Note to Self

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Someone sent a note. I love notes. She noticed I haven’t written much lately and was concerned for my health.

Thank you for asking. I have some health challenges, but not enough to keep me away from the keyboard. I haven’t posted as regularly as usual because, well, I needed to stop talking, hit delete, and go listen to people I care about – to good friends, to not-so-good friends, to strangers, and even to my own heart. I especially needed to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit. I still do.

It’s been a noisy time. I hear fear. So much fear. I hear anger. This kind of anger is not aimed just at the people in authority in government. This kind of anger has roots tangled with other roots of offense that go deep. These roots, extending for miles, connect with many disappointments in people and institutions we trusted. They extend so far back into the faded past, many are not sure where it all started.

I found myself swept along by the mob, demanding justice and payback for the sins of people who were themselves demanding retribution for the dishonour dumped on them – for years. I was also not-so-secretly cheering at the public revelation of moral failures on their side.

I was about to enjoy tossing off a good rant, when one of my own older blog posts popped up and arrested my attention. It was about the importance of waiting on God for wisdom and discernment and asking better questions. (You can find it here.)

In a dream, an exasperated voice asked me if I even read the stuff I write. Oh dear. It seemed like a good time to go back and read some sermons to self. I realized that wisdom and discernment are getting lost under a stack of my personal opinions and offended reactions. Note to self: Pay attention. Prioritize.

I also listened to a friend who suggested looking at a well-known story about Jesus differently. A group of men dragged a woman, caught in the act of adultery, before Jesus. It wasn’t about the woman. They didn’t care about her. They wanted to trap Jesus into doing or saying something politically inexpedient. It was a set-up to catch him making a self-contradicting statement. Not an unfamiliar scenario these days.

The mob raged. Jesus said nothing. Instead, he stooped and wrote something in the dirt.

Many people have speculated about what he wrote. If it was important, I’m sure it would have been included in the narrative, but that hasn’t stopped me from speculating too.

“What if,” my friend asked, pausing in a way that gave weight to what he was about to say next, “What if Jesus was just doodling?”

“Doodling?”

“Doodling. You know, drawing sheep with silly grins or maybe writing a Latin lesson. “Amo, amas, I loved a lass…”

“I doubt that. Your point?”

“What if the point of writing in the dirt was to break the momentum of the mob? Have you noticed that mob mentality provokes you to throw decorum aside and say or do things that, given the opportunity to think about it, you realize would probably embarrass you later?”

“Are you saying that when people stopped shouting and leaned in to see what he was doing, he gave them time to think independently?”

“Well, when he gave the ones who had never sinned the opportunity to cast the first stone, he hinted that maybe they should examine their own hearts for impulsive, rebellious, evil, or just plain stupid decisions they have also made.”

“I think I see,” I said. “And when the momentum was broken, when they stopped running with the mob, they could think about their actions.”

“He told the woman not to sin again,” my friend said, “so he wasn’t affirming her choice. But she wasn’t the one who asked the question. She wasn’t making demands on him with a disingenuous motive.”

Note to self: Don’t let the mob think for you.

It’s election season in my country. ‘Tis the season for striving for positions of power and, by virtue signalling or opponent bashing, divide the population into cheerleading teams for a winner-takes-all verbal battle.

Integrity seems to have vanished in the dust-up.

The questions behind the question of whose team to root for are probably more important than we realize. Why are we afraid? Where did the anger come from? What happened to hope, to trust, to goodness, to love? Why do we put our trust in mere mortal, obviously fallible “kings” to save us?

No. I’m sorry. Not we… I.

I have to stop the ranting and examine my own heart. Why am I afraid? Why am I angry? When did I lose trust? Who am I expecting to be my saviour?

My country needs good, faithful competent administrators who will put the needs of its people ahead of their own. Integrity matters. Character matters. Trust matters. I have a responsibility to pray for discernment and vote wisely. But I don’t need a father or mother figure, or a pope or a guru, or an indulgent Santa Claus or any other idol. I already have a God. My hope is in him.

I’m going to stop talking now and go for a walk. It’s time to seek the Lord.

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When God Says No

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I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.

The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)

My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)

But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.

More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.

It didn’t turn out so well.

I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.

In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?

In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.

“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.

Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.

It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.

Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.

I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.

But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

(Hebrews 5:14 TPT)

Trespassing By Permission Only

Wait… what?

Every time I pass this sign on an empty lot I shake my head. “TRESPASSING BY PERMISSION ONLY”

Wait… what?

If you have permission to trespass are you not still trespassing? Is trespassing not a boundary violation thus implying a, you know, violation?

Is this permission to trespass like the greasy grace I hear people talking about, the definition of grace that says sin has no consequences because everything past and future has been forgiven? I met a person who insisted that any effort to live a righteous life rejected the grace of God and proved they had a works-based picture of salvation. She left a broken relationship debris trail in her wake.

Is this a trick or a Mission Impossible set-up? We want you to go do this thing, but should you be apprehended we shall disavow any knowledge of you or permission given. Intrigue may be the stuff of fascinating film plots, but it’s not the stuff of a lifestyle of integrity that earns respect or votes in the next selection of committee chairperson.

Is this a case of the owner of the property and the administrator of the property disagreeing on who is in charge? I’ve had supervisors like that. Boss #1: All forms must be submitted in triplicate, no exceptions. Boss #2: Ignore that policy. It takes too long. One copy is good enough. Here’s an impossible pile of work for you to complete by closing today. It feels like being free to choose your executioner.

Is this the kind of rule that does not apply equally? I know people who think traffic rules apply only to stupid people with slow reaction time, and they, being neither stupid nor slow, are not subject to laws that impede their agenda. Drive the legal speed limit in the left lane and they will let you know which category they consider you to be in. I also know people qualified by knowledge and hazmat suits who dare to go where others do not, but are they trespassing by permission, or those ordained by legal authority are they boldly re-taking polluted territory?

Is this a rule that is actually a valid rule or did someone assume they could stick up a sign any old place and claim squatters’ rights the way an intimidating person with a snarling dog claims a patch of pavement in a part of town Mama told you to avoid? Jesus was not afraid to confront demonic squatters who claimed ownership of suffering souls. “He is mine!” they cried. “No, he is not. Get out!” he said firmly. They left and he destroyed their signs.

Is this the kind of law that made sense in a different time and a different culture but is a source of humour now? We laugh at some ancient rules still on the books for lack of a good clean-up. They may have been based on consideration or expediency at the time, but no longer apply. In the town of Saywhat, Saskatchewan, it is illegal to tie your hog to the statue of the mayor on Tuesdays. Is it always better to remain single or was that advice given for a time of severe persecution in the first century in Thessalonica? Must a woman be silent in the presence of all men forever or was Paul’s advice to Timothy meant to be a temporary measure to establish some kind of order in a place that had no grid for freedom with consideration?

Is this the kind of sign that indicates a significant change in the way we assumed God works? I sympathize with Peter, a life-time rule-keeper, who was given a repeated vision of formerly forbidden food before realizing God was asking him to take the good news beyond boundaries he had always known. How would I respond? I would hope that I had the discernment to be very sure this was God speaking to me, but I would probably want more than three repetitions, an audible voice and a committee knocking at the door.

If I think I have heard the voice of God telling me to trespass, either the boundary is not really a boundary, or it is not really the voice of God.

Or does this sign merely snag the attention of picky people who think too much? Maybe I just need to see it as a reminder that gracious people can glance at a sign, smile, and say I know what they meant. Good enough.

 


Ancient Words: Changing Me, Changing You

The artist who created these masks, a therapist who helps people overcome addictions, gave me permission to share his work. I was deeply moved when he explained their meaning to me.

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As I recall, the first mask represents the moment when demon addiction can no longer be kept hidden behind an everything’s-fine façade.

The second mask symbolizes the honest appraisal of that realizes both a dark side and a light side exist in the same person.

The face in the third mask is covered with words from Psalm 51, in which the broken-hearted writer admits the need for forgiveness and appeals to God to create in him a clean heart and to restore his joy. The promises of God become his new covering. “You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O, God.”

The passage is written in Medieval Hebrew script. It is followed by the Lord’s prayer in Greek. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

These are some of the verses in the psalm that stood out to me:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.

For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight…

Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin…

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God…

(Selected verses from Psalm 51 NLT)

 

I believe true change of  heart needs more than an understanding of what motivated us to make the choices we did and gearing up for another attempt at exerting willpower. True change is insight and an effort to change powered by Gods`s grace that heals our hearts and creates an entirely new person through Jesus Christ.

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The song, Ancient Words, by Michael W Smith is playing in my mind.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
Oh let the ancient words impart
Courage, peace, a loving heart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
Oh let the ancient words impart
A moving, quick incisive dart.

 

 

 

 

Love, Beauty, Faith, Life

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The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

~Elie Wiesel

I prayed this week about creeping indifference in my own heart. I asked God what he wants to replace it with. Then I heard:

Love

Beauty

Faith

Life

 

Everything Photographic: Adjusting to Change

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I stayed in bed longer than I should have. I felt tired before I even started the day. Everyone has pet peeves – those particularly irritating circumstances custom-designed to decimate your personal peace. For me the most vexing problem, the one that magnifies the list of weaknesses personality tests use to identify my type, is when something I rely on doesn’t work. I hate it when a device breaks, or when someone fails to deliver on a promise.

Breakages seem to come in clusters in our house. My travel camera died in the middle of catching perfect light on a patch of pink yarrow. My computer sluggishly obeys requests then stubbornly freezes several times in an hour. The dishwasher merely rearranges detritus on cups and plates, and the rocking ceiling fan (in the middle of the hottest smokiest August I can remember) threatens to fly off its moorings and decapitate someone, probably me, since I’m the only one sitting under it.

It seems like every morning my body develops a new idiosyncrasy that will now require special attention to keep it moving. Come to think of it, this old flesh is acting like my old car that needs me to hold the steering wheel at a precise angle before the ignition key will work. Note to self: Remember to stretch the kink out before putting weight on that leg.

I stayed in bed longer than I should have because I lost my peace and I know I need to find it before I get up and rain gloom and misery on everyone. As Lena sang, “Stormy Weather, just can’t get my poor self together. Keeps rainin’ all the time.” Except it’s not raining in B.C.. That would be an improvement.

Part of the problem was that I read too many negative, blame-casting, fake/not fake/what-is-truth? uncovering and catastrophizing posts, tweets and blogs before I fell asleep the night before. It’s not just my stuff that doesn’t work. Many of the institutes I have relied on most of my life are broken. (I told you I feel out-of-sorts when things I rely on don’t work – and there’s a lot of stuff out there that is not working.) It doesn’t take a prophet to see that no matter what happens in the future it will require a major adjustment to change.

When I am flopped on the bed like a beached whale held fast by the inertia of my own weighty negativity I don’t have the energy to face more adjustments, whether it’s replacing old technology, or changing mindsets about how all levels of government should operate, or how churches should organize — or how both can function with accountability and integrity.

I’m tired.

Like millions of others I see so much that is broken, but I don’t know how to fix it. It’s easier to moan, roll over, and pull the covers over my head than it is to get my focus back on God through thankfulness and praise. I know I need to let him reassure me with his shalom kind of peace (nothing broken, nothing missing, everything I need.) I can’t do that with my head wrapped in a pillow of fear.

Help, Lord.

That’s when this photo came to mind. I found it earlier this week while sorting through the unsorted. I saved the pictures I thought I should take if the fires come any closer and we are put on evacuation notice like the town down the road. The photo of the old abandoned building in Edmonton spoke to me.

Ernest Brown must have been proud of his building on dedication day in 1912. Its windows overlooked the river valley in the brand-new city of Edmonton. He was the photographer in town. He offered “Everything Photographic.” In those days photographic equipment was something few people possessed. Even fewer possessed the the skill to use it. Ernest understood the technology and the artistry that went into creating a prized photo. His business took off. He was a success.

Then the first world war happened. When it was over people who were reeling from loss and disillusionment no longer had money for luxuries like photographs. Ernest went bankrupt. The only thing he could take with him when the bank foreclosed were his negatives. Later those negatives became historical foundation pieces in several museums. He was the man who documented an unprecedented era of growth while his own world shrank.

I took this photo of the old Brown building with my digital camera. I did not need to buy film, or paper, or developer from a photography shop. I don’t think Mr. Ernest Brown could have imagined the advancement in amateur and professional photography we see today. Would I want to go back to the days when I spent my entire allowance on developing one roll of snapshots? No. I probably delete that many duds without remorse every time I download my camera. Imagine trying to describe to Ernest a phone that not only takes photographs but sends them instantly around the world? Unbelievable!

Here’s the thing, times have changed, and times are changing. When the “Everything Photographic” sign went up people depended on one expert and his employees to provide photographs. Now, 106 years later I can do everything he did and more, all by myself. Change means letting go of something – and it’s not always by choice. Sometimes the gap, the in-between time, the liminal space before we see something better, is bigger than we anticipate. We can choose to respond to disappointment with bitterness or cynicism if we want, but that is not the way of peace.

God is not worried. I do believe he hears his people’s cries and he is exposing all this dysfunction because he has something better ahead.

This is why the Scriptures say:
Things never discovered or heard of before,
things beyond our ability to imagine —
these are the many things God has in store
for all his lovers.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Lord answered my prayer for peace. He gave me a lens change. A line from a Kristene DeMarco song began to play in my head.

Let me show you what I see
You can’t dream too big for Me
So get up, get on your way
We’ve got things to do today

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would.

I got up. I did things. Writing this blog was one of them.