October 14th

As a fan of all things mechanical and most things race-car related, I was intrigued by a video entitled: “Citroen Rally Team rebuilds a wrecked rear-end in 32 minutes”. Sure enough, a Citroen World Rally Car pulled into the pits with one wheel dangling precariously and 32 minutes later, it drove off with all four wheels where they should be. For those of you who aren’t into cars, this was remarkable. Replacing not just a wheel, but all of the assorted axles, springs, shocks, mounts and related equipment is a task that takes a normal mechanic several hours. The French rally team guys performance was extraordinary.
What really amazed me about their accomplishment was not the silent teamwork, or their efficiency, or their great organizational skills. The most impressive part of their work was doing it all under the watchful eye of a Scrutineer, a person assigned by the rally organizers to make sure that all of the rules of the race were followed. In terms of the vehicle repair, the Scrutineer was there to see that the car was returned to its original state, nothing more or nothing less. Body panels had to be restored, no improvements could be made and nothing could be modified to alter the performance or function of the car.
Imagine the pressure the mechanics must have felt. Their car was effectively out of the race and had to get back on track as soon as possible. The damage was extensive and the parts were critical, high-precision items that had to be installed correctly the first time with no margin for error. And everything they did was being watched over by a Scrutineer who had the power to end their race should they break the rules, or even be perceived to be doing so. Talk about stress as the worked furiously under the hawk-like gaze of a cold, immovable judge. It’s remarkable how well they performed in those conditions.
We human beings, for as much as we would like to think we are free to do as we please, are also under the watchful eye of a great and powerful Scrutineer. God expects us to serve and to love as God serves and loves us. We are called to care for creation. We are called to live to our full potential and to build one another up. It’s a high-stakes game, with our heavenly Judge scrutinizing our every move in order to determine whether or not we receive eternal life when our time on earth comes to an end.
However, unlike the World Rally Scrutineer, God is gracious and merciful. If we blow it we aren’t thrown out of the race; we are forgiven so we can try again. And whether it’s one mistake or a million, if we seek God’s forgiveness, we receive it, freely. Still, there is an overall judgement. Our performance on earth determines whether or not we gain entry into heaven. But here’s the thing; God keeps no record of wrongs; we are scrutinized not for the number of times we do good things, but for the reason we act as we do. If we obey God out of fear or just to win, we will lose. But if we live to love God, others and ourselves as we are loved by God, there is no reason to fear our heavenly Scrutineer.


“Loved Straight”

October 7th

Writer Maya Kroth penned an article entitled: “I Was Scared Straight by Judge Judy’s Bailiff”. In it Ms. Kroth describes the moment in her life when the famous TV Bailiff, otherwise known as Petri Byrd, caused her to turn her life around. He wasn’t Judge Judy’s bailiff at the time; he was at her school, the “narc”, as he was known by the students. She describes him as being “tasked with keeping the kids who were on the margins of our nationally ranked school from falling off the page completely”. For Ms. Kroth, Mr. Byrd was, quite literally, a life-saver; through simple action he gave her the incentive to leave her self-destructive path and take one that was safer and healthier. He had indeed kept her from “falling off the page completely”.
Later in life, Ms. Kroth spotted Mr. Byrd on TV as Judge Judy’s bailiff, so she reached out to him so she could thank him personally. Her high-school saviour agreed to meet, so she flew to LA for the face to face encounter. In the course of their conversation he told her “Black or white, rich or poor, whatever the circumstances people find themselves in, everybody wants to feel loved, to feel secure, to feel valued, to feel like it’s a team.” While it wasn’t directly the motive behind his success in help Ms. Kroth and other stay on the page, it’s clearly a fundamental part of his success. “Everybody wants to be loved.”
Reading his words, a thought popped into my mind: Ms. Kroth hadn’t been so much scared straight as she was loved straight. The life-changing encounter with the “narc” wasn’t one filled with fear and terror; it was a simple, knowing glance from him that caused her to realize that she had been seen for who she was. In that simple act, she knew that to him, she was more than a student on the wrong track; she mattered. She knew she was lovable and loved.
When God saw how far we had fallen, when we had pretty much hit rock-bottom, God intervened, but not by scaring us straight. God stepped in through Jesus, loving us straight through His death and resurrection. God didn’t send Jesus to the cross. We did that; but God turned our stupidity around, turning our lowest moment into Jesus’ greatest victory. No doubt, Jesus was afraid, but that personal fear was over-ridden by His love, and it’s that love that saved us.
Sure, sometimes we’re scared half to death when we make an awful mistake or poor choice, but that’s just a warning sign that we need to smarten up and straighten out. Fear can only go so far; it might cause us to change to a safer course, but it won’t necessarily keep us there. What keeps us on the straight and narrow is the love and support of those around us who care enough to help us get back up on our feet. We need someone who sees us for who we are and is able to remind us of our worth. We don’t need to be scared straight so much as to be loved straight. It doesn’t take someone tasked with the job, the “narc” hired to do that one thing. All it takes is the eyes to see someone for who they are and the heart to love them away from their own self-destruction.


September 30th

I just finished reading an article by Mika Brzezinski, a prominent American newscaster who works on the “Morning Joe” show. In it she explained her unsuccessful attempt to ask for a much needed pay raise. Ms. Brzezinski  ultimately concluded that she undermined herself by the way she framed her request. Rather than making a compelling case for what she contributed to the program, she explained that she needed more money in order to buy the appropriate wardrobe she felt she required. In her own words: “I had minimized my own value by whining about clothing costs, when the real reason I deserved a raise would have made a much more compelling argument.”
Ms. Brzezinski’s basic premise is that she should be responsible for getting what she needs from her employers. She notes that her male counterparts “…were doing a good job of getting what they wanted and deserved.” In effect, they knew their value and made sure that they were paid accordingly. During her tenure with the show, Brzezinski knew her value, but could not make it known to those who were paying her, resulting in her inability to receive a much needed and deserved pay raise.
I understand her premise; we all have to know our value so that we don’t get devalued by others. If we don’t know our own worth, thoughtless or less than scrupulous employers, or co-workers can all-too-easily take advantage of us. As Ms. Brzezinski reveals, we might end up being overworked, under payed and under appreciated. But it shouldn’t be our responsibility completely. Employers, co-workers and customers alike should take note of their employees’, co-workers’ or servers’ value. Or, more broadly, we should all take note of the people in our lives that make us better people.
Our success and joy are a product of both our own efforts and those of the good people around us. So, while Ms. Brzezinski was right to recognize how she failed herself in seeking a raise, she was also failed by the people who did not recognize her contribution, or did not support and speak up for her and with her so that her value could be acknowledged and rewarded appropriately.
As people of faith, we realize that life is not necessarily about success or recognition. But part of being whole and healthy is realizing that we are worthy of something, that we are making a positive contribution to the lives of the people around us, and that we are serving God well and lovingly. That means that we are called to call out those people in our lives who are helping us to succeed and grow. It’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s our responsibility to recognize and acknowledge the positive, supportive influences in our lives, because it is a direct response to Jesus’ command to love others as we would be loved. If we wish to be valued for who and what we are, then we are responsible for valuing family, friends, neighbours, and even  complete strangers for the Christ-like goodness they offer to us and to the world at large.


September 23rd

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Reasonable advice. Take what hardships come to you and make something positive out of them. And, scene. That’s it for my thoughts, no? Why restate the obvious or go on about it when it’s all you need to know? Well, there’s the problem of the death of a loved one. Or that hurtful thing you said before you could censor yourself? Or the passage of time that changes our bodies in ways that aren’t always helpful? How do you put a positive spin on those things? How do you make lemonade when the lemons are rotten?
For a society that wants to avoid pain, or simply doesn’t know how to deal with difficult situations, making lemonade out of life’s lemons is a feel-good response. It’s not entirely useful, however: always looking for a positive outcome in a negative situation isn’t realistic; in fact, it might lead to making things worse. Still, there is some wisdom to the idea of making lemonade from the lemons life doles out.
Let’s unpack what’s happening here. You get a lemon. What can you make with it? Chicken soup? That feels good, but it doesn’t work. Put the lemon in the bank so it can earn interest? Nope, not that. Throw it as far as you can? That one lemon might come back as a whole sack. So, you make lemonade, not because it turns something bad into something good, but because it’s one thing you can do with a lemon. It is, in other words, an appropriate response to getting a shipload of lemons. You deal with what happens, not unrealistically trying to turn a disaster into a success, but in order to work through whatever happens.
Looking at some of life’s lemons, what lemonade can we make? With the death of a friends, it’s working through the grief process, acknowledging the pain and loss, and working out a new reality that allows you to go on without them and to remember them with joy and gratitude. When a slip of the tongue lands you in trouble, you apologize and try to make amends. As age changes all things we adapt and carry on, celebrating the fact that we still have time on the clock. Whatever form the bitter fruit might take, the key isn’t to turn it into something sweet but to deal with it as suits best.
The ever-so-positive Lemonade theory has a special side-note for people of faith. Trusting in God and living Jesus’ law of love does not exempt us from having lemons handed to, or fired at, us. But our faith offers us a deep resource to help us deal with whatever comes our way. We have Jesus’ example to show us how to deal with tough moments gracefully; we have the support of a God who loves us and supports us when we stagger; we also have a built-in community of loving, Christ-like people who are ready, willing and equipped to deal with life as it comes to us. And who knows? Maybe you’re that one person who can help turn their lemons into lemonade.


September 16th

If you find yourself in a Doctor’s office, you might see these words on their wall someplace: “Primum non nocere”; “First, do no harm”. This is part of the oath all doctors take when they become full fledged, front-line physicians. Primum non nocere; “First, do no harm”.
Doctors were not always the well-trained professionals they are today. In the earliest days of the profession, medicine was a blend of art, superstition, traditional teaching and science. There was little understanding of how the body worked or how to fix it when it broke down. That means there was a lot of unnecessary and inappropriate care, often resulting in doctors harming, rather than helping, their patients.
Thanks to vast improvements in knowledge, techniques and medicine, doctors generally do far more good than harm nowadays. But that’s not all there is to it; the prevailing attitude of Primum non nocere, “First, do no harm”, means that doctors must consider carefully any care they are to provide, and decide whether its appropriate or even necessary.
Hmmm: what would our relationships be like if we approached every one thinking: “First, do no harm”. Whether meeting a beloved friend, troublesome co-worker or complete stranger, wouldn’t things be better if we remembered to say or do nothing that would hurt the other person? It may even make our dealings with others much better and holier. Imagine: every time we met with another person, we would both think: “whatever happens, I’m not going leave this person in pain”; “I’m not going to hurt them”; “I’m not going to crush them”; “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep from doing harm.
That’s not to say we have to avoid difficult or challenging people. Correcting mistakes or calling bad behaviour to account isn’t excluded by a “First, do no harm” attitude. It only means that we deal with them in a loving way, a way that helps, not hurts. I think that’s how God deals with us. God loves us and provides for us. Our creator challenges us to be the best we can be, and makes sure that we have the tools to live up to His expectations. That’s the power of sin: it purposefully seeks to harm others, God, and even ourselves.
The remedy for the harm sin causes is to remember to: “First, do no harm.” This lessens sin’s power by taking away the selfishness it needs to function. Sure, God might never have said “First, do no harm,” but it’s a great way to live; it reminds us that we are here on earth to do something good. Jesus didn’t say “First, do no harm” either, but He did teach us to love our neighbours as we would be loved. That’s not just good advice or a pithy quote; it’s a message directly from God. Which means that if you would like to “first, do no harm” every moment of your life, you must first love your neighbour as you love God or even yourself.


September 9th

A recent editorial published in a prominent American newspaper is highly critical of the current President. It was written by someone within the Whitehouse, a person who claims to have some power and authority within the Oval Office. The author’s scathing criticism puts him or her at the risk of losing their job and so he or she chose not to be named; whoever it is has protected themselves by being anonymous.
Anonymity is needed at times. When the powerful threaten the weak physically or financially in order to maintain their unfair advantage, the weak must act behind the scenes, unknown but not unheard, in order to bring about positive change. Innocents close to the guilty must remain anonymous so as to avoid the wrath of the people they are bringing to justice. Sometimes the person doing a kind deed wishes to remain nameless so that the kindness is the only thing recognized and celebrated.
There is power, safety and honour in deciding to be anonymous. It has its place in society as we know it; yet somehow, it’s unfortunate that this is so. It’s unfortunate that the powerful would so desperately cling to their power, privilege and unfair advantage that they would do physical, emotional or financial harm to those calling them to account. It is unfortunate that there are those who seek to operate outside the law at all costs. It is unfortunate that so many people seek praise and recognition for their good deeds that truly kind and generous people must hide their identities so that they won’t be associated with the vainglorious praise-seekers.
One day, this will not be so. One day those in power will wield it for the common good, sharing if without self-interest or the need to hold onto it their entire lives. One day no-one will hide behind the shadows so that they can hurt others who go against the right, just and fair rules that bind society together. One day we will all seek to love our neighbours as we would be loved because it is as natural and easy as breathing. One day we will have no need to be anonymous. One day we will all know each other’s name and be known by our own.
Until then, God and God alone knows each of us by name and by deed. God knows what we do in the shadow and in the light. God knows who and what we are from our weakest, most embarrassing aspect, to our most Christ-like one. No matter who we are or what we have done, God loves us. Sometimes God might be less than pleased with us, but even then, even when we break God’s heart, God still loves us and calls us by name.

“Both Ends”

September 2nd

I’m sure you’ve done this before, it happens to me quite often; maybe even more often than I’d like to admit, and probably you as well. You plug the thing in. Cell phone, or TV, or the remote that has be updated via a USB cable. Then nothing happens. You bang on the device (gently, of course) you check the cable to make sure it’s plugged into the device, you say a few choice words, and still nothing happens. Then, just as you’re about to toss the offending object into the trash, you notice that the other end of the cable is free as a bird. It’s not plugged into the charger. Or the back of the TV. Or the USB port on your computer. Admit it: you’ve done it too.
It’s an easy mistake to make. Power cords used to be fixed onto TVs. There was only one end to stick into the outlet. Phones didn’t need charging, and once they were hardwired to their wall-mounted connectors, so there was no issue with connecting them. (unless you worked really, really hard at it and managed to get the cord caught in the vacuum cleaner’s beater head…) And, of course, there wasn’t a great preponderance of devices that needed to be plugged into anything.
The bottom line is this: nowadays, you have to make sure things are plugged into both ends before jumping to conclusions about how worthless that darn thingamajig is. It’s one extra, albeit simple, step in an already complex world, but it’s an important one. Check that the both connectors on the cable are plugged into the appropriate sockets.
Faith is like that. We have to make sure we’re in tune with God and that God is in tune with us. When we pray, we have to make room for God’s end of the dialogue. When we study, we have to be open to understand what we’re reading, and that what we’re reading is appropriate and understandable by us. Those last two bits are pretty obvious. The first one, however, about being in tune with God and God being in tune with us might not be.
Here’s the thing: God loves us and wants the best for us, but when we constantly go against God’s will or just look out for ourselves, the connection gets broken. Our willful disobedience is like getting a busy signal. God’s there, available, but there’s someone else on the line. Actually, there’s something else on the line: it’s our pride and ego. It’s our selfishness. In short, it’s our sin. Sin keeps God from connecting with us fully. It’s that simple.
Jesus is the way we get God’s end plugged in. Through Jesus forgiveness, we are restored to a state where we can connect with our Creator, and our Creator can connect with us. We need both ends of the cable to be plugged in. We need God’s listening ear and open heart, which is guaranteed when we turn ourselves over to Jesus. And we need to be willing to let reach out to God and connect on God’s terms, not ours.