“Lord, catch me off guard today. Surprise me with some moment of beauty or pain so that at least for the moment, I may be startled into seeing that you are here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life I breathe.”Frederick Buechner
Month: April 2023
I needed signs of spring. I needed colour! As I write this, much of Canada is still snow covered and a blizzard is whiting out the prairies. Here in the Okanagan, spring arrives sooner than in most of the land, but even here it is late this year.
One of the first wild flowers to bloom in the drier parts of British Columbia is Balsam Root. I saw these bright yellow blossoms on a hill basking in the sun, but it was hard to get there. I went looking for some I could get closer to, but very few were blooming elsewhere yet. Instead I went to a garden shop and took photos of flowers that are too fragile to plant outside yet. They were very pretty, but there is something special about the wild ones.
Yesterday, as I drove in the rain, I saw a cluster of familiar blooms near the edge of the country road. I was hoping for bright sunny flowers on a bright sunny blue sky day, but as I checked out the images on my cell phone later, I was impressed by the contrast.
This is what they said to me: Sometimes you don’t fit in because you are not supposed to. Sometimes the brave, the bold, the courageous, and the strong ones who anticipate change embarrass the sheltered and subdued by bursting out in summer colour while winter still lingers on the edge of a dull cold day.
The first people to move into something new need to be strong. They need to know how get their approval from God because there are plenty of critics to point out what could go wrong. They need to be courageous because they face uncertainties without sure-footed examples to follow.
When someone says, “Be brave!” or “Have courage!” I must admit my first reaction is, “Why? Is this going to hurt? It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”
Then I hear my Lord’s voice saying, “It’s not going to hurt as much as staying where you are, mired in discouragement like this.”
Someone I love told me she feels the Lord is telling her to “have courage.” Her reaction is much the same as mine was before the Lord took me on a roller coaster ride that ended brilliantly. The ride did require faith and some uncomfortable “illogical” standing out at times, but God certainly was with me in every twist and turn and rise and fall. He brought me safely through.
As we spoke, it also reminded me of the time God spoke to Joshua before he led a band of people who knew only the daily-ness of the same old same old. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous,” he said to the man who inherited Moses’ role. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The season is changing. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to stand out.
Innocence, Passion, and Sacrifice
Be warned. This may contain what some consider to be negativity and too much information, but I want to be transparently honest. I struggle with pain. I hate it. It wears me down. Some nights are worse than others, but the other night was a doozy and left me crying in exasperation. To top it off, when I did manage to sleep, I had a nightmare.
In the dream, someone close to me went to the authorities and accused me of a horrendous crime I would never commit. The police came and arrested me, and I was dragged into court. I was innocent! In fact, I am a fierce defender of the safety of the ones I was accused of hurting! I have sacrificed years of my life for them! I passionately defended myself. But no one would listen in this crazy kangaroo court.
In the dream, I felt anger and rage that anything so ridiculous could happen. Strangely, the awareness of real-life pain wove in and out of my sleep and it felt like the dream cops were the cause of the electric shock-type pains that travel through my body and the severe muscle spasms I get in my legs. I couldn’t stand. I was so angry I tried to bite the officers restraining me.
When I woke, I was still angry. I knew I was innocent! I wanted to give those people in my dream the same treatment they had given me. I’d shoot them all with tazers! I’d twist their joints with ropes! I’d jab their guts with a bowie knife! It took a while to calm down and convince myself it was just a dream.
My body still hurt though. I was grumpy all day. I’m a little slow sometimes, and not just due to coping with pain and lack of sleep. Sometimes I just don’t get it.
Two of the words I’ve been thinking about for Creative Meditations for Lent this week are passion and innocent. In the dream I knew I was innocent. In the dream I fought passionately against the injustice of the whole thing. It didn’t dawn on me until I was looking at photos I took of a place called “Ecce Homo” in Jerusalem, that there could be a message in the dream. I have prayed Philippians 3:10 many times. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection [and the part I’m not as fond of but include because it’s a part of the whole picture] and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”.
Jesus was innocent. Jesus was not emotionless. He was tempted in every way we are. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) God created us to naturally want to protect our bodies and souls from harm. If he was also human, how could Jesus control a passionate drive to defend himself from the false accusation from a disciple he loved? Did Jesus feel the powerful urge to strike back at those striking him? How could he love these people? How could he say, “Father, forgive them…?”
Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he emptied himself to live as a human, subject to the limitations of humans. [Christ Jesus] “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) It was his connection with the Father and Holy Spirit that demonstrated what it is to be fully human living in right relationship with God the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He came to reconnect us to the Father. He left the earth so the Holy Spirit could come and fill us, comfort us, and renew us.
The worn stone pavement thought to be the location of the old Roman garrison under an ancient building in Jerusalem is called Ecce Homo – “Behold the Man.” These were Pilate’s words as he handed Jesus over to the soldiers who were no doubt demonically inspired to do their worst to him there.
The song, “Behold the Man” comes to mind today.
Like a lamb to the slaughter
They led Him away
He was battered, bruised, and beaten
For the sheep who’d gone astray…
Through the scourging and the beatings
He never said a thing…
Behold the Man
Really look at Him
And then you’ll understand
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus tis now.
People, People, People
One day, when we were in Jerusalem, the crowds in the narrow streets got to me. It was hot, smelly, and noisy. Many people shouted in many languages. People kept trying to sell me stuff, and people pushing to see edifices that were more likely memorials to quarrelling religious traditions than actual historic locations were just too much. People, people, people! I just wanted to get out of there.
I don’t like crowds much. In fact, one of the major factors in planning my day is figuring out how to avoid crowds. It’s not merely that I am inpatient and dislike accommodating everyone’s need to turn left on the same corner, or reach for the same sale item on the same shelf, (although I admit the attitude needs some work), it’s that I am not good at blocking out the humanity of humanity.
I feel anxiety, frustration, fatigue, disappointment, excitement, and aggressiveness that is not just mine. Lately I sense more anger and outright hatred than usual. When I do treat individuals in a crowd like noisy unpredictable impediments in a video game and resort to self-serving assertiveness, I don’t like what I have become. Yet to act otherwise means not getting business done so I can escape.
Jesus avoided crowds when he could, but at the same time, these were the people he came to save. Perhaps his exhaustion came from feeling so much in the people who pulled at him and shouted to him. He never shut off his compassion.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
Today we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. We remember that even though he sensed the thoughts and feelings of everyone in those crowded streets, including the ones who wanted to kill him and would soon manipulate a mob to call for his execution, he still loved them.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37
He still longs to gather the harassed and helpless into his arms. There is no greater love.
When an interviewer has a new rising star in the studio, they will often ask, “Who are your influences?”
I often ask this question of people who are not on the rising platform that is fame, at least not yet. I ask people who are potentially both on the way up or down, people who are ordinary, people who are interesting, people who are growing, and people who are passionate about issues that are life-changing. It’s a good way to get to know people.
Let me take a moment to answer my own question. First some honesty.
On Why-Do-The-Wicked-Prosper and Why-Do-Bad-Things-Happen-To-Good-People questioning days, my influencers are like the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha: “Lord, if you had been here this horrible thing would not have happened!”
On less attentive days, I am influenced negatively by doom and gloomers who cheer the descent of the world as it races toward the handbasket destined for hell thinking it signifies the time of rescue of the elect off this planet.
On I-Want-To-Look-Good days, I am influenced by the media mavens who equate compassionate love with short-sighted indulgence.
On days when I follow You-Think-That’s-Bad soap boxers on social media, I am influenced by those whose goal is to see them punished and us rewarded.
On better days, I am influenced positively by those who can wait to see the bigger picture.
On better days, I am influenced by those who choose good over evil, even when it seems to be to their detriment. I am influenced by the athlete who sacrifices a sure win to come to the aid of another athlete in distress, for example.
I am influenced by people who have spoken or written words of profound wisdom that bring greater understanding of the character of God, even if their own reputations, were later destroyed by failure to rely on God and leave a harmful God-avoiding coping mechanism behind.
I am influenced by artists and scientists who pursue excellence in both knowledge and wisdom and communicate insights with honesty and transparency.
I am influenced by children and guileless folks on the autism spectrum who have the clarity to shout, “Hey! The emperor has no clothes,” when I have accepted traditions that say it is wrong to think that out loud.
I am influenced by the parent who puts more effort into raising an inconvenient child than gaining accolades or material goods for themselves.
I am influenced by the introvert who leaves the comfort of their favourite chair to venture onto far-away stages in obedience to a calling on their life.
I am influenced by the experienced extrovert who listens first, second, and third before responding with better questions.
I am influenced by those who demonstrate self-control while giving others the freedom to control themselves.
I am influenced by those who talk about other people behind their backs in kind, appreciative ways.
I am influenced by the strong but gentle, the encouragers, the visionaries, the builders, the apologizers, the forgivers, the comforters, the humble, the confidant, the serene.
I am influenced by people who provoke me, annoy me, and exasperate me because they genuinely love me.
I am influenced by people who see ugliness, but rest their eyes on beauty.
I’m surrounded by a lot of influencers, some great, some not so great. I could name these people, but you probably wouldn’t recognize most of them. The one I will name, hoping you know him, is Jesus the Christ.
The root of the word influence means “to flow into.” More than anyone else I want Jesus to flow into and through me. I can only hope that someday it will show in my work.