Expansion: Get Used to Different

I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
 (Psalm 119:32 NLT)

Sometimes I think about what life was like when my grandparents built their first houses on the Canadian prairies. They had to be adventurous people. Breaking ground that has never been broken before is a daunting task. I think about both my grandmothers preparing meals for large families and threshing crews without modern appliances or even a grocery store nearby.

I wonder if they were suddenly transported to today, a hundred years in their futures, if they could comprehend cooking a quick dinner in the microwave from a recipe I searched for on my cell phone. I wonder if they would understand a fraction of the material my thirteen-year-old granddaughter learned in science today or the games my twelve-year-old grandson played on his computer this afternoon. Instead of my spinning wheel I could show them the shirt I bought this morning. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles.

Yet I wonder if we, ok I, went back a hundred years, if I could understand their willingness to go beyond the bounds of the familiar, and seek a better life for themselves and their children. Both my grandmothers remained faithful to God in challenging circumstances, both saw many changes in their lifetimes. Both had a vision for the future and a willingness to expand their horizons (which were literally much broader on the prairies.)

I wonder if God has much more for us to understand about him, and the world he created, and who he created us to be in that world. I wonder if we will not be able to understand without taking the risk of making changes.

There is a line spoken by the actor representing Jesus in the popular episodic series, The Chosen. It stood out to me when the smiling, kind Son of God said, “Get used to different.” It was a pay-attention moment.

Throughout history, the stress of change and upheaval has often been the way God has moved to expand our understanding. He’s doing it again. Get used to different. Your understanding may be his next expansion project.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Expansion

Consider

Consider

Someone told me there were paved trails with good views of the city up by the Pioneers’ Cemetery. I was thinking I would do something on “When I consider the heavens…” from Psalm 8 for today’s photo meditation for Lent using the word prompt, “consider.” I went there to look for a good shot of the sky and the sunset over the city and the lake. But the sun disappeared. The foreground view was filled with warehouses and industrial sites. I hadn’t intended to spend time looking at the gravestones. That feels like a macabre activity, but they caught my attention.

The Hebrew word translated as “consider” in most translations of the Bible means “to see, perceive, regard, observe, watch, study, discern…” You get the idea. I perceived something I hadn’t really taken note of before and that was the number of graves of women in their twenties and thirties. I had seen graves of young mine and railway workers before, but I hadn’t really considered how young many of the women were when their bodies were laid in those graves. It seemed that if a woman made it past childhood disease years and childbearing years, she would had a good chance of living to an old age of sixty or more.

Then I saw it. I am in my sixties. By standards of a hundred plus years ago, I am one of the lucky ones who has lived to an old age.

The verse, “Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90) came to mind. There is something about taking time to consider, to contemplate, to pay attention, that helps us gain wisdom. I realized that I can be thankful for many years that others never had. In fact, the fewer years seniors can reasonably expect to have ahead of them, the more valuable those years become.

I also realize that no matter how many years we have, they are never enough. We are meant to be eternal creatures. Jesus offers us eternal life. He restores us to our original settings. That’s what this season leading up to Resurrection Sunday is all about.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2: 4, 5 NIV)

Looking Back: Fake News and the Right to Think for Myself

rear view mirror ch rs DSC_0215

I grew up with someone who lied – a lot. She lied when it was not in her best interest. She lied when it was in no one’s best interest. She lied when her story could easily be disproven. She lied when the mood was light and when the mood was serious.

She also told the truth – a lot. She sometimes told the truth when most people would have exercised more discretion, but she could be incisive. She also had many valuable skills and taught me practical, useful knowledge I am grateful for to this day.

People she upset labeled her a compulsive liar and broke off relationships. Folks inclined to be more gracious added, “Sally’s* version” with a wink to the end of any information they passed on from her.

When I asked about family history she related, my uncle said, “Well now, you know how she had trouble getting her story straight,” he said, adjusting his dusty cowboy hat. “But you know she meant well.”

We all learned she couldn’t get a story straight — eventually. The problem was that sometimes she told the truth. Important truth. Truth that required response.

I couldn’t trust what she said, but I couldn’t afford to dismiss her either. The major complicating factor was that I loved her dearly and knew that she loved me and did her best to care for me. I knew she had a good heart and would never intentionally hurt anyone, but the lying did hurt a lot of people, myself included. Kind, responsible family members cleaned up more than a few messes she left in her cheerful wake. They shrugged and privately gave me a more accurate version later.

It wasn’t until after she died that I read an article explaining the complicated, frustrating behaviour of the person that was part of my childhood environment. A disorder resulting from head trauma, or brain damage before birth, or as a result of advanced age, can cause a person to “confabulate.” Often, as in my caretaker’s case, parts of one story mix with the details of another story without the speaker being the least bit aware of blatant inaccuracies. Sometimes their brain will fill in forgotten memories with memories from another time, or a work of fiction, or even from another person’s story. In all innocence they trust their mind to give them accurate information and are hurt when you accuse them of making it up.

Sally sincerely believed she was telling the truth. Since she showed some other traits of learning disabilities, such as being almost illiterate, I began to understand. She was not intentionally lying after all. She would stick to her story even as people stared at her, slack-jawed at the audacity of her whoppers. She cried when they rejected her.

She could say, for example, “School is closed today because some bad kids stole a backhoe and burned it down when they hit a gas main.” The actual story was that school was closed because workers accidently hit a water pipe when they were working on the building extension. The part I needed to know was that my school was closed that day. The school that burned down was her school, half a century earlier. Sometimes it was like she saw a version of events through a distance-distorting rearview mirror and temporal space anomaly at the same time – but the essence was still there.

More than once I was embarrassed when I passed on a confabulated story. More than once I struggled with anger for believing all of it. In the years when I developed, like most teens, a radar for hypocrisy, I was not very respectful. I didn’t want to be seen with her. As an adult I honoured her and even enjoyed her, but kept a skeptical distance. She died more than thirty years ago and as I write this, tears fall because I know she loved me more than anyone before or since. I would love to hear her ridiculous synopsis of the six o’clock news about now, because as off-base as it could be, there was always an essential truth I needed to know in there somewhere.

Growing up in that environment taught me an important lesson. I cannot assume a report is entirely true. I cannot assume it is entirely false. The balance of accurate facts and misplaced facts cannot always be determined by the teller’s motives. We are all broken people in some way and our stories are filtered through experience, lack of experience, biases, selfish motives, altruistic motives — and even brain damage. I may not agree with Dr. House in the re-runs I’ve been watching that “everyone lies,” but I don’t believe everyone tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth either. God only knows what the whole truth looks like, but I want to hear what people have to say anyway.

Whether it’s the government, or social media sites, or heresy hunters who want to clamp down on sources of “fake news” or “bad teaching” or “uncertified medical opinions” and thereby determine truth for me, I want to shout no!

When someone tries to keep me from seeing the work of a writer, or a speaker, or photographer, or film maker because their narrative doesn’t fit the desired grid, I feel insulted. To eliminate sources “experts” consider fake is to imply there are some they consider to always be perfectly accurate.  I have to question their motives.

If I let another source do the critical thinking for me, I’m relinquishing a hard-earned skill and the opportunity to ask questions, spit out the bones, and humbly accept correction when I have swallowed something without exercising proper discernment. Worse than that, it means giving up access to important information that could be in there somewhere that I need to pay attention to. Creativity begins with thinking outside the box.

I believe we can ask God for wisdom and discernment. I believe we can pray for His light to shine in dark places and expose intentional lies and evil motives. I believe information should be as accurate as possible and age-appropriate when presented to children. I believe positions of trust require scrutiny and accountability. Justice must be seen to be done when trust is intentionally broken.  These things are important. But I also believe God gave us brains for a reason. Without exercise, they will atrophy.

I’m not a child anymore. Give me the freedom to think and discern for myself, please. I know how. Sally taught me.

*not her real name

Memories in Sepia

Photo: Sepia roses

I tried my hand at my version of vintage-style photography this week. I like the juxtaposition of something new and fresh encased in a historical frame.

When I was a child I thought the second world war took place in black and white. That idea probably came from watching the old TV show about the war narrated by Walter Cronkhite- the one on Sunday afternoons that started with a big picture of the Rock of Gibraltar. Even as an adult I am surprised when I see photos of the war years in colour.

In a way, I suppose all history is written in black and white. So many colourful nuances are left out of historical accounts. What made masses of regular people believe certain ideas? Why did they choose to make the choices to follow the leaders they did? What made some cultures xenophobic or aggressive or peaceful? Who convinced some that genocide or infant sacrifice or slavery was a good idea? What was going on in the mind of an ordinary woman as she stirred the pottage, or a man as he mended a door hinge?

Historical accounts are rarely accurate, of course, since they are written by the winners and don’t take dissenter’s opinions into account. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who worked behind the scenes (aka a spy) to bring down a regime he saw as evil, is one example of many who opposed what was happening in his country. Current history writers (the winners) remove his traitor status, but that label hung him on the gallows in his own time.

I was on a jury that heard the testimony of thirty-two people who witnessed the same shooting. Amazingly no two versions were the same. When I read newspaper accounts  later I wondered if the reporter and I were at the same trial. His perception of what took place was so different from mine. That month was a dramatic lesson in how people’s minds screened truth. I do believe the majority of witnesses were trying to be factual (although most were seriously drunk at the scene of the crime) but I tended to believe the ones who revealed their own weaknesses, and included details about which way the door opened and not being able to see faces clearly because of back-lighting, rather than the ones who saw themselves as heroes but couldn’t remember if they drove home “after imbibing.”

History, as we are taught it, may not be fully accurate in detail, but it does teach us about patterns and cycles. We are foolish to ignore those patterns. Mark Twain said something like, “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” If the people holed up in David Koresh’ compound in Waco, Texas had known the strikingly similar story of the people holed up in Munster, Westphalia in the 16th century would they have used the same tactics? Would the government sponsored assailants have repeated the same type of seige?  Has anyone noticed the  pattern in history of proclaiming a group of humans “non-persons” in the process of trying to excuse their annihilation? Historically what has happened when people are fed messages of  fear over and over? What has happened when political leaders are more relied upon for safety and provision than God? Why are people surprised when ones they hand power to, expecting them to save us, tend to usurp more power and start acting like gods? (That power corrupts must be one of the most often repeated lessons in history.)

The Bible says to teach your children their history. It includes enough details about the failings and faults of so many characters to make it quite believable to me. Bible heroes were also cowards, adulterers, drunks, thieves, slave masters, perjurers, and power-delusioned wretches like the rest of us. We can learn from them, or we can repeat the same mistakes.

The roses I photographed yesterday will be blown next week. A photo-shopped sepia memory exists, and now that I’ve posted it may be flung out into cyberspace in perpetuity. It’s not exactly how they looked (they were actually softy pink) but they are recognizable as roses –and they have taught me something.