saw them.
We mark the instant we go from one year to the next with great celebration. Yet that is only one instant in lives that are made up of only a limited number of instants and each and every one of them matters; each one moves us forward, or holds us back, changes us or marks a period where nothing needs to change. As the new year celebration fades from memory and 2020 becomes old news, take an instant now and then to celebrate and give thanks for every God-given instant you have been granted.

“The Written Word”

December 29th

The mighty King had no idea what the words on the wall said. God’s hand had appeared. That he knew. God’s hand wrote four words on the way. He knew that as well. The words mattered. He got that. But what the words actually said, what message they conveyed, was beyond him. As mighty as he was, the king could not decipher those God-written words. And so the mighty King had to have them interpreted. Only a prophet of God, only the wise and faithful prophet,or Daniel, to whom the king have given the name Belteshazzar, could read what God had written.
Sometimes we have a hard time understanding things because, like the mighty King, we don’t know the words for ourselves and we need an interpreter. Sometimes we can’t decipher things because the words might be known to us, but they aren’t written so clearly. They’re messy and untidy and the page is filled with smudges and things crossed out.
That’s what happens when I try to write something out by hand. If you ever received a hand-written note from me, you’ll be lucky to make sense of it. I’ve never had a steady hand. My style has never been smooth and clean. Now, after a couple of injuries to my fingers, things have not improved. It’s hard to hold a pen properly and I get tired easily. As a result, I don’t hand-write personal notes any more. It’s too embarrassing, and it’s just not a happy experience for me to hand over anything less than my best.
God clearly liked the written word. God wrote an important note to a mighty King. God carved the law into stone. God even inspired Prophets, writers and kings to record the lessons, histories, laws, wisdom and lyrics we find in the Bible. But God also gave us the Word made flesh and spoken with living breath in Jesus Christ.
Jesus speaks what’s on God’s heart in a way we can all understand. Jesus lives out God’s written word, revealing the heart and soul of Scripture’s meaning. And so I print out my personal notes, because it’s not the medium that counts as much as the content. I’m not comfortable writing things by hand as the result is nothing like what my heart is expressing. If you need special training or a prophet to intervene, my personal hand-written note doesn’t really have much to say. But if I can share my heart with you clearly by taking advantage of modern, helpful, technology, then that’s the route I take. It’s the best I can do in order to share the best of who and what I am.