Tea Time: When Meaning Matters More Than Words

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I eagerly responded to the invitation to tea with a new acquaintance I met at a classical music event and the elderly friend she described as a fascinating scholar with many interests. I was new in town and finding it hard to make friends. His home was like I imagined C.S. Lewis’ to be with solid well-used antique furniture surrounded by over-stuffed floor to ceiling book cases and the scent of pipe tobacco. He poured me a proper cup of tea from a proper tea-pot. No dangling bags on a string in a chipped pottery mug for these people.

Both of them asked me many questions about myself. They leaned forward attentively and encouraged me often.

“Yes, yes. Go on,” they urged, smiling.

I had an audience and I was on a roll. I told them some of my best anecdotes and they paid rapt attention.

Then the gentleman and scholar turned to my new friend and said (quite excitedly) “Yes, yes! You are completely right! Northwest Pacific mixed with British public school. I believe I hear some Dublin Irish occasionally as well,” He turned to me for a moment, “Do you have relatives from Ireland?” but without waiting for my response said to the woman, “No matter. There is Dublin influence in there somewhere. But it is quite unusual for this area.”

“I told you,” the woman said.

“I watched an Irish movie last night,” I offered, trying to get back into the conversation. “I pick up accents very easily.”

It’s true. I do pick up accents, often unintentionally. It’s embarrassing sometimes. People think I am mocking them when I respond with the same vowel shifts they are using. When I am in performance mode the years of training as a singer slip in their influence as well. I unconsciously raise my soft palate, elongate the vowels and enunciate consonants. The result is that my accent changes slightly and sounds a bit like theatrical British posh.

Flashback: I’m doing a singing exam with an examiner sent to Calgary all the way from Trinity College of London: She apparently has been misinformed about Canadian weather and is sweltering in the June heat under her multilayered wool suit and hat with the bobbing pheasant feather. Suddenly she stops me in the middle of a song and tells me she can’t bear my atrocious accent a moment longer. “The word is ond, OND! Not aaand! Now sing it properly or I shall dismiss you immediately.”

I’m not aware that I’m changing my accent when I feel I’m being scrutinized, but people tell me I do. I thought I was the only one until I heard another classically trained singer speak. After listening to an interview of a famous woman I wondered where on earth a black girl from Georgia picked up that accent. Then I realized she did it too.

It took only a few minutes of hanging around the edge of the tea time people’s linguistic analysis conversation to realize they had not heard a word I said, only how I said it. I left shortly after, feeling very awkward, as they continued to discuss my phonation, and frankly, I felt lonelier than ever. Not only did they not hear my stories, they did not hear my heart. I longed for connection, for friends, but they were totally oblivious to that expression. It’s like the teacup mattered more than the tea.

This memory surfaced today in the context of a discussion of a blog suggesting that certain popular worship songs ought to be expunged from praise leaders’ repertoire. The complaints about the songs were that they were shallow, repetitive, theologically weak, or had uncomfortable imagery. To be honest, with little effort I could easily condemn them for more reasons than that – don’t get me started – oh what the heck –  the main one being that many corporate worship songs are written for a musically illiterate audience and have to be easy enough for anyone to learn by rote after three repetitions of the words on a screen – in other words they have the lyrical and musical complexity of a commercial or nursery song. For many musicians, asking them to confine themselves to current expressions of contemporary Christian music is like asking a person who has trained all their lives to be an Olympic swimmer to be happy within the confines of a hot tub.  There is nothing wrong with hot tubs, but they are not Olympic pools.

But then I see a crayon drawing my grandson made for me. It’s a bunch of semi-organized scribbles really, but to me it is right up there with the Mona Lisa, because he did the best he could in his efforts to honour me. I don’t see the colouring out of the lines; I see the little lad’s loving heart, and it thrills me. I hug him and plant a kiss on the top of his sweet head.

I believe in excellence and that those who can compose and play skillfully need to offer the Lord their best (Is there room in the Church for the Bachs and Brahms and Jenny Linds of today where they will not be accused of “showing off?”) But I also realize that praise and worship is all about the heart and not performance. When we worship together the Holy Spirit in me connects with the Holy Spirit in you and we unite to express our love to God. If that means extending grace to choose a simple repetitive song we can all join in, so be it. He is listening to more than the way we sing our words. He hears our hearts, our longing for connection, and He draws us in for a big  kiss, sloppy or theologically tidy – He picks.

Shelter

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If anything in this world bugs me it’s people who don’t care. Cold-heartedness.

The problem is I succumb to compassion-fatigue too. It takes a certain amount of denial to be able to function and not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in this world. I find myself fleeing not only from cold-heartedness in others, but cold-heartedness in myself. It’s not only threats against our person that make us run to the Lord for refuge. It’s also when the things we judge others for show up in ourselves.

Here’s the thing: you can’t give what you have never received. Without the shelter and warmth and love Jesus provides when we run to him, we have nothing to share. So many sensitive people who do care find their love growing cold and become bitter and hopeless when they don’t leave the frigid environment out there and spend time regularly soaking up God’s love for them in the shelter he provides. It’s not selfish. It’s essential. It’s where our hope lies.

So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. (Hebrews 6:18)

The Hope of Glory

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Saints of old the promise heard

and clung to the prophetic word.

For so long, by faith perceived,

the hope was given

and by faith received.

And they believed.

They believed.

They believed

in Christ in you,

the hope of glory.

I’ve been thinking of the people who were mentioned in the book of Hebrews as examples of great faith. They were also examples of great imperfections and the Bible doesn’t gloss over that. What strikes me this time is that none of them lived long enough to see the plan of God play out in the time and place they journeyed through. Faith is actually easier for us because so much more has been revealed to us than they had access to at that time.

My grandparents left everything behind seeking a better future for their children in a new land. They struggled to survive and never saw the promises fulfilled in their shortened life-times. How could they, who never had a washing machine or indoor plumbing, ever have imagined that one of their grandchildren would be on the team of engineers that invented the Canada Arm on the space shuttle – a crucial part of the exploration of the skies? But still they sacrificed to bring it about.

I wonder if I have faith to believe for prophecies beyond my life-time. There are bright and beautiful promises I can see from here, but I don’t know the timing or exactly how they will play out. This I know, the saints before me received hope by faith and it was accounted to them as righteousness. They walked in the hope. By faith I walk in the promise of hope that the light will grow brighter and brighter and the glory of Christ in my children’s children’s children will shine with a brilliance beyond my greatest imaginings.

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Expectancy Without Expectations

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Sometimes I wonder if God doesn’t answer our petitions right away because he is waiting for us to ask a better question. What if our expectations limit what He wants to do? What if we listened to how Jesus prays for us?

Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things,

immeasurable things,

things greater than we ever could ask

or imagine

through the power at work in us,

to Him be all glory in the church

and in Jesus the Anointed

from this generation to the next,

forever and ever.

Amen.

(Ephesians 3:20, 21 The Voice)

This Might Take Awhile

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“For many of us perseverance is not a spiritual quality that we aspire to. We seem rather to think that faith is evidenced by quick results. We get faith for something and start believing with the force of a steam train, but if we don’t see the results we want, and quickly, we lose heart.

I think it may be more accurate to say we lose faith quickly because we have already lost heart. Losing faith is merely a symptom. Much like chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, so lack of perseverance is a sign our heart has been damaged.”

-Bishop Todd Atkinson, from While He Lay Dying

I’m back in ranch country babysitting my grandchildren while their parents are away. They are hard-working folk, these cowboys. For over a hundred years they have been saddling up, no matter what the weather. Some of the more grizzled ones look like they have been in the saddle for a hundred years, but they are strong people.

I cleaned the fresh snow off the car, scraped the ice off the windshield, and drove the grandkids to school in the dark and cold this morning. None of us were thrilled about the rituals of a January morning. This is the longest month of the year for me. It’s a one foot in front of the other kind of time.

While I’m here I’m teaching my amazing twelve-year old granddaughter to sew. I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve forgotten how many steps there are to learning how to put the pieces of fabric together, but she catches on very quickly. She is also excited about learning math and science and is teaching herself sign language as well. She has an amazing ability to synchronize information gleaned from one area and connect it to another. It’s starting to come together for her. I love watching the way her mind works. But without the dailiness of school and reading and fact gathering she wouldn’t have the information she needs – and craves – to put the pieces together. Her brother is a keen observer of people and makes the same kind of connections, but in relationships. He already shows a growing ability to live with compassion and consideration.

And so we all saddle up and go through the routines of a winter morning, because perseverance in the dark and in the cold leads to breakthrough and connection to greater truths.

There are times when we are in crisis and facing overwhelming odds, as a community did when contending for the life of Bruce Merz, when the lessons the Lord has taught through perseverance start to come together. Who knew one of the lessons involved would be perseverance itself? Bishop Atkinson understood that like Daniel prevailing in prayer for 21 days, the breakthrough would not be quickly won.

Amazingly after 21 days of round-the-clock prayer there was breakthrough. We started to make connections – the kind of connections that change our lives forever.

The story is told in While He Lay Dying. The website, including photos and videos, is here.

It’s inspiring reading on a cold January day and may give you some of the information you need to gather for your own breakthrough.