“Discrimination”

July 5th

I have to admit that I grew up on and with Television. My parents were among the first adopters of the habit of watching TV at night. I can’t imagine what evenings were like before “the Tube” dominated Europe and North America. Living in Toronto we had the luxury of three Canadian and one American channels in the mid-sixties. We could pick an choose what we watched and felt like the masters of our own entertainment world, even with the limited choice in programs.
As the technology advanced and even more programming was offered it often felt like an embarrassment of riches. There were so many channels, so many options, and we drank deeply from the entertainment cup, even consuming the the dregs at times. And, oh yes, there were some really, really bad programs, a trend which definitely continues today.
I have to admit that Television is still a big part of my evening’s entertainment. Lately, however, I have noticed that my level of tolerance for the dregs has become less and less. It’s not that the programs are any worse than what I remember from TVs early years. It’s more that I am more discriminating in my tastes and less willing to put up with badly produced or offensive content. Where once I would just let things ride, now I am more likely to change the channel or simply turn off the television and do something else.
What I’ve also noticed is that I’m not just more discriminating about bad programming (or what I think is bad…) but also the social message being spoken and the values being projected. That means that I have far less tolerance for programs that either promote or operate from a position of wealth and privilege. I am repelled by the shows “Ultimate Pools” and “Pool Kings” because they speak to an ostentatious display of wealth that is only achievable by a very few people. What’s more, in some places where water is scarce, it’s an absolutely obscene waste of a valuable precious resource.
I have also become much more sensitive to programs that are all “White” and do not represent the diversity of humans found in real life. Hallmark movies might be light, frothy entertainment but they are also very much colour-blind, in that they feature mostly white actors. There are a few folks of other ethnicities thrown in, but more often than not it seems like they’re there to meet diversity requirements and not as actual people. Another irksome thing for me is how beautiful and slim everyone is. As you might guess, I’m not a Hallmark fan.
I’m not a fan of a lot of other programs, either. As I become more aware of the #metoo or #blacklivesmatter movements, or learn about micro-aggressions and gaslighting I have become much more discriminating in my TV viewing habits. As a result, I opt for more quality time in front of the “Tube” even if it means less actual time watching it. In this case, discrimination is a good thing!

“Petty”

June 28th

I started talking to people in a counselling capacity way back in High School. For whatever reason, there were a couple of girls who talked to me about the things that were worrying them, and I did my best to help them. They weren’t world-altering conversations; most often the chats centred around boyfriends or worries about school, but for the young ladies that confided in me, they were things that really mattered, and in many ways, things that resonated with me.
Over the years I have received formal training in basic counselling, and have spoken with many, many women and men. One pattern stands out in those conversations: folks with a small world-views tend to focus on very small things. Folks with a larger world-view, meanwhile, worry about bigger things, and usually the time spent together is more productive, as those people seem to be able to move forward, mature and heal.
I can’t say that for the folks that focus on the petty things. For them, there is little I can offer other than a listening ear, as their limited view of the world keeps them from seeing the possibilities beyond themselves. Petty hurts are never released. The world is out to get them. Things are black and white with very little room for grey.
When Jesus taught His disciples He challenged them by using examples they understood, but also with parables that often left them wondering. His teaching caused them to open their minds so that they could receive a message that was radically different from what they expected. Even His own life experience gave them the opportunity to understand things in new ways. Imagine Jesus telling them about His temptation by Satan and the way he argued with him using the Bible lessons the disciples knew so well? Think for a moment the way He reframed the Sabbath for the religious and legal leaders, and how His followers understood what he said while the experts felt insulted.
Those leaders had a limited world-view. They only understood their faith based on tradition and legalism that made them look small and petty. Even though challenged by Jesus and given every opportunity to learn, they failed to grow and lost out on the opportunity God had presented them through Jesus.
Jesus’ followers and disciples had the wherewithal to expand their way of thinking. They listened to His lessons, saw the way He lived and matured in their relationship with God. Their original, pre-Jesus world-view might have been fairly narrow; when they paid attention to Him, a whole new world of possibilities opened up to them.
Challenging things are happening right now. There is a great deal to think about and even more to learn in terms of race relations, living with COVID-19, climate change and many other concerns. We could, of course, focus on the little irritations and petty concerns, but that wouldn’t help anyone or change anything. Only when we listen to Jesus with an open mind will we get the bigger picture that will help us grow and thrive in these trying times. Only by seeing the world from His loving perspective can we really make a positive difference in everything we do, say.

“Democracy”

June 21st

“Democracy”. What a wonderful word. Simple, direct, the combination of two Greek words, a foundational term in the American experiment…
…and a word that no longer means what it actually means.
Demos: the people; Cracy: the rulers
“Democracy” means to be ruled by the people. That’s it, that’s all. It means that the citizens of a nation have assumed responsibility for it. They are the governors, the leaders, the Arch-ists, the ones who ensure that whatever their country stands for is upheld and maintained.
Recently, folks have gotten the word “Democracy” confused with freedom. Sorry, wrong! To be part of a “Democracy” means that you agree to be subject to the rules you and your fellow citizens lay down. It means you pay taxes, drive on the agreed upon side of the road, conduct your business dealings and private life according to the appropriate laws and live by the terms laid out in whatever constitution upon which your “Democracy” was founded.
Living in a “Democracy” does not mean you can do whatever the heck you please. It does not mean your government is out to get you. It does not mean that you can ignore the laws or regulations your leaders have established.
Whoops! Let me rephrase that.
“Democracy” does not mean you can ignore the laws or regulations YOU, as part of the “demos” that is the “cracy” of your nation, have established.
To live in a “Democracy” means that you are responsible for the governance of yourself and your fellow citizens. Nobody is exempt. Nobody is above the law. You and the other members of your democratic community share the responsibility of ruling your nation.
For people following Jesus, it’s more complex. There’s another layer to our governance that supersedes whatever form of government our nation has in place. That extra layer is the reign of Christ. We are bound first and foremost to Jesus, not our governments. As long as the laws of the land follow the heart of Christ, we are to obey them. When we have some say in the law of the land, as we do in our democratic nation, we are to see that they are written in a way that honours Christ-like values. When those laws do not follow His values, we are called to resist them and try to change them from within the system.
The beauty of our democratic system is that it gives us the freedom to worship as we see fit. Worshipping God within the Christian context, however, binds us to Christ. Being bound to Christ gives us the best life possible regardless of what type of government rules our physical bodies. As much as possible we are to follow the law of the land, as long as it does not contradict Christ’s rule of love, mercy and compassion.
It is a wonderful thing that our democracy gives us a say in our government.
It’s even more wonderful that through Christ, what we have to say is holy, loving and blessed.

“Newsworthy”

June 14th

If you are of a “certain age”, you remember that the most newsworthy items in a newspaper were expressed in a BIG HEADLINE! If it was really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy, all the major newspapers right across this great nation of ours would share that newsworthy bit, with only slight variations in wording.
Newspapers are pretty much a thing of the past, but sharing newsworthy items is not. Instead of headlines we have hashtags, #thelatestnews, on our social media feeds, and if a thing is really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy, all of the memes and hashtag feeds share it, with only slight variations.
Christians have a particularly newsworthy item to share in the “Good News” of the Gospel. It’s a timeless truth that speaks as powerfully now as it did way back when the first Christians shared it in house churches or by word of mouth.  In those days there were no printed newspapers. Instead, letters intended to be circulated from house to house or gathering to gathering, heralds, missionaries and travellers were tasked with sharing the really earth-shaking, important or very gossipy stories that people wanted or needed to hear.
That our particular story, the Good News of the Gospel, has survived all these years is a wonder, and something of a Good News story in and of itself. But the reason it has continued to be spread as successfully as it has is because it has always spoken to the newsworthy headlines or hashtags of the day. For Jesus’ followers, telling the story of Jesus is never a separate bit of news. It is always part of the news, in the form of a response to what is happening, a tool to deal with it, or as an unchangeable standard giving people a sense of stability in the midst of great change or upheaval.
The strength of the Good News is the constancy and consistency of Christ. Jesus’ message is one of love no matter who the person is or what they have done. It is one of justice and mercy in all situations. It is one of resistance against evil and forgiveness when we mess up. No matter what the news of the day might be, Jesus’ Good News helps us deal with it, underscoring the truth of a happy story or challenging us when the tale is troubling.
Jesus Himself is our most newsworthy, earth-shaking, important and very gossipy story. No matter what the headline or #thelatestnews might be, His Good News helps us understand it and deal with it. The example He sets and His teachings are foundational for His followers, but earth-shattering for those who don’t know how much better their lives could be by following Him. In a time of crisis and confusion, Jesus anchors us firmly on the ground of love and justice. And in our everyday lives, Jesus offers us great gossip, with stories of healing, helping and standing with those odd neighbours nobody else likes.
Looking for some good news today or any day? There is no more newsworthy story to tell than that of Jesus, author and hero of the ultimate Good News.

“Discomfort Zone”

June 7th

We all have our “safe” spaces, the places where we feel comfortable, a space where we might stay forever, if it was possible.A “safe” space, a comfort zone, can be physical. That’s the obvious and most literal definition but it can also be a mental or emotional space. A friendly chat over a shared hobby, a favourite song on the radio, a moment to dream our best dreams can transform us, putting us at ease as we hang out in an emotional or mental comfort zone.
For Christians, our most common emotional comfort zone is the Pasture, a place where we are safe with other sheep and guarded by Jesus. It’s an ancient concept, described eloquently by King David generations before Jesus. Well watered, fed, protected and treated like royalty, David’s green pastures are echoed by Jesus and longed for by many of us.
Right now, time spent safe, secure and not having to worry about appropriate physical distancing from our fellow sheep sounds pretty good. But there’s  a disconnect between David’s comfort zone and what Jesus offers. David speaks of a place for at the centre of God’s attention. His idea of “safe” space, makes sense, given that he once was a shepherd protecting and caring for his flock.
Jesus, however, describes Himself as our shepherd, offering we sheep many of the same benefits David did, but here’s the thing.
Jesus never actually describes our pasture life, nor does He really talk about the pasture itself. Jesus, it turns out, is offering Himself as our “safe” space. Jesus wants to be our comfort zone, the place we find ourselves nourished, equipped and protected. Our pasture? It’s only a metaphor, along with that of Jesus as our good Shepherd. Where Jesus really would like us to be in real and practical terms is in our discomfort zones, the places where we are challenged, and tested, and maybe even pushed to our limits.
Think of where Jesus sent His followers. Think of what He asked them to do. He sent them amongst the sick and broken, into the homes of the outcast and the rejected. He challenged his followers to turn the other cheek when struck and to feed their hungry enemy. Travel light, He told his followers. Be as cunning as you need to be, He warned them. If you are rejected, walk away, but never reject anyone who needs you to love or care for them.
And when you need a safe space, a comfort zone to heal and regroup and prepare yourself for the next adventure in your discomfort zone, Jesus will welcome you. He will provide for you that safe person, that comforting conversation or gentle touch you need. But when you’re ready, your next discomfort zone awaits, and when you’re there, serving the needy, or comforting the grieving widow or welcoming the stranger, a strange thing happens. A wonderful thing takes place when you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, your safe place, and put your heart on the line. When you do that, you become the safe place for another. You become the comfort zone for them, putting their hearts at ease and revealing to them Jesus, alive and well, and working through you.

“Get Outta The Way!”

May 31st

“Get Outta The Way!” come the excited words. The Star is moving through the crowd towards the stage, so we give her room to pass. She is the priority; we are not. The Doctor is rushing towards the victim, so we make room on the sideway for her to get through. Saving the injured one is all that matters. The Herald has big news to share, so we stand aside and give him our full attention. The information is too important to miss.
Sometimes we are not the most important person in the room. There are occasions when we have to “Get Outta The Way!”, moments when we’re not only the least of all, but when we are blocking someone or something that really matters and, whether we like it or not, we have to give way.
Priorities matter; when we’re the audience, the Star is the centre of attention and we must give her room to pass by; when someone is hurt, we must give the Doctor or first responders lots of space to get to the victim quickly and safely; when there is news of note that impacts us all, we must give centre stage to the Herald. Smart people know enough to “Get Outta The Way!” when necessary.
There are occasions, however, that it’s not a Star, or Doctor or Herald that needs us to step aside. There are occasions that we get in our own way, and while we should know enough to “Get Outta The Way!”, we don’t.
Whether it’s fear, pride, or lack of confidence, we can’t seem to give ourselves the space to succeed, or try, or admit to an crucial truth. It’s the “I’ll get to it tomorrow”, the “I could never do that”, the “What, me change?” and all the other excuses we empower to seem to get in our way block our progress.
Be the star of our own lives? Let someone help us when we are down? Learn something new? Our most likely response is “Get Outta Town!” rather than “Lemme At It!”. For whatever reason, we simply can’t, or won’t, get out of our own way.
But why? Will letting our fear, or pride or lack of confidence trip us up? Each one is a little lie undermining the truth of our own power, deserving, need to grow. God created us as wonderful, blessed beings of worth and importance.  Why not celebrate who and what we are, just as God does? Why not use your gifts fully? Receive whatever help is offered graciously? Why not learn and grow and mature into what God intends for you to be? Don’t let them win. Instead, go ahead and simply and emphatically tell your fear, pride and lack of confidence: “Get Outta The Way!”

“Useless”

May 24th

I have been called a “Useless White Knight”. When trying to defend the weak and the least in my neighbourhood I have been told to “STFU”. (If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s rather rude; you can look it up, but you’ve been warned!). I have been challenged in general terms as a minister serving in a religion that is only after people’s money.
Believe me, I’m not complaining. I’m writing this with a wry smile on my face and a skip in my virtual step. (Hard to step and type, you know). Anyone in any caring profession or vocation has been called these things and worse. I’m not bothered at all by rude or ignorant comments. In fact, if people were not criticizing me, I’d be worrying that maybe I wasn’t doing my job well enough.
At the same time, all joking aside, is the truth that those comments and insults are far more useless than anyone’s attempts to do a little good in the world. During this time of physical distancing and a frightening disease, anything kind, helpful or loving we can do is vital. People are sad, depressed, feeling useless, unwell and in any number of other painful states. Sure, I will certainly not be able to cure anybody with my prayers, and I might not offer complete and absolute hope to someone feeling down, but I can at least try.
Those who criticize caregivers or people like myself because we might not be accomplishing much are not helping in any way whatsoever. Their comments are truly useless. Worse than that, their comments might actually hurt someone. I’ve been around the block a great number of times. I have thick skin, sharply sarcastic wit, and the ability to shrug off ignorant or rude comments. Someone who is more sensitive, or hasn’t yet learned how to deal with unkind, abusive commenters, might be cut to the quick. They may be truly hurt and be made to give up their loving endeavours. I can’t describe how evil such a result would be.
So who is truly useless? Those who would try to make a positive difference or those who would tear them down? Is it more useless to help as best as you or to stand back and do nothing perfectly?
At the risk of repeating myself (I know I’ve written about this before…) I would rather be a “Useless White Knight” fighting an uphill battle against the forces of fear, hate and disease, than do nothing. Indeed, if caring, loving people didn’t do their best to try and make a positive difference in the world, then, and only then, could they be called useless. Personally, I would rather avoid that fate and continue to do whatever I can to help. How about you?

“Vantage Point”

May 17th

Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, in Orillia, Ontario, is set up on one of the many hills in the city. While the building itself is only a few stories tall, its location offers a commanding view of the city, so when I visit patients, I always take advantage of the vista and make sure to pause and admire the view.
Looking out over Orillia from the fourth floor you can see houses, restaurants, shops, a huge medical clinic, small factories, schools, a bit of Lake Simcoe and some of the surrounding countryside. It’s definitely worth a look.
From that vantage point I not only see the buildings, roads, greenery (or snow) and all that makes up a wee city, but also a myriad of people living their lives, going to eat, to work, to physiotherapy, to whatever is part of a normal life. I am all too aware, however, that all this is taking place while I am in a hospital, visiting folks for whom life is not at all normal. They are receiving palliative care, or getting new joints so that they can have greater mobility and less pain. They may be recovering from an illness, or in transit from living on their own to a long-term care facility. For whatever reason, I am visiting folks in crisis.
Meanwhile, life goes on in Orillia, with folks unaware of what’s going on in the hospital. Not only do they not know about what the patients are dealing with, they don’t really care. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not being critical. Their lack of concern doesn’t mean they are heartless, cold, or selfish. They don’t care because they are not involved in the lives of the people in the hospital. They have their own worries, concerns and pains. They have their own circle of family and friends they care about, their own spheres of influence where they laugh, cry and share their feelings. They may know someone in the hospital, but then again, they might not.
From the vantage point of a hospital window, seeing folks living life as normal, I realize how disconnected we can be. People living their lives in Orillia may know somebody receiving medical care at Soldiers’ Memorial. I might well meet them in the halls or on the street and commiserate with them about common connection. But, then again, they may not know anyone currently in Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. In this time of their lives they may appreciate its presence, but it has no direct bearing on them.
Yet as I look over Orillia from up on high, I know that we all live life together. I may not know any of the people I see out there, they might not know anyone I’m visiting in the hospital, but we are all living our lives together, sharing the same kinds of highs and lows, joys and pains, suffering and celebration that is part of being human. As such, we are all God’s children, united in God’s loving heart even if we don’t know one another. From up on high in a hospital window, I can see a lot going on, but I don’t see or know everything. God, on the other hand, sees and knows everything that’s going on. What’s more, God cares for each and every human and, through Jesus, shows us what that looks like.
We might not be able to know or to care for humanity the way that God does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t care for the folks that we can see from our own particular vantage point, whatever it might be.

“Heroes”

May 10th

In our current state of affairs the word “hero” has been bandied about quite a bit in reference to first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so.
To call someone a hero is to say that this person has gone above and beyond the call of duty. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hero as “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities.” When someone knowingly and willingly puts themselves at risk for the safety of others, I believe they deserve to be called “heroes”. Anyone whose achievements include helping strangers or providing much needed provisions or services despite the possibility of making themselves sick is a hero. Anyone who is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice is a hero. First-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so definitely deserve to be called heroes.
Not all people would agree with this opinion. I recently saw a Facebook post that would deny first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services the title of “hero”. This post suggests that only those who served in times of war deserve that particular appellation. Let me assure you that this post is absolutely and completely wrong.
From a strictly literal point of view, that is, according to the dictionary, warriors are certainly included in the definition of a “hero”, but it is not the only definition. Thus denying anyone but a person who has been in a war is wrong, period, full stop. More importantly, from a moral point of view, anyone who performs a noble act is a hero, and doubly so when that person is willing to sacrifice their lives. Don’t tell me that the doctors, nurses and other caregivers who died directly because of their exposure to COVID-19 patients weren’t heroes. They were, plain and simple. They gave their lives trying to help people who could not help themselves.
One of the great blessings God gave us is the ability to care for one another, often at great risk to ourselves. It is, perhaps, the highest expression of Jesus’ command that we love one another as we would be loved. The heroes taking their stand in the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, whether it’s the caregivers or those making sure our communities are safe and our essential needs provided for, demonstrate that love purely and profoundly.
And to those heroes, the first-responders, health care workers and those who continue to provide essential services despite the risk they face in doing so, I would like to offer my deepest, most heartfelt thanks. May God bless you and keep you safe as you reveal the highest possible form of love in real, tangible ways. You truly deserve to be called “heroes”.

“Thoughts”

May 3rd

In the letter of “James”, one of the few Gospel documents in which the writer names himself, we are told about how a tongue, a wee small thing, is like the rudder of a boat. Although both are tiny compared to the object to which they belong, they have great influence over them. Rudders allow the ship to be steered wherever the pilot desires. It is under their control and its effects are known. The tongue, however, is also under the control of its owner, but its effects are not always as easily predicted. While the rudder only reacts with the water, and does so predictably, the words the tongue helps to create can land on the desired audience or the wrong one. What’s more, those words might not be appropriate or helpful even for the desired listener. Indeed, their influence might not be at all what the speaker desires. Such is the tongue’s power.
I wonder what James would make of a propeller and its effect of moving a ship forward. While he would have been familiar with oars and sails, the fairly recent innovation of a spinning set of blades to move a boat would have been completely unknown, probably even inconceivable, to him.
Not to put words into James’ mouth, I’d like to take moment to play with the thought of how he might have run with the idea.
“Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are powered by a very small propeller wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, a thought is a small part of the body, but it causes great motion.”
The propeller, usually unseen in the water beneath a boat, moves the boat forward according to the pilot’s will to drive the boat forward or backwards. Thoughts, likewise, move us forward, according to our will. One might be the ultimate expression of our will, others might be what formulates that will, yet others may decry or undermine our will. Our thoughts propel our words, our actions and even our reactions and even though they are invisible often have a very visible influence on us.
Our tongue is not always needed, just as the rudder only comes into play when the pilot wishes to change direction. Our thoughts, however, just like the propeller, never stop if we are moving anywhere in life. When a the propeller stops, the boat simply becomes an oddly shaped structure floating on the water. When our thoughts stop, we become nothing. Paraphrasing Descartes very roughly, to think is to be.
Our thoughts, although invisible, make us who we are. Like a propeller, they can drive us forwards or backwards. Positive thoughts move us ahead, negative ones can hold us back or cause us harm. Just like the tongue and the propeller, they are under our control. It is up to us to choose which way we are going, whether it’s stagnating or moving backwards, or growing, maturing and moving forwards. Or, to play with James’ words again:
“With our thoughts we can honour our Creator, and with them we dishonour the one in whose likeness we have been made.” So, what way are your thoughts leading you?