Tell It Like It Is

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When I was a teenager my long dark straight hair, parted in the middle Juliet-style, almost reached my waist. I was so proud of it.

My mother hated it. She showed me borrowed magazines full of photos of the cute curly-permed styles she would have loved as a teen, if only her stepmother had allowed her to cut her hair. It seems the fashion pendulum swings its way into the middle of independence struggles in every generation.

My mother did not approve of my skirt length either, but neither did I approve of hers – although I would never dare to say so out loud. We compromised. Rather, I compromised by wearing the skirts she bought and waiting until I reached the bus shelter before rolling them up at the waist.

Miniskirts were not designed for girls living on the prairies in Canadian winter. The January wind in Calgary left more than one of us enduring geometry class amid the distraction of chilblains on our thighs. That factor bore no influence on my need to not look like my mother`s generation, nor did the hazards of wearing fashionable unlined boots with absolutely no traction on ice. I bore frozen toes and ripped stockings with feigned nonchalant flare deserving of an Oscar – at least in front of Mom.

We quarrelled over music as well. I studied classical music and sang in my first opera at 14 (The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel). “Old” music was not the problem. Our problem – ok, my problem – was old church music.

“Listen to this!” I said to her in a voice that was probably too loud for the living room. I played the last two bars of every song in a book called The Church Soloist, High Voice which she bought for me with her own hard-earned money. Banging out insensitive interpretations on the piano I complained, “Except for key changes every single song sounds the same as every single song we have sung in church since the Reformation.”

I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening anymore. Door slamming may have been involved. I could be a horrible, emotional teenager. I knew she loved me, but sometimes I felt like I was fighting for my life. In a way, I was.

Years later I felt the same frustration my mother must have felt when my own kids rejected my taste. I was grateful for parenting classes that explained that the work of adolescents is to discover their own identity and forge their own relationship with God. Sometimes the only thing a young teen knows is that they are not their parent. The separation process begins at birth and accelerates in the years before leaving home.

My grandfather died before I was born. I heard stories about him, but I had no relationship with him. I could see photos and a gravesite, but he was like a mythical figure to me. My Mom had a relationship with him. I didn’t. I could see his influence, but I couldn’t see him.

God has children. God does not have grandchildren. In order to relate to him with a sense of integrity emerging independent young adults need to wrestle with him, interact with him, and enact their own faith by worshipping in a way that engages their own hearts. Parents get to pray a lot, get an opportunity for upgrade in their own faith, and get to try not to take rejection too personally.

The memory of the music battle came up today after I read that Kurt Kaiser died this week. Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael wrote Christian music that shocked our parents and convinced my grandmother that we were on the road to perdition. Their songs seem so innocuous, even embarrassingly bland now, but back then the adults didn’t like it, which meant we could. I remember practising the choral work for youth called “Tell It Like It Is” with my friends at church and feeling like this was cutting edge, daring stuff.

I found a recording of the musical on Youtube today. It sounds as cutting edge as an ice cream scoop now, but at the time it began to give a sheltered fourteen-year old hippy-wannabe an opportunity to express doubts and claim fledgling faith in my own way.

Anyway, I want to honour Mr. Kaiser and his friend Mr. Carmichael for noticing us. It was a start in making cultural connections. He showed me, before I reached that awkward spot in my parenting journey, that every generation needs to sing their own songs their own way. Bonus points if your parents don’t adopt it.

One song Kurt Kaiser wrote stayed with me. In words as simple as a nursery rhyme set to a tune that still had a range greater than a third, (my old person jab there) it communicates the most important message of all time: Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me.

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Even Mom would have liked this arrangement.

Thank you, Mr. Kaiser.

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

 

Bold

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I become bolder as I grow older — about things that matter.

“You could have a greater following if you didn’t talk about the, like, God stuff, you know,” people have told me.

I know. I know people regularly follow then unfollow me. But I also know some people read what I write because honesty and the faith journey in real time matters to them as well.

As I grow older some things become less important. I let them go. Most couple’s squabbles are not about destinations; they are about the fastest, most economical, or most enjoyable methods of getting there. Does it really matter? I’m letting go of discussions of methods and looking more toward the drive to understand where and to whom I am being drawn.

I read, with some amusement, an impassioned plea from a young woman with a keen sense of fashion right and wrong. She begged older women with less-than-pretty feet not to wear sandals that exposed thickened cracked heals or obvious veins. Our feet offended her sense of aesthetic at the sidewalk café.

She also advised against the donning of bold colours that drew attention to crepe-skinned necks or sagging upper arms or aged-spotted hands.

There was a time when I would have surrendered to her sensitivities and clad myself in sombre tones and closed-toed sensible footwear. Then there was a time when I would have worn scarlet and tangerine and royal purple accessorized by jeweled flip-flops just to annoy her. Either way it doesn’t matter anymore. Both were reactions to someone who has not yet had the time to develop deeper values.

She may care. I don’t.

Am I mellowing or just realizing that the time left to me is more precious than ever? As the attributes that once gave me identity and place in a competitive society fade I realize how flimsy that identity was. And the place moved like shifting sand.

There were times when I walked boldly across a stage with my head held up and my tummy sucked in. I mainlined applause. I felt confident. For a while. But it was always a race to keep up to changing standards I never understood. “Do this and you will be good enough for us to love,” turned out to be a lie, because as soon as I did it another requirement popped up.

When I was a teenager I joked that our family motto was, “What will people think?” The joke was on me because the question voiced itself continually throughout my life as I tried to guess what was required to be accepted by people whose values, I finally realized, I did not admire.

A kind of freedom envelopes those who find their confidence in a firmer foundation. I have messed up too many times in my life to believe that I am always right or that this is the final resting place of most of my opinions. But this I know: the One who began to transform my life is still editing the poem, the masterpiece He already sees. That’s where my confidence lies. In the Master Creator.

Like the brilliant flowers in the garden, I can wear whatever bold or subtle colour God has created — and he thinks it’s lovely. I can be quiet. I can be loud. The only rule is the rule of love – for God, for others, and for myself. And it all originates with Him.

We have full confidence in Jesus Christ. Our confidence rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension. The One with whom we deal is the One who embodies faithfulness and truth — the One who cannot lie.

~A. W. Tozer

 

Please, Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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My heart is breaking. I see the rancour and the division and the excuses for symbolic acts of violence amongst my own friends on social media. Hatred damages the hearts of both the hater and the hated. We have thousands of years of recorded history to prove that.

It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide you stand on. When you start to see your neighbor as an enemy and dishonour them, or slander them, or dismiss them because of their political or philosophical or racial/ethnic alignments, you have already lost influence for good. Conversation over.

Jesus lived in times of uncivil unrest. He understood. He grew up in the middle of unjust circumstances worse than ours. And yet…

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

~ The Bible NIV

A cheesy old pop song has been stuck in my head for some time. “Love Will Keep Us Together.” I am learning to pay attention to thoughts and songs that repeat incessantly. Maybe there is a reason.

This line: “Look in my heart and let love keep us together.”

We can’t do it on our own. The best our own efforts can produce is a cruel kindness that offers little hope. Perhaps the real problem is not determining who is right and who is wrong. Perhaps there is a need for more goodness in the world. Instead of taking up verbal weapons look in Jesus’ heart and let his love fill your heart and overflow through you to your neighbor.

There is more.

 

 

Love in the Deep

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Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep.

~ Christina Rossetti

Falling in love, as wonderful as it feels, is mostly about the way someone makes us feel. Love is not limited to romance. An uplifting sense of approval prompts us to carry our heads higher when a person we admire offers praise – or better yet, asks our advice. Feeling loved allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another and enjoy the view. Awakening to love returns us to the place of early childhood. Babies receive love but they don’t extend love very well. There is more.

My neighbour taught me a new word this week. Firgun. In contemporary Hebrew it means the opposite of Schadenfreude – that perfect word describing the guilty pleasure we experience when seeing someone we dislike humiliated. Schadenfreude may occur when the… ah… um… person who just sped past us on a dangerous curve is now parked on the side of the road in front of a vehicle with flashing lights. That shamefully satisfying feeling is Schadenfreude,  not firgun.

Firgun is simple unselfish pleasure that comes from seeing another person receive something especially good, even though we ourselves may have been overlooked for a similar honour or windfall. Firgun is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Firgun is jealousy-free genuine joy. Firgun is mature love.

Years ago, on a hot summer day I joined my sweet friend in a cool private swimming pool. We had it all to ourselves and happily wallowed in the shallow end to cool off. I didn’t know she couldn’t swim. She didn’t know the pool had a deep end.

She took a step over the line that marked the beginning of the plunging floor. When she couldn’t touch bottom she panicked and flailed about so dramatically I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I could still touch bottom so I reached out to grab her.

My kind, sweet, caring, gentle friend nearly drowned me.

She pulled me into the deep end with her and tried to push herself up with hands on my shoulder and head. That pushed me under. The problem was that she wouldn’t let go of my hair as she strove for air.

Finally I broke free, swam to the edge, got out of the pool, and, when I was on solid ground, extended the pole that hung on the fence.

We both lived, but she avoided me for a while. I knew she couldn’t help it. Desperation drove her, but the feeling of being held under the water until I feared blacking out stuck with me for a long time, too. She had not been in a position to be considerate of my needs and without anything to stand on I became just as vulnerable.

A verse in the Old King James translation of the Bible talks about provoking each other to excel in doing good. A more contemporary translation says this:

Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. (Hebrews 10:24 TPT)

Healthy competition inspires by demonstrating what is possible. I’ve seen too many people, including couples who have sworn to love each other and friends who have known each other for years, engaged in unhealthy competition that looks more like a desperate attempt to keep heads above water by pushing the other one under.

Sometimes we can depend on another person to carry us in a way that makes us turn them into an idol who will eventually disappoint. Sometimes our desperation turns them into someone we treat as expendable in the face of our overwhelming need. In desperate times we can cling with such ferocity to a human source of support that we nearly drown them. Sometimes we are the ones who need to disentangle and leave before we can help.

I’ve been thinking about why love is so hard. I wonder if reaching out to love other people when we don’t feel loved ourselves is like being pulled into the deep end against our will. Love has to be a choice or it is not love.

Love in the shallows (and I’m not just talking about couple love here) becomes love in the deep only when we no longer cling to another mere person for approval or for our sense of identity. Love in the deep is love that gives, because it has learned how to receive from the source of love and has something to give.

Mature lovers know that even in the deep they can be grounded in rest and on the firm foundation of  Jesus Christ’s love. They also refuse to let themselves become a god to anyone else and instead help them to connect to God themselves. They can stand firm and extend His love like I extended the pole to my struggling friend.

How do we know the difference between mature love and self-serving love? Firgun. Can I be genuinely happy for another person’s healing, or financial gain, or  recognition without triggering my own sense of lack? Does their success give me pleasure and release a flood of praise to the Giver of all good things? For close family and friends perhaps, but for most people, on my own,  no.

I can’t give what I have not received. But when I am in Christ and he is in me? Then I can remember that the love the Father has for the Son includes me. When I center my life in Him, and focus on who He is, His grace empowers me to do the creative good works he designed for me. He will show me how to become a mature lover of others without drowning in old pain. He makes me into a giver with firgun.