As Different as Chalk and Cheese

Sometimes I wonder if one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep the disciples from killing each other. This week, as I watched another political/religious family feud break out on social media I remembered that Jesus, born into a time of political high tension, took both a collaborator and a resistance fighter on a road trip. It’s time to re-blog this.

Charis: Subject to Change

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I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”

And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.

Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle. The one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest…

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Why Have Children?

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I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

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For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

Hope: Child-like Expectation

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Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.

I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row.  Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.

Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.

I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.

This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.

She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”

I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.

My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus

(Matthew 18:3 TPT)

 

 

 

Holy Ambush

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“Holy Ambush” Painted September 14 and 15 during worship services.

I love the story of the woman at the well. I’ve written about her before (here).

Jesus sent his disciples ahead so he could wait to talk to someone who was the wrong sex, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion, and had the wrong social standing, according to contemporary religious types.

She had her defenses up. But when she was honest with this strange man who broke with all social convention, he was open with her. He spoke plainly to her about who he was. After that encounter, she became a woman of influence.

I painted Jesus waiting for her. I usually avoid painting representations of the Messiah. There is already a very long history of artists imposing their culture on the stories told in the Bible. How does one paint someone who was both God and man? And did they really dress like Medieval peasants at that time? The metaphors nature provides are safer and less likely to attract critics whose minds snag on possible historical anachronisms.

At the end of the first worship session all I had on my canvas was something that looked like the background for the flannel board lesson my grandmother used to teach at Happy Hour Bible Club on Thursday afternoons after school. The problem was that I didn’t know what this story was going to be about. The creative imagery screen in my mind was playing a test pattern. I was blank.

I thought about sneaking all my painting paraphernalia out the side door and taking my regular seat at the next service. I worried that I was falling into the old performance trap. It would be better to admit I had no ideas than to forge on trying to look good because I enjoyed the compliments I received before. Been there. Have you seen my T-shirt collection?

Then the speaker began to teach about honesty and the Samaritan woman. The part of the story that struck me this time was that Jesus, who listened to his Father, probably knew she would be coming to the well alone. He sent the disciples ahead because this encounter would be way out of the box for them.

Then he waited for her.

Sunday morning I put the painting, such as it was, back on the easel and began to paint the picture I now had in my head. I know that 2000+ years ago Jesus wasn’t mostly white like me. He didn’t speak English, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t wear jeans. But when he invites me to sit and be open and honest with him, he speaks my language. He understands my landscape and my culture. He knows me and my history and all my shame and that wretched fear of rejection. He offers more love and acceptance than I ever hoped for.

He still waits to reveal who he really is to those brave enough to respond honestly to him. The rejected, the overlooked, the ostracized, the marginalized? They are the ones to whom he reveals his true self first. It’s a holy ambush.

I Will Remember

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This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.

Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.

We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury.  I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.

This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.

Arks

moses basket IMG_4064 (Edited)

“Ark” From last night’s prophetic art class.

One of the things our instructor talked about yesterday was the Hebrew word for ‘ark’ and how the same word was used for Noah’s massive structure and the little floating woven box that held three-month old Moses. She mentioned discovering in her word studies that some Semitic scholars say the word for ark, tevah or tebah, can also mean word. It is possible to see the metaphor of The Word as a salvation capsule in a hostile environment.

I didn’t have any ideas in advance about subject matter for a painting. I stared at the blank canvas longer than usual. Earlier in the day I read articles about child sex slaves in North America. I’ve seen enough in my life to have no doubt that there are evil people in this world who traffic children. What pains me most is knowing there is a shockingly large market for such unspeakably horrible dark drives – and I live among the customers. Abuse is lucrative.

My heart despairs when people deny, or look the other way, or shrug at evidence of deep-rooted corruption that allows such things to flourish. But, to be honest, sometimes it’s just too much for me too. I don’t want to know. I don’t even know how to pray. I feel overwhelmed, and when I feel overwhelmed I forget to look to God. I let despair get to me and I shut down.

I was offline as far as spiritual sensitivity was concerned last night. Our teacher talked about Moses’ basket so eventually I started painting a basket in the water like the old Sunday school pictures. Mostly I was just trying to keep it from looking like a floating hamburger. The result failed to impress me. I threw it in the backseat of the car and drove home.

Today I began to think about how Moses was born in a time when slavery was normal. There was an attack on the next generation with orders for midwives not to allow male babies to survive birth. Gendercide and infanticide was accepted  policy. Life was cheap. Just like now.

But God was making preparations for deliverance. His way required the co-operative intervention of women who disobeyed the law to allow a baby to live, a girl who used ingenuity to preserve a child’s life, a woman who gave up a child to keep him safe, and a woman who adopted and raised a foreign slave’s child to become part of the royal house. They all took risks.

God had a plan for fulfilling promises to his people that started years before they could see it. The plan looked completely different than anyone expected and even then it took a generation for them to let it change their thinking.

I wonder if God has been preparing people in the isolation of tebahs and palaces and deserts long before now. I wonder if we will recognize God’s ways when he responds to our cries for freedom and justice. And cry we must.