Precedented: How to Be a Rebuilder

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The situation we find ourselves is not new. I learned recently that my ancestors came from the small town in Europe where the first peasant uprising in the 16th century led to riots, death, and destruction. Systemic injustice builds until something breaks. History teaches us the dangers of looking the other way.

God doesn’t look the other way. In plain and blunt words, he told the people, through the prophet Isaiah, their show of religion that made no difference in their treatment of each other disgusted him.

We would do well to pay attention. From the Voice translation, an extract from Isaiah 58:

Eternal One: They pretend to want to learn what I teach,
As if they are indeed a nation good and true,
as if they hadn’t really turned their backs on My directives.
They even ask Me, as though they care,
about what I want them to be and do, as if they really want Me in their lives.

People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.

Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels,
contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting.
You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.

What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth), and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?
Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?

No, what I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.

A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.

Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.

Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,

If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.

The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.

You will discover there are people among your own
who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins;
You will firm up its ancient foundations.
And all around, others will call you
“Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”

(Isaiah 58:2-12 The Voice)

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

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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 and 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

Finding Peace in the Middle of a Contentious Atmosphere

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I fell for it. I didn’t really notice until I asked myself why I felt so agitated. I heard myself snap at my husband over some trivial matter. Later he (and a few others) had to listen to my rant about the way corrupt people with money and power are lying to the vulnerable and gullible. I picked up the nastiness in the atmosphere and, forgetting to get cleaned up after reading about systemic corruption in my country, I ran with it and added to the division.

I lost my peace.

One of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is that when I pray I need to remember who I am, to rest from striving and have confidence in the One to whom I pray — and to tune into His peace. In His presence I am content to trust. Covered by His righteousness, surrounded by His love, and secure in His goodness I can join in the way Jesus prays for a situation.

On my own I become angry. I rant about injustice, cover-ups, the abuse of power, the manipulation of people through fears and half-truths. On my own my best efforts contribute to the kind of division that delights the enemy of our souls. My own emotional reaction doesn’t work.

I thought about attitudes that counter anger and contention. I thought about peace and contentment as neutralizing weapons. But first I had to get cleaned up.

The essence of confession is this: Oh God, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

I was wrong to pick up the weapons of the author of contention. (I once heard in a dream, “You can contend without being contentious, you know.”) I was wrong for applying outrage instead of stepping into the place of confident security in The Truth and The Way.

My scheduled reading yesterday in Psalm 94 made me stop and think. So much of the upheaval we are experiencing comes down to the question, “Who is in control?”

You will be relieved to know it’s not me, nor can I tell God what to do. I can confess, get cleaned up, and step back into alignment with him though. Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness.

The scripture says the purposes of God are not achieved by the anger of man. My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen,[o] but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. (James 1:19, 20)

Prayer is more powerful than any demonstration of anger. God’s plan of revenge is first a heart transformed by love, but he will not tolerate forever those who hurt his children.

The Lord has fully examined every thought of man
and found them all to be empty and futile.

Lord Yah, there’s such a blessing that comes
when you teach us your word and your ways.
Even the sting of your correction can be sweet.

It rescues us from our days of trouble
until you are ready to punish the wicked.

For the Lord will never walk away from his cherished ones,
nor would he forsake his chosen ones who belong to him.

Whenever you pronounce judgments, they reveal righteousness.
All your lovers will be pleased.

Lord, who will protect me from these wicked ones?
If you don’t stand to defend me, who will? I have no one but you!

I would have been killed so many times
if you had not been there for me.

When I screamed out, “Lord, I’m doomed!”
your fiery love was stirred and you raced to my rescue.

Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control,
the soothing comfort of your presence
calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.

It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do
with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil
and defeat what is right.

For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness
and condemn the innocent to death.

But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them.
Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom.
For you, my God, you will destroy them,
giving them what they deserve.
For you are my true tower of strength,
my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.

(Psalm 94:11-23 TPT)

 

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Your Justice is Like Majestic Mountains

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One evening, as a group of us sat around talking about films we enjoyed, films we hated, and films that influenced us (categories which are not mutually exclusive), we noticed the theme of revenge kept popping up. Of course, somebody did an internet search.

The results shocked us.

We didn’t find 72 films with revenge themes. We found a 72 page-long list of movies based on revenge.

We looked up films with forgiveness themes. We found far fewer. Far, far fewer. A handful of pages. Maybe.

I admit to finding vicarious satisfaction in seeing a well-developed antagonist shot down in flames, hoisted on his own petard, humiliated in front of her ladies’ club, or hung on gallows built for the protagonist. Payback is sweet. I read calls for it every day on social media.

But God’s justice is not satisfied with unhappy endings like that. God takes a thief like Zacchaeus and transforms him into a benefactor. He turns a murderer like Moses into a deliverer, a world dominator like Nebuchadnezzar into a humble worshipper, and a persecutor like Saul into an apostle.

Perhaps that’s why he told us not to take vengeance into our own hands. Our self-righteous, untransformed concept of revenge-based justice would influence us to end the story too soon. We would spoil his fun.

And part of that fun is transforming me. And you.

Your justice is like the majestic mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the oceans, and yet in Your greatness, You, O Eternal, offer life for every person and animal.
(Psalm 36:6 The Voice)

 

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

 

Arks

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“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.

New. It Has Begun.

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Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection.
Made for joy, we settle for pleasure.
Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance.
Made for relationship, we insist on our own way.
Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment.

But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.
Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world …

That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.

– N. T. Wright

Mission Possible

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I’m thinking of instituting a film rating system based on trombones. A chick-flick can be rated for emotional content by the number of tissues used. An epic film requires a score written for trombones and some sort of electronically produced bass. A medieval clash in the forest – one trombone. An interplanetary collision that rocks the universe? Five trombones.

I think I am finally beginning to understand something. After several days of watching movies chosen by three generations of men in my family, I felt like I was suffering from PTSD. Last evening I holed up in a bedroom with a book while explosions and monster noises emanating from the new sound system in the basement shook the house. I felt exhausted. Every nerve jangled on high alert. (Discovery: God does not issue real grace for fictional film crises.)

The movies this week had similar themes. The world is dark. Evil has a death grip on hope. You can’t always tell the good guys from the bad guys. Just when a protagonist has eluded certain annihilation or won a battle against impossible odds, another heavily armed enemy steps into the hallway or lands with a dishware-shaking thud in front of a disabled space vehicle.

I don’t know about the main character or characters, but I am tired after just watching – and I haven’t even been shot, stabbed, punched or launched through the air by a creature with fingers as thick as my thigh. 10,000 may fall at his right side, but somehow this lone misunderstood guy (or this group of oddly gifted last bastions of truth and right) keeps going.

I watch my grandson who, as a teenager, has recently been admitted to the fraternity of watchers of movies with adult ratings and parental guidance warnings. As a grandmother I want to protect his innocence as long as possible. You see, the years between us mean that I have seen the consequences of evil. For him, it’s mostly theoretical. I know too much, most of that knowledge garnered the hard way. My scars bear witness.

But I can’t protect him. He is already surrounded by absurd philosophies and circumstances my parents never dreamed of. He is now the one preparing to take up the sword. He is becoming a man with a growing drive to fight evil, injustice, and hypocrisy. (God help the parent of a teen with a radar for hypocrisy!) The enemy of our souls may try to hinder this upcoming generation by throwing deception and distraction, but many of them know there is more than hopeless acceptance of corruption. They see the light on the horizon. The hope of eternity is planted in their hearts. They are warriors.

The mission is not impossible. God equips his children with unlikely weapons and powerful gifts that include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. As the angel Gabriel said to a girl who was probably still a teenager: “Not one promise from God is empty of power, for nothing is impossible with God!”

This grandmother never stops praying for wisdom and that they will be protected from temptation to fight anyone but the enemy in any other way but God’s way.

 

A Throne Forever

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Of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—
sustainable peace for all time.

This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.

He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.

The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,
will carry this to completion.

(Isaiah 9:7 The Voice)

Be careful who you follow. There is only one Messiah. His name is Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace