Friday, 26 December 2008
Christmas eve, morning and night were a visual memory but a spiritual blur... while my family was gathered around the tree downstairs, opening gifts from each other, we each made sure to respond with thankfulness and smiles and genuine gratitude from the heart, but when I removed my thoughts from the paper and ribbon before me to the holy gift of God’s son, to the gift wrapped in the womb of a young woman and opened to everyone in history, I turned away quickly, almost impatient for another gift to be opened. It was quite late last night or early this morning that I was caught by my internal foolishness. I was shamed and blessed, convicted and encouraged and challenged by my thoughts, finally Christ centered.
You see, the concept that "it's better to give than to receive" is an idea that, ironically, comes from the lips of Christ himself. I say ironically because, although I am sure that God found pleasure and joy in sending Christ to us, in giving us the ultimate of all Christmas gifts, I think that He got the proverbial short end of the stick. When we, as a race of broken, short-sighted, bustling, hopeless and easily distracted souls first opened His gift, we met the baby with mixed feelings: some of us rejoiced, some of us feared, some of us turned a blind eye or cold shoulder. As the child grew up, or as the gift lost its novelty, we left it alone. For years we completely ignored it, until it started causing us trouble, and just like a small child would with a simple doll that seemed dull or troublesome, we began to abuse the gift – to take it for granted, to push its limits, to hurt and harm on purpose – we broke the precious gift He had given to us. We broke him and could do nothing to repair the damage done; like a shattered porcelain mannequin, we looked upon the broken body of Christ and finally realized the importance of the gift, the value of His Son, and the terrible guilt and shame of ruining something that has been given with such care, sacrifice and love. Facing the broken-hearted face of God, the giver of the gift and the Father of the Son, is a thought more dreadful than any of us can bear.
But the heart of God holds so much more than disappointment and pain. He looked down at us and met our trembling hands and tearful, fearful eyes with love so abounding, mercy so healing, passion so filling, grace so forgiving and care so deep that we had no idea what to do with ourselves. Then, God did something that I cannot understand. He took our hands, cut by the splinters of a broken doll and covered in the blood of His son and He washed us clean of our crime; then He took him from us to His place and fixed him, completely, better than we had ever seen him before, so much more vibrant and so much more alive... and then He gave him back.
Even God re-gifts. God sent Jesus to us once so long ago in a stable in Bethlehem with only a few witnesses. He gave him to us again in another miracle that we did not deserve, in the partial majesty and wonder of His holy character. I cannot wait for the day when He offers Christ to us once more, when He will send him back with all of His amazing and truly awesome glory. We didn't deserve him the first time, but we needed him so much more than we had known. We didn't deserve a second chance at showing our appreciation, loyalty and respect, but He has given it to us as He has given him to us for this life and for this time. We do not deserve eternal life no matter what we have done or what we are doing and no matter our efforts to come, but I know that He has already given us this gift, this priceless and inexpressibly valuable gift, forever.
And so we come to Boxing Day. Traditionally, this is the time when we begin the process of favouriting gifts, of setting aside others, of contemplating exchange or re-gifting. I pray that you will act carefully with the gift of God. I pray that when we are boxing and shelving and shuffling the presents we have only yesterday unwrapped that the gift of Christ, of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, of the promise of his return in full glory and the activity of God in our lives will not be forgotten as quickly as some of our other presents. I pray that you and your family will continue to celebrate although the festivities of the world have passed. I pray that we will continue to express our gratitude with genuine smiles, with the thankfulness of people in great need and with the praise, honour, joy, love, hope and sacrifice due to the giver of such a gift.
And so, I wish you a very merry Christmas not only this day but the next and the next, and may the Christmas season and the true spirit of this holiday extend in your heart long into the coming year.
With faith in the truth of His word, God bless.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
I am still not very interested in the sport, but I have made friends with a large group of people who are genuinely passionate about the game and so for the past few months I have been trying to learn some of the athletic jargon, or at least a decent grasp of the rules, et cetera. At present I find myself enduring yet another face-off in the company of my friends, all conversation staying far above my head; however, the time I am spending here with my notepad, huddled in the corner, is serving an interesting purpose. I am studying reaction.
Though not everyone is gifted with the skill of close observation in attitude or cue, we are all creatures of detail. When something is important to us, it consumes our attention. How can something so removed from our reality have such a dramatic effect on us? (One of my guy friends has just leaped up from his seat to holler a comment drenched in personal frustration at the referee. I doubt that he can hear him.) It amazes me that something so small can trigger such a reaction in a person. The puck didn’t go in… it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the game.
As I watch my friends get into mock-fights in representation of their favourite players who have just had a clash on the ice, I am suddenly wondering if I can learn from their strange connection to these far-off unknown allies.
You may not know this about me yet, but I am a budding actor-to-be this and next semester. I am in an acting class, theatre appreciation specifically, and I am learning to apply some of what I see in my life into my work between the curtains and under the lights. On stage, I am reacting to other people, other actors, but I am also acting as though I am living the life of my character. I am going to have to draw upon memories I don’t have and a history that doesn’t exist to make the connections to the audience authentic. If I can pull from memories in my own history that can be made applicable to the situation at hand, if I can find the moments of hockey-like reaction or fishing trip importance in my mind before I take the stage, then those are the details that I need to draw on.
The big picture is awesome and grand but it is only truly great if the details are in focus. That is where the beauty is found – that is where the reality lies – in the details.
Even when I am alone, however, the stillness of the place does not stay quiet for long… the staircases of this school are my favourite places to be tranquil but they are also my favourite place to sing. The echo of the space and the way that the self-made music reverberates off the walls, the steps and the windows reminds me of a kind of heavenly choir, a host of angelic spirits, joining me in my music.
Echoes are so interesting. They are like a beautiful instant replay, like a voice underwater, like a haunting chill found in any melody…
In the theatre, this echo doesn’t exist. The padded seating and paneled walls make every effort to stop the echo, as though they are to be feared in the art of acting – and I suppose in speech they are a harm or nuisance, distracting or distorting the sounds of spoken word, but with the song, where often the storied are told as much through the melodies as they are through the lyrics, an echo is a wonderful tool of expression.
My favourite part of this personal escape is not the silence or the echo of my own voice – it’s catching others in the act as they bustle and saunter from Point A to Point B. I am always so encouraged by the reverberating whistle of a staff, visitor or fellow student… Apparently the art of semi-private expression extends beyond my blabbering self.
So, the staircase: a place of solitude where I can sort my thoughts when the rest of the world lapses into noise and chaos, a place where I am free to sing and enjoy the echoes and a place to be reminded that, at least on their own, the people of Nipissing and Canadore still have a spirit of personal expression.
Long live the melody…
Saturday, 6 December 2008
When I am overwhelmed by schoolwork, be that assignments or exams, I have found that the best therapy for recovering my sanity is to temporarily act as though none of it matters. I don my favourite pair of head-to-foot patterned pajamas, take my Sesame Street blanket that I have hiding between the duvets on my bed, gather my reserve box of sweet cereal, a large bowl, my favourite spoon and a gallon of milk and I sit in front of the television with legs crossed, watching Saturday morning cartoons. The recovery process usually takes me about two hours and by the end of Bugs Bunny or the Flintstones, my focus and my inspiration have usually returned.
While in the midst of a Road-Runner cartoon I found myself marveling at the creative processes of Wile E Coyote as he designed yet another flawless, genius scheme. Always a masterpiece of blue-prints and instructions, Wile E’s plans had every visual reassurance of success; naturally, the Road-Runner would find some way of foiling his plot, and we all know that this coyote has suffered many a concussion when his tiny pink umbrella failed to hold back the falling bolder or anvil. The next frame was what has always impressed me with Wile E’s character… no matter the previous injury, he would immediately be working up some new and devilish plan to capture and cook our speedy friend.
Where would the fictional world be without Acme Enterprises and where would we be without heroes like Wile E that remind us of the meaning of endurance and perseverance under all kinds of trials and tests? It is lessons like this one that pull me out of academic slump and emotional weariness and back into the world of functioning people and progression of thought. With characters like Wile E that can pick themselves up even after they get knocked off their feet over and over and over, then how can I do anything but smile and pick myself back up in the midst of a crazy and stress filled week? Even when I feel like I’m drowning in work – at least it’s not an anvil.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Life is beginning to wrap up here, partly in the completion-of-tasks sense, partly in the shiny-paper-everywhere sense. In less than a month we will all be sitting in front of a tree with wrapping paper and ribbon at our feet, and if that mental image isn't quite enough to pull you through the next couple of weeks, here are a couple verses that will hopefully encourage you as you work through the rest of life until Christmas:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen in temporary but what is unseen is eternal." (2nd Corinthians 4:18)
"Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and salvation. I will not be shaken!" (Psalm 62:5-6)
"The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." (1st Peter 4:7)
"Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)
I hope that the next little while will be a productive and successful time for you, whatever you have on your plate... try to get a little sleep from time to time, proofread your homework, crack open the advent calender, eat some fresh fruit and smile as much as you can!
And so, with a prayer and a smile of my own, I leave you to tests and papers and work. Keep your chin up and God bless.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
To counter the spell I was sent to the forest to be raised by the fairies (acting mortally) until the threat had passed. I was taught to be quite tame and gentle, traits that come naturally having been by myself for so long; only the three women and the animals keep me company.
But now... now things have changed.
It’s the 14th Century and the evening of my 16th birthday, before the supposéd death sentence comes into effect. They’ve dressed me up in a poufy gown and suddenly they want me to get married! Well, I want to get married too, but not to some stranger in a starched prince costume, but to the man I love, the man I have been dreaming of since the day we danced in the wood. It seems like yesterday, and it was, but the connection we shared was worth this escape I’m planning. Fate has a hold on me no longer. The fairies and the royalty, as dear as they are, have lied to me for 16 years and it’s about time I take fate and life into my own hands.
I’m in the upper room of the castle where my “parents” are keeping me until they march me down the aisle. I’ve finally been left alone to try and process some of this, and I am not going to sit here even a moment longer than I have to. I am running away.
The castle walls are cold stone, bare and cage-like. One heavy and barred door is just behind me to the left, the only way in or out of this room. The fairies are somewhere on the other side but I don’t know where they’ve gone or how long they plan to stay away. The entirety of my life in the homely country cottage has been condensed to three cardboard boxes in the corner. Before me is a large mirror, and all I can see is the stupid dress they have draped me in, and the crown on my head – a symbol of imprisonment and death, as far as I am concerned. They keep talking about a spinning wheel? Who cares? I just want to get back to the forest before he gets there; it is with that boy, that man, that my happily ever after lies.
I am collecting all of the things I need to get back to the cottage – shall, basket with some key food supplies, comfortable shoes (trading my heels in for flats), and a candle, which I can’t find. I know I have to leave ASAP to avoid being recaptured, but I need the light to be able to find my way back, not that I really know the way. As the time moves along, I get more panicked, starting to talk out the rushed packing processes of earlier this morning. It wasn’t logical; I keep finding forks and toothbrushes together, my cloak was wrapping plates, and so on. The frustration is building rapidly.
I’m frustrated by the inefficiency of the clutter in the room (wondering all the time how much of the life I’ve know was false and empty) and I’m scared out of my mind at the life that waits for me if I stay (an arranged marriage to a man I don’t know and probably won’t even like, parents and people who love me but don’t know anything about who I am, aunts who turn out to be fairies with magical powers, a huge castle that feels so foreign and cold and isolating...). But from time to time I get swept away in anticipation of the life I could have with the.... man... well, his name isn’t that important... He loves me and I love him and even with the dangers of the world, even in getting home again, our love will protect me.
I want to get home, to the cottage in the woods, not because it’s my home but because that is the place where I am supposed to be meeting my love right now. I need to find that stupid candle and get out of here, somehow, without being seen – even in this ridiculous ball gown.
There are so many obstacles to face; I’m locked in the tower of a castle (how cliché) with one way out that is probably fortified by a hundred royal guards. I’ve been dressed up in a gown that not only weighs three times what my usual dresses do, but is also nearly florescent and could house a small country of people under its skirt. I can’t find the candle and although the room is lighted well, I think a girl of any stature carrying a full sized torch might be counted as suspicious. Time is also, naturally, ticking against me.
The stakes: if I get free and find my way back to the cottage in time, I will surely live a life full of love and romance and fairytale bliss. If, however, I am captured, I will be forced into a horrifying marriage to the ogre prince and I will be miserable the rest of my life. Or, on a more positive note, I will prick my finger on a spindle and fall into a dream-filled coma for the rest of my life... not a terrible option, when compared to the legal slavery I will be forever trapped in otherwise...
And so, I move to action. I root through my boxes, collecting the things I will need for my journey. Hiding the dress as best I can, I light the candle, grab some matches and quietly slip out the door without being seen.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
We’ve tried asking politely. Chip, please stay out of my dresser drawers. There are things in there not for rodent eyes. We’ve tried demanding our privacy. Theodore! Get out of my space! And stop eating the popcorn. When you start paying for it, you can have some. Until then, back off! We’ve warned, begged and threatened with no avail. Even our heavily overused air fresheners won’t keep them away for long. It’s getting a little ridiculous.
With professional exterminators out of the question, Pip, Chip and Theodore have thus far been able to postpone their inevitable demise. We only know of one chipmunk that has met his Maker in our home, if chipmunks do indeed come face to face with the living God, and that poor rodent drowned in our toilet prior to our arrival. (We buried him respectfully in a closed casket service provided by the nearest Wal-Mart shopping bag, the strength of my slinging arm and the forest behind our cottage.) But the dead ones are of little consequence to us now; it’s the ones that refuse to leave and refuse to die that really irk the spirit of our home.
We have run out of viable options. We have done everything we can thing to get rid of these vermin pests. We have been left with no alternative action.
Apartment 714 has turned into a battle of wit. By rummaging through our bedrooms, the Chips have learned everything they need to know about us, and have used this information to abuse their stealth powers. Desperate times are upon us and we have called in for back up.
Meet our secret weapon of superhuman handy-man skill: Carl. Armed to the teeth with nails and with a hammer in hand, Carl took immediate action with no direction necessary and in moments everyone in the house knew that Pip, Chip and Dale had stolen their last chocolate malt ball.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from our experience with the not-so-friendly chipmunks of MBC; I have a professor who has said many times that a good story must reach beyond the fictional narrative and into the real world if it is going to be of any lasting influence, so allow me a moment to overlay the framework of this little allegory. Consider a simple substitution of title for each of these characters: Pip, Chip and Dale become Anger, Deception and Lust. If your life is open to them you won’t have to look far; they find their way toward the source of your survival (popcorn to prayer life) and ruin it, so slowly at first that you barely notice, then more and more directly until you feel like there is nothing you can do to stop the attacks. My personal efforts have no lasting affects and I feel not only invaded but also exposed, as though everything in my life has been tainted. Eventually there comes a point when you cannot help yourself any longer. You must call out for help or struggle forever in a winless war. So, who are you going to call? Not a handy-man, though the answer does lie in a carpenter...
The truth of the matter is that the things that hurt us the most, the things that get into the cracks of our will and corrupt the spirit are things that we invite into our lives; we ignore them or feed them and then fight the consequences instead of the root issue. The footholds of sin are secure; however, there is one who can free us from the burdens we carry and the messes we make... Carl used nails in the wall, Christ used nails in the cross.
So, I suppose this is the first of my “choose your own adventure” stories with a few possible morals and endings to choose from. The first is obvious; invest in some solid Tupperware and lock up your goodies. The second; protect yourself actively against rodents and the alluring snares deployed against mind and body... sin is attractive, chipmunks are furry and cute, both cause harm far beyond the mischief of the first impression. The final moral is a lesson I am struggling with on a daily basis; we are not created to be independent. God designed us to need Him, and as much as I love working on my own and trying to figure out the answers, there are times when I must, we must, surrender independence before we can ever be free.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
The mirror she lived in was magical for two reasons; the first, obviously, was that it contained and protected a world of people, just like those on the other side. They were a special and lovely clan, friendly and full of life, though the girl couldn’t see it. The second magical element to the mirror was that it was reflective, though it did not reflect directly. When a person came up against the glass they would not see their own image but instead it was the reversal of the world at their back. If the girl had taken a step backwards and turned around she would be looking at exactly the same view as the mirror seemed to project.
Perhaps if she had turned around she would have joined into the game of Frisbee that had found so intriguing. If she had turned, she could have given a hug to the child with scrapped knees that had fallen off her bike. Maybe then she would have gone to the dance or carolled at Christmas or played in the park or done one of a million things that she watched the children in the mirror doing. If only she had turned around and faced her world with her eyes truly opened, maybe then she would have really lived.
But the girl never answered the call of her friends when she was looking through the pane of glass. She blocked out and ignored everything that happened behind her and refused, perhaps unconsciously, to participate in her world.
Especially when he was there.
A boy, young and handsome, looked back at her; he used to be so quiet, only rarely coming into the mirror’s view. He would quietly walk back and forth between the trees at the edge of the wood, always with a cautious and curious gaze. In the girl’s imagination she would often think of conversations that she might have with this boy, were he able to see her. Impossible, she thought. He lives in the world of colour and I am here, so flat and dull. He can’t see my world nor can I pass through this glass to his. Impossible. And yet the more the she dwelt on the impossibility of her growing affection for the boy and the more confidant he seemed to grow, coming ever closer to the mirror, the more hopelessly consumed she became with the life she saw – and the more distanced from her world she became as well.
By day the little girl would peer through the glass, longing to be on the other side with the boy and his friends, and into the evening she would lie down on the grass and drift into dream about his world and his life. Little did she know that he too had spent time dreaming of the looking glass girl, slowly building up the courage to finally meet her. Until then, he thought, I will care for her from a distance, dreaming of the life we might someday share.
Time wore on and the girl went to the mirror in spring rain and winter chill for many years. She grew from a hopeful child to a young woman enveloped in an imaginary life; with every passing season she found herself loving the boy, now a man, more and more, but she was also desperately lonely. He was a beautiful fiction – intangible, illusive and pretend. It’s a lie, she would tell herself, over and over while staring into his face. His image stood now, and for a long time before this moment, directly before her, confidant, tall and strong. He was kind looking and attractive, ever so much more than their first few meetings, and yet he was the wonderful lead character of a life she could never possess. He’s not real... but I love him...
The man had attached himself completely to this woman in every way that one can without physical contact or mutual conversation. He was so committed to her that in a moment’s breath he would marry without doubt or fear, and yet he remained silent, waiting until she was ready.
That day came after seven years of looking through glass. The girl had been eerily quiet for hours, thinking about her life; the life that she had wasted by spending her time standing in front of the mirror. She thought about her family and her friends that for so long had worked to keep her in touch with reality, supporting her and loving her even when they disagreed with what she was doing and thinking. She thought about the part of her heart that she had devoted to the glass, the investment of her mind that she had put in something so superficial and empty. Then the girl stopped thinking and began to act. She stood and bravely faced the mirror’s surface.
“NO!” she cried, emotions erupting from the depths of her soul. The single word rang loud and true and clear with a self-strength she had never before experienced. “You do not own me!”
Suddenly the woman threw herself forward and pounded the sheet of glass with both fists. She could feel it strain under her pressure. She struck again, with more force and the glass moaned at the blow. Once more she lifted her arms in an attack against the glass that had kept her from life on either side of the pane. The flawless surface of the magic mirror shattered.
For the first time in the whole of her life, she saw her own reflection in the broken glass. The little girl, so familiar from ages past, was nowhere to be seen and in her place stood a tall and beautiful woman, colourful and strong, like the people she had been watching for years. She laughed a quiet, mournful laugh for the life that the mirror had stolen away. “How did I ever get so consumed with the life of my fantasy when reality, true and present and full, was all this time behind me? How could I be so blind?” The woman leaned her forehead against the broken glass and let her tears fall. “No more of this. No more.”
After a moment she pushed away from the pane and turned away from her life of slavery to an imagined world. Her eyes lifted up, truly open to the sight in front of her, her world, reality. She gasped.
The view she saw was the view she has been staring at since girlhood. The meadow, the trees, the town and the church, the school, the people... the boy...
He stepped forward and held out his hands. “I knew you would find me eventually.” He smiled. He was a boy no longer as she was no longer a child, and his voice was deep and clear. How she had waited for this moment! How she had longed to hear him speak! “I’ve been waiting so long,” he said, “because I knew that you weren’t ready for me. You’ve no idea how my heart ached when you were crying and I couldn’t comfort you. How I longed to laugh along with you, but I needed to wait. But now you have finally come away from your dreams and wishes into a world that can truly be yours. Come with me; let me show you the life you have been missing, the life you have always wanted.”
How much of our lives are spent longing for an imagined life? How often do you find yourself dreaming of that perfect man or woman, however distant and intangible they may be? A life of ideals and fanciful hopes is a dangerous and discouraging one to dwell within. Concentrating solely upon the future causes you to lose sight of the present; aspiration must be balanced with action, daydream with truth. Don’t forfeit who you are but find who you are in the world that’s foundation is real; it is then that you will truly discover what it means to live.
Friday, 26 September 2008
“Nothing... and that’s the whole problem! DEFINE is finding great difficult tracking down any absolutes about the future. We simply cannot claim any definite knowledge of a situation before it happens. There are far too many variables! Too many things that could happen! Did you know that there are entire government departments that dedicate their lives to the research of possibility? I know of a woman who has spent millions trying to isolate every possible outcome of a falling paperclip. You would be astounded at some of her findings.”
“But the future, Miss Terri. Is there nothing you can say?”
“Surely I could say many things about the future, but even with my heavily prepared and researched report there is honestly nothing I could say that you yourself could not discover in a few minutes.”
“What do you mean? Are you suggesting that no one knows anything about what is going to happen at any time in the future?!”
“Well, no one that works in our building.”
“It’s the future that is ridiculous. The only one who would know that is... well, we can’t really get into that here.”
“Please, if you have any information at all I’m sure that everyone is growing quite nervous and would appreciate some kind of reassurance.”
“Well, I don’t have your answers Nowitt Tall, but there is a small group of researchers who have been looking into the Source. They’ve been coming up with some crazy discoveries in futuristic prophesies for the past six thousand years or so.”
“That’s fantastic! Do you think you would be able to get in contact with one of these people?”
“Well folks, we are going to take a short break and track down one of the researchers of the Source while you are subconsciously absorbing the politically tainted and overwhelmingly materialistic social propaganda that is about to follow in 30 second clips.”
[Look! Look over here, quickly, now! Do you see this stunning young woman? She may eat next to nothing and be airbrushed and lighted professionally for this commercial, but you can look just like her every day if you purchase our one-of-a-kind all-natural imitation soap-substitute facial cleansers. Guaranteed results in only seven weeks if coupled with rigorous exercise and plastic surgery. Side effects may include stomach cramping, abnormal hair growth and in rare cases sudden death. Vote Liberal!]
“Welcome back to The Answer Man, I’m your host, Nowitt Tall. Before our break we were talking to Miss Terri from DEFINE. I would now like to welcome to the hot seat Ima Witness, who will explain some of the research that her team has been uncovering about the future and its mysteriousness. Hello Ima. Thank you for coming over here on such short notice.”
“My pleasure! I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share a few minutes of what we have been looking into. It’s a fascinating line of work and rarely taken as seriously as it should be.”
“Please, tell us whatever you would like. The floor is yours.”
“I work with a team that has been thoroughly looking into the biblical prophesies of the Christian New and Old Testaments. We study the past track record of scriptural accuracy to predict how accurate the prophesies of the future may be. It has been an incredible project; there are hundreds of very specific prophesies that have come to completion within the bible’s historical canon, and many, many more that have yet to be fulfilled. I have no doubt in the precision of the remaining global forecasts.”
“There is something about complete assurance of supernatural absolutes in our world that give inexplicable peace to the soul. Take the end of the world, for example.”
“Let me guess. Global warming, right? I knew it would catch up with us eventually.”
“No, it’s not global warming or another ice age. The sun is not going to explode, the earth is not going to split in half because of a giant earthquake and I really don’t think zombies will be taking over international government any time soon, no matter how convincing their political campaigns. All of these supposedly scientific and cultural ideas sound ridiculous when compared to the biblical model. Ask yourselves honestly which of these theories makes more sense; millions of years of environmental torture under the stress of an aging star or the final victorious triumph of a just and omnipotent God?”
“You have a very interesting view on this issue, Ima! Thanks you for your input into today’s show. It’s encouraging to know that there are still people out there who put their faith in established absolute truths. It’s also a good reminder that there are more ways to interpret reality than the world of North American media would have us believe. That’s what our goal is here on The Answer Man; bringing the answers and the arguments to you. And so, we thank you for listening. I’m Nowitt Tall, leaving you with many more questions and a few new answers. Until next week, keep thinking, keep asking and keep tuning in!”
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
I’m sitting here, alone in the quiet stillness of my apartment’s living room, reflecting on the last really great hug I received. Perhaps it is a strange thing to have occupying my thoughts at such a time, but the thinking has taken some time to resolve itself into an expressible idea. And so, here I am, smothered in the memory of a hug.
The specific embrace I’ve been thinking about was one that I shared with my Dad this summer. I don’t even remember what had caused me to be so upset that day or even which day it was, but I remember the hug vividly; it was strong and immobilizing, holding me tightly and protectively and it was really, really long. It seemed to stretch on and on forever until something odd happened... I kind of got used to the pressure and position and I almost couldn’t feel him or the hug for a while. After a few more moments of standing in the hug that I couldn’t feel, I shifted just a little, as a hint or suggestion that perhaps it was a good time for this particular hug to end, when suddenly all of the power in my Dad’s hug was realized afresh and I was once again caught in a wonderful, loving, protective, accepting, supportive, intentional and overwhelming embrace. I think that’s when I started to cry. Without a word, my Dad’s arms wrapped just a little bit tighter around my body, holding me close for a long, long time.
While I was sitting and thinking over this memory, I had a personal epiphany: my Dad and God hug the same way. The first time you come into contact with God you are completely blown away by His intense, fierce, powerful and gentle, welcoming and transforming love. God’s love is, unlike anything else we have ever encountered or can possible understand, perfectly constant. So consistent is this love, in fact, that in some unimaginable way we become accustomed to it; the love that once ignited a fire of joy and a passion for truth in our hearts changes, in our perception, into warmth that lulls us to a semi-comfortable spiritual slumber. After a while of living in the warmth of God’s love we begin to overheat and get restless, so we move. A slight change of position and suddenly we are once again flooded by wave after wave of God’s merciful and compassionate personal love. He loves us – He loves you – and he’s not about to let you go.
There is nothing quite like the loving hug of a father. I hope you have had the experience of a physical man to protect you and your family... but if your life’s blessings have fallen in other areas and for one reason or another you are without this role model and leader in your life, know that there is someone waiting with arms open wide, waiting to give you the hug of your life. All you have to do is open yourself to the embrace and let Him pull you close and hold you safe.
Friday, 15 August 2008
A word of explanation. Every Thursday night here at MBC the staff gather for a worship session and short time of study or reflection. Recently, we have been watching the Nooma video series to spark our small group conversations. Each video deals with something different – a story, a passage, some insight into the bible or into our faith, an element of life – and usually I can apply one or two things from the clip to my own life and walk with God. Last night was different.
My entire week – my entire summer – has been a very emotional rollercoaster. Last night I went through a condensed recap of every emotion I have experience over the past few months in the span of about an hour. In the ten minutes while watching this video, my mind and my mood went from quietly and contentedly pensive to unexplained and slightly aggressive frustration to complete submission. How did I get here? Then I started really listening to what Nooma Man was talking about. I began to understand what he meant about the dirt... and I realized something profound... I’m too clean.
In the video, Nooma Man was talking about the disciples of biblical times; not just of the twelve, but of any follower of any rabbi at that point in history. Here’s the breakdown of his lesson: if you wanted to follow someone as a disciple, you didn’t just trail along with the crowd from place to place; instead, your goal, your main objective in life, your driving force and core motivation was to be like your teacher. You became a mimic, a copycat and as close a reflection of the real deal as possible; you followed them around, yes, but you followed them paying acute attention to detail. You leached on to the rabbi and attempted to duplicate everything he did, both spiritually and physically... and the physical following got you dirty.
“May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi...” May the mud that is flung off the sandals before you cake onto your skin and get in your teeth. If you were covered in dust because you were following that closely to your leader, it was a compliment to look dirty.
I want to be following that closely.
Perhaps this makes little sense to anyone outside of my mind. I don’t even follow my own thoughts some days... Here’s the gist. I am following after Christ, but I’m falling behind a little. I’m within earshot but some days I let myself dawdle and I begin to rely on the relay of God’s messages through other people instead of kicking myself into gear and learning first hand. I have some catching up to do. I need to get closer, walk faster, get into a shadowing position. I have to act like I want to learn if I really do want to learn. I have to find a way to grow up and push forward and bite the dust.
Thursday, 7 August 2008
I fill my lungs with the Breath of Life.
I drain myself of everything mine.
Who am I, what am I?
Questions I pose but cannot answer.
Questions for another mind.
For another person.
For a supernatural source of infinite knowledge;
The sometimes revealer of mystery,
The exclusive creator of all things known
And of things unknown
And things unknowable.
The answer to the chaos, the anchor in the storm,
The only one that I can trust.
The only one that I can truly trust
Never to change,
Never to falter,
Never to fail,
Never to ignore,
Never to leave,
Never to run,
Never to misjudge,
Never to betray,
Never to die.
Breathe in, slowly...
I feel the life begin to spread into the cold parts of myself,
Into the cold parts of my heart.
Exhale, slowly, so slowly...
Peace washes over my body in a physical wave.
I can feel His love.
A quiet smile covers my face.
Jesus brings out a softness of spirit in me;
A gentleness that is stiffened and chipped by modern civilization.
Our world has a way of leaving scratches and bruises on the soul
But He is the restoration and the fixation of my heart.
Breathe in... be renewed by the Spirit.
Exhale... surrender to a joy and a peace that cannot be swayed by storm.
Let go of your doubts and fears in exchange for the answer;
In exchange for the anchor.
Let go of yourself
And breathe in.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
A few days ago I received notification from a third (or fourth) source that something on my facebook profile had offended someone and that feelings along this grapevine have since been hurt. I fear that my attitude and perhaps character have now been called into question because of my comment. I apologise to anyone who has been upset by anything that I have written, here or elsewhere. I meant no harm and wrote with no malicious intent, but only as an expression of temporary situational frustration. This note, as much as I write to that first original problem, I also write to you, one of many impressionable information catalysts and, as with the vast majority of my letters, I write also to myself.
Gossip is both a social lubricant and a relational poison. Where lay the lines between conversation, consultation, chatter and gossip? I don’t know... but I’m beginning to learn that the lines blur differently depending on which side of the topic you take your stand.
Hearing the whisper fall into silence when you enter a room can turn your stomach and pale your face, while speaking in hushed tones about another is something we rarely even second guess or question at all. Betrayal of your trust can cause such a deep and long-term wound, and yet when questions outside the limits of polite conversation are posed we do everything we can to answer, however indirectly, even at the cost of a close friend. Everyone wants to be trusted and accepted, but who can I truly trust when I can’t even trust myself with information every time?
I have come up with a solution to my problem. Because this plan is a true solution and not just a temporary fix, it is going to take time. It’s revolutionary, dynamic and unpopular, which may be part of the reason I love it so much.
I’m going to bite my tongue.
Yes, this may prove a painful answer to my problems and I might have to sacrifice a few taste-buds, but I think that (with the exception of defending or discouraging more negative talk) I need to abide by the too-frequently-ignored advice “Shut Up”. Shut Up is more than an action of immediate silence... it’s the capability to retain information without letting it leak. I want to be someone that people can come to without hesitation and know that they are always speaking in confidence. I want to be known as a person of integrity, not as a person with a parroting mind. I want to be 100% trustworthy.
Language is so dangerous. I have felt the effects of its aftermath from both sides of the blurring border of right and wrong, of appropriate and inacceptable, of conversation and gossip. So I ask you a personal favour; if I do something that you believe is wrong, tell me. Site your sources and make sure that what you hear and what you say are firmly and reliably based in the realm of reality. Keep your word. Clarify the limits. Don’t push the story.
And one final piece of advice for all of us; if you’re worried about the consequences, do yourself a favour.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
A weekend ago I made the road trip to Canada’s Wonderland and within 15 minutes of receiving my Jetsons hand-stamp I was in line for Behemoth. The 230-foot-74-degree-drop-215-kilometers-per-hour ride was in the very least a terrifying presence in the park. Waiting in the cue we had plenty of time to size it up a few times while we tried to settle the butterflies with discussion... but we knew it was coming. The climb.
My best friend and I share an interesting though unfortunate paradoxical problem. We both love roller coasters and we both hate heights; the drop is fantastic, but the climbs freak us out. Thus, when we strapped ourselves into the not-quite-deep-enough seats with the not-quite-tight-enough lap bar, we were both about ready to explode. It was after about the first thirty feet in our ascent we started praying. The butterflies stilled for just a moment. A half minute later our “amens” morphed into screams and shrieks as we plummeted toward the earth. So good.
Summer Training Week... It’s a lot like the paramount of that first big climb up a new roller coaster. There is so much suspense, so much pent up tension and expectation; the thrill of the new and the fear of disappointment; worrying about the next step and being completely out of control. No brakes and no helmets, we’re on our own.
Well, not quite.
If summer is the roller coaster, then God is the seatbelt. You just might be able to cling onto the ride is that is your entire focus, but that first drop will be a horrifying shock to your body, and there would be no joy in the ride. You’d be so stressed about holding on you would miss the fun.
I am so excited for that first big drop of summer. It’s almost here! The butterflies are kicking in – I’m nervous about the program and curriculum and I don’t feel ready – but I know I’m not in control anymore. I’ve committed to the ride and I have to trust my seatbelt.
I think it’s time to pray.
Saturday, 7 June 2008
Life is like an orchestra; one director, hundreds of instruments, thousands of parts, all working together to create a single, masterful, marvelous piece of music. Our director – the conductor, composer, producer and audience – has poured out His heart into writing each musician their own unique part. He knows the score inside out, and is acutely aware of everything going on in His music. He can hear every harmony, every perfect progression and movement, every vibration of our instrumental voices... and every wrong note we play.
Life would be so much easier if we were contented with playing the music given to us, but we musicians are a prideful, fickle bunch; generally unsatisfied with playing second fiddle, second horn or third clarinet, whatever the case may be. The fact is that our parts come on a cycle and we won’t always get the melody that we think we deserve. The fact is that sometimes the music we play is designed to compliment or emphasize another part. The fact is that we don’t know what’s coming. We don’t know the score.
You see, there is no time to practice for this performance. Life is 100% sight reading. As long as you pay attention and play your part with passion, flipping pages and changing keys as directed, you’ll be fine; if you’re flat once or twice, the piece will continue unharmed. It’s in the whole-note moments when the pace and slows and the melody mellows that we musicians get fidgety. It’s when we think the piece is getting a little predictable that we find ourselves in trouble. We get distracted, disengaged and restless, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, He triples the tempo and gives you a solo! You’re left struggling to catch up, and usually looking foolish.
But when the music works... when everyone is completely engaged and we are playing together without competition or envy or spite, when we are perfectly tuned and when the balance is right... those are the moments that make everything worth it; tension evaporates as the glorious tapestry of harmony, melody and counter-melody overwhelm the senses. There is nothing else in this world that can compare to a well played life.
Block out the distractions in your life that are drawing your attention from your sheet music, listen carefully to the parts being played around you and make sure that you are keeping in tune and in rhythm with them; but most importantly and above all else, keep eye contact with your conductor. He is the one who will guide you through the rapid and the slow, the tricky and simplistic. He knows what you are capable of, and though he won’t write you something that you can’t handle, He loves to challenge and surprise. He’s conductor, composer and fellow musician; guiding us all through the symphony of life.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
You thought that this was a note about chicken. Dear reader, I have misled you. Do you feel betrayed? Are you frustrated, confused, amused, bewildered? Are you mildly uncomfortable, sitting there in the awareness of your psychological exposure? I know you, because you are like me... I know how you think. I can read your actions... I can anticipate your thoughts. That's how I caught you. Yes, you have been caught in my trap.
This has been a lesson in assumption.
Be careful what conclusions you jump to. Be careful what you assume, what you expect, what you are looking for. Sometimes reality can take you by surprise.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
Twenty minutes… Thirteen minutes… One minute.
Your brain is screaming, trying to output as much information as physically possible as your body is desperately fighting to keep up. One final thought, one final line, and…
Time is up. Time is out. Time is gone. At last.
There is no turning back and there’s no way to redo, repeat or revise.
You are finished.
If you’re looking for a thrill, forget roller-coasters or high speed racing… just try to write a fifty-minute essay on a story you’ve never read. It can really get your heart going! Oh, the thrilling, adventurous life of an English major. There’s nothing else quite like it.
I believe that God is the ultimate, exclusive, triune God of everything known and unknown. I believe that the Father, Son and Spirit work together in perfect and independent unison to accomplish God’s mysterious will, which is only understandable through his divine revelation. I believe that God created everything, both seen and unseen, as recorded in Genesis. I believe that He creates every person individually and with specific purpose – not only what we are, but also who we are. I believe that every human being, every culture and race and religion, came from Adam and Eve, who came from God. I believe that through Adam and Eve, and through the choices that we have made by our own free will, have chosen to live in disobedience and rebellion of God’s laws; furthermore, I believe that even a single violation of this law bears the heavy and divinely just consequence of eternal separation from God, and the sentence of eternal death, to be served out in hell. I believe that God holds people to a standard of absolute perfection that we cannot meet because of our decisions to sin, and that the only way to restore our perfection in the eyes of God is through the physical sacrifice of life, ultimately our own. I believe that God, through Christ and because of His incomprehensible mercy, created a single alternative to this physical and spiritual capital punishment for sin. I believe that God, taking on human form, came to earth to settle our debts. I believe that the blood of Jesus Christ replaced our blood once and for all, and that God accepted his sacrifice as an all-encompassing payment for all of the sins of every person, throughout history, past, present and future. I believe that Jesus lived a sinless, radical life for God, that he was murdered by crucifixion and that he was physically dead for three days. I believe that this death was temporary, and that he rose from death after those three days. I believe that he remained on earth, completely alive, for 40 days after his resurrection, appearing to many people and teaching and training his disciples before his ascension into heaven where he has ruled with the Father ever since. I believe that the Spirit was sent to us as a comforter and spiritual support after Christ left earth, and that God in all three forms is still very active in our world. I believe that the free gift of Christ’s sacrifice does not mean that following his footsteps to heaven is a cost-free journey: Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow, to be living sacrifices, and to serve in a variety of ways. I believe that being a Christian means more than simply identifying ourselves with his life; it means putting ourselves – our lives, our goals and our families – our everything second to His anything. I believe that being a Christian means a life of permanent and willing service to God. I believe that being a Christian means living like Jesus did, striving to imitate how he acted and who he was; it means believing what he said was true, and then taking that belief into reality, transforming thought into action and actively following his example. I believe that God created the church as a family, designed to support, encourage, defend, convict, correct and hold each other accountable to the hope and truth we profess. I believe that the responsibilities of the church as a whole and all Christians individually are to first: love God, second: love each other and third: share the good news and ultimate truth with the world. I believe that the Bible is the word of God, preserved as the divinely inspired written word of God’s people. I believe that it is historically accurate and that it should be interpreted literally and taken seriously.
I am defined by my faith. I have found who I am in my relationship with God. Here, before the world and God Himself as my witness, I confess that I believe these statements to be true, and that I will live my life by them. I ask you to hold me to them. I ask you to keep me accountable. This is a contract of faith, one that I have signed before, at various points throughout my journey and relationship with God. I sign it again, renewing my vow: I am a Christian, and I will follow.
Friday, 21 March 2008
But life was not designed to be a solo act – great improv happens in groups or teams or pairs: the set up to your punch-line, the laugh track to your slap-stick, the clever banterer, the matched wit. Someone you can trust without hesitation or reservation, someone who will laugh at your bad puns and meet them with and equally horrible joke, someone to join you on stage and face the audience side by side, someone to fight off the hecklers, someone to spark your imagination.
I’ve found one of these people; my best friend. We are an amazing improv team. She is the superhero to my sidekick and the background music to my rock-opera solo. We work, and I have taken to the stage with her many a time... but eventually she will go on tour with the man(ager) of her dreams and I'm a little worried that I will be left on the street corner with a couple of old jokes and a guitar I can’t play... unless...
What I need is a partner in crime; someone who would be willing to join my act and come with me on a tour of my own. I’ve been running informal casting calls my whole life, but I’ve decided to stop the hunt. Take down the signs, gents; no more interviews. This is improv, after all, and you can’t force funny... funny just happens. Humour either works or it doesn’t. People fit or they don’t, you can’t change their style any more than you can change your own, so I don’t know why I’ve been trying so hard for so long. That’s the whole point of improv, isn’t it? You don’t have to try, you just are. You don’t write lines, you just start talking and the show moves forward. I know that I will eventually discover my hilarious, talented, quick-witted equal and together we will rock this life. Until then I will build up my act, learning and teaching and sharing the spotlight with all of the other comedians I know.
Friday, 7 March 2008
The biblical account of history spans just over four thousand years, and throughout the text of scripture, God speaks with his people and indeed all of creation in a wide variety of ways; in Genesis alone God delivers his message face to face and voice to voice, through a flame-engulfed shrub, through dreams and visions, in a pillar of fire and one of cloud, through prophets, by global flooding and literally written in stone. As His people develop new ways to ignore Him, barricade Him outside of their lives and intentionally misinterpret what He is saying, God continues to find more and more creative ways to communicate with the ever-expanding human race.
Though God is the only omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent force acting in and on our world, He is not the only supernatural being that the inhabitants of our planet have to worry about on a daily basis. Angels and the rebellious, fallen angels (more commonly referred to as demons) live in a world that is both parallel to and intermingled within our own. Angels are the physical and tangible presence of God and act as his messengers. Demons account for a third of the original angels, thrown out of heaven after their prideful attack on God’s spiritual kingdom. Traditionally, the angels are associated with the skies and spaces ‘above the world’ and demons are linked to the seas and deep places ‘under the earth’. Biblically, both angels and demons have equal access to our world, and often work directly with (and within) people.
In the book of Job, we are given a rare and incredibly unique insight into the methodology of our spiritual counterparts in creation. We listen in on a brief and bantering conversation between the extreme definitions of our moral scale, God and Satan.
“The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:7-12)
After a few seconds of heavenly bragging and demonic criticism, we witness the unbelievable; not only does God allow Satan to meddle with Job’s life, but he puts forward what can easily be interpreted as a challenge to ‘give it his best shot’ with the sole condition that Satan is not to physically harm the man. That is a dangerous amount of creative licence to give to someone with Satan’s personality.
The official Hebrew definition of “Satan” is “Accuser” or “Adversary”, but it may be just as true to characterize him as a malicious extremist. Within the chapter, Job goes from being the “greatest man of all the people of the east” to having nothing; in a matter of minutes he loses five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys and three thousand camels to raids and thieves, seven thousand sheep and their attendants burn alive in a rain of fire, and Job’s seven sons and three daughters are crushed and suffocated in the collapse of their home. In every case a large number of servants are also killed, with the exception of one from each situation, as a messenger. Satan took everything from Job in one fell swoop. The power of the supernatural, exposed for what it is: terrifying.
Job is shocked to the core of his being and in his pain and grief, begins to act quite strangely; he does not curse or blame God for this uncalled for punishment, but instead he “got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised"” (Job 1:20-21). Few people would react to their heartache with declarations of joy and hope.
This response irritates Satan’s obviously competitive and prideful nature. He had underestimated Job’s commitment to his God; the kind of faith and devotion that the human heart is capable of is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Satan and God re-negotiate the terms of their agreement during a familiar exchange of words. God extends Satan’s infliction permission to Job’s body, but Satan must let him live (Job 2:3-6). Quite sure of himself this time, Satan proceeds to cover Job’s body in sores and boils, in an attempt to plague him into cursing God, but Job holds fast.
It is during this time of elongated physical torture that the people in Job’s life begin to offer their advice. Within the arguments made by his wife and three friends, we observe the fundamental, instinctual question of life that everyone must at some point face: WHY?
It is the battle of the question “WHY?” that is at the core of Job’s story. The reason that this particular tale fascinates the human imagination is that, for the first time in biblical history, the answer to the question “WHY?” is revealed, in the spiritual bet and conversation. To the reader, it is an explained motivation, as ‘unfair’ as it may seem; to Job, who lives in constant external and internal anguish, the whole situation is incomprehensible. So, when no explanation was offered by God, Job and his companions struggle through the process of finding an answer by their own means, based on their deductions and assumptions of the case at hand. Their conclusions are as limited, incomplete, and human centred as each individual person, by no fault of their own; these answers are the only ones that they can come up with and understand, and they are echoes of the conclusions all men and women draw in such situations.
Job’s wife condemns his stubbornness, and in frustration and despair of her own (as she has also just lost ten children and all of her worldly possessions), she appeals for him to “curse God and die” rather than continue to suffer (Job 2:9). The response of Job’s wife is quite typical of people who don’t try to justify or explain what happens, but quickly surrender to internal defeat. Her advice to Job is to “give up, give in and get it over with”, as she has done. This solution does not satisfy Job, and he continues to seek out a resolution through God-directed prayer and human-directed inquiry.
Eliphaz, the first of Joe’s friends to speak up, diagnoses the problem in a way that simultaneously protects God and condemns Job. He bases his inferences on the human concept of divine justice; God rewards for good and punishes for bad. Under this law, if Job is suffering, he has done something wrong, after all, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). According to Eliphaz, bad things happen to good people because they’re not actually good... if bad things are happening, it’s your fault, not God’s. The fundamental flaw in this situation is that Eliphaz, as with all humans, naturally begin with people and expand to God instead of working from God first. Because God is the origin, the creator and the master, we cannot correctly assume that He works within the laws that He created for us. So often we forget that God is outside of law; He is just, but He is not bound to justice, and certainly not our imperfect definition or interpretation of what justice is. Job rejects Eliphaz’s analysis because he is completely convinced on his own innocence (and rightly so, as it was because of his model citizenship that he was originally targeted).
Bildad settles his stance between Eliphaz and Job; he believes that Job is innocent of wrong, and he also trusts God to act in accordance with justice and rightness. His advice is encouraging, but not immediately constructive or helpful; “wait it out, eventually things will start looking up, as long as you remain faithful” (Job 8:6). This is the passive-optimistic approach to problems... the “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy of life. After his conversation with Bildad, Job confesses that he fears direct confrontation with God, and is therefore trying to figure out his situation independently from God (Job 9:15). He cannot conform to Bildad’s paradigm because he is still actively trying to solve the problem. And so, his quest continues.
Zophar is the last to offer Job his two cents on the subject. He explains that Job’s focus is off center; if Job can stop trying to figure out the cause of his life’s ruin and start putting the emphasis back on God, he “will surely forget [his] trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. [He] will be secure, because there is hope” (Job 11:16-18). Alas, Job is once again unsatisfied with the advice of his companions. He is unready to let go of this grudge against God, and at the root of his indignance stands his own ignorant pride.
“But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things? I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered — a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless! Men at ease have contempt for misfortune.” (Job 12:3-5)
Job is overwhelmed by frustration and defeat. He completely disregards all of the advice from friends and family alike as foolish lies (Job 13:4-5), and proceeds to make his case to everyone, heavens included. Over and over his friends appeal to Job’s common sense; however, no sense can be talked into this man; he is heart-set on bringing this issue face to face with God, whatever the consequences. Eventually, “these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). Elihu, another man who had been listening to the banter of the four men, takes over in the lecture and council of Job; his words, however, fall upon deaf ears and a closed mind.
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm” (Job 38:1).
God makes no effort to sugar coat his message. He gets right to the point in a massive, dramatic, wonderfully sharp, almost sarcastic way; “Where were you?”, “Who do you think you are?”, “Do you even know who you are talking to? I AM GOD! You are speck!” (Job 38-41).
God never explains his bet with the Devil, or any of the spiritual context. Job never gets to know why his life was unravelled. Job asked “WHY” and God answered with “WHO”. “WHY” isn’t the point of the story; God is. He is the answer to the important question, and the question asked will change based on the answer you receive.
The epilogue to this story is short and strange. After God finished putting Job back in his rightful, humble position, He turned his attention to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, demanding sacrifices and offerings because they had not spoken truthfully or completely about God, as Job had (Job 42:7-8). Job, restored in God’s eyes (after a lot of prayer for himself and his friends), was given twice as much property as he had had before Satan stepped into his life. He had seven more sons and three more daughters, and “after this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years” (Job 42:16-17).
God jump-started the physical and the spiritual realms at Creation, but that was obviously not the end of his impact upon them. He is outside of law and outside of time, but his fingerprints can be found all over the universe, and in every ‘insignificant’ event of our lives. Job’s story gives the Judeo-Christian believer an insight into the mind and the heart of their God; all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present. It also provides a unique view of the spiritual attacks that Jews and Christians face because of their obedience. This story shows us a mirror to human reaction when something happens that can’t be, or will not be, explained. And, ultimately, it answers the question WHO... who will win the petty disagreement over a single man, and who will win the ultimate battle over the entire race...
But that’s what happens when you bet with God.
Thursday, 28 February 2008
After weighing my options (facing the wintery darkness outside or staying inside with the heat no matter how hot it got) I grumbled internally and made my way to the kitchen. My roommates and I worked our way around the apartment collecting jackets, boots and scarves, mumbling mildly profane curses at the still-screaming alarm on the wall. “Fire” becomes an equally resentful curse to any other four-letter-word you could think of at 12:43am. As we followed a few other students outside and did our best to zip out the cold, we could just barely hear the sirens over conversation and chattering teeth.
A few minutes later, a fleet of fire trucks could be seen flying up College Drive. After speeding into the parking lot (and clearing the huddling mass of students a little further away from the doors), uniform-clad firefighters slid out of their seats and sauntered casually into the building.
Admittedly, we could spy no smoke and we didn’t feel like there was an impending doom, but a little get-up-and-go would have been nice. We waited. Sooner or later one of two things was bound to happen; either the building would burst into uncontrollable flame and all of our possessions would be scorched, or they would let us go back inside. Either would have been fine with me... both options would be warmer than shivering ourselves into mild hypothermia, and I’m sure I could have used the excuse “the fire ate my homework” at some point. Finally, after each of the four fire trucks had stood vacant for a while and the police SUV had lapped the parking lot, we were called inside. We waved a sarcastic farewell to each vehicle as it passed the double doors and rode off into the distance.
If the fire had been a real one, I’m sure the spin of this particular entry would be incredibly different. I am thankful for people who are willing to do what I am not always ready to. There are few things that could drag my butt out of bed and across town at 12:43am, and a false alarm is not one of them. But what am I willing to react like that for? A friend in need would get me up. I would run across town for anyone in my family... but what about a stranger?
People will ask “Where’s the fire?” if they catch you in a hurry. Most of the time it’s not a fire that has you on the move, but something did get you motivated. God used to make me move like that. I used to talk about Him to people as though I could be saving their lives... like the Fire was real. Somewhere along the road I started believing that people were calling in false alarms. If firefighters stopped responding whenever they thought they were unnecessary, people would burn and die. I have become a lazy firefighter. Am I responsible for the fires that are set? No, they are not my fault; however, I can be held responsible if I don’t take action to stop them from growing, and try to stomp them out.
In Ephesians 6:13-18, we are given spiritual battle equipment in the armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness and peace, the shield of faith, the sword of the spirit and the helmet of salvation. In today’s world, I think we need to add a few more elements to our God gear: the hydrant and hose of love. God made love to be under pressure within us, and also to have an explosive reaction to our world! When we tap into the love of God and aim our lives at people, they will get blown away. There is no way I’m going to sit on that truck anymore. Fire or no fire, this world is about to get soaked.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
Personally, I’ve always fancied mint scented soaps. I know, mint isn’t a common sudsy smell, but for some reason mint is my kind of bar. But it’s hard to find a good mint-scented soap, so when I find one that suits me, I tend to get pretty attached... as long as I’m the only one using it.
I’d like to think it’s a respect thing, but if you boil it down it’s probably pride. Whatever the core motivation, I can’t use exactly the same kind of soap as anyone else. I like my scent to be somewhat exclusive, and I’m a little possessive about my soaps, with one exception.
I have a friend. She’s amazing and beautiful, and I look up to her in many ways. We have a similar taste in soaps, both oddly attracted to mint. I’ve always thought she made good soap selections; similar to mine, but the brand was different. Recently I discovered she had switched brands. You can always tell when someone starts using your soap, and (though I’m not proud of it) I often find myself wafting the air to make sure no one around me smells quite the same. She started to. Unfortunately, it smelled pretty good on her.
I decided to ask her about the soap. I was sure I already knew, but then sometimes your senses can mislead you. Well, she was indeed using the same soap. At first I got a little territorial over the scent... after all, it was a good mint and not easy to come by... but after a time of listening to her talk about this soap, how it had kind of grown on her, how clean it made her feel, how much she liked the texture, aroma, colour, packaging... almost everything about the soap, and some things I had not even noticed about it myself, something inside of my sudsy soul told be to back off. She liked the soap in a way I couldn’t, and it was actually a much better soap for her than it was for me.
So, the soap I’ve been using isn’t one I really want to use anymore, partly because a shared smell loses some of the lustre and appeal a special soap has... but mostly because her friendship is far more important than any kind of soap. Now I’m keeping my eyes and my nostrils open for a different lathering agent. I still like my mints, but I’m going to have to find another brand... or maybe it’s time to try out something completely different, like orange or vanilla scented soap. For the time being I’m going back to the standard Ivory, the soap-scented-soap. It may be a while before I can find a satisfactory replacement for that last mint one; or maybe I’ll find the perfect kind in Wal-Mart tomorrow, who knows? Right now I’m trying to be satisfied with just being clean.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
I don’t know if it’s because of who he is or who He is.
I see Him in him. In the way he speaks, in the pattern of his words, in the passions of his heart. Through his life I see His life. It’s in the way he starts the conversation when both our heads are bowed. It’s the way he continues it when we open our eyes and return to time and its reality.
And the smiling goes on.
Somehow everything he says comes back to what He says. It’s amazing how often he talks about Him! He’s so obviously at the core of his life. It’s inspiring. It’s contagious. It’s convicting, in a wonderful way.
And I just can’t stop smiling.
If you do not do your homework and you do not get your sleep you will suffer the consequences. If you do not love thy neighbour... If you do not love... You will suffer and I will suffer. Hypocrites are not born of a malicious intent to deceive... Liars are. Hypocrisy is born from other forms of death: idleness, carelessness, hopelessness, laze and abandon: afflictions and infections of the spirit that move into our habits and patterns. We mean what we say, but we do what we like and so often those are not the same.
I am like you. I say “forgive” and cling to a grudge. I say “don’t judge” and categorize, stereotype, underestimate and jump to conclusions. I pray and I condemn. I hug and hit. I am a fallible, pathetic, vengeful hypocrite. The tears of a hypocrite are unbearably bitter and full of sorrow, when the point of realization finally comes and the deep, internal understanding of life can no longer be ignored. The overwhelming shame and grief of this position… it makes you feel naked, worthless and hollow. All you can do is cry. All you can do is cry the lonely, mournful, empty hypocrite’s tear.
Thank God for the irrational love of God.
Thank God for Christ. Thank God for an infallible friend and companion who understands what it feels like to be publicly exposed, openly mocked, spiritually burdened and ultimately betrayed. Thank God for knowing what it feels like to sit alone in the pit of despair… and for sharing what comes next.
The hypocrite’s tear falls onto the shoulder of an incredible man. He collects our tears of pain, fear, discouragement, shame, spite, doubt, brokenness and depression as they fall, and trades for the hope and joy and love of God. That is what comes next for the hypocrite… Joy! Love! Peace!
Well, that’s what can come next.
The tears are yours, and you decide how to spend them. You can suffer alone forever, if you would prefer. You can chose to stay wrapped up in despair and shame, if you’re more comfortable in the cold and in the dark… but the next time that this hypocrite’s tear falls, it’s going to be one of burden-less joy.
Friday, 18 January 2008
Brighten a circumstance and bring out your best
She was goofy and fun - she made everyone laugh
With the way that she acted, the way that she dressed
In only one second your day was improved
Because of her smile, her inspiring craze
She could catch you off guard with one conversation
Your life could be changed - she's an intricate maze
In only one hearbeat your life's steady rhythm
Is thrown to the ground and the knife starts to twist
Impossible - not real - you're angry, upset
The finger gets pointed then turns to a fist
In the blink of an eye it all changes again
You're numb and quiet, reflective in thought
A silver lining peeks through the thick rain clouds
You begin to dwell on memories forgot
In an instant you get it, you know you'll move on
You'll learn from her life and help her friends out
Remember to love and be patient with tears
Because maybe that's what this whole thing is about
January 18th, 2005
For one amazing friend and three beautiful souls
Thursday, 17 January 2008
To the lonely; you are not alone. Hundreds of people on campus are dealing with this problem on so many levels, and you are (ironically) united with others through your solitude. Tough it out, my friend... loneliness is temporary and it will pass in time. Being alone or single is not synonymous with being incomplete or worthless. Take the extra time to explore who you are. Pick up a new skill, find a hobby, do your homework! There are some things that you can’t do when you’re surrounded by people, or in a relationship. Smile, be inspired, and embrace whatever situation you are in. The silver lining is somewhere on those rain clouds – but sometimes you have to be right in the downpour before you can see it.
To the weary; take a deep breath. This is a cost-free, risk-free treatment for emotional, mental and spiritual infections. Just breathe. Forget for a moment the test you failed, the friend you ticked off, the shift you were late for, the bus you missed... and just breathe. If you need meds, take them. If you need sleep, get it. If you need a break, just sit. Take a walk instead of a rush, take a bath instead of a shower, watch TV for an hour or two, I won’t tell your professors. So much of the sickness we go through starts with us in the first place. Find and maintain some balance in your life. Take a few deep breaths – then see how you’re feeling.
To the rest of you; say good morning. Smile. Make some eye contact in the hallway. Look at the people around you and actually see them. Hand out compliments like they’re free. Talk and listen. Make a phone call. Read a comic book. Break your routine for a while and do something for the fun of it. Go out of your way to make someone’s day – It might just make yours.
Saturday, 12 January 2008
“...Yes, and if you could double cup it for me, please. It’s a long way home. Thank you.”
“Jesus Christ! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around here.”
“Well, well. Socrates, how’ve you been doing? Keeping yourself out of trouble?”
“Just the opposite, though it was not my intention. It seems that you can’t say anything anymore, without being tattled on to the ‘authorities’, or have someone twist your words.”
“Amen to that.”
“I really can’t believe how quickly gossip can spread through Athens. Dionysus would be proud of how dedicatedly the grapevine is kept up in Greece. Publicly criticize one religious or political figurehead and suddenly you’re corrupting the youth! I have many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind in the public sphere of Athens, and unfortunately it is this that will be my destruction if I am destroyed in the long run. The people and not my ‘faults’ will condemn me, because gods know I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Believe me, I can sympathize with you on that point. The Jews and Romans alike have been trying to kill me for years, but they could never settle on a good enough excuse. Finally they picked up on the fact that I claimed to be God, and got me to trial on that, though it was a wobbly prosecution throughout the entire proceedings, and almost got thrown out three times.”
“You said God – as though it was singular – you should have said demigod, or spirit, diamon, even theos.”
“No, I meant God: singular, all powerful and exclusive. And I am the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. By me all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by me and for me. I am before all things, and in me all things hold together.”
“Interesting idea, but I have a few problems with that little speech you just gave. It sounds to me like you’re speaking over your own head.”
“Socrates, your method only works to a point. I, unlike any peer or professional you have met and analysed so far, cannot speak over my head or beyond my years to the point of fault. I’m God. My breadth of experience is infinite, which is more than you can or have thus claimed.”
“You’re right... I neither know nor think I know. But you speak as though you know, but of things that are not meant to be known.”
“If you do not know of these things which I claim to know of, how can you be sure that I do not know of them? You contradict yourself, Socrates. You say you do not know and yet in your doubt of my wisdom and understanding you are automatically claiming personal knowledge. Tisk, tisk my friend.”
“Now this has become twisted gibberish and doublespeak.”
“Welcome to the proverbial ‘other side of the fence’ for is this not the exact type of logic you turn on others?”
“You’re good, Jesus. You can manipulate a conversation as well as I can and attract an unequalled crowd, it’s true. It seems whether in Judea, Athens or this little coffee shop, people like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to wisdom; there is an amusement in this for many. I am more than seventy years of age, and I have seen a few things in my time. I might, perhaps, fancy myself wiser than other men, but I have never claimed supernatural wisdom... because I have it not myself. Holding to this understanding, your argument is somewhat futile. You’re proving something I have already admitted true. How insignificant a position, to prove the obvious.”
“No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot truly comprehend it. I am just a man to you, Socrates. Unless you can ever see me as more than that, our conversation is a circular stalemate.”
“In that case, friend, my coffee has been cooling far too long and I really should go... people to see and all that. But I appreciate the conversation, even if we never get anywhere. For as long as I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of Philosophy.”
“Glad to hear it. Anything less would have been a disappointment from you.”
“So, the hour of departure has arrived, then. Until our next conversation, Christ.”