“Known”

December 22nd

I am always amazed at a teacher’s ability to remember her student’s names. Within a day, she has mastered each face and can call every boy or girl by their appropriate moniker. What’s even more amazing is how a teacher can remember their charges names years after they have both left the classroom. It seems that the best teachers can remember what to call every child they ever taught no matter how much time has passed since they last saw each other.
But, for a select few educators, it gets even better. A select few teachers not only can remember their students names, but details of what their students were like and where their strengths and weakenesses lay. Teachers like this don’t just know their students by name; they know their students as unique, individual people.
We are told that God knows each and every one of us down to our last hair. Or, maybe, hair follicle, for those who sport magnificent bald heads. These are reassuring words that remind us our Creator is not a far away, detached ruler, but a loving, caring parent who is attentive to our every need and aware of our strength and weaknesses down to the last detail. It is good to believe that God knows us so intimately.
All doubt that God knows us so completely and loves us so much was dispelled when Jesus entered the scene. Jesus entered the scene as a child, the very child of God. Jesus started out life as any one of us does. Jesus grew and matured as any one of us did. Jesus encountered teachers that knew his name and character and helped him develop into who He was meant to be.
Growing, maturing and even dying as we did, we can be sure that Jesus knew everything that it meant to be human. As the child of God, as being the physical expression of our Creator who is pure Spirit, Jesus conveyed every feeling and sensation of being to His Creator. Any doubt that God not only knows us but understands us as well is dispelled knowing that through Jesus, our Creator experienced our full humanity in all its imperfect glory.
Knowing that God knows us so well and yet still loves us perfectly is an amazing, reassuring thought. To God, we are not simply names in a dusty old book, but beloved children, fully known, appreciated and understood for exactly who we are.

“Dime-quick”

December 15th

“Turn on a dime” is a phrase often used by car people to describe a vehicle that is nimble and manoeuvrable. Given the size of that particular denomination of coin, it’s pretty much impossible in real life, but it is a good way of describing a car that handles well and responds to the driver’s every command.
There’s a wee problem with that kind of handling, however. While it might be great for a car to be able to turn so quickly, it ain’t so great for the occupants. Whether it’s steering, stopping, going or hitting a bump, fast changes in a vehicle can be very uncomfortable, or even dangerous, for the folks riding along.
Blame Sir Isaac Newton and his thoughts on moving and resting bodies for that. A car might change directly quickly, but inertia, that is, an object’s desire to not change direction (or speed) quickly and just stay put means that its riders and cargo might be in for an interesting moment. If you’ve ever ended up wearing a coffee after an emergency stop, or wearing your fellow passenger’s coffee during a very fast turn, you know what I mean. A car might be able to turn on a dime, but the people and stuff within would rather just stay where they are, thank-you very much.
Life has a way of throwing us into a spin. Our situations can turn on a dime and what was seems to disappear or to be forever different quickly and sometimes unpredictably. Just like passengers in car, we can’t always change as quickly as life does. New things take time to get used to. Adapting is difficult. On top of having to change, all too often it’s hard to let things go. We want to stay put. We want things to be as they always were. We want to hold on to what we were used to.
A car has seatbelts, padded surfaces and grab handles to help us survive the dime-quick turns. Our own bodies flex and move in order to lessen the blow and to compensate for inertia. There are a number of safety and comfort systems that allow us to survive the quick turns or the sudden stops and to go along with them until we reach our final destination.
Life provides us with its own safety and support systems so that we can make it through and even thrive when it takes a dime-quick turn. Friends, family and community support us and help ease the blow. Our own inner-strength and adaptability allows us to change as required. Above all, our Faith allows God to work through those around us and with us to heal and recover so that we might not only get used to our new direction, but to grow and thrive as well. Life might throw us dime-quick changes, but when we trust God’s steady, unchanging love, we can deal with whatever might come.

“A Simple Sequence”

December 8th

Jesus told His disciples that He kept His Father’s commands so that “my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”. He then told them that His command is to “Love each other as I have loved you”. It’s a curious, significant teaching. Jesus obeys God. He obeys God so that His disciples would know His joy and that their joy would be absolute. Jesus then calls them to love one another as He has loved them.
Obedience. Joy. Obedience. Jesus, it seems, taught his followers a sequence of dependency. God depends on Jesus to obey. The disciples’ joy depends on Jesus’ joy. Jesus depends on them to obey. One move follows the other until it returns to the beginning. We do not know what God commanded Jesus, but we do know that Jesus commanded His followers to love one another. Could that have been God’s command to Jesus?
If Jesus obeyed God’s command, and that command was to love others as God loved Him, which led to Jesus filling His followers with joy, which in turn leads to Jesus’ command to love, can we rewrite the sequence more simply? When we do so it looks like this: Love. Find Joy. Share Joy. Love.
These sequence of thoughts about Jesus’ teaching were inspired by a recent Pastoral visit to an ill member of my congregation. For the first time after months of little progress, there was marked improvement. It was a startling change from just a week ago. I was overjoyed at the difference, not because of how much better my parishioner was, but because he seemed, for the first time in a long time, genuinely joyful. There was a twinkle in his eye. He smiled. And it was his joy that made my joy complete. I wasn’t happy for him. I was happy through him. It was a simple sequence: his joy completed my joy.
That simple sequence is part of that larger sequence Jesus taught. Love. Find Joy. Share Joy. Love. It is through Christ-obeying love that I am privileged to serve in Ministry. My congregation empowers me and equips me through their obedience to Jesus’ command to love. My humble attempts at Christ-obeying love lead me to hospital rooms where I so often receive much more than I bring. In that hospital room, a visit inspired by Jesus’ love, there was great joy. It was a very simple sequence for which I am truly thankful.
When we obey Jesus and love one another as we have been loved, joy follows naturally. This joy is a result of Jesus loving us. It is a product of our loving others. It is a response to being loved. And it can be shared, as our joy impacts others, and their joy completes ours. When we understand that the joy we have given or received is because we have loved because Jesus first loved us, then joy takes us back to love. It is a simple sequence. Love leads to joy. Loy leads to love, a never ending sequence that starts when we obey Jesus’ command to love one another as He loves us.

“Sit?”

December 1st

I am a social stander. When it comes to coffee hour after church, parties, or other casual gatherings, I prefer to stand rather than sit so that I can move around and talk to a variety of people. It’s not that I’m being rude or don’t have the attention span to have a longer conversation with folks. Rather, it’s a matter of trying to enjoy the company of as many folks as I reasonably can when we’re all together in one place.
Sharing our thoughts on church coffee hours during the social time after a recent meeting, my colleague in ministry, John Young, pointed out that for many people of a certain age, sitting was far more comfortable than prolonged standing. And with that, a light was lit and a lesson learned. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way before. I hadn’t taken the age-factor into account when thinking about how parties or coffee hours might work.
Here’s a wee bit of background. My first real experience with coffee hour was when I started in ministry just over 25 years ago. Back when I was 35. Back when the demographics of most congregations were skewed in a lower direction than today. In other words, my coffee hour ideal scenario was based on a very different reality, one where I and most of my parishioners we of an age when standing for prolonged times wasn’t an issue.
John pointed out, subtly and kindly, the error of my ways. Which started me thinking about how easily we fall into a certain mindset and get stuck in that place even though it might be out of date.
When Jesus entered into people’s lives he caused them to rethink their ideas. Who qualifies as a neighbour? Is a two penny donation given out of struggling poverty better than a huge gift given easy wealth? Is it worth judging a woman for what she did when our own lives won’t bear closer scrutiny? He might not have challenged people to accommodate those who aren’t comfortable standing during coffee hour, but he did challenge us to make space for everyone, so maybe he did.
All of us have some pretty great ideas that see us through life. But sometimes those ideas belong to a different time in our lives, or a different context. And sometimes it takes an astute observation by a colleague to realize that maybe it’s time for a bit of a mental stretch. Who knows what you might learn about yourself talking to a friend whilst sitting at your next social gathering?

“Serve”

November 24th

At a faith-based retreat in a time long, long ago, these words came to me: “and you are to serve my people”. It was the end of the retreat and we were sharing what we had gotten from our time praying, studying and chatting. As one gentleman had just spoken his truth to us, those words came directly to me, unbidden, unexpected, unapologetic: “and you are to serve my people”.
It was a life changing moment that caused me to (eventually) quit my job as a Computer Service Technician so that I could pursue God’s call to me.
The statement of that call, “and you are to serve my people”, was very specific. “My people”. I assumed that I was being invited to serve other Christians like myself within the context of an organized church. So, I became a Minister of Word and Sacrament within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Simple, no? Upon Ordination, or upon taking the steps to becoming Ordained, I had fulfilled the terms of God calling me “…to serve my people”.
Not so simple, however.
Not the serving part. The “my people” part. At least, the “my people” as I had thought it meant. I thought that it meant faithful, if imperfect, people like myself. Not just Presbyterian folks, but Christians in general, but here’s the thing. All my life, even as a “Computer SERVICE Technician, I have been serving people. As far back as High School I was chatting with folks and helping them figure things out. Which means that, as I grew more and more comfortable in my Call to serve God’s people, I grew more and more broadminded in who those people were. Yes, I continue to actively serve a congregation within the Presbyterian Church in Canada as an Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament within that denomination, but those aren’t the only folks I serve.
In answering God’s call “…to serve my people” I have come to realize that, faithful or not, we are all God’s people and that is who I am called to serve. What’s more, I have learned that it doesn’t matter who or what a person is; we are all children of our Creator God, each reflecting the characteristics and qualities of our Creator in our own unique way. Gender identity, Race, Creed, political status, wealth, power, poverty, saintliness or sinfulness, wholeness or brokenness might identify and divide us, but none of that matters in who God has called me to serve. God’s people are all of humanity, and it is humanity I serve, however imperfectly that might be.
One final thought. God’s call to me used the word “serve”. Over time, I have come to realize that the core of that service is to love God’s people. As such, it’s not the easiest call. Serving is detached and uninvolved. Love is not. Yet reframing my call in terms of love makes it all the more worthwhile and helps me to see all God’s people through the eyes of our Creator and to understand just how privileged I am to have been able to answer God’s call.

“Offensive”

November 17th

It’s happened again. Someone said something that was well intentioned, but came out all wrong. The delivery was rude and crass. It was unkind and so the result was predictable. The message was lost in the midst of the offense it caused. That’s unfortunate. It was something that people need to hear. It mattered. But despite that reality, the bigger, more significant reality is that when something is spoken in an offensive manner, it doesn’t matter what’s said. The offence is always greater than the words.
That’s bad enough. It’s bad enough that a good message ended up offending people, but what’s worse is that people have taken umbrage to their offence. Yes, people are offended that people are offended. And so, they mock them. They belittle the word “offence” as if it’s meaningless. They call the people who have been offended snowflakes or other unhelpful things. So, now there are two offences. The original, less than helpful sentiment, and the belittling of those offended.
Let’s rethink that word, “offended”. Would it be better to say Shamed? Demeaned? Insulted? Assaulted? Abused? Wounded? Or how about plain old hurt? You might not like those words. You might think they’re too strong. You might think they’re not appropriate or that they don’t apply, but the truth is, they are all equally good substitutes for the word “offended” and whatever word you would prefer to use rather than the offensive offended, people were hurt by a well-intentioned but poorly spoken message.
People have been hurt this way before. They are being hurt right now. They will continue to be hurt. They will continue to be offended, shamed, demeaned, insulted, assaulted, abused, wounded, or hurt by poorly spoken words.
Words have incredible power. We can say things that shape the lives of others in both helpful and hurtful ways. Sometimes what is intended to be helpful comes out the wrong way and it ends up offending the very person we want to help. And at that point we have to consider the pain of the offence and, more importantly, we have to own up to that truth to find a way to make things right rather than belittling the person for being too sensitive.
As people of faith we are called to love others and, by implication, not to hurt anyone. We also  have a wonderful message to offer. How we deliver that message matters. Some people might not like what we have to; that’s their choice. But, if we share God’s Good News is in ways that shame, demean, insult, assault, abuse, wound or hurt we are offensive to both them and to God.
After all, Jesus tells us that whatever we do to a fellow child of God, we do to Him. So, if we offend a friend, we offend Jesus. On the other hand, if we treat a friend kindly and make a positive difference in their lives, then that’s what we offer to Jesus. Which would you rather do?

“Play”

November 3rd

I was watching a video of a fantastic band, “The Quadraphonnes”, offering up a live performance. “The Quadraphonnes” refers to the four saxophone players that make of the heart of the group, but they also have a very tight rhythm section that adds a deep, rich dimension to their sound. At one point Leah Hinchcliff, their Bass player, knocked an astounding solo out of the park. While her mastery of the instrument was evident in the ease with which she played, what really blew me away was how cool, calm and collected she was the entire time. Her solo just seemed to flow from her soul to her fingers.
Reflecting on how naturally she made music opened my eyes to a different take on performers of her ability. She doesn’t simply “play” the Bass, she plays with it. I don’t mean that it’s a toy; rather, her consummate skill lets the music flow from her. She doesn’t think about the basic mechanics or theory. She just makes music.
When I play drums or piano, I have to concentrate on each action and note, focussing my attention more on getting things right than actually making music. For someone like Leah Hinchcliff the opposite is the case. She is so well-practiced and gifted that she can play with her Bass and make it sing as easily as you or I can breathe. It is truly a pleasure not only to hear her make music, but also to see how that music flows from her. I can play a piano and make moderately musical noises. Leah Hinchcliff plays with her bass and makes astounding music.
Of course, not all of us can devote the time and effort it takes a musician like her to master an instrument or skill. That’s why it’s such a blessing to see and hear consummate professionals like Leah play. It’s a reminder of what humans can achieve and the beauty we can create.
As followers of Jesus we’re challenged by His command to love one another and by his example of what love looks like. It can seem like a task that we might never master, but love isn’t about skills; it’s what we’re made for. And it’s not about getting it right. Love is about bringing joy to one another, helping each other when we struggle, celebrating when we succeed and giving to God what God first gave us.
What God gave us is a wonderful, beautiful world in which to live as well as talents to share and enjoy. Most importantly, Our Creator-God gave us love that binds Creator and Creation together. That same love lets us bless friends, families, enemies and strangers alike. Because it is part of who we are, love isn’t work; it something we do joyfully, thankfully, generously. Love might even be something we do as naturally as Leah Hinchcliff plays with her Bass. Maybe we can reach a point where don’t have to think about loving one another. Maybe we can reach the point where we just love one another as easily, naturally and masterfully as Jesus loves us.