“The Catenary Effect”

May 26h

You’re 17th in line at the traffic light. It’s red and eternally long. After an unbearable wait, it goes to green and nothing happens. The car ahead of you remains steadfast and unmoved. You wait some more. Nothing. After even more waiting, the car ahead of you inches forward. A quick glance in the rear view mirror reveals the car behind is stil stopped. You move forward and when you’re third in line at the traffic light, you realize it’s turned red again. Rats!
If all the drivers had reacted like you and all of the vehicles had started moving forward in perfect harmony when the light had turned green, you would have made it through, as well as several cars behind you. But, no, that didn’t happen. They guy behind you was very slow. Maybe the lady at the head of the line reacted perfectly and started moving right away. But not everybody responded the same way, and so now you’re stuck at the red light again.
Welcome to the Catenary effect. The Catenary effect is seen when you pull on a loose chain. The link in your hand moves with you, but the other ones take a while to get going because of the slack between them. Their response time is predictable, however. With drivers, however, it’s unpredictable, due to different spacing between vehicles, variable reaction times, and the different rates at which folks accelerate. So, while it seems like traffic should move quickly once the light turns green, it doesn’t because of the Catenary effect. And to add to the frustration, the longer the line up, the greater the delay.
You can also experience the Catenary effect on the highway, with no traffic lights at all. If you’ve ever come to a stop, only to move forward and eventually, miles down the road, get up to speed, without ever seeing a cause for the delay, no accident, construction or obstruction, you can thank the catenary effect. A single vehicle slowing down can cause a chain reaction of cars slowing down which might cause traffic miles away to come to a full stop.
It’s not just with traffic that you see this frustrating effect. You see it dealing with teams, committees, groups and people in general. Your church isn’t moving fast enough. God’s direction is clear but nothing seems to happen. Thank-you, Catenary Effect. Because we react in different ways and move at different speeds things don’t always happen right away. Sometimes we egg each other on and there’s rapid progress. Sometimes we just inch forward as we wait for everyone to get on board and get going.
That’s why God gave us the gift of patience. Things happen at their own pace, which is not necessarily our pace. And so we must wait at times. And at other times, others must wait for us. But when we pay attention and we’re alert to God’s Spirit, there will be progress. We will move forward, even if it’s in fits and starts and not nearly as fast as we would like it to be.

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“Transitions”

May 19th

I recently had occasion to drive to Toronto and back up to Coldwater. Not a big deal, really, but it was an interesting trip nonetheless. Leaving the airport and working my way along the assorted roads and highways back home I couldn’t help but notice the great quantity of lights, homes, businesses and, of course, traffic, along the way. Toronto is almost a city without borders; while there are official markers telling you when you’ve crossed into town, there are no similar signs saying that you’re no longer there.
There are no clear visible geographical or architectural signs, either. The city just slowly, imperceptibly, lessens. The further north you head, the fewer homes, businesses and lights you see. Traffic eases off a bit, and other indications of civilization become less evident, but there are signs of life just up ahead, and lots of light emission in the rear-view mirror, so even though you may be many kilometres out of Toronto, you’re still kind of there.
It’s not until you drive along highway 400 and get to the far side of the city of Barrie that something remarkable happens. There’s a point when the highway splits off, Barrie is well behind you, and then all of a sudden, all signs of Toronto, Barrie or even civilization itself disappear.
It’s an amazing transition. The contours of the land hide the light-emission from the cities you’ve left behind. The forests and infrequent farms are dark and silent. In the daytime you see only trees or open fields. Houses and businesses are few and far between. The only sign of civilization is the long, curvy stretch of smooth, well-maintained highway taking you further and further from the hustle and bustle just behind you.
We need those transitions in our day-to-day life. Not just the physical ones that take us from a busy city to a tranquil countryside, but the personal ones that take us from the busy-ness of doing, acting or reacting, to an inner stillness and peace that allows us to breathe and to simply be. It can be shutting off the phone and computer for a few moments, or taking the time to pray or meditate, or going for a walk. Whatever form it takes, we need those transitions from the overwhelming pressures around us to a moment of calm and release.
When I’m driving north from the crazy beauty of Toronto to the wonderful calm of Coldwater I have to follow the highway and wait for the transition from one to the other. It’s hard to argue with geography. But even on the hectic drive I make a conscious decision to calm down, to take a break to relax myself and go from busy-ness to being. And that can happen both leaving the city and moving towards it. Even in the midst of a busy physical place we can find the transition to a calm inner place that allows us to breathe and to be. You just have to make it happen. You simply have to choose to release the tension and find the inner peace that feeds your soul.

“Broken”

May 12th

Christianity is broken. As a religion working in the world it is fractured by factions that reject people because of their sexual orientation, race colour, social status and other ways we humans divide ourselves. This is an ugly break that makes Christians look nothing like the Christ they profess to follow, and everything like hateful, hurtful hypocrites.
Christianity is also broken in and of itself. It is a human creation, after all, and not Jesus’ desire. Jesus did not seek to create a religion; Jesus sought to reunite us with God, with a bridge of forgiveness and love built on the wood of the Cross. What we humans have created, the system of rules, regulations and creeds that form our religion, is for our convenience, which does not make it necessarily Christ-like.
Christianity is made up of broken people, people like you and me who are less than perfect and far less than Christ-like. The whole and the hearty are certainly welcome within its bounds, but they are few and far between and highly prized as an example of Christ with us.
Certain aspects of Christianity must be fixed. We must find a way to come together and to include all of God’s children. It is said that in Christ there is no East or West, no Jew or Gentile. We must speak that sentiment more broadly so that in Christ there is no Gay or Straight, no Rich or Poor, no in or out. We must fix the brokenness of religious people who reject anyone because it goes against their religious freedom. In Christ we are bound to accept, affirm and encourage any and all of God’s children, not to weigh some with different weights and declare them an unwelcome burden.
Christianity will never be fully whole or fixed. As long as it is made up by broken human beings, it will be a ramshackle construction that has the best of intention with very poor execution. Yet in its haphazard nature we have the chance to find and feel Christ’s love more deeply and genuinely. To be loved, not despite of our brokenness, but precisely because we are broken, is the most blessed gift imaginable.
Christianity is broken, but it is still beautiful. While some of its cracks and flaws need to be addressed and repaired, it is a source of wholeness and healing. Through it, Jesus takes broken people and makes them the best they can be. He lifts our shame and guilt so that we can reach out to God in confidence. He carries us when we fall, or just sits beside us until we’re ready to move. In the broken people that follow Jesus we see His love made real, even if it’s less than perfect.
Christianity might be broken, but given that is a construction built by folks like you and me, it is a wonderful thing nevertheless.

“Observed”

May 5th

In Quantum physics it is believed that you cannot observe an object without affecting that object. Ok, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that simple statement, but the basic truth is there. To look at something is to influence that something. I realize that Quantum Physics is far removed from most of us; it’s something we know exists but are happy to leave to folks with much bigger brains than the rest of us.
The thought of the observer impacting the observed has real, practical implications for us. Think about what it means to have eye contact with a person. When it’s a friend, you can read their emotion and understand exactly what they’re thinking and you react appropriately. In a glance, they have affected how you feel. When a stranger looks at you, you might feel nervous, wondering whether their gaze is malicious or helpful. An actor looking out to their audience gauges immediately if their performance will be a hit, and the audience, seeing their favourite star at last, feels a thrill of anticipation like never before. To see, or to be seen, is to be changed, even if just a little bit.
Perhaps the most significant impact the observer has on the observed is to validate them. To be seen, to be really observed for who and what you are, is to be acknowledged and affirmed. When a friend looks at you, you know you have meaning and purpose when you might have had your doubts. When a stranger looks at you with kindness you realize that in the moment you matter. When a performer is seen by their audience their identity is confirmed and they know they are in the right place, at the right time.
We are constantly under God’s watchful gaze. God knows us, not just as a product that was created, but as individuals with unique talents. To be seen by God is to be known intimately and to realize our worth in God’s creation.
More than that distant, watchful gaze, as God’s children, and brothers and sisters to Jesus, God’s son, we are seen by people of faith through Christ-like eyes. God does not just watch from far away. God sees us through the eyes of people of faith, those people who serve and follow in Jesus’ footsteps. And in those caring, compassionate eyes we are acknowledged, supported, encouraged, challenged, healed. To be seen by a true follower of Christ is to be known and loved and transformed. When we are down, we are lifted up; when we are broken, we are restored; when we rejoice, we are raised even higher. To be observed in love is to be transformed.’
And when we see others through Christ-like eyes we have the power to change their lives, too. We acknowledge the worth of the self-denier, support those who stagger, encourage the doubter, challenge the fool or heal the broken. To observe is to change the observed. To observe with love is to bless the observed beyond imagination.

“Contributors”

April 28th

As the time to file our Income Taxes draws near we scramble to make sure that all our financial ducks are in a row and suitably displayed before the Canada Revenue Agency. We want them to find that everything is in order and that we don’t owe any money to them. With assorted receipts, pay-stubs, bank statements and T-this-that-and-the-others we lay our finances before them and hope that there might be a wee tax return at the end of the monetary rainbow.
In gathering all the information, we not only reveal a lot to the CRA, but to ourselves as well. While we might plan out our charitable contributions very carefully when we plan our yearly budget, it’s another thing entirely to see them before us in the form of assorted receipts and donation slips. There, in a pile, we see how we have contributed our financial blessings towards good and noble causes that, we pray, will have a positive influence on the world.
Yet we are more than just financial contributors to the good works that make us all better people. In fact, we must provide more than just our tithes if we want to have a truly beneficial impact on the people and situations around us.
When Jesus asked a rich young person to give up all his wealth to the poor, he included in that challenge the instruction that they follow Him. The donation of all of his financial wherewithal to charity was only a means to free their heart from their false God. What Jesus really wanted was for them to actually do the kinds of good things He was doing. The financial contribution didn’t matter nearly as much as the rich young person’s personal, physical, contribution of blood, sweat and maybe a few tears. After all, following Jesus is its own reward, but it’s not easy.
Just as the size of our financial contributions isn’t a marker of our generosity, what we contribute in terms of sweat equity is not a measure of our love for Jesus or for others. We all have different gifts and talents. Some of us are perfectly physically fit with boundless energy and can do all kinds of things. Some of us are more limited and don’t have as many options. None of that matters, as long as we contribute whatever we do willingly, freely, and with sense of generosity and joy that is in and of itself a beautiful gift.
Jesus took notice of those who give a simple drink of water to the least of society. It might seem like a wee thing, but in Jesus’ eyes it’s a blessed, beautiful contribution. It wasn’t the water itself; it was doing something good for the ones that the rest of society forgot, or ignored. It wasn’t about providing a drink. It was about contributing from the heart. What cup of blessing can you contribute to Christ’s work? What can you do that will bless the least of humanity?

“The Narrow Cross?”

April 21st

To love as we would be loved implies a broad, open approach to others. It is a wide and open thing that embraces and includes. If we wish to be accepted, affirmed, supported and generally loved, then we must apply all those things to the way that we love others, whether it’s a friend, a family member, co-worker, acquaintance or complete stranger. Love is a broad doorway.
But if we are to love as Jesus loves us, and to truly follow His command to love one another, there is a sense in which that entrance narrows, because loving someone the way Jesus does is a much more challenging prospect.
Jesus loved others in a way that was far beyond expectation. He didn’t just talk about being with the rejected, he went to their homes and ate with them. He touched the untouchable and spoke with women from the wrong side of polite society. Jesus gave up everything he had, and challenged his disciples and those who would follow him to do the same.
Following Jesus and loving others the way He loves others means great things for us. It means we get a place in heaven and a guaranteed spot in God’s heart. But, as many found out, it’s harder to follow Jesus than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. The doorway to loving as we would be loved is narrow indeed, if we’re going to use Jesus as our example.
On Good Friday, we learn just how narrow that doorway is. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, a death that was caused by His fellow human beings. He came to save each and every one of us, but not everyone was ready or willing to acknowledge Him, let alone follow Him.
If we are to follow Him, we have to follow Him to the cross and recognize that our sins put Him there. We may not have been present at His trial and crucifixion physically, but the sin that demanded His death was ours, as much as it was the people present.
Our narrow door to Jesus is the willingness to claim our sinfulness and to admit to our guilt. If we are to follow Jesus, we must follow Him to the cross and confess that we helped put Him there. That is our eye in the needle.
Once we have passed through the narrow door of confession and admission of guilt, Jesus forgives us, restores us, and frees us to love as He loves us. Jesus gives us new life and empowers us to love without restraint. Once we have struggled through the eye of the needle we can follow Jesus and work for (and through) Him to bless others as we have been blessed.
Sometimes a door is a flat wooden thing on hinges that must be opened. Sometimes a door is a wooden cross that must be knelt before. On Good Friday, take a moment to kneel before the cross so that you might pass from your death in sin to new life, and love, in Christ.

“Dangerous”

April 14th

Upon the completion of Creation, God declared it “Good”. We human beings might have messed things up a bit, but as long as God is in charge, the world is, and always will be, good. That’s my fundamental operating principle. We live in a wonderful and beautiful world and when we are at our best, or even just pretty good, what God has created remains a good place. A holy place. The wonderful, blessed place that is our home and base of operations.
With this bit of background, you won’t find it too surprising that I took great exception to an article in which the author shared how he told his son “the world is a dangerous place.” They were on vacation in Rome, Italy, and he was trying to make his child aware of surroundings and to be on the lookout for bad things happening, just in case.
I’ve been to Rome. It’s a beautiful, almost overwhelming city filled with beauty and marvels beyond imagination. Yes, there are some risks, as with any place on earth, and I foiled a pickpocket from stealing my wallet, but even with that experience, I will never say that the world is a dangerous place, because that is a dangerous attitude in and of itself.
I know that bad people do awful things. They are a danger and we need to be careful lest we get hurt. But to make that our go-to position, to worry first about the danger and then think about the goodness and beauty, is to see the world through sad, jaded eyes. It is a hopeless outlook that created fear, not just of the world, but of the other, because when we say that the world is a dangerous place, what we’re really saying is that people are all dangerous.
To make a value judgement like that is to move towards hatred and prejudice. It is an open door to seeing the other as a threat or risk simply because we assume the worst first. I would rather assume the best about others and keep my eyes open than believing the worst and shutting my mind to them.
When I go to Italy, I bask in the beauty of my surroundings and the people that live there. They are all equally weird and wonderful, created in God’s image and celebrations of God’s goodness and love. Sure, there are some folks that are less than savoury and even outright dangerous, but I’m not going to let my fear of them taint my view of God’s good creation. I will try my best to see it through the eyes of the one who created me, and you and everyone and everything else and called it all “Good”.