Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Those are Jesus' words, and from my perspective, some of the most challening he ever spoke. In a culture of feel-good Christianity, they aren't verses you will find taped to many bathroom mirrors for someone to memorize while they shave or apply makeup. They aren't verses quoted frequently in the majority of North American churches. And as I contemplate them, I suspect I understand them on a very shallow level only.
Paradoxes fascinate me. The beautitudes are probably my favourites. But this seeming contradiction comes from the same teacher who gave us the beautitudes. That gives credibility and authority. It demands a closer look.
Luke 21:12-19 NIV
"But before all this they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life."
Eugene Peterson's The Message, says it this way:
"But before any of this they'll arrest you, hunt you down and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You'll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I'll give you words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.
"You'll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There's no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul--even the hairs of your head!--is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it--that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry, you'll be saved.
What do we do with Bible verses that don't suit feel-good, comfortable Christianity? Rewriting our Bibles is one possibility. That requires the assumption that we are the ultimate authority. If we are the ultimate authority, then it necessarily follows that Jesus isn't, so his words, however fascinating, don't really count.
Oh--BUT-- we call him The Son of God. Even in our feel-good Christianity we call him that. Doesn't that come with authority and credibility?
We don't have to look very far to know that in some countries of the world today, people are behind bars for the "crime" of believing that Jesus is in fact The Son of God, and for sharing that belief. If we look a little farther, we find fresh graves in some of those countries where people have been killed for that same "crime." How do the spouces and children of those people understand the second part of that scripture passage? "Not a hair of you head will perish." I'm pretty sure their understanding goes deeper than mine.
Jesus warned repeatedly that the cost of following him would be high. He repeatedly gave a stark and gruesome call. "Take up your cross and follow me." The cross, in his time and culture, was not a beautiful gold pendant. It was a bloody, cruel instrument of the most brutal death imaginable.
I own a 2007 edition of Foxe, Voices of the Martyrs, 33 A.D. to Today. A historical treasure, and a treasury of intense and costly belief, it's not my favourite reading. Yet it is filled with stories of people who dared to believe that death was not the end. They dared to believe Jesus' words could be taken literally. They dared to accept the high cost of his call, and trust that he would also make good on his promise--even after death--that not a hair would perish.
Maybe I need to get out of my comfort zone. Maybe my Christianity is a bit too much me-centered, and too little Christ-centered. That's the strange thing about paradoxes. They almost always challenge me, sometimes more than my comfort zone wants.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Sunday evening the skies above our town churned with layers of white, black and blacker clouds. I watched from our deck as here and there, from the blacker ones, tails formed and threatened to descend. I was ready, should those funnels really get it together in earnest, to run for the basement. It wasn’t long until we heard that a tornado did touch down and wreak havoc, demolishing the centre of Goderich, less than an hour away from our home.
We have extended family members who live in that town, and we wondered if they had been affected. We later learned they were safe. Another couple we know were there with their grandchildren. Had their little granddaughter not been in such a hurry to get her promised Timbits, they may still have been down on the beach when the storm hit. As time goes on (it happens anytime there is a natural disaster) there will be many such stories of near misses or providential moves at just the right time. Those times feel like small miracles or mercies—what if we hadn’t? is often asked. For the family of the only casualty, the quandary will be “if only.”
Three days later, I sit in the basement writing this entry, because after Sunday’s happening, our local station has been super-careful to keep the severe weather watch and warnings running across the bottom of the tv screen—it’s been doing that all afternoon. And because of my heightened awareness of what could happen if we ignore those warnings, I choose to play it safe and do my work in the basement instead of upstairs with one eye toward the west.
With communication so advanced, we hear and see video footage of natural tragedies almost as soon as they happen all over the world. We are aware of the pain and suffering of the people involved. We let ourselves feel their pain for awhile and maybe even make a donation to help them. The closer to us, the more we become involved, the more conscious we are that it could happen to us. I used to struggle with my ability to forget so quickly. Perhaps we cannot always live in that kind of heightened awareness, but we can learn from those times.
While thinking through the happenings of the past few days, I was reminded of Mr. Simmonds who taught a few evening classes I took at Toronto Bible College many years ago. He had the class all note our greatest fear, then our assignment was to write a composition about what we would do if that happened—how we would face it and get through it. That exercise helped us, as he put it, “Turn around and face our fear instead of fleeing from it.”
That exercise assisted me many times in life, to do just that. It helped me many years later when one of those greatest fears I had noted did happen—the love of my life died. Although at the news that it probably would happen, I was tempted to flee from it, I was able to turn and face it head on. However his death had a more lasting effect. Somehow, since then, it’s easier to believe that it could happen to me or to ones I love. Rather than making me paranoid and fearful, it has done the opposite.
Although I take precautions (like sitting in the basement in threatening weather) a deep contentment and peace is present even in threatening circumstances because l know that my times are in the hands of the One who planned my life in the beginning. It’s wise to live as well as we can and take precautions, but it’s also wise to take risks if necessary. However there is only so much one can do to determine the outcome of any circumstance in life. How grateful I am that Mr. Simmonds set me on the right track so long ago.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
When my body’s fatigued, my mind doesn’t function well. Even reading a book takes more concentration than I can muster. At times like this when physical weakness overtakes me, I’m keenly aware of my fragile humanness.
Jesus-followers often use the phrase “strong in the Lord.” Because Sister Jones’ faith is unshaken by many challenges we say she’s strong in the Lord. We also use this to describe people who do what we consider great things for God.
Most believers from time to time do great things for God. But I don’t plan to do anything great today. Today I’d describe myself as “weak in the Lord;” and I’m finding it a pleasant place. My weakness reminds me how dependant on Him I really am. I’m not self-sufficient, far from it. Feeling my humanity is good for me.
Today I crawl under God’s wing. He lowers it over me. I snuggle into Him; rest my head on His strong shoulder. Tomorrow I might wake up ready to take on the world again but today I plan to gain strength from Him because I am, after all, only human.
“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wing.” Psalm 17:8
". . . we are weak in Him yet by God's power we shall live. . . " 2 Corinthians 13:4
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
As it is, I’m working on moving into my 16th residence in life. My tenancy has so far averaged just over four years a shot. Mind you, it’s not an eviction – we pay our rent; it is more the path of life that we’ve – more correctly perhaps, that I’ve – adopted.
When you have an understanding that God has a personal interest in, and claim upon, your life, you consider what might be His plan for you, and you seek to find His path. As a young fellow it was important to me that the one I marry should have a similar desire as I to find and fit into God’s plan and follow His path. And now, despite many ups and downs and ins and outs, we have an assurance that He has guided us through life by His Holy Spirit.
Although I loved my work in the music industry the time came when it seemed to be God’s leading that we emigrate from the UK to Canada, after which I was nudged into pursuing pastoral service. Following that path took us to numerous addresses around the Province of Ontario.
And now, it might appear there’s something of a nomadic gene in us, showing up in retirement, since after living in our present home for barely 15 months, we’re on the move again – but not far.
This time we’re heading several houses up on the same street. My present path in life has me doing a little pulpit supply, taking nursing home and residence services, often with a musical component. And so I need to put in some practice, now and then. Besides, I compose and make music for relaxation and enjoyment.
We like our rented duplex, but (always a ‘but,’ eh?) . . . but there’s no deadening between the walls of the two halves of our current residence. Our lifestyle and schedules are different to those of our neighbours. We haven't received any complaints from them about my piano and accordion playing and occasional singing (no complaints?–amazing, eh?). However, since even conversation travels through those walls, I know most certainly our neighbours can’t escape my music-making, and I’m conscious of that. The result is that I do less and less of it.
As a rent-paying citizen I’m probably within my legal rights to make music between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. in our home. However, I represent my Lord and don’t want to be a source of irritation to our neighbours, and so it costs.
My wife and I prayed for wisdom, asking the Lord what we should do. Then, out of the blue came the opportunity to rent a single dwelling a few doors along. Despite the higher cost, we consider that in view of the liberty and flexibility the situation affords, it seemed to be a god-sent solution.
Most of our worldly goods have already made the trip up the street, and the move should be completed by the end of this week, when the larger, heavier items get moved in.
Over the years I’ve met people who hardly know what it is to relocate to another home. A friend of ours, Shirley, is in her 70s and has only moved house once in her life. I can scarcely imagine what that would be like.
In our case decisions to uproot and relocate over the past more than four decades have mostly been ours. However, what we understood of God’s call on our lives and what was best for those we served was a big motivator and source of input into the making of each decision.
I’ve found that even this present one, while accommodating us for our comfort, is also influenced by considerations pertaining to the working out of a sense of call and what better serves us in our present role as representatives of the One who called us. That includes our being “wise as serpents and innocent [harmless]as doves.”* And so, we go the extra mile and pay the extra bucks.
Peter A. Black is the weekly inspirational columnist at The Watford Guide-Advocate,
and the author of “Parables from the Pond,” a book that is finding various applications and venues among children, families, educators, adults and senior adults(Word Alive Press; ISBN 1897373-21-X).
Monday, August 22, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
It’s usually very difficult for me to turn off one lifestyle and switch to another but after a few days; I managed to surrender to reading, knitting, writing long hand while sitting in the RV passenger seat. I think the only consistent action was the sound “AWH” in response to Canada’s kaleidoscope of scenery.
Always on a trip, I hope to experience something that I haven’t done before. It was no different this time. When I was invited to go searching for Sea-glass – I readily accepted. Walking along the shore of North Sydney, N.S., it was not difficult to spot the odd green and blue pieces. The white ones were easier to see among the many pebbles. Over a period of an hour, I had gathered a lovely collection of a variety of colours. I was so proud of myself and even as I walked I had visions of covering a patio table with my precious little pieces of glass to look like stained glass.
“This one isn’t Sea-glass,” my daughter said.
“Oh! Are you sure?” I asked.
“That’s a stone,” she said.
“Well, it looks like Sea-glass to me.” I turned it over. “I’m going to use it with the rest. It’s pretty.”
“It’ll look different,” she warned.
I knew she was right, yet I also knew that the rich brown colour of the ‘so-called’ Sea-glass would look splendid in the midst of the brilliant greens, blues and whites of the true Sea-glass.
I conceded of course, wanting to have a true reflection of my evening’s search for Sea-glass. Later as I washed the small pieces they seemed to blink in their brilliance that my choice was a good one.
In hindsight, I wonder how many times we blend the real with the imaginary just to get the results that we want. Maybe a little piece of phoney glass in a collection isn’t as easily seen as an action or behaviour that is not the real thing. I suppose there in lies the grace of God to help us see the truth of our errors.
Furthermore, I think my little pieces of beautiful glass truly represent how waste and brokenness can be transformed into brilliance and goodness. A little like the times that we let ourselves or God, down, yet through God’s grace and mercy, we continue to shine through our life. , , although we know there’ll still be the odd stone among our gems.
A friend teased that one of the little pieces was probably a piece of china from the Titanic. Could be, I thought. Certainly gave me pause to think . . . a little more about all of this. However, I take the bottle of Sea-glass home with me and put it on the shelf to remind me of a precious experience.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Professor Lynn and colleagues wrote a paper in 2008 in the journal Intelligence which has been widely discussed. Here is a summary of its claims:
"Evidence is reviewed pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe. It is shown that intelligence measured as psychometric g is negatively related to religious belief. We also examine whether this negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is present between nations. We find that in a sample of 137 countries the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God is 0.60 [a high correlation]."
The highlight of the paper is the chart of 137 nations. And it looks pretty convincing until you study it carefully.
Recently, we looked at a claim, published in a serious science journal, Intelligence, that belief in God correlates worldwide with lower IQ. From the same journal in the same year, we learned that religion correlates with lower IQ among American teenagers.
If half of the Catholics and Baptist teens are sporadically observant and doctrinally indifferent (no unusual state of affairs), religious orthodoxy collapses as a predictor of IQ. So it is not clear just what Nyborg is measuring. Social class is a possibility.More.
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain. Follow me at Twitter!
Over the past couple of weeks we have looked at studies suggesting that religion rots your intelligence and that religion rots teens’ intelligence, and, not surprisingly, both theses fell apart. Now here is a different, more solid proposition:Which attracted the attention of a Scientific American neuroscientist columnist. More.
In "Religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in late life," Amy Owen and colleagues at Duke University found that in late life there was greater atrophy in the hippocampus (associated with memory) among individuals who have been "born again," as well as those with no religious affiliation.
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain. Follow me at Twitter!
In a finding that wouldn’t surprise many,
Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life's uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God.
- “Religious Beliefs Impact Levels of Worry” (ScienceDaily Aug. 5, 2011)
Here’s a welcome point:
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
On a Wednesday evening in late July, I stand at the sink washing and cutting harvest apples into quarters to make applesauce. The very act of doing this and the smell of the apples takes me back home where Dad and I picked them a few days before, and still further back when I was a child and we helped our parents in the orchard.
“I’m climbing the tree,” Mary says. She picks up a basket and tucks it into the space between two branches, then climbs the tree, hands on the skinnier branches and her shoes gripping the bark, and hoists herself up.
I can climb that tree too, but there won’t be room for both of us. She starts, first with the apples she can reach from that crook in the centre, then leaning out further and further until she’s straddling one of the branches, tolerating its movement as my mother or someone else shakes the tree from the other side to get apples just out of reach. Exactly why I’m not climbing the tree. Mom’s not looking, or my sister would get a warning, telling her to be careful. She’s already had one broken arm.
There’s a wooden box at the base of the tree to be used as a step for shorter legs like mine. That tree is one of the few I can or will climb. Dad once built a small tree house— a platform really—for the three of us girls to play on. That seemed a little safer than shimmying out on branches.
“Time to pick,” I hear behind me, and I am reminded to get to work, even while I stand there, basket in hand. I pull apples from the branches that lean low, heavy with fruit, and I step on and around apples that have fallen. Ripe apples, some of them scabby or with worms—the bad apples. Later I will look for good ones that have fallen to the ground.
We use the better ones for making applesauce and send some to the cider mill for pressing into sweet apple cider. The cows and pigs will get a treat too, for they also like the sweetness of the apple. Our milker pails are clean, ready for the apple cider that Dad will bring home and Mom will bottle.
The apples are smaller than they once were, I reflect, as I cut them into pieces. I could pick one that fit my hand rather than two that I can hold now. Harvest apples seem rare now; one of those trees was taken down by the tornado in 1979. Dad doesn’t spray the tree anymore, and even then he was cautious, lest we eat substances that might hurt us.
I cut and quarter, tossing parts of apples that are bad. Sometimes I wonder if all the cutting and trimming is worth the time, but as the apples cook and I put them through the sieve, I smell the sweetness of the orchard at harvest time. My kitchen smells like a canning factory, just like our home where my mother spent days canning fruits and vegetables. I remember the potato pancakes Mom made when we had our first applesauce and new potatoes, and how we’d make a meal of that, maybe with some fresh peas from the garden, or a cucumber salad.
True, there was a lot of work involved, sometimes too much, yet we never went hungry. We had parents looking out for us and teaching us, and we had food to nourish our bodies. Even when crops were not so plentiful, God was caring for us and still does.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
What a joy to be part of the recent Embrace Rwanda Trip to Rwanda. We have read so much about Rwanda over the years, but it is another thing to actually be there. Thank you so much for your faithful thoughts and prayers during our African visit.
After air flights covering 14,000 kilometres, we took a taxi to the Kigali Cathedral where we were greeted by Bishop Louis Muvunyi, Pastor Samuel, Dean of St Etienne’s Anglican Cathedral and his staff. Kigali Cathedral is the place where so many remarkable gatherings have taken place with Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and the new Rwandan Primate, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje. As well as the seats in the Cathedral, they have an outside speaker system for overflow crowds.
Coming to Rwanda was a dream come true. We had the chance to tour the Milles Collines Hotel, made famous by the significantly inaccurate ‘Hotel Rwanda’ movie. We learned that one of the ways that the people survived in that hotel during the100 days of genocide in 1994 was by drinking the water from the swimming pool.
On the first night in Rwanda, we stayed at the Kigali Cathedral Guest House where we met Bishop Mpango, a retired Tanzanian bishop staying at the Kigeme Cathedral guest house. He is very interested in helping launch people in businesses that can then invest in helping others. Being deeply jetlagged, our time clock was way out of whack, waking up at all times of the day/night. Even with DEET and a mosquito net, I had to kill six buzzing mosquitoes that first night just to sleep. The meals provided were very tasty. We were very careful to not eat any uncooked vegetables, and thankfully never became sick during or after the trip.
I had a very strong sense from God that we were to purchase a guitar, then use it in the music workshops that Janice would teach, before donating it to the Kigali Cathedral. The problem was that we already had way too much luggage, including a massive duffle bag of baby clothes. The solution was to purchase it in Kigali just before we went on a ‘sardine-packed’ bus to Kigeme. A man working at the Kigali Station agreed to take me five blocks so that I could purchase this guitar for 70,000 Francs (around $105 Canadian/US). Unfortunately I forgot to purchase extra strings which I did later in Kikongoro many days later, after breaking a string on my first day in Kigeme! I was also pleased to see the Cathedral’s other guitar which had been donated on the ACiC Mission Trip six years ago. Sadly the E-string was totally dead. But after new strings, the original guitar was in fine form. In the workshop, we taught the participants how to tune a guitar. It is amazing the difference between a guitar in tune or almost in tune. The Cathedral had a third guitar but it was literally in three pieces. All in all, this felt as if we had obeyed the promptings of God’s still small voice. It is sometimes hard to tell whether it is God or just us.
Having spent the first day at Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, we took a sardine-packed bus to the southwestern town of Kigeme. As the Canadian wing of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, we have been asked to have a special relationship with the Anglican diocese of Kigeme, led by Bishop Augustin Mvunabandi. As my wife Janice Hird is a UBC Music grad & our St. Simon’s NV Music Director, she was invited to lead four music workshops that week at the Kigeme Cathedral. The Rwandan people are such remarkably gifted singers, dancers and worshippers.
Education, health, and church planting were core values of the original Anglican missionary who came to Kigeme in 1932. The Kigeme Anglican Hospital was birthed from the original 1932 vision for medical care and healing through prayer. The compassion of Jesus has been wired into the very DNA of this hospital. The staff even starts every day with a half hour of worship. While we were at the hospital, a mission team from the Anglican congregation in Maidenhead, UK, came to do many tasks, including rewiring the Kigeme Anglican Hospital. Thank God for people with electrical skills who can use them to help others in need. We particularly enjoyed meeting Pastor Samuel, the Chaplain for the Kigeme Anglican Hospital, whom I found to be very godly and Spirit-filled. It is clear that the Anglican investment in health has made a significant difference for local Rwandans in the Kigeme area. The goal of the Rwandan Anglicans in Kigeme is that everyone plays their part in extending God’s Kingdom and rebuilding their nation. Our Embrace Rwanda* team, led by our local Deep Cover Hilary King, makes it possible for Canadians to share in this rebuilding in practical ways involving the Healthy Mums Project, purchasing goats for mothers in need, and building multi-use chapels which assist in educational needs.
Given the tragic genocide in Rwanda 17 years ago, it was wonderful to see how peaceful the country has become, how it is being rebuilt, and how much reconciliation has happened among people who have suffered so deeply and lost so many family and friends. It inspires me to keep short accounts with others, as we are so easily offended as Canadians, and not always that good at forgiving even petty offences. “…as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector
St Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada/TheAM
Monday, August 15, 2011
Along with the items I had sorted to give away, I thought it might be a good thing to tuck in a few of my own books hoping that someone might enjoy them. So I did. I signed a few copies and included them in the box. At the arena, I received direction from the Red Cross gal at the desk and she told me where to take my package.
That was when I spotted Maybelline. There were many people milling around, quietly sharing words, drinking coffee, watching and waiting, walking back and forth. Everyone was busy and focussed on something. Except Maybelline.
There was just something about her. Something that made me want to sit and listen to her story. Her smile lit up her face. She stared at me. White girl bringing in 'stuff.' I suddenly felt a little sheepish.
After I had finished emptying my box, I found myself clutching one of my books - A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider. She smiled again and seemed to beckon me to sit down. I did. I asked if it was okay, and she said, yes.
Before 30 seconds had elapsed she was already sharing her situation and how devastating it was for her and her two teenage children to be taken away so suddenly from their home. She had no idea what was happening, although she did tell me that they received daily updates and she was hoping that by Thursday they would be able to return home.
Maybelline looked at me with those deep brown eyes and told me how grateful she was and how nice everyone was to her. She was humbled by the generosity of the local people. I asked her if she might like to read a great book. Her face lit up and she tossed me another helping of her special smile. I handed the book to her and we continued to chat a little longer. I learned that she was a single mom with two teenage children. She was in Arthur with some of her other family members - aunts, uncles and siblings. But she described how many other Sandy Lake residents had been separated from their families as they faced the evacuation and she talked about how she really did not know what to expect when she would finally be allowed to go home. No one really knew. The unknown was particularly hard on everyone, she told me. Her raw emotion touched me deeply.
Looking back now, I should have invited Maybelline to come to my house for dinner. I should have asked her what else I could do for her. I should have given her that ten dollars in my purse. But I didn't. Maybelline and I said our farewells after a while and before I knew it I was in my vehicle with my grandbabies, heading home.
I kept wondering if I missed an opportunity. But later, I turned to page 207 in A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider - the book that I had given to Maybelline. The title was Bannock and Sweet Tea; the author - Dorene Meyer...then I knew why I had to give my new friend a copy...
Friday, August 12, 2011
At 74, Marty’s dad appeared to be an active, healthy man with nothing so seriously wrong with him that a hearing aid couldn’t fix. We assumed he would be around at least another twenty years: feeding his steers, planting his garden, driving sick old-people to doctor’s appointments, writing letters to the editor, hooking rugs, playing with his grandchildren, and doing the 800 other things that kept him busy from morning until nightfall.
Then suddenly this past summer he complained about a backache. Even with rest the backache persisted. There were blood tests which led to more tests which pinpointed the problem: cancer of the pancreas with lesions on the liver.
He spent his last two weeks on earth tidying up his financial affairs (not that they were ever messy), arranging funeral details, and saying good-bye to family, friends and neighbours. He died at home one evening shortly after family devotions at his bedside. That was the day he lost his ability to swallow. He died at peace with the full assurance that soon he would have a new body. Days earlier he had mentioned, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was looking forward to having his hearing restored.
At the funeral there was an underlying joy mingled with the sorrow of missing a loved one. We knew he was in heaven with Jesus. As the minister put it, “He’s gone ahead.” And as our twelve-year-old son said, “I can look forward to seeing Opa in about 80 years.”
After the funeral, back at the homestead while eating salads and casseroles prepared by loving members of the church, I sat beside Carol, a non-Christian friend of Marty’s missionary sister. “Must be quite a shock to your kids to suddenly lose their grandfather,” she commented.
I looked at her, briefly wondering if I should talk to her honestly, as if she were a Christian, as if she would understand. I decided to go ahead.
“Actually, they’re pretty good with it,” I said, picturing my five children. “There’s been tears and they’ll miss him, but you know, he said good-bye to each one of them and told them to live for the Lord. They’ll always remember that. That’s special…and,” I added, “they know he’s in heaven.”
She looked at me curiously, “Is everyone in the family so strongly religious?”
That left me tongue-tied. Obviously she saw all the faith and assurance stuff as a made-up, organized set of beliefs. I had wanted to give her the truth, serve it to her like a piece of cake, but alas, I didn’t even know how to cut into the cake. As Christians we know death is a step along the road into eternity, but that was only so much mumbo-jumbo to Carol.
Our conversation left me with a couple of questions. How does someone, who thinks this life is everything, deal with death? How does that person deal with life? Or, if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, but suspects there could possibly be something beyond the reaches of this life, how does he or she dare approach death?
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4–5)
As I re-examine my conversation with Carol and reconsider my questions about life and death, I realize the Holy Spirit knows all the answers. To be an effective witness, I need God’s power.
This is an excerpt from Blooming, This Pilgrim's Progress by Marian den Boer.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
The organza moon, with transparent grin, observes me pacing my patch of velvet grass, watering the young plants that dot the gardens like knots of chartreuse embroidery.
Before summer's end a tapestry of color will obscure this black corduroy soil, tuck it in right to the edges. But today I watch the dirt welcome the water I bring. Rivulets form a wide mesh of brightness, then vanish, whispering, into dark earth. Crystal beads cling tenuously to parsley fringes and decorate neatly folded fern buds.
A brown button of a bird perches on the edge of the bird bath and fluffs its wings, anticipating. We've had a peck of rain this year--and last--but after this long-awaited hot spell, nature pants for relief. This is the task for which water was made: to quench thirst; to cleanse, to grow roots. To decorate soil and make of it a receiving blanket suitable to encompass and foster new growth.
I'm thankful for long hoses and outside taps. But watering, every gardener knows, merely invites rain to do the job over again: fling open a cloud and let loose a transparent veil of long silver needles.
I’ve noticed that when God tilts his own watering can over our small quilt of earth, gardens smile. To soil accustomed to tap-water, rain must feel like dessert—the herbs seem more flavorful, the colors more vibrant, the flowers extra fragrant. Even bees seem more cheerful after the heavens open.
I think of that this morning, as I recall Jesus' comments about Living Water. The stuff the plumps up souls, makes of them transparent reflections of his own. Living Water, found only in direct connection with God--a God most forgotten, even by his own.
God mourns, the Word says, when people forget him. Jeremiah 2 lists his lament: “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns—broken cisterns that can’t hold water.”
This morning, recalling the litany of grief we call world news, and two summers of mostly-wet, I wonder if the rain is God’s tears.
Find author, columnist, and broadcaster Kathleen Gibson online at www.kathleengibson.ca
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
In particular we often encounter the sixth century saint and scholar Columba of Iona (or Colmcille) — who founded a monastery at Derry, where Heaney is from. The poet relates to Columba’s bookish calling of pen and ink.
To Heaney, the everyday lives of people are sacred. His own schooldays appear, disguised within “Hermit Songs” as he writes both of medieval scribes, and of his teacher’s supplies of “nibs in packets by the gross, / Powdered ink, bunched cedar pencils, / Jotters, exercise books, rulers...” In “Chanson d’Aventure” he takes us along on a wild ambulance ride, under the control of “The charioteer at Delphi”.
Mostly, Seamus Heaney is a poet of memory. He preserves sounds and feelings — such as “the clunk of the baler / Ongoing, cardiac-dull” — or the wind “that rose and whirled until the roof / Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore” — or the “chunk and clink of an alms-collecting mite-box” — or the particulars of his new “Guttery, snottery” pen in its “first deep snorkel / In a newly opened ink-bottle”.
The following poem is from Human Chain.
Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in —
Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up
Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait
For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.
*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Seamus Heaney
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
During a recent visit to that part of Canada, it was a marvel to me how the tiny delicate flowers of Baffin Island could survive. There is very little soil yet they spring up and cling to solid rock. Vibrant dwarf fireweed, saxifrage, anemones and the ever-present Arctic cotton abound. The tundra seemed to be in motion as they swayed in the constant wind, lifting their heads toward a far-away sun. We stepped around them, our heads bent in homage, our camera shutters clicking.
As I moved across that barren, lichen-covered landscape I couldn't help but think of the barren landscape of cancer I have been wandering in. The similarities are stark. There isn't much to hang onto at times. The winds of fear and loss seem always in my face and the sun can seem oh so far away. But I stared at a bright yellow anemone and took heart. If this little one can survive in this, her desolate place, then so shall I in mine, by doing what she does season after season. Cling to the rock.
There are times in everyone's life, in every writer's life when this is necessary. We tend to think of these times in a negative way. As when we envision a harsh northern climate, we hear the word, cancer, and shudder. Yet there are those wildflowers. There are moments when God's presence is so real the beauty of his grace is all that matters. There are those times when you know He's carrying you across this barren land.
Our Rock is more solid and everlasting than those slowly disintegrating across the tundra. Our Rock speaks and comforts and holds our hand. Our Rock carries us when our knees buckle and cradles our head when we just need to cry. Our Rock hides us in his cleft and sets our feet on a firm foundation.
And when I "lift up my eyes to the hills," and ask, "Where does my help come from?" He answers - "My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber ... The Lord watches over you, the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming going both now and forevermore" (Psalm 121:1-8).
If you are in a barren place in your life, medically, physically, emotionally or spiritually, take heart. You can be like those Arctic flowers - cling to the Rock.
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011. A collection of devotionals for writers has just been released here. Visit Marcia's website
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