“Different”

April 12th
“Different”
My wife, Lois, bought groceries today. Normally, that would not be headline news or something I felt necessary to share with you. Today, however, she did not go to the grocery store, wander about the aisles, shopping list in hand, chatting with neighbours and generally doing a normal, everyday thing. No, today Lois bought groceries by ordering and paying for them online, going to the store, and then having them loaded into her minivan. This is the new reality of physical isolation. Thanks to the need for us to remain well separated, Foodland, our local grocery store will take your order online and load into your vehicle so that you don’t have to go inside where there might be other people in close proximity.
Both local hardware stores are still open. Business as usual, since they are an essential service. However, one is enforcing social distancing by having people wait outside, safely separated, so as not to overcrowd the aisles. The other is only letting people order from outside, or online, and loading their vehicles for them, minimizing exposure to other humans.
Things are clearly very different right now. The freedom of movement and social interaction we enjoyed are severely limited. Our mutual safety and well-being are of primary concern and so we must take extraordinary measures in response.
Yet for all the difference we are experiencing right now, what matters the most has not changed. We are maintaining physical distancing out of the same love that existed before the term “COVID-19” was coined. We continue to help one another, to keep in touch with one another and even engage in simple social interactions, even if it’s simply chatting loudly with our neighbours from the safety of our respective porches. And, of course, we continue to complain when things are bad and we are still trying figure out the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
While things are different, it’s important to hold on to those things that underlie a meaningful life, and maybe practice them a little more diligently and with a greater focus on the greater good. Now, more than ever, we should keep God’s love in the forefront, embracing it for our own support, and giving it away without restriction for the good of others. Now, more than ever, we should be good and faithful servants, honouring all that Jesus did and modelled for us.
My wife, Lois, bought groceries today. She did it differently from the way she has done it before, but she still got the job done. Thanks to the caring staff at our local Foodland, she was able to do it safely and enjoyably.
Today, we will do many things differently from the way we have normally done them, but that doesn’t mean we should stop doing them in a way that reflects God’s love for us, and our love for others.

“Physical”

April 5th
“Physical”
Sometimes we just get it wrong. Despite doing our best and having all the good intentions in the world, we humans absolutely blow it. Take our current crisis and our response to it: “Social Distancing”. Great concept. Sounds wonderful. But it’s not really accurate. What we need is to be apart socially, but to be apart PHYSICALLY.
What’s the difference you ask? Let me paint a word picture:
You and I are in pre-COVID-19 days having lunch at Em’s cafe. We are connected socially, chatting away, separated by the width of a table. Due to the geometry of the way we sit, our faces are about two metres apart. We are physically separated. The person behind me, however, is almost touching me. They are facing their partner, deeply engaged in conversation with them. She and I are socially distanced, each of us caught up in a friendly discussion with our lunch-mate, but we are physically close. There is just enough space between us to that the back of our heads don’t touch should either of us get rather animated as we talk.
That’s the difference between social and physical distancing. That’s why I don’t see the term as being particularly useful. It doesn’t describe what we need to do. In fact, it gives us a completely incorrect way to deal with the situation.
Having church suspended, shops closed or businesses running with minimal staffing has isolated us both physically and socially. While being separated bodily is good for our overall health, being socially isolated is terrible for our emotional and mental well-being. God did not create us to be apart from one another. We were created to be in relationship with God and each other. Social distancing is the last thing we need right now, which is why I believe we’ve gotten the term so wrong.
What we need is to stay out of reach of physical contact while at the same time staying connected on a social, emotional and Spiritual level. Right now, more than ever, we need to support, encourage and to help keep each other from going stir-crazy. Maybe we can’t do so the way we used to: no chats with parishioners at Em’s for me, no parties, no church dinners, not even worshipping together. We have to keep our physical distance in order to keep each other safe and healthy.
Right now there is a lot we can get wrong in terms of putting ourselves or others at risk for the Corona virus. But there is a lot we can get right, like washing frequently and thoroughly, trying not to touch our faces, sneezing into our sleeves and, most importantly, staying at home unless absolutely necessary. For now, we have to keep our distance physically. But that does not mean staying apart socially. What we need to get right is keeping in touch with others, especially those who might have limited contact with the world. Not everyone has social media or even computers. So our phones have become ever more important. Conversations with our neighbours from the safety and distance of our own porches. Anything that allows us to connect with others emotionally and Spiritually is the right, good and even holy thing to do.

“Blame”

March 29th
“Blame”
The Corona virus, like any other virus, is a single-celled organism whose sole purpose, as far as it’s concerned, is to reproduce itself. In fulfilling that desire it creates great misery, and at times death, for the hosts it infects. It does not, however, have a will of its own. It does not select its victims. It did not choose to cause an infectious disease. It simply works according to genetic instructions encoded within its DNA.
If I’m simply stating the obvious and you are aware of this, I apologize. I opened my thoughts this way in response to the many people who have found ways to blame the Corona virus for misery it has caused. People have said that the physical isolation needed to prevent its spread has been politically motivated, as if it somehow voted in an election or has bribed political leaders to do its evil bidding. Other say that it is a fulfillment of God’s plans, a little demonic being answering God’s call to punish whatever evildoers God is mad at. Still others claim that it is a weapon of mass destruction created by a foreign government to go out and conquer the world, just a wee virus soldier blindly doing it’s master’s will.
Let me assure you that neither the virus, nor any other person or organization, is to blame for what is happening today. While the virus is the cause of COVID-19, it was not a conscious decision of the Corona virus to wreak havoc in its victims’ bodies or within humanity in general. Neither is there anyone to blame for the virus, the disease or the social impact it has caused. What is happening is in response to the need for us to try to prevent its spread or to survive its debilitating effects on those who are infected. We are reacting to something for which there is a cause, but no blame.
The Corona and other viruses, disease, pain, suffering, are a part of life. We cannot blame anyone for their existence. God did not create them to punish or test us; they are part of a Creation that has abandoned its Creator. While we can assign blame to specific people that have caused us specific physical or emotional pain, there is no one to blame for COVID-19.
Rather than looking for or assigning blame, we people of faith should find ways to make things better and to carry on serving God in our own way. That means physically isolating ourselves to prevent the spread of the disease while finding ways to keep in contact and support each other, our neighbours, friends and even strangers in other ways. Blame accomplishes nothing. Love conquers all. Let’s do our best to honour God’s love for all of us by doing our best to love one another and help each other in this difficult time.

“Balance”

March 22nd

I am writing these “Thoughts” on March 19th, 2020, the day of the vernal equinox for this year. This is the moment that the length of day and night are exactly the same. Tomorrow will see slightly more day than night, a pattern repeated until the number of daylight hours peak, and we start moving the other way. It’s a weird, complicated thing that’s due to the way our planet revolves around its tilted axis and how it travels around the sun. All I know is that today is a day of harmony between day and night. There is balance between them.
For me at least, it’s a nice thought, this idea of balance. Even though it will soon change and daytime will have a slight edge over nighttime, for an instant they balance each other off. I imagine it in my mind as a sort of solar truce between them. Neither wins; neither loses. Each gets just, fair and equal representation today.
In addition writing on the day of 2020’s vernal equinox, I’m also writing on the fourth day of my church having suspended worship and all public gatherings in the building. I’m in my office, alone, continuing to work in the midst of the rising COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s kind of weird. In so many ways, nothing seems to be happening, but connecting through phone calls and social media, people are still living their lives. Despite the worries and fears, despite the closures and voluntary self-isolation, good things are happening.
It’s all about balance. Yes, we need to worry and be a little bit afraid. These things keep us on our toes and make us aware of the risks we face. But those two emotions have to be balanced with hope and courage. We can’t control what will happen on a global scale, but we can make a difference by carrying on with our lives as best we can. A healthy bit of fear keeps us from doing anything foolish, like gathering in groups and risking exposure. Courage, on the other hand, empowers us to get up and face another day in whatever degree of setting ourselves apart we need. There is shopping to be done. Restaurants are still offering meals via take-out or delivery options. With Spring slowly making itself felt, there’s a whole outdoors waiting to be enjoyed even more than we do in winter.
Balance. Or maybe not. Maybe a little imbalance is what we need. Maybe we need to lean a little more towards the positive and hopeful, towards the courageous, towards the empowered, towards the holy and the sacred. I believe in a god of love. Jesus is not about balancing good and evil. He seeks to overcome evil’s power with love, mercy and grace. That’s how Jesus leans. Perhaps we should follow His example more closely and lean towards love and goodness, patience and kindness, mercy and care. Perfect balance is great for today, the vernal equinox. But for day to day living? I pray that we tilt the scale towards Jesus and the way he shows us how to love one another.

“Stories”

March 15th
“Stories”
Those with an inclination towards fishing must be adept with the rod and reel. This skill, however is inversely dependent on their ability to tell a good story. People with great success catching fish either have the photographic proof after they release them, or a bucketful of fish ready for the frying pan should they keep them. No other proof is required, as the tale is in the visual or edible evidence they offer, so they need not be great story-tellers.
Those with below average skills with their chosen tools cannot provide adequate evidence of their ability. Thus, they have to have greater talent as story-tellers so that they can describe in great detail the adventure nearly snagging that big one that got away, or the time their record setting Bass was eaten–right off the line, darn it!–by a monstrous Muskie. Them that can (Can or can’t?) do it might be said, tell great stories. They might not be true tales, but what they lack in veracity they make up for in ingenuity and entertainment.
For people who like to fish, telling tall tails, er, tales, is part of the fun. They are taken with a grain of salt and enjoyed knowing that there is a grain of truth buried somewhere in there. The massive Muskie that ate their big Bass might have been a lot smaller, and the big Bass only a mini minnow, but it was eaten right off the line, so the only thing that changed was the scale of the tail, er, tale.
For some people, however, stories are told not to entertain, but to pull the wool over the listener’s ears. Sometimes they’re long tales of woe and despair. Sometimes they are tales of having been cheated or been done wrong by someone. Sometimes they are delusions built on a skewed world view or mental health issues that are beyond a person’s control. Sometimes they even contain a grain of truth buried deep within them. Always, however, they are meant to deceive the hearer by playing on their heartstrings and seeking their emotional or financial support.
I hear a fair number of these stories in my vocation. Most of the time they’re from sad souls seeking financial support; cash for a bus ticket to a job far away; money to feed their estranged family; a “just once” loan to get them on their feet after a bad patch. The tales are often heart-wrenching and hard to resist…
…but over the years I’ve learned that quite often, they are far from the truth, and recently it was only a matter of minutes before I learned I had been told an outright, bold-faced lie.
You know what? Unless I know for certain that someone’s story is absolutely false, I will help the out as best I can. Unless I know I’m absolutely being played or lied to, I will do what I can to help someone when they’re in trouble.
I do it not out of guilt, but because I can; I do it because we are called to help one another. And I do it because I would rather be called a fool for falling for a falsehood than being called unkind or un-Christlike. And sometimes, even if I know it’s a whopper of a tail, er tale, I figure it’s worth the price of admission just to having been reeled in by a few lines of great invention and imagination.

“STOP”

March 8th

Everyone who gets annoyed when drivers fail to halt their vehicles completely at a “STOP” sign, please raise your hands. Just as I thought. Nobody likes it when people don’t bring their cars to a complete stop. It’s annoying. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s dangerous. It’s ILLEGAL. “STOP” means that the car tires must cease revolving and that there be no forward, sideways, or rearward (when you’re facing uphill..) motion of your automobile. There are no “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it. “STOP” signs are not a suggestion. They must be obeyed.
So, how’s your prayer life? Everyone who takes time during the day or evening to pray, both regularly and spontaneously, please raise your hands. Be honest with yourselves. I’m not judging or looking. I am guessing, however, that there were some folks who hesitated a bit. And maybe even one or two who admit that they pray regularly, but not every day.
That’s OK. If you hesitated before raising your hand, or maybe don’t have a regular prayer habit, there’s no reason to feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed. That’s one of the things about being human: we’re not all the same, and we don’t always get things right the first time, or even after a long time.
Wherever you might have fallen on the hand-raising spectrum, whether it was faster than a lightning bolt, as slow as molasses or not quite all the way up, it’s all good. As long as you pray, even if it’s sporadic and hesitant, it’s OK.
Here’s something to think about, however, whatever your prayer style is. Like coming to a full stop at a “STOP” sign, prayer is not a suggestion, or for other people. Prayer is mandatory. It is the way we keep in touch with our Creator, our personal link to God whenever we need it. Praying daily, on a regular schedule, is an excellent discipline. We might not have much to say on a particular occasion, but if we’re in the habit of chatting with God daily or nightly, when we have something to say, or God needs to say something to us, the doors are open and we’re ready to go.
If you haven’t settled into a regular pattern of prayer, it’s never too late. Pray first thing when you get up and as the last thing you do before going to sleep. It’s a great way to start and finish your day. Praying when you wake up helps set the tone for your waking hours. Praying as the last thing you do before going to sleep is an excellent way to debrief from the events of the day and to leave your worries and concerns with God.
Prayer is the simplest, most effective tool we have to establish a healthy, open relationship with God. As such it is not an option or something we can take or leave. Prayer is mandatory, just like stopping at a “STOP” sign. And, just like obeying those “STOP” signs can save your life, praying regularly is a life-giving part of being a child of God.

Longer

“Longer”
Christmas is predictable. Firmly set at December 25th, we always know exactly when it is and we can plan around it accordingly. Easter, not so much. Easter seems to come randomly, the only guarantee being that it will be celebrated on a Sunday in either March or April. While that general understanding is helpful, it’s still pretty vague. It’s hard to book a flight back home to celebrate Easter when all you can tell the airline is that you have to leave on some Saturday in either April or March.
The date for Easter is actually fixed, in a way. It was set way back in 325 by the Council of Nicea. It was not given an actual day on the calendar; rather it was determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Since the date for Easter is based on the rhythm of the moon rather than an actual calendar date, it seems to occur rather randomly to those not in the know, but in reality, there is a logical way in which it is determined.
Easter takes place after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is a significant and hopeful occurrence. It is the day in winter when sunset and sunrise are exactly twelve hours apart. Daytime and nighttime are of equal length and getting longer as we move towards Spring. So the date for Easter is one that is based on the days getting longer and the renewal of spring getting ever closer.
Christians start their journey towards Easter forty days in advance with the season we call Lent. Lent is an abbreviation of the Old-English word, Lenten, or “to get longer”. It’s a reminder that the days are getting longer, there is more sunshine and less darkness, and the hope of new life and the resurrection of Christ are just around the corner.
Of course, we have to go through the Crucifixion first. The empty Cross we celebrate Easter morning can only happen with Christ’s death on it three day earlier. So Lent marks a journey not only to hope and new life, but also to the death of our Saviour.
This stark contrast is the challenge of the season. While the days get longer, we are still buried in snow and surrounded by bare, empty fields and forests. Death, despair and sorrow hang in the air alongside the possibility of just a few more minutes of light and, perhaps, a bare patch of ground where the snow has finally melted away.
The progressive longer hours of sunshine during Lent mark our journey towards the Cross. Let these forty days be a time to reflect on the price paid for the empty Cross that marks our new life and hope in Christ. Take time to think about the way you might have led him to the cross, to the ways that you hurt others, disobeyed God, or even did harm to yourself out of selfishness, greed or spite. Don’t wallow in those moments or let them get you down. Rather, turn them over to God so that they might be placed on the Cross to die and be buried, and prepared to bask in the hope and joy of the empty Cross that marks not only Jesus’ resurrection, but your forgiveness and new life in Him.