Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Lemon's Aide

Living a life in constant yellow can be a wearying existence. When you’re yellow, people expect you to carry on as though every moment of your life is bathed in sunshine from dawn ‘til dusk, but the truth is that even Yellows have blue days. Just ask Lemon.

Lemon was a tough guy to peel. Although bright and smooth in appearance, he often struggled with keeping up with the expectation of being the life of everybody’s party. He compared himself too frequently to Banana and Passionfruit – one admired for his form and one for flavour – but even with this self-troubling habit most others in the fruit basket couldn’t see past his goofiness to the sour pit he was feeding. Lemon was sad – but when you’re so yellow, there’s no opportunity to show off some of the other colours that are experienced just below the surface. The pinks of love, the reds of anger, the blues of melancholy and the oranges of adventurousness never saw the sun on Lemon’s peel... but before too long there was another colour that began to seep out from his core.

“Lemon,” Papaya commented one afternoon, “You’re looking a little lime... are you okay?” Lemon did what he could to let the comment roll off his back: “I’m fine, I just need a little more Vitamin D, that’s all.”

But sunshine wasn’t enough to stop Lemon’s greenness from spreading. In a few days, everyone had noticed – and they began to talk. “I know he’s been hanging out with the Veggies recently,” Tomato said to Peach as they watched Lemon roll slowly from one side of the basket to the other. “Maybe the Broccoli has been rubbing off on him a little too much?”

Lemon’s friends tried to cheer him up and get his yellow back, but they couldn’t figure out the root problem. Lemon was looking more and more lime everyday and everyone was worried. “Is he... rotting?” a little grape asked. The response was uncertain. “He’s sick, honey... tired maybe, maybe more.”

It had been nearly three weeks from the time that Lemon’s hue began to darken to the day Radish got thrown in with the fruits. “Are you a squash?” Radish asked, quite innocent of the gradual pigmented depression Lemon had found himself in. She based her observation solely on that which could be observed: the once yellow Lemon was now a very dark blueish-greyish-green colour, quite like that of Butternut. “I’m a lemon,” said Lemon.

Radish furrowed her eyebrows. “What has happened to your sunshine?” Lemon sighed heavily, brimming with tears. The dimples that had once served to highlight his cheer now seemed to emphasize the depth of his creases and the weight in his eyes. “I’ve lost it,” Lemon confessed. “It’s been gone for a terrible long time.”

Radish smiled gently. “I will help you find it again.”

Radish listened while Lemon told her about his deep blue. He spoke of the wear his friends had on him at times, of no fault of their own, but which nevertheless caused Lemon to tire. He confided in Radish and for a long time while she said nothing with neither tear nor smile; she simply listened. Little by little, Lemon’s grey lightened. The blue faded and the green disappeared. Little by little, Lemon was yellowing. When he had explained everything that he had been keeping to himself and all pressure had been released, he laughed. Radish smiled back. She seemed... different, somehow.

Before Lemon had a chance to inquire, Radish nodded quietly and tipped her head just a little to one side. “Did you know,” she began, as though it were a question, “that colours are contagious? They have an amazing quality about them that is transferable – blues and yellows and even pinks – they can be passed on or pulled in my others. You’ve gotten much yellow back, and I’m got some of that now too! But I also took on a bit of your blue and a little green, to help you get rid of it. So that’s why I look a little odd – I’m brighter, but also darker than when I arrived here. More the colouring of an unusually ripe apple, than a radish, you might say.”

“But I don’t want you to be blue or green,” Lemon said. Radish smiled. “It’s okay Lem... it’s what friends do. We share the good and the bad, the blue and the yellow. We trade off and balance out and compliment. It’s our design.”

Lemon gave Radish a hug, which may seems strange to you until you remember that a radish is rarely a radish in such tales and such tales are rarely told with the simple intention of entertainment; rather that they often come prepared with an applicable punch: When life gives you Lemons, be the Lemon’s aide.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Time Off

*Insert one large, heavy but freeing sigh here.*

Time off.

It’s a bit of an interesting concept if you take it at face value. We don’t, of course, meddle in the verbal punctuation of such common phrases day to day, but if you think about the idiom “time off” I suppose if can mean a few things. If, by the definition of our culture, “time off” means a time set aside from work to relax or busy one’s self with things completely unrelated to the responsibilities of the workplace, time off is a bit of a rarity for me these days. If, however, we re-tone these two words and throw in a comma, time off becomes something completely different; it’s a state of being, a gap in reality: “time, off.”

Yes, this is the kind of thing I think about.

Here at camp I am convinced that time has, in fact, ceased to exist. I believe that between Sunday morning and Friday night someone flips a building-sized switch that turns time into fluid jelly. It’s really a strange experience, living a life disconnected from the world’s movements and goings on. I feel like I miss out on a hundred birthdays, engagements and get-togethers simply because I step back from facebook for a day or two. I realize that close family and friends who rely on my blog for quasi-regular confirmation that I still have an intellectual pulse are beginning to harbour concerns. I am missing the action... but I am missing in action, as well.

Please be assured: I am fine and well. I am doing far better than surviving this summer – I’m enjoying it. Please do not mistake my disconnectedness as disinterest or take offence in my delayed responses... I’m here and I’m safe, I’m just busy and happy... distracted by the bubble, but loving the diversions from what one might call my “normal life” at school. Camp is my home right now. I feel so welcome here, so spiritually active here, so alive in this place. The friendships I am creating this summer are such a godsend in my life, and I can feel myself growing quickly as a leader and a follower as God shows me more and more ways to serve Him. I am learning to count my blessings and pray through my struggles. I have re-discovered my passion for teaching and for the kids that God has made, as loosely connected to sanity as they are sometimes. I am learning not to overlook the things I do not understand but rather to take time to discuss, discover and inquire. I’m even getting a little natural vitamin D. We are officially half-way through the summer. If time was a reliable, consistent thing up here I might ask where it has gone, but of course a question like that is senseless in Muskoka. Nevertheless, with five weeks of program under my belt I’m feeling more confident, more supported and more excited than ever before. Each week is better than the last – each day is better than the last. Life is very good: Pura Vida! And, as always, God is very good as well. He has been teaching me so much in the past few weeks, and He seems to be specifically focusing on one major lesson: purpose.

Let me explain: God has made you on purpose, with purpose. Everything He makes He designs for it a list of things which it must accomplish, on, I believe, several scales. What is His plan for your whole life? I don’t know mine, much less yours, but I’m praying that He’ll show it to me as I need to know. What is his plan for your summer? Again, I’m no more enlightened than you are – I just ask the questions. And one more... what is His plan for your day? Ahh, the point: time is flexible – it moulds to our moods, attitudes and experiences. The sensation of passing time changes – but it does always pass, whether we acknowledge and embrace it or not. Every moment, every second however fleeting, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something. Never again will this moment be here. Never again will you have the chance to do with your life what you can do with it today. Each day is as unique as the people who live it; circumstances, “chance” meetings and encounters – think about it. Time is a non-renewable resource that so often we throw out the window on our way to death... dramatic? Morbid, perhaps? But while I have your attention, let me challenge you thrice.

Challenge one: open your eyes to the world around you. What are you presently doing with time? How are you spending the few precious years that God has given to you? Are you pursuing your self-interests? Are you reaching out to others as they ask for assistance and rescue? You are serving – you are worshiping – but what and who are the focuses of your attentions?

Challenge two: open your eyes to the temporary nature of the world around you. In case you’ve missed this fundamental fact, I will bring it to your attention now: you are dying. Everything is dying. This life is such a hollow, empty, insignificant, short, angry, dark and painful one however beautiful and love-filled it may be. This is not the ideal. If you can think of even one thing you would change to improve this world, it is not what you are looking for – so why do we so often live in pursuit of this flawed, evil marinated, broken, empty world? There must be something better... and yet, there must be something worse...

Challenge three: open your eyes to the choice you have. On the one hand, you can live your life focused solely on this world and the pleasures and pains it offers. You can close your mind and your eyes to the your deepest of deep desires which inevitably seem to come down to a handful of things, and you can let your flesh rule your life. You will find something that our culture calls love and you will use it to be kind and gentle and manipulative to others. You will get what you want, but rarely what you need. On the other hand lays a different life altogether, with two more divisive options; it is the life focused not on what we can see – the world, the stuff of materialism, the physical appearances – but rather it is about making an intentional paradigm shift and learning to see the unseen – to fix your eyes on the grander scheme, to ponder the deepest of man’s questions and perhaps the shallowest of God’s: is there life after death, or is death the afterlife?

Welcome to the crossroads between philosophy and theology. It can be a messy place to take a stand and opposition come from every direction, but it is here that I am anchoring today.

I know... you signed up for a nice, light read about my summer so far, and you were looking for a laugh, not a lecture. Believe it or not, this is what my summer has been about. Along with the slimy watermelon games and neptillion rounds of ping-pong we have been studying spiritual warfare and praying for a boy who is dying of cancer at 19 years old. Life is short and death is real, and so the questions of “what next” and “what now” have been weighing on my heart and conversation all month. I’m writing it out to clarify it for myself, as much as to share it with you, so please hear me out. Maybe you need to hear these words as much as I need to write them.

As I understand it, there are only four possible scenarios post-death: reincarnation, nothingness, heaven and hell. Reincarnation is the idea that your spirit will take on a new physical life when you die, based on how you live while on earth. If you give a good life you will have power, authority and wealth in your next. If you live a bad life, you will likely come back as a housefly or a mosquito – the kind of thing everybody just wants to kill and be done with. This kind of system holds your future in an eternal blackmail with the gods deciding “good” and “bad” standards in an invisible realm. You will live a life ever trying to please beings that you do not know and cannot know – like an endless job interview, until, eventually, you will become a god yourself. It is a cyclical eternal life of ups and downs with no guarantee of happiness. Doesn’t that sound awesome? And, if you don’t recognize the gods in this life, you can always try again next life... as a fly. Personally, I think that this version of post-death reality is a copout and is not really worthy of a life-long dedication or focus. If I am going to commit my life to something, I want guaranteed results.

The second option is nothingness. You die, and then you’re dead. That’s the end of the story. There’s no motivation in this plan whatsoever for living a life that anyone would label good. Often I think that this one is favoured by those who also believe that we came from nothingness. From nothing to nothing: an inspiring mantra to be sure.

The third option is also incredible popular: heaven. When you die, if you have lived a good life (usually in contrast to those around you) then you have a spot guaranteed behind the pearly gates. There is life after life, the place of peace and comfort designed for our hedonistic, pleasure-seeking selves. White clouds, feathery wings, personal man-servants, Philadelphia cream cheese and eventual boredom.

The fourth option is in contrast to the fluffy hyper-feminine version of heaven that everyone talks about at Christmas and most funerals: hell, the party zone for those of corrupt life to continue abusing alcohol, drugs, themselves, each other, etc. They imagine moshing to the famous musicians who will be joining them there – Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Michael Jackson and the like – some kind of eternal rock-concert where anything and everything goes.

These four options are heart breaking to me. If this is what you’re expecting, I believe that the Devil’s done his job. These views are rooted in lies and egocentric attitudes and lust for this world. These options are not options: I believe that each one is a clever mask for one of two true options, and both of them come down to Jesus.

The Bible, upon which I base all of my beliefs, creeds, philosophies and goals in life, speaks quite frequently about the glory or doom to come. The distinction is made unavoidably clear. You are either invited to the banquet or thrown to the dogs (Matthew 22), you will be crowned with life or you will fade and wither and die (James 1), you will either find rest or you will be eternally tormented (Revelation 14) and you will either fight with Him or against Him (Revelation 21). One day you are going to die. If any of the world’s other religions and philosophies are true, you are either going to heaven or slipping into nothingness or you’ll get a second chance... but what if they are not true? What if the Way the Truth and the Life, the only way that claims to be the only way, is in fact real? What if Jesus really is the only access to heaven and the only escape from hell?

It has been said that death is the only life experience that no one is able to live through. Physically, that is very true... but what about spiritually? No matter your age, no matter your heath and no matter your social status you are on your way out of this world. Time here, however warped it feels some days, is limited and finite. When your time runs out, what do you think will happen? If you have to stand face to face with Jesus, what do you think He will say? What would you say?

I am not afraid of death because I am confident in what my eternal future holds for me. I am very much looking forward to a day when I will praise my God and explore His world without the restrictions of time and this body. I know, however, the time that I do spend here, the time that you have been given to live as we know life, has a purpose. This is a world of second chances – this is when the mercy of Jesus shines – He is waiting to talk to you. He is camping outside of the proverbial door of your life – and every once in a while He knocks. So, here is the choice: lock the door, leave Him outside and when you die and He breaks down that barrier and you are forced to look Him in the eye, try to explain why you shut Him out. Or, open the door, give Him a chance to introduce Himself and let you know exactly how much He loves you and ask Him about the plans He has not only for now but also for the rest of your life and afterlife... trust me. As soon as you meet Him, personally, genuinely, there is nothing – nothing – that could ever make you want to close that door. Before you know it you will be wrapped up in the craziest bear-hug your heart has ever known. You will find rest and energy, strength and security, mutual love and someone thoroughly worthy of your adoration. He is an incredible man. He is an ever-constant no-drama betrayal-free best friend. If you want to know more, I love talking about Him; it’s a personal pleasure of mine.

It’s your life. It’s your choice. It’s your soul. But you are my friend, and so I wanted you to know.