“All Ready!”

April 11 2021

The recent Pandemic related “zoning” change in our region caused our church Session, (the congregation’s leadership team) to reconsider worshipping in person. At a quick meeting after worship, it was decided to return to virtual services for the next four weeks. It’s a good decision that helps protect everyone and serves as an excellent example of taking responsibility with our little village.
The only problem with this decision is that it was made on Good Friday, leaving me only a day and a half to get everything ready and record the service. Thankfully, all of the paperwork had been done and, in a pre-emptive move, we had already made of video of the worship music. Whew! Unfortunately, even that bit of work didn’t keep me from having to pull an all-nighter in order to be ready for Sunday morning. As a result, I was up ’til 5am doing the final editing, and the finished product wasn’t uploaded until around 6:30am. Needless to same, that timeline was cutting the delivery of the virtual service pretty close. Nevertheless, it got all done and I was able to offer up a presentable product just in time.
Don’t think I’m complaining in any way. I did what had to be done. Rather than rush the result, I took the necessary time to make sure the service was as good as it could be. Much of the the effort was focussed on getting the place ready for worship. Having seen the previous videos and not being entirely pleased with them, I decided to change things up and decorate the Sanctuary. There was also extra prep work involved, as Easter Sunday at St. Andrew’s features flowers donated by families honouring their loved ones, which needed to be presented properly. (A big thanks to my wife, Lois, for helping with that). Then there was technical set-up, which took a while to get right. Remarkably, recording the service took only as long as the liturgy itself as no re-takes were necessary for once. Once all that was done, the music and liturgy and worship all had to be edited and uploaded, which brought me to my 6:30am bedtime. Suffice it to say, things took a while to get done, but it all worked out in the end.
Out of all of this, I’m thankful for the Session’s quick decision to change our worship format. It might have required some fast and fancy footwork to bring to fruition, but it did get done, even if it was just in time. I’m also thankful for the Easter blessing of new life provided by Jesus, something which is always available to us whenever we need it.
Unlike my last-minute efforts, Jesus is always ready to help us. No matter how quickly we ask Him for help, no matter how rushed we might be, His response is instantaneous. No all-nighters are needed by Him. All we have to do is ask and He makes His decision to respond in love then and there. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ constant readiness!

“Empty is the New Full”

April 4th

In Graphic Design, what isn’t there matters as much as what is there. The white space around a bit of text helps the message stand out; the voids between images declutter the page; emptiness is built into a design to provide visual and emotional balance or to direct the eye to where it should go. In a sense, empty places help to fill a design and bring it to life; they are not there by accident; they are deliberate and considered as carefully as the text, images and overall content of a page.
The Cross is the central image of Christianity. In the Roman tradition it features Jesus hanging from its cross-beam. The design is deliberate and purposeful. The body is a reminder of Christ’s suffering and death for us; it is a powerful visual symbol that reveals, in graphical detail, the sacrifice Christ made for humanity. In turn, it points to our guilt and shame for the sin that sent Him to His crucifixion and death.
In the Protestant tradition the cross is empty. Christ does not hang from the Cross; we do not have a graphic representation of His death or His sacrifice. Instead we have only the tool of his execution visible. That might seem odd. Do we venerate the means of His death? Are we celebrating the two pieces of wood that formed the Crucifix? No; not at all; the significance of the cross is in its emptiness; it’s not what is seen, not the golden or silver miniature version of its larger wooden counterpart that matters, but what is not there. The empty space is the crucial part of the design; it points not to the sorrow of the sacrifice but to the rejoicing of the Resurrection.
The Cross Protestants use is empty and it is that void that we celebrate; the void means that Christ is risen; He is not on the Cross; He is not in the grave; Jesus rose from the dead, robbing the Cross of its power, stripping it naked of its horror and shame. More than this, it means that not just death, but that our sin has also been defeated. There is no reason for us to feel guilty! Instead, we are called to be happy because Jesus lives; Jesus continues to work; Jesus makes Himself known to us; Jesus reveals Himself in the hands and hearts of those who follow Him faithfully. Rejoice! Empty is the new full! The bare Cross points to Jesus’ Resurrection and the fulness of the new life that we have through Him; it is a cause for celebration; it is an invitation to live fully and joyfully. He is not on the Cross, He is not in the grave! Hallelujah, He is Risen!

“Starting”

March 28

The internal combustion engine found in cars, lawnmowers and many other devices is a marvellous device. Ranging from tiny, single-cylinder units that can fit in the palm of your hand to mighty multi cylinder units bigger than the average garage, they have helped revolutionize the way we live.
As incredible as they are, they all share a rather embarrassing secret. Internal combustion engines cannot start themselves. For all the incredible and complex technology that allows them to run for as long as they have fuel, without a little external help, they are nothing more than a fascinatingly intricate assemblage of metal parts.
That help used to come from we human beings. Using a hand-crank (a very dangerous proposition), a pull cord, or a kick starter, we would get them spinning just enough so that they could then take over and run themselves. As if a hand crank wasn’t dangerous enough, old airplane engines were started by cranking the propeller itself. In modern days the starting motion is provided by an electric motor, which is not only much safer, but simpler, too.
Sometimes I wish I had a little external help getting started myself. It would have been wonderful if the pull of a crank or the push of a button to drive an electric motor could have gotten me going with the first few words of this little opus today. Believe me, getting my “Thoughts” going required more than just a little effort.
Of course, starting an engine or a human endeavour requires more than just physical input; virtually anything we do calls for a conscious effort, an actual decision to put pen to paper or start the car to drive to that uncomfortable interview. Sometimes putting that decision into motion can be the hardest thing to do, especially if the task is a challenging one.
There’s no doubt that I enjoy sharing my “Thoughts” with you, and I usually have a good number in stock ready to go from week to week. The stress and worry of getting them just right and saying something that is both interesting and useful is enough to make starting them a daunting proposition. A bit of a kick-start would be appreciated every once in a while.
What finally gets me started is the confidence I get doing what I believe God has equipped and intended me to do. As I said, I always have a few ideas on hand so inspiration is never a problem. The problem arises when I go at my “Thoughts” without trusting that God will see me through to the end. Once I get started, the process is a relatively short one. The part that takes the longest is giving up my doubts and trusting God.
What about you? Do find it hard to get going sometimes? Do you have all the will in the world yet still struggle to start that challenging project? Turn it over to God; if it’s something that honours the Creator that has blessed you with whatever gifts you need to accomplish your goal, trust that God will give you just the push you need.

“Wonderful!”

March 21

As a maker, one of my goals is to make functional objects pleasing to the eye. I love tools and products that function well and look good.  That doesn’t mean they have to be fancy in their appearance. All I ask for is that they be neatly finished with no ugly seams or rough surfaces. You don’t even have to hide the screws if they’re arranged neatly and consistently. Making something the pleases the eye and does its job isn’t that hard.
Why does appearance matter? For me how something looks is important because it speaks to the care and attention taken in making it, and often impacts an object’s usability as well. Consider the humble fork. If the tines are out of alignment or not in proportion to the handle, it is uncomfortable to use as well as not appealing to the eye. Get the proportions right and align the tines and instantly you have a table tool that not only looks good, but also serves its intended purpose.
Notice that I started out these “Thoughts” with “As a maker”. Those words were intentional, because they indicate that I have control over what I produce, as do my fellow makers. So when I consider the appearance of an object made by human hands, I am conscious of the fact that conscious choices were made in their construction. The choice to make something both useful and attractive, and my preference for good looking functional objects is entirely my own.
As a human being not manufactured by human beings, or at least created in a process that is entirely out of human control, my preference for good looking things goes out the window. Actually, so does my desire that something be useful, too.
How a person looks is irrelevant to who they are. Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, it is also something over which we have no control, either in ourselves or others. As to someone being useful, as a tool might be, well, that too is an irrelevant measure of a person. Not only can it be hard to measure, its also misleading. God created us for a purpose, but only God knows what that purpose is. All we can and should do is to be sufficiently self-aware to be able to identify our gifts and use them to live in a way that honours our Creator.
Each of us was created to reflect God’s image in some way. As such, we are all uniquely beautiful and necessary. To see that inherent beauty calls for us to look beyond the physical. To recognize that each of us belongs calls for us to see each other as a practical expression of God’s love. While the things I make may or may not be as useful or appealing to the eyes as I would like them to be, I know that we humans, in our own unique fashion, are every bit as wonderful as our Creator in every way possible. 

“Memories”

March 14

For the past few weeks, the residents of Coldwater, the village in which I live, have been sharing old photos of the place on Facebook. The photos offer new insights into the history and shape of Coldwater for newer arrivals like myself. For long-time Coldwater citizens, they’re a blast from the past evoking memories of their younger selves and what life was like in the past.
Sharing photos is a relatively modern thing, but visual records of the past are not. Ancient sculptures and cave paintings reveal what life was like eons ago and even give us a glimpse of the individuals that might well be distant relatives of ours.
These ancient carved or painted records, pose a bit of a problem that is shared by many of the photos Coldwater residents post on Face book. They may well reveal to us a face from the past…
…but the name? Not always. In fact there are a whole series of pictures shared that all share the same caption: “Does anybody know who this is?”
Funny, isn’t it? The amazing technology that is photography captures perfect images of people, but it doesn’t tell us who they are. Unless their names are printed on the photo, or there is someone alive that can recognize them, the images can be of virtually anyone and, despite the permanence of the physical record, the impermanence of human memory leaves them forever forgotten.
There’s a certain sadness in being unable to name folks in a picture. We know they were real people, that their lives had meaning and purpose, that they had families, friends and connections to a community but they could be anybody…
…and are, in effect, nobody.
That sadness points to a need for us to be known and a desire to be remembered. I know that one day it might be my smiling face that remains nameless and that all that will remain of me might well be that image. It’s a strange feeling that reminds me of how impermanent we all are and that in many ways we only exist because there are people who know who we are.
There’s comfort knowing that our Creator will never forget us. The one God in whose image each of us were created will remember us forever, and one day we will know God as well as God knows us. While nobody may remember who is in the photo shared on Facebook, the life of the person we see still had meaning and purpose and may even have played a role in shaping our own lives. And if one day ours is the forgotten face, it is only in the memory of our fellow humans. God will never forget the name that should go with the face…
…or the value of the life that face represents. 

“Needs”

March 7

Cadillac luxury vehicles are known, if not throughout the world, certainly across North America. They represent the finest automobiles the US has to offer, and for may people, they represent the epitome of refinement and quality.Of course, being luxury vehicles, they have been created specifically for those who can afford to pay for them. The cars are not simply utilitarian appliances designed for ordinary folk like you and me. If you’re in the market for a brand new Cadillac, you are one of a select few people in North America; you are definitely in the “have more than enough” category rather than the “barely scraping by” range.
A recent ad for the companies flagship vehicle sums up my problem with the emphasis such brands, whether it’s cars or carpeting, place on wealth and ownership. The promotion talks about the many features of their top-line vehicle then asks why anyone would need them. Answering their own question the announcer states that it’s not about needing; its about wanting. The desire for the opulence afforded by a Cadillac is justification enough to buy one.
There are a lot of things people want, but putting the emphasis on desire rather than need summarizes our unhealthy society. Whether its top-of-the-line motorcars or the basic needs of life, we’re trained to think more in terms of wanting than needing. Our wants, however, are endless. There is no end to desire, so when we emphasize wanting a thing rather than needing a thing, we can never be satisfied. The more we have, the more we want.
When a rich young man asked Jesus how to gain eternal life, Jesus quizzed him about what he understood to be important. Was he aware of God’s commandments? The seeker answered that he was, and that he followed them faithfully. Clearly, he knew what was necessary to receive eternal life. When Jesus then challenged him to go one step further and give up his wealth and possessions in order to follow him, the young rich man balked. Even though he knew what was needed by God and Jesus, what he wanted mattered more than what he needed.
In North America we are blessed with all that we need and more. Because we are so blessed, it’s hard for us to appreciate what we have. When we are constantly bombarded by satisfying our wants rather than our needs our vision is further blurred. With our vision blurred, what we want becomes hard to distinguish from what we need and, like the rich ruler, we lose track of what really matters.
By telling the rich ruler to give up all of his wealth and possessions, Jesus challenged the man to depend solely on him. What the rich ruler needed was Jesus. What he wanted, unfortunately, was what he already had.
What we really need in life is Jesus. Is that what we really want, however?

“Enemies”

February 28

One of the great American comic strips named after its main character, Pogo, a kind gentle Opossum, is now largely forgotten. For me, one of its best lines will always be remembered: “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
That line sticks out in my mind because it is so true for people like myself who profess to follow Jesus. As the season of Lent calls us to remember how it was our own sins that sent Jesus to the Cross, I am reminded of the fact that no matter how good we claim to be, we constantly fall short of God’s expectations. Thankfully, despite being God’s “enemies” in certain ways, our Creator’s love and mercy are big enough to handle whatever mistakes we make.
When we look at the Cross, we are reminded of Pogo’s line that “we have met the enemy and he is us”.
But there’s more to that idea than the fact that we are sinners. All too often I find my fellow followers of Christ adopting a Christianity-versus-them attitude. They seem to believe that, somehow, following Jesus makes us better than other people. While it’s true that following Jesus faithfully makes us better people, it is a great lie to say that His followers are in any superior to folks who go their own way. In the face of this attitude, I am again reminded of Pogo’s prophetic pronouncement: “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
When we judge others as inferior, or when we boost our status above that of our neighbour, we become enemies of the ones we judge. They are hurt by what we believe because it is unkind and demeaning. We make ourselves enemies of the very Christ whom we follow, because he told us both not to judge others and not to think of ourselves as in any way superior to anyone whatsoever. We also make us our own worst enemies, because it’s all too easy to slip from judging the worth of people outside our faith system to our fellow Christians.
Yes, I realize that I’m doing just that, so I apologize. I shouldn’t judge others, but that’s one of the problems of being human. As Pogo so aptly phrased it: “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

“Home”

February 21

One particularly cold and blustery morning I needed to use the family Minivan to transport some rather bulky goods. The vehicle is strictly used as a hauler of big items or large quantities of things, as it’s too big and rather battered and bruised looking. It runs well, but it looks more like a vehicular version of Frankenstein’s monster than something one would be proud to introduce to one’s friends.
Since it’s not a daily driver, it sits unused for lengthy intervals. You can well imagine that it was covered in a generous layer of ice, upon which was a significant amount of snow. Once the door was open and I was settled inside, it started perfectly well. While it warmed up I did my best to free it from its wintery cocoon and did my best to free up the windshield wipers.
While I succeeded in removing enough snow and ice to make the Minivan safe, the windshield wipers would not work. Although I had loosened them, they either stayed completely motionless, or twitched sadly. Great. No wipers on a snowy day. That’s all I need.
Blown fuse? Frozen mechanism within the Minivan’s structure? Could I get them going if I pushed them a bit? Yes. The last thing worked. Well, it revealed that they would move under their own power, but only for one swipe of the windscreen. Rats. I pondered and played with them for a few minutes and then noticed that they were not returning to their “home” position at the very bottom edge of the windshield.
Was that the problem? Was the mechanism not knowing what to do since it could not come to rest properly? As I cleared the ice from the base of the windshield I could feel the wipers pressing down against the remaining ice even as I cleared it away. Once that last bit had been removed and they moved back down to their resting “home” position, they then started working perfectly! Huzzah!
Have you ever noticed that after a long trip, an extended spell of activity and busy-ness or being out of your comfort zone even for just a short period, there’s nothing better than returning to the place you call home? Finding ourselves back in a familiar setting where we can reset is vital for our health and mental well-being. Arresting our busy-ness in our usual restful spot allows us to reset and re-energize. There is no place like home, as Dorothy reminds us. Home is where all adventures begin after the last adventure ends.
Our Creator is our Spiritual place of rest, renewal and resetting. Through Jesus we find the home-base we need in order to be complete human beings. While we may wander far from home, we are always welcome back. And it’s always there for us. No matter how far we wander, we are guaranteed our place safe and sound in God’s heart, the place we can always call home.

“Logically Illogical”

February 14
“Logically Illogical”
It should have been an easy project. I was trying to fit a hollow tube into a slightly larger one at a forty-five degree angle. Simple. Drill a correctly angled hole in the big pipe, cut the other pipe at the correct angle, and that’s a it, yes? No. When I looked through the big pipe to see how the little one fit, there was a huge gap rather than a nice, tight connection.
Ok, no problem. Just form the little tube according to what I thought to the shape should be and I would be done in jiffy. I kept getting close, but not close enough. Fine. Keep refining the contours, and all will be good, right? Nope. Try as I might, what I was doing didn’t work. With every look down the pipe I could see that I was making no progress, other than ever shortening the small tube.
Frustrated, I took a careful look at the ugly, imperfect joint. I knew my approach was wrong. I could feel it in my bones that shape the small tube needed to be it would fit precisely against the inside wall of the big tube was not obvious or logical. I just couldn’t figure out what it would take to make it right.
After a few minutes of pondering and observing the two ill fitting pieces in all their lack of glory, I made a fresh cut according to what I saw, rather than what I thought was correct. Surprise! The pieces actually started to fit! Continuing to work against what my brain was telling me to do, I was able to finally get the precise fit I wanted! Hallelujah! Mind you, the end of the small tube didn’t look like what I expected it to, but that didn’t matter. It fit correctly and that was it.
Since I had two other sets of pipes to fit together, I made a cardboard template according to my (finally!) correct product. When I laid it flat, it looked more like a steeply sided, rounded hill (or a sine wave, for the mathematically minded amongst you…). That was a surprising result, as it seemed counter-intuitive, but who was I to argue? I worked, and using the template it took me only a matter of minutes to form the other pieces correctly. Yay!
Have you ever met someone you couldn’t just quite figure out? Have you ever tried to work with them or get along with them in a way that seemed to make sense, but didn’t work out at all? While we might all be made in God’s image, each of us expresses a different aspect of our Creator, which means that some folks don’t fit into our neat little understanding of how people work. At the same time, we probably don’t fit into theirs either.
Sometimes when we deal with others we have to look at them for who they are, not who we believe them to be. It wasn’t until I actually looked at my problematic pipes without thinking about what I saw that I came up with the right, albeit still confusing, solution.
It’s like that with people, too. Sometimes our assumptions make it hard to know someone. Sometimes we need to set aside our assumptions so that we can see and appreciate others for who they are and where they fit into our lives. Sometimes the most logical way to get close to a person to do is to give up on logic and see who it is that’s right before our eyes.

“Saints”

February 7

You would think that being called a “saint” would be a nice thing. It’s the highest compliment I can think of for Christlike folks, especially if they are some kind of caregiver. Apparently, some folks aren’t quite there. I recently read how one caregiver was quite surprised at having been called a saint. So was her charge; both of them felt a caregiver’s work was a mundane a job on the level of a customer service provider. I was surprised by their attitude because, as I see it, there is no more saintly work.
As a minister, one of my roles is providing spiritual care for people. That means being involved in their lives and getting to know them in all their glory and shortcomings. A good number of my flock make use of personal assistants or other professional caregivers of some kind.
Seeing these people at work is amazing, and for me, they are indeed saints. I say this because helping another person, whether it’s because of physical or mental disability, or simply because of the limitations age brings about, is a truly special gift. I was a computer technician for 8 years. My job was mostly caring for my customers; fixing their machines was important, but not as important as helping them resume their trust in the devices that had let them down. While customer service is mostly about people, it’s very different from what personal caregivers or assistants do. Techs like myself are only involved in a business relationship; sometimes that business is in a person’s home, but it’s still about the machine and making sure the customer is satisfied.
What I have observed caregivers do is completely different. Your personal assistant cares for you as a person, not a machine. She helps you physically, but is also engaged at a very human level. With this engagement, your joy becomes her joy; your pain is her pain; your sorrow is her sorrow.
Saintly caregivers or personal assistants do as much for a person’s soul as they do for their body. That is holy work. That’s why I consider such people as living saints; they provide so much more than physical care, or the business service of a computer technician. I would even go so far as to say that they are some of the most Christ-like people I have ever been blessed to know.
The ones that truly impress me are those that work in Palliative care or in nursing homes. Those personal assistants and caregivers know that the people they help will only be in their lives for a short time, yet they still give everything they’ve got to give, and know how to deal with the inevitable sad end. It is a delicate balance that only select people can manage. It should come as no surprise to you that I believe those people deserve to be called “saints”.