Self-propelled

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A bicycle will get you there.

So will a jet — but much faster.

Wait.

I woke with two songs in my head today. One is The Boxer by Paul Simon. The other is Take Courage by Kristene de Marco. That’s an odd combination.

It’s a puzzle. I feel like the Holy Spirit is dropping breadcrumb hints. I follow. They lead to Jesus Christ, and the pandemic response, and the week between Ascension and Pentecost.

Before he left, Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he leave. That must have been confusing. After he rose from the dead, he told them to wait to be empowered from above.  That must have been even more confusing. He had just come back. Something was coming that could not be explained with words common to their experience. They couldn’t understand. All they could do was trust and do as he said.

The Boxer, I realized as I listened again this morning, is about three responses to stress: flight, avoidance, and flight. The boy flees to the city. He succumbs to loneliness and takes comfort in loveless sex. The boxer, “in his anger and his shame,” fights on without success.

Take Courage talks about responding to stress with courage, steadfastness, and trust in a time of waiting when we don’t understand.

Today I heard the cry of more leaders in Christian ministries who are fleeing, self-medicating, and fighting not so gainfully on. All lament they feel like failures. All of them want very much to love others, relieve suffering, fight injustice, and make a difference in the world. They put in maximum effort, but they are exhausted, disappointed, broken.

One burned-out pastor, after receiving an invitation from his board to resign for failing to “put more bums in seats,” told me that with the current way most church structure operates, clergy are more like butlers than family members. They are there to work day and night for the betterment of the family, but when they themselves are tired, hurt, or losing hope, they learn they were never considered part of the family after all. They were hired help.

If you look around, it’s standard practise in many places to fire pastors when they are down. Perhaps there is more to loving each other than what we accept as “standard.”

There’s a reason why Jesus said to wait for this whoever-it-was to show up. The Holy Spirit would be their destiny, their comfort, their strength. He would teach them, reminding them of what Jesus told them. He would convict, he would transform, he would empower. Unlike Jesus in physical form, he could be everywhere and with everyone at once.

Without an external source of power, a self-propelled bicycle cannot go the distance. Without God’s grace to be who he empowers us to be, we all eventually become like the exhausted, disappointed, disillusioned character(s) in The Boxer.

In the Liturgical calendar, we are in the time between the Ascension (when Jesus was taken up in a cloud to sit the right hand of God) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit came in power). Many of us are sensing a shift in the spiritual atmosphere. Something is different. God is doing something, but what? I don’t know.

What I do know is that when we attempt to save the world through our own efforts we are in danger of breaking down. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, teach, convict, comfort, and empower. Waiting on the Lord requires steadfast trust as we lean in to hear the One whose promises never fail.

I am angered by lies and injustice and suffering all around. I am even more angered by my weaknesses. I want to do something – anything – to help. But I’m tired and in pain and struggling to understand truth in a barrage of “misinformation.” When I pray for wisdom, I hear, “Wait.”

So I wait.

 

 

Into the Hidden Places

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I watched two people play statistics wars. Both debaters adamantly claimed ownership of diagrams and charts that backed their positions. Now I’m not a scientist, but I live with one. I’ve been around academics long enough to recognize poor research protocols and an apples and oranges argument. I’ve also learned it’s pointless to say anything to people who have their minds made up, academics included.

I walked away to make coffee when a line from Simon and Garfunkle’s song, The Boxer, began to play in my head.

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When my coffee was ready, before I even started my Bible reading for today, I remembered this verse from my childhood:

You desire truth in the inward parts.

The Passion translation phrases it this way:

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)

Deceit is deceiving. No one believes a lie or jest intentionally, but very few ask to have falsehoods they believe publicly exposed. Gullibility feels like a character flaw, like a failure to fact check with the right fact checkers backed by the right authorities. With playground taunts still ringing in their ears many people will double down before admitting error.

Sometimes we absorb untruths because we need them to fit into a construct that allows us to feel less insecure. Sometimes we believe lies simply because we trusted the wrong people. Is that not the theme of millions of stories since the Garden of Eden?

Still thinking about the song (and about them and the lies they believed) and how that fit in with the verse about truth, the Lord arrested me with, “Let’s talk about some truths I’d like to set in your heart. There are some things that need displacing.”

He’s kind like that. He doesn’t talk about my stupidity for believing a falsehood, he talks about a truth that is lacking, a gap in my understanding temporarily filled in by something else. Cooperating with the process is called transformation.

Earlier this week, while I listened to some uplifting worship and encouraging speakers, I tried to paint my feelings about this time of isolation I find myself in.  It feels like the Lover of my soul is asking me to come away with him and simply sit quietly in this prepared time and appointed place. I do believe we are stepping into a new era and this long pause is a gift to reflect on embarrassingly wonky values and  ideas I’ve accepted that need to be replaced with truths before we journey on.

A little defensively I ask, “Who can I trust anyway? What is the truth?”

“Me,” he says. “In answer to both questions. Let’s start with how much I love you — and how much I love them — because you don’t really believe me yet.”

 

 

 

 

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

Laughter in the Rain

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The Lord alone is our radiant hope
and we trust in him with all our hearts.
His wrap-around presence will strengthen us.
 
As we trust, we rejoice with an uncontained joy
flowing from Yahweh!
 
Let your love and steadfast kindness overshadow us
continually, for we trust and we wait upon you!

Psalm 33:20-22 TPT

I’ve woken to the same song playing in my head for about three weeks. The Lord speaks to me through songs and I’ve learned to pay attention. (I wrote about hearing God’s voice through music here.) This phrase in particular, from a song from the seventies by Neil Sedaka, keeps repeating:  I hear laughter in the rain.

This morning I read my Facebook and Twitter feed and felt the despair of so many people in my home province of Alberta as well as across the nation. The questions arise. Who can you trust? Who is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What is the motive behind actions that seem to intentionally divide and disempower? For that matter, what is the motive behind the motive behind that motive?

Ideas have consequences and what is in a person’s heart will eventually play out in actions. In the meantime we pray for the truth to be exposed and guard our hearts against loss of hope.

I do believe we are headed into a storm. It seems strange to be singing about joy in perilous times, yet the One who sees from a higher perspective is not in despair. In Him there is joy. Can I admit my own first reaction to that statement was, “Are you kidding me?”

Upon reflection, I realized that He is not kidding me. God is not in despair. He is full of joy.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi demonstrates what it means to respond to God’s heart instead of reacting to frustration. This is coming in the opposite spirit of whatever the enemy of our souls is trying to convince us to absorb.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I hear the Voice of the Source of love and kindness invite me to enjoy the rainy day and walk hand in hand with the One I love.

He’s got this.

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Context

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But as for me, your strength shall be my song of joy.
At each and every sunrise, my lyrics of your love will fill the air!
For you have been my glory-fortress,
a stronghold in my day of distress.

O my strength, I sing with joy your praises.
O my stronghold, I sing with joy your song!
O my Savior, I sing with joy the lyrics of your faithful love for me!

(Psalm 59:16, 17 TPT)

I love the Psalms and make an effort to read from them every day. Lately I have been aware of how often the Psalmists (David in particular) talk about their confusion, fear, and suffering. It’s easy to pick passages like the one above to print on pretty posters and mugs. They are lovely, but taken out of context of their setting, they are deprived of  the power and drama of the moment of their creation.

The first line of the psalm is, “My God, protect me! Keep me safe from all my enemies, for they’re coming to kill me!”

The outpouring of David’s heart allows us to see how his focus moved from the reality of point A, “They’re coming to kill me!” to the truth of his conclusion, “Your strength shall be my song of joy…”

Just before the higher truth of the last two verses, he talks about the observable, measurable truth coming at him, “Here they come again— prowling, growling like a pack of stray dogs in the city. Drifting, devouring, and coming in for the kill, they refuse to sleep until they’ve eaten their fill.”

To me, the Psalms speak of the faith journey in real time. God is outside of time, but we who travel along tethered to this timeline, except for moments of prophetic vision, don’t know what lies in those valleys between mountain peaks.

Some people believe that talking about valleys creates valleys, that mentioning devouring dogs coming in for the kill, for example, gives strength to the dogs, or acknowledging the pain of arthritis entrenches arthritis.

The psalm’s encouragement, I believe, can be found in the “buts.” I am tempted to be terrified, BUT, you, my heavenly father are greater. They arrogantly scoff, BUT you break out laughing at their plans. They think I am vulnerable, BUT you hide me in a high place. They plot and scheme, BUT you watch over me. They boil over with rage and shout lies and curses, BUT you are amused by their arrogance. They hate me and want to silence me, but you, oh God of passionate love, will meet with me.

The psalmist strengthens himself in the Lord, not by denying the reality of the attack against him, but by declaring over and over the greater reality of God’s coming response to his cries.

I took the photo above during a time when wild fires threatened our valley. Smoking threat, sunset beauty and a patch of clear breakthrough all existing at the same time and space. This is where my heart is today, not denying the reality of threatening evil, but focussing on the beauty of my Lord, and seeing the early signs of breakthrough.

“My strength is found when I wait upon you.”

 

Peace in Believing

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The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.

They are not stronger than Him.

There is light.

There is truth.

There is wisdom.

There is revelation.

There is hope.

There is joy.

There is peace in believing.

-Graham Cooke, The Process Series

There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.

When they leave, the scent of peace lingers.

When the Right Time Arrived

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It was a mess. A world of division, compromise, corruption, and religiously followed traditions and rituals detached from roots of love and relationship. A hodge-podge of imperfect plans by imperfect people.

Tyrants, sycophants, miscreants, occupants,

masters, slaves, overlords, conscripts,

builders, destroyers, collaborators, rebels,

haves, have-nots, hopeful, hopeless.

This was the society Jesus was born into, because the time was right.

As they had many times before, the people not in control cried out for a saviour. They wanted freedom from the will of Roman conquerors. God sent them a saviour, but not to free them from man-made power ploys gone astray. He sent them Someone who could save them from something much more enslaving – their own sin.

As he had done before, he sent his answer in a form few recognized. He sent his son who set aside his godhood to live as a human. He sent a baby.

I often wonder why he chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise. Why does God frequently skip the well-bred, the educated, the credentialed, and those endowed with position and privilege when he wants to turn the tides of history? More than once people have said, “This can’t possibly be from God!” More than once they have been wrong.

“I see your plight,” he said. “This is my response.”

Then he sent a wanderer and his half-sister wife,

a wheeler dealer opportunist,

an insensitive spoiled brat turned slave turned foreign government official,

a stammering old man with a stick,

a stern mother,

a slave bride with a hammer and tent peg,

a scared unimportant farmer from a long line of scared unimportant farmers,

a lewd, crude, rule-breaking strongman,

a boy raised in a temple with a weak mentor and drunken, corrupt priests as companions,

a shepherd with a slingshot,

a runner given to depression,

a reckless prince with a bad driving record,

a left-handed messenger with a knife up his skirt,

a bizarre performance artist,

a beauty pageant queen who slept her way to influence,

a ploughman,

a child king with clueless teachers,

a eunuch in service to a despot,

a choir director,

a poet.

For the greatest mission of all time he introduced the bearer of his heart as a helpless baby. A baby.  A baby who so terrified the principalities and powers who knew their time would soon be up, that Herod killed every child close to fitting the toddler’s description.

Not even the ancient prophets who each told bits and pieces of the truth they held could see the entirety of God’s plan. Jesus gradually explained it, to those who could listen, over three years. Many heard and believed. Many did not. Before his death and resurrection the book of John tells us the Messiah spoke plainly to the credentialed experts whose education put limits on their understanding.

I tell you the truth; I AM before Abraham was born. (John 8:58 The Voice)

We are subject to change. He is not.

Trust him. He created the plan. Keep your eyes on Abba. Expect the unexpected.

When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.” You no longer have to live as a slave because you are a child of God. And since you are His child, God guarantees an inheritance is waiting for you.

(Galatians 4:4-6)

Words That Both Pierce and Heal

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No one speaks words so anointed as this one—
words that both pierce and heal,
words like lilies dripping with myrrh.

(Song of Songs 5:13 TPT)

A woman told me how excited a doctor was when he diagnosed her mother with an extremely rare disease. He was quite proud of himself.

“The problem,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “was that he could offer no cure. She died soon after.”

Living under religious laws is like that. Performance-based religious systems are quite good at telling you what you are doing wrong and why, but without empowering grace to change the heart, well, nothing changes. The law is like a doctor who can tell you what you’re dying of, but can’t fix it.

I have learned that truth hurts, especially when I’ve been avoiding it for too long. But I’ve also learned that unlike people who have knowledge without power, the Lover of my soul never puts his finger on a pain in my heart that he doesn’t intend to heal. Like a surgical laser, His words both pierce and heal and the result is always greater freedom.

For if you embrace the truth, it will release more freedom into your lives. – Jesus

 

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.