24 Nov 2018

50 Shades of Green

            My friend has a beautiful yard. She spends countless hours tending to her gardens, and as a result spends countless hours delighting in the beauty of the yard. (My dogs and I have been quite fortunate to spend time in this verdant oasis!) The spring and summer showcase a plethora of perennials, with more shades of green than I can imagine. Butterflies come to visit, birds alight on the feeder to sing and show off their colours. The autumn highlights transitions of oranges and reds, and the gradual collection of leaves on the ground foreshows not only the regeneration of the earth through nutrients, but the cozy protection that will be used by a variety of critters as the earth takes her wintery sabbath.
            At any time of the year, a deep breath in the yard is a breath of fresh air. The eyes, ears, and nose enjoy the beauty that can be found in the variety of the garden.
            While some prefer their yards to be bursting with colours, entirely edible, or devoid of any vegetation, there is beauty. The beauty is always there. The promise of life is always there.
            The challenge: we need to open our eyes to see it.
            If I was not able to see the 50 shades of green, I could not appreciate the intricate details in my friend's yard. But God has gifted me with the ability to see that there is beauty there: in all seasons, in all stages of life. The beauty is there, waiting to be seen and enjoyed. And it is the variety and variance that makes it beautiful.
            It is up to me, then, to be intentional about seeing the beauty. And this is a skill that transcends the yard: it touches on every aspect of life. Everything that my eyes behold, (and all my other senses engage with) can be a thing of God-given beauty - when I want to see it. So I want to see the beauty: in a dinner party with friends and in sharing worship with those at church; in trying to dissuade the squirrels from placing nuts in my eavestrough and in my interactions with the neighbour's misbehaving dog. There is beauty there; it is waiting to be seen. And when I see it, I can celebrate that the source of this beauty is the Creator of all beauty.
            The beauty is there: God has given us countless shades of beauty. I hope we can recognize the Divine beauty present in everything around us, and give thanks.

"Turn to the LORD! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near." Isa 55.6 CEV

17 Nov 2018

A Victimless Story

            Imagine, if you will, a story with no victim. There are lots: new neighbours moving in, an uneventful flight, a mediocre piece of cake. While not all stories are neutral, or even fair, most of our daily events are victimless stories. Yet some people insist on having a victim in every story; they generally persist in being that victim.
            Sadly, for this behaviour to elicit the response desired, the self-proclaimed victim extends upon someone else the role of bully, violator, perpetrator of unjust behaviour. Suddenly the story changes; its tone morphs from neutral to negative, its people shift from individuals to supporters, it induces a name/blame/shame ethos. This is unhelpful and hurtful, as it affects not only the individual accused but all others within the community. It creates a vortex of mistrust and anger.
            It is unnecessary, and yet it is all too common. It is a person who regrets their retirement so blames their successor; it is someone who laments their ill health and so denounces their doctor; it is someone who fears diversity and so lambasts policy-makers.
            It is unhealthy for the one who believes this false self-victimhood to be true. It paralyzes them, trapping them in a constant state of lashing out in anger instead of reaching out in love, a reality of existing in shadow rather than living in light. It indicates that this person chooses to live in fear, neither trusting in God's grace nor in the truth of being made in the image and likeness of God. Self-victimization mentality denies the salvation that Jesus offers.
            More dangerously, it minimizes the reality of those who have been legitimately victimized, and thereby re-victimizes those unfortunate souls.
            In a society that normalizes self-victimization and entitlement, it is up to us as responsible adults and Christians to intentionally choose to not engage in that behaviour. Further, it is our responsibility to address (with kindness) those people who do engage in such behaviour, as to ignore it is to implicitly support it.  
            We can choose (for it is our choice) to respond to life's circumstances with compassion and dignity, rather than isolate ourselves and perpetuate our self-originated anguish onto others. We can choose to embrace our community, and both give and receive care and affection and support. This is what the apostles teach us in the Book of Acts.

            So I pray that we learn from Jesus, who at the moment of greatest legitimate victimization (by both societal injustice and individual betrayal) begged forgiveness for those who denied him. May we seek forgiveness, not entitlement; may we encourage, not accuse; may we embrace, not reject.  May we live in the light, upholding and supporting, welcoming new opportunities to encourage our brothers and sisters in the Lord. 
            May we joyfully create and maintain our stories without victims.

(We acknowledge incidents where people have been legitimately victimized; this blog is not about those experiences. May God bring healing to the victims, and open the hearts of the perpetrators.)

10 Nov 2018

Missing Pieces

            In the midst of a recent jigsaw puzzle adventure, I noticed I was missing pieces - a lot of pieces. This led to two problems. First, trying to get the existing pieces to line up was really difficult - there were gaps throughout, which made it really awkward to figure out what went where. And secondly, even when I could work around those gaps, I knew I'd not see the whole picture. Sure, I could guess and presume what they were (and use the box picture as a guideline) - but the gaps were still there; and they always would be.
            How we relate to one another can be similar to a puzzle.
            If we have all the relevant pieces of information, we can assemble them into a cohesive and ordered story: a picture, as it were, of whatever is being communicated. If we do not have them all, our incomplete information may not quite fit properly, thereby making gaps and not conveying the whole or accurate message.
            And that's when the trouble can start... because unlike with a simple jigsaw puzzle, in our relationships we attach emotions to the missing pieces.
            A friend of mine, upon retiring from her part-time job, was accosted by a woman who had made such emotional judgements without knowing any of my friends' rationale. She publicly expressed her disappointment and displeasure in my friend, based on her assessment of the situation.
            My friend was under no obligation to share this information; but she wasn't even asked before she had to endure some cruel commentary. As my friend said: she could have been sick, or moving, or divorcing her husband - any number of possibilities that would have been made worse by this person's public outburst.
            Missing pieces are, in life (if not in puzzles), normal. We are not entitled to every piece of information about everyone and everything else: we are privileged when someone else decides to share it with us.
            How we react to the pieces that we do have is one thing; how we react to the missing pieces is another. We can choose to humbly acknowledge that we don't have all the pieces, or we can choose to assign our own interpretation to the pieces - an interpretation that will impact how we view the whole picture. If we come with pure and Christian minds, we see the positive; if we come with jaded and unbelieving minds, we see the negative.
            I pray that this week, when faced with life's missing pieces, I will give people the benefit of the doubt, with humility, not letting my preconceptions become 'fact'. I pray I will live into the reality of Titus 1.15: Everything is clean to those who are clean, but nothing is clean to those who are corrupt and without faith. Instead, their mind and conscience are corrupted. (CEB)

            How will you engage with the unknowns, the missing pieces, in your relationships this week?

3 Nov 2018

Authentic Representation

            A while back, I received a free, convenient, re-useable carrier bag - it collapses to look like a bundle of grapes, which makes it easy to both carry and locate in my purse. However, the quality of this giveaway is not high, and I've had to repair it a number of times.
            Here's why that bothers me: the company it is promoting prides itself of using only the best ingredients to produce a superior product. The quality of the giveaway bag is incongruous with the message the company is trying to convey.           
            This inspired reflection on how we, as the church, convey our message to the world. We may think that because we congregate in our comfortable pews on Sunday mornings (or whenever) that the world will *know* that we are good Christians. However, we congregate, literally, behind closed doors. The <world> likely does not see us there. 
            What the world does see is what we present to the world when we come out of worship. How we treat one another, how we treat God's creation, reflects who we really are. If we are behaving like the cheap giveaway bag, then our (individual and collective) name will carry a message incongruous with the Good News or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            We must constantly challenge ourselves to live our lives as authentic Christians - in all we do, in all we say, in all we pray - and at all times. If we choose dialogue instead of insult in our social media debates, we are living an authentic faith. If we can give a gift without selfish pre-conditions, we are living an authentic faith. If we can respect someone else's decision without criticizing, we are living an authentic faith.
            So often we see the opposite, from people who might call themselves Christian: name-calling those of different opinions, lack of generosity in giving, judging without bothering to learn the facts. If this is what the world sees of us, they are seeing inauthenticity: like my shopping bag, the demonstrated "Christianity" is cheap, disposable, and of low quality.
            So I invite us to be authentic Christians. I invite us to ponder every day how we are presenting the faith, how we are proclaiming the Gospel, how we are living into our baptismal vows. I invite us to find ways to be the Christ-followers that we want to be, living our lives with integrity, with authenticity, with the intention of showing the world that we are exactly who - and whose - we say we are. May God be glorified in all we do, today and forever more.