Only One Paint Brush?

Sunday Morning Musings:  I have been told that choosing to “walk in the middle of the road” is dangerous because I can be hit by traffic travelling in both directions.  Such is probably true, but being in the middle of the road is not the same as straddling the fence.

Okay, let’s end the metaphors and get straight to the issue.  I read facebooks postings (usually) and I listen to the news and find that depending on the “speaker” I only get part of the story, or almost totally different stories.  I read that some business folk are very much in favour of the tax changes proposed by the federal Liberals.  Yet, I can also find that others feel the proposals will become very destructive.  White supremacists tell us that they are exercising the right of free speech, while others call it hate speech. Progressive Christians and fundamentalists collide over interpretations of the Bible.  Sometimes I think it would better just to throw up my hands in defeat (and disgust) and crawl in a hole somewhere out of a sense of futility.

In the meantime I have noticed is going to require me using another metaphor – if you feel the need to forgive me, please do so.  It seems to me that we are also artists in a way – I could say we are called to be “co-creators” but that might raise a few hackles too.  Regardless, as an artist we are called to use more than one colour from the vast array of those on our pallets.  Yet so often the farther we move to the edges, the fewer colours, the less paint brushes we seem to be allowed to use.  Either one has to be for or against an issue and must use only the paint brush of the “leaders”.

What can be even worse is that bullying can and often results.  Even if the bullying is subtle, it is still just that.  We say we live in a democratic country – yet the majority doesn’t rule (e.g. first past the post in elections). Churches don’t seem to fare very well in this matter either.  Choose an issue and you will find at least three groups – those strongly in favour of the direction, those strongly opposed to it and the rest of us often bullied to join one side or the other.  Here comes the traffic in both directions!

Before I am hanged, drawn and quartered, let me present what I call the third point of view.  Like in most instances, I believe that we must start with listening.  However, listening does not end the matter.  Victims cannot be left as victims nor should they become victimizers.  However, my experience is that there is a huge difference between listening and hearing.  Sadly, my experience is that some are so set in their belief that they are “right” they don’t need to hear let alone begrudgingly listen.  We are very quick to tell someone they are wrong, or that they shouldn’t express the idea that there is more to the story.  As a result, the third way of viewing is usually ignored completely.

I would love to give specific examples, but I might be called a coward, a turn-coat, a weirdo or many other things that I simple choose to stay in the middle of the road and wait.

Thomas Merton wrote in the prologue to Raids of the Unspeakable: “You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”

A Loving Grief

Sunday Morning Musings:  I have always appreciated the Charlie Brown expression “Good grief”.  I do not know what the cartoonist (Charles Schultz) intended having his main character utter this expression, but many other folk also use it to express a form of frustration.  However, over the years the expression has been used to remind me that if there is “good” grief there can also be “bad” grief.  That is not to say that grieving itself is bad for us, just that there are elements of grieving that can have positive rather than negative outcome in our lives.

It is not earth-shattering news to say that grieving happens in our lives due to more things than just the death of a loved one.   Grief is about loss. The loss of a loved one causes grief, but so does the end of a relationship.  Sometimes, these other losses are referred to as “little deaths”.  Big or little losses, we need to grief.

Sometimes however, grief is not recognized for what it is or what is happening to us.  Secondly, grief really doesn’t follow a pattern as earlier studies of grieving have often been interpreted.   I respect the work done by such people as Elisabeth Kuebler- Ross as she outlined the “stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).  However, my experience has taught me that these stages are interwoven and not stationary.  By stationary I mean that once we have entered the next stage we are done with the previous one.  Grief moves back and forth.

Not only does everyone grief differently, those things that can trigger a “reoccurrence” are different and may get pulled when we least expect it.  Anniversary dates, birthdays, a song, seeing someone who reminds of that which we have lost…the list seems endless.  Good grief begins by recognizing that is happening to us; recognizing that something has triggered something inside us.  Once we can name what is happening we can begin to deal with it.

One of the most common feelings that grief can create in us is that of feeling all alone. Even a very “religious” or “spiritual” person who has a good relationship with the one they call “God” can feel abandoned and all alone.  For those who do not have or have not nurtured such a relationship might even tell the spiritual person that they are alone and that this just proves the even their “God” (if God were to exist) has left them high and dry.

Good grief acknowledges all that is happening from the disorientation and numbness that often is our first response to loss to the sense of feeling all alone.  Even surrounded by good friends and family, there can still be a feeling of loneliness.  The thing to remember (and it is likely the most difficult) is that we are never alone.  We have never been alone – love is with us always. I have often joked with those preparing for marriage that “you can’t live on love alone”, which is true, in the sense that we need food and water at least. Yet, the basis for opening ourselves to even these basics is love.  A good grief recognizes that we have always been loved, and always will be.  Even when we may not recognize it, love is there.  It may reveal itself in the most unlikely places or objects or people, but love is there.

In our aloneness and our grief, we need to know there is that which is called “good grief” and all we have to do is allow ourselves to be open to it.

The Strength to Change

Sunday Morning Musings: Without a doubt this past week has been one of the most different weeks of my life.  In some ways it seemed very “usual” – preparing and officiating at funerals and weddings, sermon preparation and house cleaning, laundry and even some electrical and plumbing issues finally fixed.  The thing that is different in all these regular concerns is that I realized how much I have changed.  Some of the change seemed overnight, yet most of the things different about me have developed over a life-time.  Things that may have seemed pretty day-to-day for  some people were often a big deal for me, especially when things didn’t go the way I had thought they should.

But change is good.    I heard this past week that someone speaking to a group of recently graduated high schoolers said that he hoped that they would live long enough to change their minds at least twice.  At first I thought he was joking but the more I listened to this speaker, I realized what he was talking about.  He wasn’t just talking about our every day changes concerning fashion or food ( which can be major decisions, no doubt).  Rather he was talking about those things that really make a difference not only in our own lives but in society as well.

I remember a number of years ago when my elder son was an editor of his university newspaper. (The editorial had to do with the use of standardized testing in our schools.)  I read this editorial that sounded like his voice (yes, writers have their own voices), but the editorial was talking about an issue he and I had discussed many times.  In the editorial he was agreeing with my stance (and for you older folk it wasn’t a matter of Father Knows Best).  When I asked him about this, his response was simply: “People can change their mind.”

It is not because he was agreeing with me that meant as much as the fact that he was willing to change his way of thinking and admit it.  Such changes rarely take place in the realms of politics or religion.  Sadly, when a politician attaches oneself to a political party, he or she may not agree with the party but must often choose either to stay with the party line or remove oneself. Never an easy choice.

The same story is often true in the field of religion.  As statistics reveal many people are turning away from “organized” religion for many reasons.  One of the reasons not talked much about is that people grow and change, and part of that change is one’s way of understanding all of the factors that contribute to a wholesome body, mind and spirit.  Speaking about dogma and change one writer proposed the idea that:

Dogma is worshiping our ideas of God rather than God. It means always

being willing to admit you MIGHT be wrong. It means continually rethinking

and unfortunately, never being settled or comfortable in our view of reality.

 

Yet even when evidence itself can and has proven long-held thinking or concepts to be untrue there are still those who do not want to change. At one time the earth was believed to be flat, and when photos from outer space show us the true shape, there are some who will not accept this changed point of view.  It has been proven many times over that dinosaurs roamed the earth until 65 million years ago; yet some contend that the earth is less than 10 thousand years old (that is evolution vs creation thinking).

 

When we are unwilling to grow we are doomed.  When we are unwilling to allow ourselves to accept new truths we are doomed.

Valuing the Risk

Sunday Morning Musings:  Not only because of the Labour Day holiday at the first of this past week, but with the starting of school, for me this week started out shorter than most.  I didn’t make my first appearance in my office until Wednesday, and for me that is two whole days later than usual.  Now, it is important that you realize that I am not complaining, rather I want to speak of the lesson I appreciated learning about values.

Besides the unusual start time for my work week, I was also involved in other activities both work and non-work related (if anything one does in ministry is not work related!). Again, it was not the fact that these out-of-the-ordinary situations happened, rather it is the teaching about myself that I was able to garner from them.

Without going into detail about the specific events, I want to focus on the sense of what I have found as being of real value in my life.  Many would say that my work is my life – and in some sense that is true.  For years and decades I have put work first, even to the detriment of my family and myself. Yet, what this reveals to me is that I have really valued myself before others.  I have valued wanting others to think highly of me, and even more that I am seen as doing “right” in the eyes of God.  Part of me thinks that I have been trying to “win” forgiveness for not being good enough.

The poet, Muriel Rukseyer, has been quoted as saying, “The universe is made of stories and not atoms”. Of course, what I think she is talking about is that our stories about those things made up of atoms are what makes everything valuable.  The National Post (a Canadian media source, for my non-Canadian friends) reported on an experiment where seemingly frivolous objects were given to story writers and poets who were to write about their object.  In the end it was discovered that an object purchased for pennies became more valuable (worth more money) when written about.  This exercise seemingly made true Rukseyer’s comment about stories and atoms.

So it is that the stories that surround our lives can and do increase the value of them.  And, I believe, teaches us the real value of everything as well as teaching us to ask ourselves about the things in life that we really value.  Yet, it is the elements of life that we really value that do not come with a price, or do they?   Can we put a price on integrity? On courage? On wisdom?   I believe we can and we do.  C.S. Lewis is quoted saying “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.… Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

When push comes to shove we have to decide on what is most important in our lives. In a previous Musings I mentioned the idea of “the prosperity gospel” that tells us that if we want to be prosperous we need to be more faithful.  But what do we mean as prosperous and are we willing to risk it to be compassion, because the two don’t often go together when we speak solely in terms of dollars and cents. Am I willing to lose or let go of everything that others might have the basics?  Am I willing to stand in the face of criticism and let my voice be heard?

Boy, I ask myself some tough questions.

 

What’s in a Sneeze?

Sunday Morning Musings:  I sneezed one day this past week and my grandson said: “Bless you.”  The words were no sooner out of his mouth when he began to explain to me why he had said them.  Knowing his wealth of knowledge about many things I was intrigued by his comments.  It seems as if he had read somewhere that some time ago when disease was more rampant than it is today, that sneezing was considered as an expulsion from the body of “evil spirits” that could cause illness and therefore one deserved to be blessed upon sneezing.

It all made sense to me but also got me thinking about being “blessed”.   Often times when someone sneezes we will put the word “God” at the beginning – God bless you.  Now I know that if I don’t sneeze it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bless me, right?

As it turns out there has also been a great deal in the news over the past week or so about hurricane Harvey and how one of the mega-churches in Texas didn’t immediately open its doors to take in “victims” of the flooding.  The pastor (if I can use that term) is one of those who preaches a “prosperity gospel”.  I understand from what I have read that the idea of a prosperity gospel claims that if I focus on being financially healthy and pray in the correct way or use the right words or whatever, that God will bless me.

Of course, the opposite of this must mean that if I am not wealthy or something bad happens to me that I do not have God’s blessing.  Holding this principle of faith to be true, I have to think that bad weather is a way for the “almighty” to affect revenge on “the unfaithful”.  Sadly, there are those who have this kind of faith.   If this is the case one can easily understand Gandhi as having said:  ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Christianity is given a bad rap by those who hear and see (witness) the unloving and uncompassionate way that those who profess to be followers of the Christ live their lives.  Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the only acceptable response to another’s need is with love.  There have been wonderful photos of people helping each other and even more importantly, colour and beliefs don’t seem to matter.

Over the coming weeks and years much will be written about open and closed doors, and open and closed hearts.  Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or even non-religious ones, the bottom line has little if anything to do with prosperity or not.  It has to do solely (soully?) with our desire to be loving and compassion or to choose to wait for someone to tell us what we should or should not do.

When we care for each other – our God, our neighbours, our enemies, as being important to us, we can and will make a difference.  We will know what it feels like to be blessed. Yes, we may use old phrases when one sneezes, but just as science has taught us why we may sneeze, we also have the capability (if not the will) to care for one another.  If we wait for God to bless us, we have missed the boat (again excuse the pun which is not intended).  God doesn’t hand out blessings (or curses) just because we might like it that way. The fact that we live in a world that may feel like it is going to hell in a hand basket is all our own doing and has nothing whatsoever to do with God, or whatever word we might use.

Who has the Answer?

Sunday Morning Musings:  One of different skills I would work on when playing hockey was that of deflecting the puck.  I didn’t have to control the puck just wait for my chance to help it change direction.  Over the years and not just in hockey, I have continued to use and watch others use this tactic.  Usually it is used when I find myself in a sticky situation.  Rather than confront the issue straight on, I like to deflect.

Some would call this tactic as being passive aggressive.  Others would see what I was attempting to do and not let me change the subject.  Either way the effort was made to control the outcome by manoeuvring around the issue rather than dealing with it head on.  I guess the gig is up!

At first I often felt that I did much the same when it came to faith issues, or other spiritual issues of life.  When asked a direct question like: Do you believe in the Bible? I would give a “direct” answer.  I am sure the questioner would have liked me to respond with a simple “yes” or “no”. If I did answer with such a straight forward response I would often conclude with some type of modification.  I might say that I did believe in the Bible but would ask a question of my own.  I might add that my answer is yes but only if it was not taken literally.

In time I began to ask myself whether or not I was responding in such a way as to deflect. To answer my own question I had to look at myself and my responses.  I might also try to understand the intent of the questioner, but then I found myself trying to read someone else’s mind, and that would lead to me making an assumption and we all know what it makes when we assume anything!

Instead, I tried to focus on my own mind and heart.  The first realization I had was that sometimes questions are asked with a hope of gaining insight.  Other times questions are asked when the real desire is to state an opinion and try to convince others I am correct.  Sometimes questions are a trap and the questioner is waiting to snap the door shut.

Over the years I have often used the skill of reversing the question.  Before I would answer I asked questions of clarification, or simply asked the same question of the person posing the question.  (Now, in Improv such a tactic results in what is called a “weak question” and could result in “expulsion”.)  On the other hand, it is totally appropriate if the intent is to get the person asking to question who truly may be seeking knowledge, to tell me what he or she thinks already.  I mentioned in my novella, Dying to Live (now how is that for a plug), about the young boy who wanted to know about God and asked what God looked like. Instead of answering the lad with my “version”, I asked him to draw what he understood. I was not surprised at all when he drew “an old man in the clouds”.  That is the concept held by many and I don’t mean just children.

Yet it wasn’t the picture the boy drew that revealed the real question and gave him his answer. Far from it. When he spoke of this “God” he revealed an understanding of kindness and acceptance.

It is important that we always continue to ask questions, but also remember that there is likely more to the answer than first appears.

Called to Care

Sunday Morning Musings:  Once again the unrest in our society has reared its ugly head in the form of racism and in some cases what I call false religiousism.  The white supremacy actions in Charlottesville and elsewhere including Canada, and the so-called ISIS supported attacks in Spain and Finland requires strong condemnation for these actions.  However, any response by the Canadian government and the Church has been slow.

I cannot speak for our government, but I can talk about the church.  The response from the so-called Christian church has been slow because there is no one that speaks for us all.  Pope Francis has spoken out but who really listens to him?  Even within the Roman Catholic Church there is a wide-range of beliefs and opinions on most matters, so why would one expect any difference when it comes to racism, sexism or any of the other “isms” that abound?  Personally, I believe any form of racism, sexism and the life all wrong.

Studies have revealed that less and less people are actually attending church (although many claim to still be spiritual – SBNR- which also often means something different to different people).  At one time the church was even found to be the blame for horrible events – slavery was supported by Biblical phrases; women were considered as property; LGBTQ folks were (are) considered an abomination before God.   One might think that such understandings of the Bible would feed into the conservative/fundamentalist points of view.  But studies reveal that just as many “right” wing believers are leaving the church as are others.  Sadly, their departure has not weakened the anti-views on most topics; rather it has served to strengthen them.   A report in the April 2017 issue of Atlantic Magazine states:

When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. … they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.

From this statement one can but be in favour of church attendance, however, attendance is not the real issue.  What is it that is being taught and more importantly lived moment to moment?  The essence of any true religion is “hospitality” in all its fullness of meaning.  It does not speak of caring for only those like ourselves.  It lives caring for and showing compassion to anyone in need, making all of them my neighbour, regardless of skin colour, gender or beliefs.  To claim any kind of supremacy for one group is a false claim and needs to prohibited.  And of course, this is the role of government, especially any government that claims be representative of its people (all of its people).

As far as I am concerned any belief or action that does not encourage full acceptance and tolerance is not only anti-religious, it is anti-life.

 

Faith and The Bible

Sunday Morning Musings:  some of my thoughts this week have been centering on the topic of religion versus science.   My preference would be to use the word “and” rather than “versus” but that is what created much of the discussion.  It seemed to be an ‘either- or’.

To be more specific about some things the religion side of the discussion was talking Christianity, but other world religions could be included. From a Christian point of view much of the religion I was hearing was also coming from The Bible.  Even the Bible was a ‘pre-science’ book there are still some people that take the writings quite literally.  After all God or God’s Spirit guided or directed the mind and hands of the writers.  It didn’t seem to matter that many of the stories were not meant to be taken literally but as a metaphor.

According to timelines established by Biblical genealogies the first humans (Adam and Eve) were created only 6000 or 7000 years ago.  The scientist argued that carbon dating of fossils found buried in the earth that scientifically tells is millions of years old.  Such discussion reminded me of the story reported by Anthony de Mello entitled The Golden Egg.   De Mello writes:

A reading from the scriptures:  This is what the Lord says: There was once a goose that laid a golden egg each day.  And the farmer’s wife, who owned the goose, delighted in the riches that those eggs brought her. She was an avaricious woman, however, and could not wait patiently form day to day for her daily egg.  She decided to kill the goose and get the eggs all at once.

De Mello then writes: 

Thus far the Word of God!   An atheist heard that text from the scriptures and scoffed: you call that the word of God? A goose that lays golden eggs! It just goes to show the absurdity of your scriptures.    When a religious scholar read that text, he reacted thus: The Lord clearly tells us that there was a goose that laid golden eggs.  If the Lord says this, then it must be true, no matter how absurd it appears to our poor human minds.  (Anthony deMello, The Song of the Bird, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1982, p. 115.)

From my perspective I can agree with neither the “atheist” nor the “religious scholar”.  Scripture may be called The Word of God, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t written by human hands. When we continue to discuss religion and The Bible as the end all and be all, we get nowhere fast.  For me the issue is about faith not belief in writings that are over 2000 years old.

The bible tells the stories of journeys – starting with the Adam and Eve story, and Moses, and Abraham and Sarah- they all tells us about our journey of faith.  We are all on a journey with its ups and downs, moments of elation and moments of defeat.  Yet the Bible is also a story of God’s presence with us in all these times.  Not a God who is there to fix things for us (Deus ex machine – excuse my Latin.) Nor is God present and doing nothing, but as love that shows us how to be loving and caring and accepting in the best and worst life throws at us.  In difficult times even when we claim the need to be alone, we can be but the truth is that a compassionate listener is ready and waiting for us to realize that when we are most vulnerable we are never totally alone.

Mystery is Okay

Sunday Morning Musings:  For entertainment this week I have been reading Roy MacGregor’s book, Northern Light.  Certainly he has written different books but this one does a great job of holding the mystery that is Tom Thomson.  I live in the town of Huntsville and there is no shortage of the Thomson legacy that is both appreciated and questioned which, for me, on adds to the unknown.  In July, Grant Nickalls adapted the work of MacGregor and Stina Nyquist and enhanced another element of Thomson through highlighting Thomson’s relationship with Winnie Trainor. Quite well-done, Nickalls left the mystery in the mind of the audience.  And like, all good mysteries, the answer is left just there where it should be.

As a result the mystery leaves itself open to speculation – did they or didn’t they?  Was she or wasn’t she expecting?  That is what makes mystery so wonderful and so acceptable (and sadly, open to gossip).  The problem lies not with the mystery itself but with those minds that don’t like mystery; with those minds that need the answers.  But like life itself, mysteries will always remain.  Questions will be left unanswered.

However, the fact that mystery abounds also leads to misunderstandings or more precisely miscommunication.  What I say or attempt to communicate is not always what the other party hears or receives.  The more frequent use of emogicons is supposed to help when the communication is not “face to face” rather uses various modes of technology that allow us to communicate “feelings” with each other. But sometimes even the use of “pictures” or “images” do not always tell us exactly what the speaker or writer is hoping to communicate.

The use of abbreviations in messaging can also pose problems.  For example, I emailed an individual once asking if it was okay to do something differently.  The response I got was “np”.  Being new to texting and having a snippet of Hebrew training which originally was written without vowels, I heard “nope”.  In reality, the answer meant “no problem”.  My thinking and the other person’s thinking were exact opposites.  I wonder how often this happens in our lives, especially when we don’t check out the meaning.   I was offended to the “np” answer.  The answer was not only what I didn’t want to hear, but to be so brief, almost made it seem impertinent.  How dare I be spoken to in this manner?  Fortunately, the opportunity for understanding and clarification was taken and all was well.

Yet such miscommunication abounds and in time no amount of proof can convince another party of the intention, especially when the other party doesn’t want to “hear” something different.  I was always taught that in the Bible Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah who was “less desirable” than her sister Rachel.   Later, I discovered that the word used to describe Leah meant something totally different.  Now, this may not mean much by itself, but it made me wonder how often the writer of a particular passage may word something to meet a specific need or even tone?

As important as communication is, we will never have all the answers.  There is always room for miscommunication and as a result misunderstanding.  In the end however, I found that I am left with a mystery.  More importantly, I have learned that it is okay to be live with the unknown.  Until next time plkprdg.

Wisdom of Old Age

Sunday Morning Musings:  This week I celebrated yet another birthday (as did some of my friends), so I thank you for your birthday wishes.  However, getting older (I know it is just a number!) does have both positive and negative aspects.

On the negative side, there seem to be many more issues than positive ones. Officiating at funerals of people younger than me is not so uncommon.   I know that death is inevitable even though many people don’t want to accept such a fact.  None of us knows when our earthly time is up but we all like to think that death isn’t going to happen until we reach “old age”. Surprise!  Age is only one possibility.

But there are other negatives to getting older.  Health issues become much more prominent and it seems to take longer to recover.  Fortunately, living in a country that provides “universal” health care allows us to have procedures that would have been too costly for the average person to afford. Of course, as someone once said: “The opposite of living a long live is not the better option”.

On the positive side, being a senior citizen gets me a discount in many places.  For me, one of the best things about getting older is that hopefully I gain some wisdom along the way.  Notice that I am differentiating between wisdom and knowledge.  I hopefully gain both, but I really prefer wisdom. Wisdom is the food that nurtures my soul.

I am also wise enough that know that wisdom and advanced age don’t necessary coincide, but if one reflects on the life experiences one has, hopefully wisdom can be gleaned from them.  However, I sometimes think wisdom may just be an old wives’ tale (or old wise tale) and may or may not hold much truth at all.  I have told my grandchildren that they would catch pneumonia if they didn’t wear a coat.  The response I got was that pneumonia is a virus or bacteria which are not caused by not wearing a coat.  What are we teaching our children these days?

So how does wisdom feed my soul?  The answer for me lies in the searching that is required.  For many years I felt that I had to have all the answers and probably thought I had them.  I was also taught not to question so-called truths, like the Bible and the Church.  Wisdom has taught me that I should question them.  I cannot take the Bible literally, nor should I.   I cannot accept that the church is always right and to have a different thought or opinion automatically makes me wrong.  Wisdom tells me that there are things that will never be known; that we are good people who should be loved regardless of our actions; that if I think I have all the answers, I haven’t asked all the questions.

Wisdom may not be limited to old age, but if we think about all the things we have experienced we just may become wiser.