“Communication”

February 10th

First there was a text message from a friend. Then a brief conversation via Facebook messenger with a colleague for a church related matter. A few minutes later, a brief email exchange with a parishioner. Almost immediately after that, had a phone conversation with a family member. Within the span of 10 minutes, I had communicated in four different ways! 4. Quatre! Quattro! Oh, wait, five, I suppose, because all the while I was engaged in chatting with Lois and Anna (although not while on the phone…) So, in the course of 10 minutes, I had communicated in five different ways! 5! Cinq! Cinque!
What an amazing world we live in. To think that we can keep in touch in so many different ways, immediately letting one another know what we need, or how we’re feeling, or simply passing the time of day. (And, yes, I am equally amazed that I have at least 5 people to talk to…)
Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Talking on the phone can be scary to introverts, especially if it’s someone we don’t know very well or it’s a “cold call” to a person we don’t know. But, the immediacy of the conversation and a familiar voice coming through the earpiece can have a wonderful soothing effect when we’re down and need a little boost. The other techniques are better for introverts, as they don’t involve actually talking to people, but they lack the direct contact of talking and listening. Of course, one big advantage over a conversation is that you can take as much time as you need to formulate each comment, question or answer, ensuring that your communication is effective, clear, and maybe even has a certain beauty to it.
Whatever method we choose for a particular conversation isn’t nearly as important as the conversation itself. God did not create us in isolation or to live completely independently. Even introverts need other people. And being made in God’s image means that our communication can be a glimpse into God’s own heart, or perhaps even a direct word from our Creator. While prayer offers us a direct, one-to-one channel to God, God can also use a loving, caring conversation to reach out to us for guidance, to steer us back on course when we veer away, or simply to let us know we are loved.
We have many ways to communicate. Each one can be a gift and a blessing that lets us connect to others; each one can be a gift and a blessing that lets us hear God’s own voice in a loving connection with a fellow child of God.

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“Thoughtfulness”

February 3rd

Gas was truly cheap one morning, so I couldn’t resist filling up the tank even though it wasn’t completely empty. I pulled up to what I thought would be the only vacant pump, just behind another vehicle. There are always two pumps, and the guy was about to fill up at the nearest one, leaving the furthest one empty. I was hoping the driver be willing to move ahead to the next pump so, I honked my horn and gestured to him that he pull forward. Success! John, from Essa painting, put the hose back in the holder and quickly, happily, complied. Once I was in position at my pump, I thanked him profusely, asked his name (and for permission to mention him in these “Thoughts”) and we chatted briefly about how nice it is to be nice.
It’s just one tiny episode, but it still makes me smile over a week later. John’s thoughtfulness in moving ahead willingly wasn’t much, but it was a kind thing to do. It didn’t really speed things up for me tremendously, but it made a pretty good day even better. Just knowing that someone is ready and willing to be nice should be enough to make anyone smile.
Jesus modelled that kind of thoughtfulness all the time. When someone asked for something, he usually gave them what they needed. Of course, the request had to be reasonable; something that fell within the needs of that person and what God expected of them. So Jesus healed and helped those who were broken in body or mind. But when folks asked for something out of selfish motives, they weren’t so lucky. When a rich young man wanted to get into God’s good books without making or doing anything for others, Jesus turned him down flat.
The gentleman that moved his vehicle forward for me didn’t know my motives, but I did make my request with a smile and as kindly as possible. I tried to be as thoughtful as I could, knowing that I was asking him to inconvenience himself for a moment. His thoughtfulness, I hope, was at least in part due to my thoughtfulness.
It’s not a hard thing to do. To be thoughtful in the way we ask for something or in response to someone’s request should be as natural and as easy as breathing. It’s a kindness to others that reflects Jesus’ kindness towards us. It might even be said that being thoughtful is a way of loving our neighbour just as we would ask to be loved, in direct response to Jesus’ thoughtful request (and example…) that we love one another.

“Grumps”

January 27th

To hear some folks talking, you’d think it’s the end of the world. Nothing is right. Taxes are too high, pensions are too low, Millenials are too lazy and self-absorbed, kids don’t appreciate their elders, the devil is running amok and not only is the glass half-empty, it has a leak in the bottom and the water is dirty. And that’s just before the coffee is served. Once the conversation gets started, the grumps get grumpier and the picture gets even more gloomy.
No, I’m not making this up or exaggerating. This is the reality I often run into with some folks. Call ‘em grumpy old men (and women…) or negative Nellies,  nothing is right and everything is wrong and getting worse. The worst part of this? These are all too often people of faith who profess to believe in the Good News of the Gospel.
I don’t get it. Sure, every once in a while there might be reason to complain. There are certainly reasons to wonder about our world and maybe even worry about it a little bit, but, for the most part, there are more reasons to have hope than there are to despair, especially if you’re living in this part of the world, and even more so if you believe in a living, loving God and the amazing Son that was the best news we could ever imagine.
We’re told that faith, hope and love matter. For someone following Jesus, those three things encapsulate our faith and what He brings to the party. God is faithful, never giving up on us, even sending Jesus to help us when we are at our lowest. God gives us hope; again, through Jesus, that we can be the best that we were made to be. God reveals a love that is beyond anything we can imagine, yet well within our reach. When we love others as Jesus loves us, and we do so simply for the sake of love itself, we act in faith and make our hope for a better world come to life.
When we’re grumpy, none of this happens. In fact, when we’re grumpy, we deny and defy all that God has done for us. Only when we have hope for a better outcome are we willing to at least try and help. Only when we have faith that God is working for and through us can we believe we’ll make a difference. Only when we love joyfully and unsparingly can we claim to be God’s children, earthly reflections of God’s heavenly image.
I’m not a big fan of grumpy people. Maybe you aren’t either. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be loved and encouraged and heard. Sometimes that grumpiness hides a pain or sorrow that can only be loved away. And maybe you’re one of those grumpy people for whom the leaking glass is half-empty with dirty water. But if you let Jesus really love you as only He can, then you might realize that His Good News is all you need to turn that frown upside-down.

“Little Things”

January 20th

The renovation of our new home required the purchase of baseboard and trim for the floors and windows. In order to make the installation as seamless as possible, we bought fairly long lengths of material, which meant they had to hang out of our minivan.
When things are too long for your vehicle and they jut out past the bumper, the law asks for a bright red flag to be placed on the end of the offending item so that it can be seen. The folks at the lumber supply company were kind enough to provide just such a thing, and Lois and I managed to arrive home safely with our ungainly, but well marked, load.
When it came time to unpack the trim and baseboard, I noticed that the wee red flag (well, actually, simply a piece of heavy cardstock…) had the supplier’s logo stamped on it. Clever. The good folks running the company thought to advertise themselves through even something as small and insignificant as a red safety flag. Clearly, they know the old adage that there is no such thing as bad advertising. It might even be said that there is no such thing as too small an ad.
Branding, which is what was done by this companies placement of their logo, is an important form of advertisement. You know instantly who made that cool t-shirt or that brand of stereo sound so great. Companies do it with fancy graphics and unique colour schemes. Movie stars and sports celebrities do it with a particular look or hair style. Christians? Well, some choose to wear crosses or little fish jewellery, but most of us don’t think to advertise our faith quite so visibly.
Despite the lack of obvious branding, we can still be known as Jesus’ followers by the little (and big) things we do. When we love folks as a rule, or seek justice in all that we do, (even if it’s just yielding our place in the checkout line to the person with just one item as opposed to our overflowing cartload) or try to be kind and gentle even with the most stressful person, we are marketing ourselves in a positive way.
And marketing, or branding, or advertising, matters even for we Christians. Of course, that’s not what we call it. We call it spreading the Good News, or sharing the Gospel, or letting it be known that Jesus is alive and well. However we reveal Jesus’ love, everything we do and say matters. Even the little things.

“Word Search”

January 13th

As I was preparing this week’s thoughts I hit the Thesaurus search for a word that might replace another word. After all, the word “contagious” has negative connotations, since it’s all about disease. I like positive words, and the article I was preparing was about positivity, so I wanted to use a better, uplifting word. Well, in my quest, the original “Thoughts” about positivity have gone by the wayside and I’m going to talk about words instead.
Did you know that the word “contagious” has no positive synonyms? The first replacement in the Thesaurus was “infectious”, but it’s associated with disease. The other choices weren’t much better. In fact, the best I could do was “catchy”, but somehow it didn’t have the dignity I was looking for.
Strange, isn’t it? We have many words for spreading diseases, but none for spreading good things. We have infectious laughter or catchy tunes, but it’s spinning unhealthy words into something. Words like sharing, giving and offering don’t have the same weight as words like contagious. Contagious implies catch something without wanting to, or that a sick person is an illness delivery system. Why can’t we talk about spreading joy as if it was unavoidable or someone can’t help but make others happy?
That’s how I see myself; as one whose joy affects others positively. I try to live in a way that reveals God’s love and care for others by the way I treat them without using words. That doesn’t mean I want everyone to be happy and laughing whenever I walk into a room. None of us is filled with joy every moment of our lives, so I want to respect those feelings. Still, even if my joy doesn’t turn a frown upside-down right away, I hope that it will at least be an open door to me caring for someone, in whatever state of mind they might be.
I do what I do because, as a follower of Jesus and a child of God, I want to share the joy, love and peace I have found in them. Perhaps the word I’m looking for, or at least the closest one to it, is “inspired”. I would like others to be inspired by me, not in terms of them suddenly having a light-bulb moment that all of a sudden answers their deepest questions, but in the sense of the very Holy Spirit that moves me would also breathe and work through them.
We are all Spiritual beings at our core. God’s Spirit gives us life, wisdom and energy. It is the holy, sacred force that drives us to do good and to love as we are loved. And it is this life-giving Spirit that I wish to share, joyfully, freely, wordlessly, wholeheartedly and without restraint. And I’m positive that it’s in you to share as well. Let God’s own loving, living, empowering breath inspire you to new joy and fulfilment.

“Mirroring”

December 23rd

My vocation includes counselling people as they work their way through crises, changes or new ideas. “Counselling”, however, is sometimes a misleading term for what I do. The word implies giving advice or making suggestions. It implies advising people and, whether gently or bluntly, telling them what to do, or at least offering suggestions of possible actions.
While there are times I provide that kind of advice or help, more often than not I am more of a mirror than a counsellor. As people tell me their needs or their problems, as they tell me the stories of how they got to where they are, as they inform me about what’s happened, what’s happy and what’s painful in their lives I learn an awful lot about them…
…and many times I learn that they aren’t fully aware of what they’re saying about themselves, or what they are doing to hurt or help themselves. And so, I become a mirror, helping them to see themselves for who and what they are according to what they have told me.
It’s a curious and remarkable thing, but we aren’t always fully self-aware. There are ways in which we become so used to our old patterns and habits that we fail to see that we might have changed them over the course of time. As we learn and grow we don’t always see how far we’ve gotten; as we heal and strengthen we aren’t always aware of how strong we’ve become; as we are beaten up or abused we aren’t always conscious of how far we’ve fallen or how abusive people really are to us.
And so, when I’m helping people, I sometimes have the honour to help them realize just how much they’ve grown…
…or the burden of helping them see their true woundedness so that they can begin to heal.
As I said, counselling, and mirroring, are part of my vocation; indeed, it might even be said that it’s part of my mental DNA, since I’ve been doing it since I was in High-School. But you don’t have to be a trained, called professional to see in others what they don’t see in themselves. Our external point-of-view of a friend or neighbour gives us unique insight into them, just as they can see things about us we might not be aware of. Since self-awareness is a vital part of being the best we can be, it’s a blessed gift to help others know themselves a bit better.
Ultimately, as a counsellor and as a mirror, I have learned how God has blessed us both with eyes to see and ears to hear. And sometimes, it is a God-blessed gift that through our eyes and ears that we can let others see and hear themselves for who they truly are simply by mirroring what they say and do.

“Interconnected”

December 16th

As a city boy, born and bred in Toronto, I am used to a complex pattern of roadways, streets, avenues, boulevards, alleys and everything in between. Every little via connects to somewhere, whether it’s a business, a garage or to people’s homes. Living in such a complex web of asphalt you quickly figure out the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. There is always a way to get from me to you, from a business to park, from your favourite Hobby store to the weird burger joint that serves the best fries ever.
When I moved to a rural setting I felt somewhat at a loss; there were long, straight stretches of highways or county lines that seemed barren and disconnected. There was odd farmhouse or church, but I felt often felt that in between my departure point and my destination I was in a strange limbo where nothing really led to anywhere.
After a while, as I became more accustomed to the distances and size of many farms, and as I made my way to various businesses and parishioners spread across the countryside I started to notice the lanes and lines and rural routes and crossed paths and intersected with each other in various ways. Soon I began to feel the interconnectedness of the businesses, homes, barns and everything and everyone else. While it might be on a somewhat larger scale in terms of distance, rural roads share the exact same variety and complexity of my familiar Toronto roads.
Those Toronto roads connect to the rural roads which in turn connect to Kitchener roads, Quebec roads and even to roads in Alaska and as far south as Mexico, a vast North American network of almost unimaginable complexity interconnecting an entire continent.
In turn, those interconnected roads represent not just a miracle of planning an d construction, but of human interconnectedness. That’s why we have roads; to join us together physically, where we live, where we work, where we play, where we do whatever it is we do. And as complicated as a North American roadmap might be, it is nowhere near as jumbled and random as a map of our human interconnectedness might be.
God did not make us to be alone. God created us to be connected to one another and to Him or Herself. Each of us is both pathway and destination. We point to others and to our Creator, just as others and our Creator point to us. We are bound together by family ties, workplace relationships, and simply by the fact that we were all made by the same God. Through Jesus, God’s son, we are even more deeply connected to our Creator, and to one another. Through Jesus we are united as sisters and brothers, each of us interconnected with everyone else on earth as God’s beloved children.