25 Aug 2018

A Little Means A Lot

CC BY-NC 3.0 by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/
            I recently had an encounter with some yellowjacket wasps. Or, as I now refer to them, flying razor-butt venom sacks with attitudes. Clearly, none of us enjoyed the experience. Said beasties were just defending themselves (I was a perceived threat as I weeded the garden) by injecting me with a tiny amount of venom.
            I do mean tiny. As little as 2 micrograms per sting. And although my weight is only a numeric assessment of my relationship with gravity, it is not measured in micrograms. The venom was a tiny amount relative to my body mass.
            What was not tiny was how my body reacted. Summary: not well. Turns out I'm quite allergic to stings. The tiny amount of venom induced all manner of symptoms, all over my body, lasting many days, and took multiple medical appointments and medications to counter the effects.
            A tiny amount made a huge difference.
            In the case of the stings, it was a negative impact - and it is easy to see the progression of the negativity.
            What I have also had the privilege of seeing is the outpouring of positivity - a little means a lot. Friends have driven me around (I'm smart enough not to drive while on antihistamines), picked up prescriptions, walked my dogs even! Multiple emails and phone calls from parishioners expressed concern, assured prayers, and offered help. 
            It's these 'little things' that have meant the most to me, for which I am profoundly grateful. Every extension of care means a lot: it's a positive outpouring of the very best of concern and care.
            And that is what we are called, as Christians, to do.
            We are called to share the love of God. That may look differently to different people: a compliment, a ride somewhere, helping a neighbour to carry out the garbage. In whatever we are doing, we can choose to either inject a bit of negativity, or a dose of positivity, into someone else's day. And we can trust that whatever that person receives could have a significant impact on their day, their relationships, their faith.
            We are privileged, as people of faith, to demonstrate and share that we live in hope, and in charity, and in love. We can exude the confidence in Christ that someone(s) have long shared with us. When we remember that a little goes a long way, and we can orient ourselves toward spreading that love of God, even in a little way.

            The choice is ours: I hope that we go out into the world this week and find ways to spread a little love and kindness. There is always someone out there who can benefit from such God-given gifts; let's be the ones who highlight it.

18 Aug 2018

Preserving it all

Tomato sauce, pickled beets, jam, and peaches.
All sourced fresh from the garden and local farmers.
            Do you know someone who preserves food while it is in season to enjoy throughout the year? Someone who tosses dehydrated fruit into their mid-winter oatmeal, or has perfected their salsa recipe to enjoy some local spice well into next spring?
            I’m one of those people.
            I enjoy preserving food; freezing, dehydrating, pickling, canning. Year-round I enjoy eating food that is tasty, homemade, and local. It takes time to plan and make, but it saves time and money in the long run.
            It takes practice to decide what to preserve and how - strawberries can be dehydrated or made into jam, corn can be frozen as kernels or made into a chowder. I need to be intentional about quantity, guessing how many jars of tomato sauce I’m likely to use, and how much chutney will be given as Christmas gifts.
            These are important, as they help me maintain a healthy boundary between preserving and hoarding. Preserving food is a wonderful way to celebrate the local summer abundance, but there’s a time limit. Safety is a concern for canned goods after 12-18 months, so keeping food longer than that poses an unnecessary risk. If all my jars are used for pickling beets, then I can’t can any other delights. If the shelves are stacked with last year’s food, it means I’ve got no jars to be filled, and no pantry space to store it.
Local cherries on the dehydrater
            Storing food requires annual renewal, replenishing my supply of what I find most useful and enjoyable, trying new recipes to replace others that I’m no longer keen on. But if I’m not careful, preserving can transition into hoarding. And that’s neither helpful nor healthy.
            Our spiritual lives, our traditions and practices, are not unlike our food storage. We preserve much; and this is good! It brings us sustained nourishment and enjoyment.  These are things which we replenish time and again, preserving and re-preserving because they feed our souls.
            There are others, however, that are hoarded: a grudge held too long can become toxic, a forgiveness withheld can use up emotional space and deny happiness, a refusal to trying new things may become a monotony that will deter new guests.  
            There are wonderful practices and traditions to be kept: these will be life-giving, nourishing, and sustaining. They will continue to bring us joy and fulfilment as we use them and re-use them, replenishing and renewing them as the days and years pass. But for those practices which are not nourishing us, as individuals and as communities, perhaps we might consider discerning if we should let them go, and thereby make space for something that will sustain and delight us.
            Preserving is wonderful. Hoarding is not.
            Celebrating abundance is wonderful. Practicing greed is not.
            I invite you to take stock of your spiritual pantry. What are you preserving? What are you hoarding? What has gone past its prime, and needs to be discarded? What is worth holding on to? What needs to be dusted off and enjoyed?

            May God's grace surround us as we consider how we preserve the faith that nourishes us.

11 Aug 2018

Show Me the Love!

Love. CC BY-NC 2.0 by Priscila Tonon Ramos. Source: Flickr
            I have the great privilege right now to be working with a number of couples as they prepare for fall weddings. I like that they are inviting God and the Christian community to be a part of their 'big day' - but I really like that they are inviting God and the Christian community to be a part of their lives together.
            Part of the marriage preparation course I use focuses on positive emotions connected with actions. It invites reflection on how our partners' actions elicit a response from us, and how our actions elicit an emotional response from our partner. "When my partner does _____, I feel loved." and the reciprocal "When I _____, I think my partner feels loved."
            It takes our communication beyond words. Simply saying "I love you" is wonderful; but it challenges the couple to identify what can be done - physically done - to demonstrate that love.  And it's not just love - there's also respect and value. And those answers should ideally be different.
            It doesn't have to be expensive: we all feel loved with diamonds, but we also feel valued with a balanced budget! And it doesn't have to be a big thing: preparing a morning cup of coffee without being asked, making dinner when the partner has had a long day, turning off all screens for a distraction-free conversation. But they do need to be done; and these actions speak much louder than words.
            So how, then, do we show our love for God? How do we demonstrate our respect for God? How do we let the world see how much we value God?
            I think it all depends on how we show these things to one another. God calls us to love our neighbour; let's show them the love - because it's what God would do. Let's show the world that they are respected. That they are valued. Because it's what God would do, and it's what God invites us to do.
            It doesn't have to be big or expensive, but it does need to happen. Because we can't usually tell everyone we encounter "I value you as a child of God, because I am a Christian!" - at least not with words. But by being intentional with our actions, we can communicate our faith clearly and concisely.
            We are called to love: in thought, word, and action. And by this, everyone will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.[1]

[1] John 13.35

4 Aug 2018

Don't Talk About My Friend Like That!

            A while back, on a low-self-esteem kind of day, I was moaning to friends about everything I didn't like about myself. One friend was quick to cut me off: "Don't talk about my friend like that!" she scolded.
            I was shocked - I would never say something horrible about her friends! Then I (slowly) clued in that *I* was her friend, and she didn't want to her such negativity about me - even (especially!) from myself.
            I also realised that my self-negativity had extended beyond us, to everyone around us. Though it was just one bad day, I had exuded a clear message that I was clearly not likeable, or loveable, or valuable, that no one would want to get to know me. I was my own worst enemy. Yikes!
            Negativity like that can spread - very quickly. Our words and actions can become a barrier, an invisible "Keep Away!" sign to the world. Obviously we don't want to be doing that!
            So what happens when we talk about our church community in a similar manner? The message we give out to the world can influence others, and help them form opinions - about ourselves, and about our church.

            A complaint about the sermon over a post-church meal suggests a church with terrible preaching. An online comment about empty pews advertises a dying congregation. A snide remark while grocery shopping about church leadership broadcasts dissention in the community.
            These things may not even be true, and we might be shocked to realize the implications of what our own words have meant to those that hear them. But we never know who is listening: and we would not want to turn someone away from the church because of our inadvertent negativity.
            Now, I know churchland is not a perfect place, and when 2 or 3 are gathered there are 4 or 5 opinions (at least!). If we see something we disagree with in community, let's deal with it in the community, and be part of the solution. Let's not just talk negatively about it. The church is my friend: don't talk about my friend like that!

            We are called to share the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are blessed to have the promise of divine redemption and salvation. We are gifted to have communities and structures where we worship freely. Let's make sure THAT is our message about church when we go out in the world.