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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Banquet of Blessings

 

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“Then how glad the nations will be when you are their King.
They will sing, they will shout, for you give true justice to the people.
Yes! You, Lord, are the shepherd of the nations!
Pause in his presence.

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No wonder the peoples praise you!
Let all the people praise you more!

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The harvest of the earth is here!
God, the very God we worship,
keeps us satisfied at his banquet of blessings.

Psalm 26:4-6 The Passion Translation

 

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.

Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

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I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

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I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

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As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people could not relate to by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

 

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I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

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It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

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I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

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