Finding Beautiful

When I was around 19 years old, I had a car accident at work.  No one was hurt, but I did cause some damage to government property, and so I had to be ‘spoken to’.  Afterwards, I had an older employee come up to me, and in his attempt to be understanding, he said something to the effect of: “Awww, don’t let it get to you.  I know it’s hard, but try and let it roll off of you if ya can.  Remember, it takes ten ‘Atta boys’ to get rid of one ‘Aw shit’.” Decades later and that saying remains true.

Problem is, I can’t think of too many times when I reached ten ‘atta boys’ to cancel out the one ‘aw shit!’ before another reared its ugly head.  However…I have discovered, as of late, that there are a couple of ways to combat that.  One is to go about my day with the intention of giving one person an ‘atta boy/girl’, and the other is to realize that we actually do live in a beautiful world.

Some would say that the news disproves that. That in actuality, the world is a pretty harsh place.  And to that I would say, “Yes…and no.”

‘Yes’ because that’s how I tend to view the world.  ‘No’ because of the lesson I learned from Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood).

He told the story of when he was a boy and one day while watching the news, he asked his Mom why so many bad things happen in the world.  His Mom told him that whenever he saw something bad on the news, to look for the helpers, because they’re all around.

As I pondered that I came to the conclusion that his Mom was right. It all depends what you want to see.

While it may be my natural ‘bent’ to see what’s wrong, I’d much rather see what’s good…or beautiful.

So this year I am on a personal quest in finding beautiful.  You’re welcome to join me!

God Needs Friends

I am beginning to think or believe (whatever you want to call it) that God is in need of friends just like any other human being is. God NEEDS friends?? Yep…I think so. Or let me put it another way: As his creation, he loves us, takes pride in us and has amazing dreams for humanity. I think he’s downright grrr-angry that sin polluted everything and basically messed up his plans.

Regardless, friendship, which is a beautiful gift in this rough world of ours, must be birthed or emanate from God…like if I’m created in his image, then friend must have come from him. I think the redemption story is a story of God pursuing us, not so much so that he can get ‘things’ back to the way they were supposed to be, because I don’t think we can ever rewind the tape and go back. Instead, it’s God pursuing us because he loves us – he loves us like a friend who is there through thick and thin.

Jesus tells this very interesting parable where a man prepares a great feast and sends out invites to various people. When the banquet is ready, he sends his servants to tell the invited guests that everything is ready…come now! And no one comes! They give the usual excuses like, “I’m too busy figuring out my investments”, “I just bought a new car”, “I just got married”…etc.

It’s not like they really had some pressing issue that needed attending too right this very minute. It was the fact that they couldn’t be bothered, no time to offer their friendship to one who desires to be their friend. And then it says that the master was mean-angry.

I’ve wondered why Jesus didn’t portray a God that is calm and understanding…an unruffled God. No, instead, he portrays a God who is pissed off! He’s hurt, and I get it. We all get it.

Everyone of us knows what it’s like to go out of your way for someone who is your friend, but for whatever reason your friend is too busy or has other things that need tending to. We know that feeling.

But it goes even deeper than that. It’s when a friend goes out of their way to do something so special, like this man in Jesus’ story who painstakingly poured his heart into creating this sumptuous feast. It was like when he created it he had those specific guests in mind. He made it for them…and they couldn’t be bothered. And I think it broke it his heart!

Or maybe it’s like the little 5 year old girl who does an abstract finger painting at school for her mom. She let’s it dry. Then carefully puts it in a grocery bag and goes directly home because she’s so excited to give it to her.

Mom comes home with so many things on her mind, appointments to attend to that evening, supper to put on. Her mind totally focused on other things…except her little girl. And so with her heart all puffed up from excitement, the little girl gives the bag to her mom. As mom takes the bag, her phone rings, and of course she must answer it because it’s so important. It’s classic multi-tasking taking place: while talking on the phone she pulls the painting from the bag, a quick glance, and brief smile to her daughter…and the painting is laid on the table as the mom goes about her important work.

The little girl’s heart plunges like a rock into deep, dark waters. She had poured herself into this for one reason only: she loves her mom dearly and through this painting is saying to her mom – I LOVE YOU!

As Advent approaches, I like to think that God had us in mind as he poured himself into his gift of Jesus, saying to us – I LOVE YOU!

Same Sex and the Real Issue At Hand

Every month I meet with a couple handfuls of pastors from our fair city, mostly to hang out and eat lunch and chat. Which is great and just the way I like it. I enjoy just ‘being’ and not having an agenda or a ‘to do’ list. Perfect.

Last month when we met we decided to add a ‘spice’ to the mix. It was suggested that we should discuss things that are relevant for us, some ‘meaty’ topics. I threw into the mix the idea not to avoid any challenging topics, such as…same sex issues that is sorta on the front burner for many churches/denominations.

It was only a suggestion.

However, by the end of the day, an email had been sent out with the details of the next lunch and that ‘Scott will lead the discussion on same sex issue.’

Yay.

I’m actually expecting a good discussion with these guys. But to say that I’m a little bit nervous would be an understatement.

If I was a betting man, I would hedge my bets that they are coming knowing very clearly where they stand on the issue. And to be quite honest, I really don’t want to know where they stand. In fact, I don’t even think that is the issue here. I believe the issue is: Can we have a conversation and ask any and all questions, and even think through or allow to be questioned what we believe is the ‘right answer’?

I say all this because I find that if I try to have a conversation with anyone who thinks they ‘know the answer’, defences go up, stances are defended, and cliche answers get tossed around. I realize that much of this reaction comes from fear, insecurity, and ingrained beliefs (whether accurate or not). I also wonder if that fear reaction speaks more to our lack of faith/trust/belief in God, than it does to any ‘strong faith’ we think we have.

This past month I’ve been reading and listening to various opinions on the same sex issue, and not because I don’t know where I stand, either. I just want to be able to sit down with anybody and just listen to them, and ask some non-threatening questions for the sole purpose of being able to better understand them. As well, I am trying not to have a reply waiting in the wings, but to acknowledge that their thoughts and opinions are just as legitimate as my own.

Here’s what I’ve learned this past month…

  • I don’t have it all figured out
  • there is freedom in choosing not to judge
  • it takes effort to listen and not spout off
  • it actually does enhance your understanding of the subject matter
  • I am trusting more
  • people are easier to love
  • Christ’s yoke really is easier, and his burden is definitely lighter!

Oh yeh…my meeting with the pastors is in three hours!

Shut Up and Listen!

[blogging is like exercising…stop long enough and it becomes easier not to]

So the other day I was leaving work and three feet from our main admin door was a young man sitting on our sidewalk, cross-legged with his head down. I stepped outside and bent down beside him and asked if everything was okay. He turned his head slightly and with a bit of a slurring mumble told me to “shut up”. He rocked and said something to the affect of needing drugs. His face looked like it had been roughed up and he clearly needed some help that I wasn’t going to be capable of offering. At that point he rolled onto his side and curled up into the fetal position. I went inside and called the emergency services.

The fire department were the first on scene. After a few questions, the young man stood to his feet – clearly not liking the looks of any authority figures. One of the fire fighters asked him, “Why did you come here?” He looked at him with glazed eyes and said, “Isn’t this a soup kitchen? Can’t I come here if I need help?”

The fire fighter looked at me, and I haltingly said it was. But inside my mind I could hear this very LOUD voice saying, “Did you hear him? Do ya get it? Out of all the places or people he could have thought of, he thought of YOU!”

Not wanting anything to do with anyone even slightly resembling authority, the young man took off with the fire fighters hard on his heels. In the midst of the f-bombs and screaming coming from him, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God had me by the scruff of the neck and was trying desperately to drive his point home – “THIS IS WHY YOU’RE HERE!”

Ya see…our awesome faith community, Cambridge Vineyard, is going through what many churches are facing – expenses exceeding our income. We have some options available to us, including severing some of our property, or relocating altogether.

In the past couple of weeks I have asked God to help me make sense of all this.

When all is said and done, I think it was Jesus sitting outside of our office doors, cross-legged, beat up and broken with only two words for me… “Shut up”. He wasn’t being rude…he just needed me to listen.

Cambridge Vineyard are his Matthew kids…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

I get it! I know where we belong. Please pray that I’ll continue to shut up and listen.

BEWARE OF THE ‘GREAT’ SNARE

We are dominated by ‘great’…nah, actually inundated by ‘great’. We live for ‘great’, strive for it, talk about it, flaunt it, brag about it, and unfortunately compare ourselves to it. Great is all around us, but if we’re honest, it’s also just out of reach for most of us. Here’s what I’m getting at.

For some reason I have unconsciously chosen to follow a number of people on Twitter who I don’t really know, but in the Christian world, they’re considered ‘great’…or getting close to it. Those who are great generally have some worthwhile things to say, but what I find interesting (myself included) there are many who are in the ‘triple As’ doing their best to become ‘great’. And so they try to sound great by tweating cool sayings, little nuggets of wisdom, or referencing someone who is in the major leagues.

None of this is bad, but I wonder if we’ve become ensnared in the pursuit of being great, and if we have, then that could be a problem.

For me, I desperately want to bow out of the race of being great. No more being a great dad, great husband, great friend, great preacher, great pastor, great cop (in my former life), great neighbour, great human being. I want to bow out because when I run this race, I miss out on the life that is right before me.

Life before me are the non-great people who are right before my eyes. If I would just take the time to hang with them, I would be dazzled by the story of their life. I become blind to my neighbourhood I drive in and out of everyday of my life. It’s a non-great neighbourhood, but if I could only tap into the stories of life that are found here…wow! The stories I would hear

Life before me is the fascinating life that I’ve led so far, with a vast array of experiences and encounters with people of all stripes and persuasions.

Life before me is family that I have come from and the family that April and I have created. Who needs fiction when you belong to a family! I’m trying to think of how I could apply the word ‘great’ in describing my family. Ahhh, yes… “I belong to a great dysfunctional family!” For the most part it’s true, but nonetheless, I still love the family we have and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Life before me is the church that I have belonged to for fifteen years and pastored for the last ten. We are no different. We too have fallen for the ‘great’ bait. We want so desperately to ‘do’ great things for God. To be a great church, not only in the neighbourhood, but in our city, our nation and around the world.

Unfortunately we are not immune to the snare. In our willingness to remain discontent with who God has created us to be, we set lofty goals that become impossible to attain, and in the end we experience disappointment after disappointment. We miss what we have right in front of our very eyes.

This summer at the Cambridge Vineyard, I am looking at the book of Judges. When I was a little boy in Sunday School they would tell stories of the ‘heroes of the Bible, and that included the ‘so-called heroes’ found in Judges. Who are we kidding, the folks in Judges were no heroes, unless you’re talking about the GREAT blunders they made. What they did get right is that they made themselves available for God to use. Time after time God delivered the Israelites from a life of self-centredness, debauchery, murder and mayhem. And yes, he would raise up the various judges to rescue his people, and like a bull in a china shop, they would get the job done. But it wasn’t because of they were ‘great heroes of the faith’. It was because they served a Great God.

I really don’t want to be known as great, but my prayer is that I will be known as someone – blunders and all – that was used by a Great God!

Parallel Universes…Parallel Saints

Parallel universes. The first time I encountered this phrase was when I was reading a science-fiction novel a few years ago. Basically the concept is that if you travel through a black hole (not going to happen anytime soon) you will pass into another universe that is sort of like the inverse of where we live. The idea created is that life is like what we experience in our universe…but not really. Things have played out and play out differently in this parallel universe. I know…weird, strange and a bit scary if it was actually true. But you have to admit, it’s nice to dream up concepts like this.

This past week while on vacation I think I had a glimpse into a parallel universe of some sort – at least it sure feels that way.

Generally when I go away I will take a few books with me, either on my e-reader or the old fashioned paper kind. I will try to stay away from anything work related – so no ministry, leadership or theology books. I have a novel or two and just some books that are supposed to be light reading.

Several months ago I had about three or four books on the go and realized that if I kept this up, I wouldn’t finish any of them. So I picked one, and set the others aside. One of the books I had set aside was on Mother Teresa entitled, Come Be My Light. What draws me to this book, and others like it is it shares her journey (warts and all) in working out her call to start the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

So where does the ‘parallel universe’ play into all of this? As I was reading, I found myself scratching my head, realizing that her approach to her faith in Christ was almost the opposite of what I’m used to hearing or seeing expressed among the Christians I rub shoulders with from day to day. For instance…

‘Sold out for Christ’ meant just that – SOLD OUT! Lock, stock and barrel. Everything in. For her, this wasn’t a ‘Sunday’ thing, a volunteer ministry thing, or even a vocation thing. For Mother Teresa, this was a life thing – in every sense of the word.

‘Obedience’ is a good thing. To obey her superiors or those who she believed God had placed over her, was honouring God. In fact for her, to obey was an opportunity to reflect Christ’s obedience when he went to the cross. When she prayed to be more like Jesus, she meant in every way to be more like him.

She never (I mean never!) desired to do great things in this life. In fact her belief was to do small things with great love. That was her goal.

She really took Jesus at his word when he said ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age’, as she ventured on her own into the worst areas of one of the worst cities in the world.

As she ventured out of the security of the Sisters of Loreto convent, and into the unknown of Calcutta she told her superiors that if there was any success, it was because of God, and if there was any failure, it was because of her.

Though she battled for years with depression, it was her rule to smile and have a countenance of joy so that the focus would be on Jesus and not on her.

She solidly believed that the sick, the dying, the poor and marginalized reflected the suffering and thirst of Jesus as he hung on the cross. And so every opportunity she had to encounter the poor and sick of Calcutta was an opportunity both to satiate the thirst of Jesus, and to bring Jesus into the ‘holes’ (homes) of Calcutta.

To say that I have been humbled is an understatement. I thank God that my faith has been confounded by a petite and plain Catholic nun. It confirms for me that none of us have it all figured out, and the sooner we come to grips with that, the better off we will be, the church will be, and the the world will be.

However, there was one thing that I do share in common with Mother Teresa…

Jesus loves me…and I love Jesus.

LIQUID MERCURY

I remember the first time I was introduced to this silvery liquid called mercury that was found in thermometers. It was elusive in that it was like holding liquid ball bearings rolling around in your hand. What fascinated me though was if it was poured out onto the desk, it was impossible to pick it up and put it into your hand. Even when it was in my hand I couldn’t pick it up. It would simply break into two or three liquid spheres

Not sure if they still let students ‘play’ with liquid mercury anymore, as I’m sure they have declared it to be a ‘hazardous’ product…NOT to be played with.

For me the mercury reminds me of this most wonderful human attribute…humility. I love humility when I see it on people. You can smell it a mile away and it is literally the ‘queen’ of human attributes (okay, I’m sure there are others – just sayin’).

I know the Bible talks about ‘clothing ourselves in humility’, or ‘putting on humility’. Sort of like a pair of well-worn jeans. But it’s not that simple and that is what makes it so profound…so mysterious.

You can see it when others wear it, but if you go trying to act it, or tell people you have it, or even try to ‘put it on’ – – well you sorta contradict what it’s all about. To me it’s a definite God-thing. It’s proof enough for me that God exists.

One of the things I love about humble people is that they don’t think poorly of themselves. They are confident, and yet have this wonderful knack about them to make others feel valued and needed. They have no problem celebrating the gifts, skills and talents of others. It’s a beautiful blend.

I tried to find a photograph, illustration, symbol or anything that would represent humility. Everything I found on Google images seemed…I don’t know…plastic…two dimensional. It was then that the memory of my introduction to liquid mercury came to mind.  So let it be known, from this day forward that liquid mercury is the symbol for humility! (kidding)

The other day I stumbled upon a poem entitled, The Man and His Shadow, by Paulo Coelho. Have a read…just read it for the enjoyment, not for theological soundness or anything like that. See if you don’t agree that Paulo paints a most beautiful picture of humility.

The man and his shadow

by Paulo Coelho

Illustration by Ken Crane

Many years ago, there lived a man who was capable of loving and forgiving everyone he came across. Because of this, God sent an angel to talk to him.

‘God asked me to come and visit you and tell you that he wishes to reward you for your goodness,’ said the angel. ‘You may have any gift you wish for. Would you like the gift of healing?’

‘Certainly not,’ said the man. ‘I would prefer God to choose those who should be healed.’

‘And what about leading sinners back to the path of Truth?’

‘That’s a job for angels like you. I don’t want to be venerated by anyone or to serve as a permanent example.’

‘Look, I can’t go back to Heaven without having given you a miracle. If you don’t choose, I’ll have to choose one for you.’

The man thought for a moment and then said:

‘All right, I would like good to be done through me, but without anyone noticing, not even me, in case I should commit the sin of vanity.’

So the angel arranged for the man’s shadow to have the power of healing, but only when the sun was shining on the man’s face. In this way, wherever he went, the sick were healed, the earth grew fertile again, and sad people rediscovered happiness.

The man traveled the Earth for many years, oblivious of the miracles he was working because when he was facing the sun, his shadow was always behind him. In this way, he was able to live and die unaware of his own holiness.