“Tricksy, Again”

September 22nd

Gollum is a fictional anti-hero from the trilogy “The Lord Of the Rings”. He is a distorted character, twisted by isolation, greed and abuse. A once proud Hobbit, Gollum fell from grace because of the dangerous attraction of the “One Ring”, an evil talisman destined to give its possessors unimaginable power, albeit at the expense of their souls. Ruined by the evil ring, Gollum is both physically and mentally changed for the worse, becoming a sad parody of a Hobbit, barely able even to speak normally.
And so I share with you Gollum’s word, “Tricksy”. Along with his favourite phrase, “my precious” to describe the “One Ring” this word becomes a means of identifying him by the way he speaks. Use “tricksy” in a sentence well any fellow nerd like myself and they will know immediately who you’re referring to.
Each of us has an identifying phrase or two, a word or expression that others identify with us. Hearing those words, from them or from others, identifies who they are and what they mean to us.
These little identifiers speak to more than reminding us of a person; they speak as well to our relationship with them, why they matter to us and even how close we are to us. Gollum’s “tricksy” instantly brings to mind his flaws and imperfections, not because of the words meaning, but because of its distortion. There is no one else quite like him, and once you meet him in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books or the movie version of “The Lord of The Rings” you will never forget this “tricksy” character.
They might seem like simple, unique phrases to us, part of the rhythm of our speech and thought process, but certain things we say identify us to others as readily as our names. They help others remember us. And, just like with Gollum’s “tricksy”, they trigger not just our faces, but our entire character.
What word or phrase do you use frequently enough that others know you when they hear it? Who is the person that comes to mind when your phrase comes up in conversation? Does a reminder of you others to smile when they are reminded of you or does it cause other reactions? Do they think of a sad Gollum, or maybe a certain special Son, whose name is synonymous with love and compassion?
I would like to think that when someone identifies me by a word or phrase, that they would find something good and Christlike within us, something loving, caring and helpful. So, what about you?

“Tricksy”

September 15th

Getting a piece of paper towel should be an easy thing, no? Well, not according to one particular paper towel dispenser in the church. When it’s first loaded with a fresh roll, sure, it works perfectly. Pull out as much or as little paper as you want, tear is off, and the dispenser will leave enough fresh paper exposed so the next user can grab it easily.
When the roll is slightly depleted, however, the dispenser gets a little tricksy, as Gollum, the creature from “The Lord Of The Rings” would say. When there is less paper in the dispenser, things change. When you pull on the paper and tear it off, the thing actually pulls the paper back up into the slot, just far enough to leave a tiny bit exposed in the emergency access hole, making it hard for the next person that has to clean up a mess.
At first, I found this very annoying. Grabbing a tiny bit of paper and carefully pushing it through the emergency access hole and back out of the slot was a nuisance. Then, one day, I noticed an interesting thing. I noticed that if I waited before tearing off the fresh sheet, the roll would not pull the paper back. Instead, there would be a clunking sound, and then the paper would stay exactly where it should be.Tricksy problem solved. Pull. Wait for the noise. Tear. The lesson in all of this? Pay attention to how a thing actually works, then work with it accordingly, and it won’t be as tricksy as if first appeared.
Relationships should be easy, things, no? Well, not always. There are some folks that can be tricksy. They can be grumpy, operate at a different speed from you, or just have an outlook that seems incompatible with yours. As a result, they may appear to be annoying or you might find them hard to work with or get along with. Of course, if they seem tricksy to you, you probably appear tricksy to them, too.
When that happens, you have to take time to figure them out. Listen to what they say as much as how they say it. Pay attention to how they act with you and with others. Learn their unique rhythms and ways of doing things. Do so to learn, not to judge. Chances are that if you take the time to figure them out, and they take the time to figure you out, you can find a way to work together that is productive rather than annoying. Who knows. You might even learn to like each other and appreciate your unique tricksy-ness, just as they might learn to appreciate yours.

“Front Of House”

September 8th

First impressions can make or break a business. A messy, disordered front office, a long wait for someone to acknowledge, let alone serve, you, or poorly displayed goods can drive customers away faster than unreasonable prices. A tidy, welcoming space, a gracious hostess or an attractive display of the products on offer can help overcome high, but reasonable prices.
Even if the prices are high, the place a bit untidy, and the goods not shown to their best advantage, a good “Front of House” person can overcome even those unappealing cues. Whether it’s the affable Maitre D’ of a large hotel, the friendly owner/operator of a tiny business or the receptionist at a busy office, the first person to make contact with the customer can make a bad day better and a good day great. And they can make all the difference in the way that customer perceives their whole experience with that business.
In the churches I’ve dealt with, the “Front of House” person is referred to as a “Greeter”. Greeters are, as the title implies, folks who greet the people coming to worship. It’s their job to make regulars feel right at home and to help new folks know they are welcome, appreciated and able to sit anywhere they like. It is a simple job, but it’s crucial in making the whole worship experience a blessing to everyone who comes, whether it’s a vacationer wandering through town or one of the stalwart pillars of the church who hasn’t missed a Sunday in decades.
Worship once a week, however, is only one aspect of our faith lives. Following Jesus isn’t only something we do Sunday mornings for an hour or when we volunteer to help at the church dinner for the homeless. Following and serving Jesus is a full-time job. Thankfully, because Jesus commands us to love one another, it’s a wonderful job that, if we do it well, makes our world a better place.
There is a catch, however, to being a follower and servant of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t really have a storefront or office. Churches are buildings devoted to His service, but they’re not the main location from which Jesus works. Jesus works through us, wherever we may be. We are the practical side of His love and everything He offers to the world. That means we’re not just His living storefronts, we’re also His Front of House people!
First impressions can make or break a business, or the way someone views Jesus. We are His Front of House personnel, and often the first, or maybe even the only, contact some folks have with Him. When someone meets you, what impression of Jesus will they get? It’s my prayer, fellow Front of House person, that their first, and lasting, impression, will be of someone that loves and cares for them, whoever they may be.

“Renovated”

September 1st

The Giurin’s “new-to-us” house required a lot of work to make it more liveable. It wasn’t bad when we moved in, but there where issues of utility and comfort that had to be addressed immediately, and some that can wait. Of course, even before we fixed it up we loved it, even with all its quirks and curiosities.
The process of renovation has changed the feel of the house in many ways. It is brighter, more comfortable, and more user friendly than before. The core and character of our little log home, however, has not changed very much at all. It remains a cute, quirky wee house that’s just eccentric enough to be fun.
People often talk about God changing them, renovating them from someone they didn’t like or who didn’t fit in with others, into someone much more acceptable to themselves and to God. Such change, however, doesn’t alter a person. Instead, it brings them closer to their true, authentic selves, the human created as a unique, blessed image of God.
When we are born, that image is there in the primal, simple essence. It is in our DNA and in the Spirit with which God breathes us into life. As our bodies, minds and souls grow and mature, that image, if not carefully nurtured, can become distorted or hidden. A child raised in a violent household, or one that does encourage them and help them become their best selves, grows into a less than perfect reflection of who God made them to be. That’s the story, in a nutshell, for most of us. We start out perfectly, but less than ideal conditions leave us less than perfect.
That’s where Jesus comes into the picture. Jesus is God’s means of helping us  grow into who we were meant to be. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of a few tweaks and adjustments. Sometimes it’s a much bigger job, requiring an almost complete renovation and restoration of our entire selves.
Whether it’s a small job or a big one, our core essence is not changed. We remain who God made us to be, that pure, perfect image of our Creator first seen at our birth. Of course, if we strayed far from our true selves, or if circumstances all but hid who God made us to be, the transformation might be dramatic and surprising, but that’s only because we had no idea of who we really were in the first place. Yes, that does happen. Sometimes our life circumstances keep us from becoming who God made us to be. That’s certainly a challenge, but nothing God can’t handle.
Each of us is a reflection God’s image in one way or another. That God-reflecting image is who we truly are, and with Jesus’ help, we can be our best truest selves. That’s a great thing to know, but it’s even better to realize that even when we’re not at our best, God still loves us fully and wholeheartedly.

“Feelings”

August 25th

Singer James Brown felt good. In his own words: “I feel good, I knew that I would, now. So good, so good, I got you”. The source of his joy was the unnamed “you” at the centre of the song. Knowing what I know about Mr. Brown, it’s pretty safe to say the he wasn’t referring to Jesus.
Jesus never promised to make us “feel good”. Jesus loves us, helps us, draws us into God’s heart and calls us to love others as we would be loved, but Jesus never, ever promises to make us feel good or to make others feel good, either.
Bear with me. What I mean by feeling good in this context, is a vague, vapid sense of self-satisfied smugness that pours out from some folks, like the ones on “The 700 Club”. Jesus will make everything all right, the perfectly coiffed, immaculately groomed hosts tell us. They smile warmly as they tell you that your suffering is only part of God’s plan, and that your pain will part of God’s plan. They feel good because of Jesu, and Jesus will make you feel good, especially if you tell others how Jesus can make them feel good, too.
Unfortunately, Jesus did not come simply to make us feel good. He did not come so that we might have a smug smile because we have prayed the sinner’s prayer and now we’re saved and that’s all we need.
Jesus came to challenge the complacent into action. He came to heal the broken, not simply so that they would feel good, but as a sign of His power over things of both heaven and earth. Sometimes those healings were political statements, as Jesus reached out to those nobody else would approach because they were unclean, or women or just not the right type of person.
Jesus overturned the tables of those making a profit for themselves in God’s name, just as He flipped upside-down the poor religious wisdom about what it took to be a Godly person. Jesus told the rich to give away their money and praised the poor widow who gave away everything she had. Jesus annoyed the authorities and only gave Caesar what Caesar was due.
Jesus does nothing simply to make us feel good. He loves us so we can better love others. He forgives us on the condition that we forgive those who have hurt us. He welcomes us to breakfast only to invite us to feed His sheep. He takes off our heavy burden and replaces it with one we can handle. He makes us feel holy, whole, healed, helpful, hopeful and many other things, but never simply as an end in itself. If we feel good, it’s because we are being pushed to make God feel good. And better than feeling good, through Jesus, we can feel like we’re part of a greater good that I can’t even begin to describe.

“Revelations”

August 18th

I believe that we Humans are both physical and Spiritual beings. We are made of mundane chemicals arranged in quite spectacular ways to give us our material bodies. We are also filled, animated and informed by God’s own essence, the Spiritual component that is as important as our physical selves.
God’s Spirit is in control. It not only gives us life, it directs that life so that we might honour our creator. Each and every person that was, is or ever shall be is filled with this common elemental essence. We are all Godly beings, united in our Creator’s heart, yet each of us is a unique individual.
Just as our bodies can break down or become ill, our Spiritual selves can also suffer injury and malaise. If we don’t take care of ourselves by praying regularly, studying God’s word, doing our best to follow Jesus’ example and joining together to help and support one another, the Spirit within us suffers.
Just as we have to protect our bodies against dangerous or unsafe conditions, we have to protect our Spirits as well. There are those distorted, bent people who have allowed their minds and spirits to decay into selfishness, greed and malice. There are physical temptations that encourage us to be selfish and our own egos can lead us to become hungry for power and filled with a sense of undeserved self-importance. Some even suggest that Satan has a hand in leading us astray, although most evidence points to that evil creature as being more of a deceiver than actually causing bad things to happen by him- or herself.
God created us for God, as companions and as stewards of Creation. We were created in God’s image. Since God reigns over all things, that image is both physical and Spiritual, a literal embodiment of God’s essence, driven by God’s own wisdom and power, albeit on a much smaller scale.
God’s vastness cannot be contained in one body or one gender, and so there are many unique variations on the theme of God’s image. None is lesser or greater. Each of us is precious in God’s sight. We are equally loved and equally valued by our Creator.
Being created in God’s image, our highest calling is to reflect our Creator’s wisdom, creativity and love. We weren’t given life and Spirit for our own ends; our existence is meant to honour and praise the One in whose image we were created.
Together we express the otherwise inexpressible, each of us revealing a unique aspect of God. In the wisdom, goodness and creativity of others we catch a glimpse of God, just as they catch a glimpse of God in us. Together we reveal the Creator of the universe who is both physical and Spiritual…
…and 100 percent love.

“Awareness”

July 7th

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden recently tweeted: “The stage is not my life—my life is my life”. Interesting thought. For some people, the performance, the job, the duty, is indeed their life. It’s what feeds them, what drives them, what gives them meaning and identity. Take away that aspect of their lives, and they are nothing, empty shells with no purpose or sense of self.
For Jann Arden, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Who she is and how she identifies herself is not on stage; her life is elsewhere. Certainly her life includes performing, but I don’t think it revolves around it.
What struck me most about her comment wasn’t what she had to say about herself, but the fact that she knows who she is so well. Not everyone is quite so self-aware. I would even go so far as to say that some folks haven’t got a single clue about their true selves.
That might seem a bit extreme, but it isn’t. In my dealings with others I’ve seen women caught up in unhealthy relationships because that’s where they think they should be. Despite the pain and lack of fulfilment, they fail to realize that there are other, better, options, because they don’t know who they are. As a result they identify themselves by being in a relationship and being in love, rather than choosing relationships that honour their true selves.
It happens with people caught up in their work or people who have no clue what to do. Because earning a living matters more than living fully, some folks lose themselves in their jobs. Or, because they don’t really know themselves well enough, because they’ve never had the chance to be who they feel they should be, or have had their gifts and talents affirmed, or because they’ve never even had a chance to see what they’re good at and what make them feel complete, many folks drift through life not sure who or what they are.
As God’s children, each of us has worth and value. We may be flawed and failing, as one author puts it, but we are also equally weird, wonderful and worthy to be loved. The trick is figuring out just who and what we are and where we fit into God’s big picture.
How do we figure that out? We go with our gut about what feels right and good to us. We ponder what matters to us and try to sort out whether or not it’s what we’ve been told by others or what we’ve determined for ourselves to be true. We pray. We risk. We try. We pay attention. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.
Only when we know who we truly are can we live life fully and joyfully. And, as a side bonus, when we know ourselves we can live and use our gifts and talents in a way that helps others live their best lives and maybe even empower them to know who they truly are, too.