Finding ‘Beautiful’ in Prayer

Aprilsnow It’s a beautiful day outside.  Sun is shining on the fresh snowfall we had last evening.  The world looks so pristine…picture perfect…except for the fact that it’s April 3!  Oh well, I’ll breathe it all in.

This morning I am beginning a 3 week teaching series on ministering to the sexual minority.  So how to pray before going into such a topic?  “Oh God, oh God, oh God!”  Which actually works, sometimes.

But a Trappist monk by the name of Thomas Merton wrote a beautiful prayer, especially for such a time as this.  I share it with you…

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I’m following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore, I will trust you always.

Though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen

Feeling a Little Tarnisehd?

TarnishedSpoon

This past Saturday, I took part in our church’s community event, Eggstravaganza.  Parents and kids walk our property and buildings playing games and collecting treats.  We have a clown, snacks and then end it off with an Easter egg hunt.  April and I ran one of the stations, and for one hour we let kids show off their skills in carrying a fake egg on a spoon and weaving their way in and out of pylons.

The kids loved it, and it was a genuine ‘high’ for my day.  I think what I got out of it the most was how the smaller kids were able to get so much joy out of such a simple activity.  It wasn’t Xbox, PS4, Wii, or any other hi-tech gadget – just a wooden spoon and a wooden egg.  That’s it!  The prize at the end was a little goodie bag with two or three sweet snacks.

The little kids were thrilled, and so proud of themselves if they only dropped the egg a couple of times.  Their ‘thrill’ factor was comparable to a shiny silver spoon.  As I watched them, I wondered what happened to us ‘mature’ adults, that we had lost the knack of finding ‘thrill’s in the simple things of life.

Sometimes I feel more like a worn and tarnished spoon on the inside, and so I’ve wondered how one goes about getting the ‘tarnish’ off and letting some joy shine through.

It got me thinking about the product my Mom would use to polish her silverware.  It was called Twinkle.  Perhaps you have some stashed away in that junk drawer in your kitchen.  So I was thinking, “What would be the equivalent of Twinkle?”  It’s not like there’s a ‘joy polish’ out there that you can apply to your mind or heart.  (And no, stimulants and the like are a lousy substitute.  That’s not what I’m looking for).

This morning it hit me…the polish that works can be found in every home.  The polish is called, “Just-Go-And-Play”.  What you do is, think of a simple child’s game, and when no one is looking, just go and play.  It’s in the playing and letting the kid inside of you come out that the tarnish and gunk will begin to fade, and once again, the joy will shine.

So whattcha waiting for?

It’s All In How You See It

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which basically means that what one person may see as beauty, someone else may not.  Which then begs the question: “What exactly then, is beauty?”  If that saying is true, then I’m not really sure what constitutes beauty.

However, in saying that, I read a book some time ago, entitled Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, by Elaine Fox.  She unpacks why some people are born naturally optimistic, and others, pessimistic.  If you take an optimist and a pessimist and allow them to experience similar situations, the optimist will naturally see the good, while the pessimist will naturally see the negative.

And so I wonder, are some people just wired to see beauty in life, while others have a much more difficult time?  Well, whether they do or not, I am fairly sure of this one thing: I think I can choose to see what I want to see.  I feel fairly confident in saying that, because I naturally lean towards a ‘rainy brain’.  I think that’s why I enjoyed policing, because as a police officer, your job is to go out and look for what is wrong in society.  But it’s exhausting and a downer to just see the bad.  I made a decision some time ago to choose to look for beauty in all things and people.  I’m not saying that it comes easy…it doesn’t.  But I know that beauty is out there.

As a church minister, I have the opportunity to guide people as they navigate life and faith. Now Christians see the Bible as their guide for life, and that is a good thing.  However (and this is a big ‘however’), I’m fairly convinced that the ‘rainy brain, sunny brain’ plays a significant role in how one reads the Bible, which in turn shapes their belief in God, and how they see others and themselves.  I’m not an expert on this theory, nor have I conducted any studies, but the fact that there are close to 34,000 denominations, is a fairly good indication that we can read the same canon and come to different conclusions.  Just saying…

The Bible is my daily ‘go-to’ book because it nurtures my soul.  I choose to look for the good, and I find it every time!  Currently, I am reading through the books of the prophets in the Old Testament.  There are a lot of rainy passages, which can easily cause one to see an angry God.  But there are just as many ‘sunny’ passages as well.  Hosea is one such book.  This week I read the last chapter of Hosea, and it was full of sunshine.  Here’s what is written:

The Lord says,

“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;

my love will know no bounds,

for my anger will be gone forever.

I will be to Israel

like a refreshing dew from heaven.

Israel will blossom like the lily;

it will send roots deep into the soil

like the cedars in Lebanon.

Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees,

as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon.

My people will again live under my shade.

They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.

They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.

 

Words as Paint

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.
Wring Out My Clothes – St. Francis

Poetry. I’m not a writer of poety, but I definitely appreciate and soak up the beauty of words intricately woven together. I can’t say that poetry ever grabbed me when I was in school. I think it’s because I had to read it and had to find the various meanings hidden inside.

The nifty thing of not being in school is that I can do things simply because I can. And now I find myself reading poetry, not to discover the meaning, but simply for it’s beauty and articulation. For me, poetry is like a great painting, except the artist uses words instead of paint.

If I want to feed my soul, I brew myself a cup of coffee, sit in my living room and read some poetry. Some of my favourite poets that I’m attracted to are from days gone by. Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Robert Browning, Sara Teasdale, St. Francis, and there’s a few more.

I treat myself by subscribing to a website and a blog. Every morning, poets.org treats me to a poem-of-the-day. Some are better than others, but then that’s just a matter of preference. Another favourite of mine is a fellow by the name of Malcolm Guite , a fellow minister from the UK, and a brilliant poet.

Last week he shared some poetry from various authors. The poem entitled, How I Talk to God, by Kelly Belmonte, stopped me in my tracks. It is simple, authentic, and beautiful. Enjoy!

How I talk to God

Coffee in one hand
leaning in to share, listen:
How I talk to God.

“Momma, you’re special.”
Three-year-old touches my cheek.
How God talks to me.

While driving I make
lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try.
How I talk to God.

Above the highway
hawk: high, alone, free, focused.
How God talks to me.

Rash, impetuous
chatter, followed by silence:
How I talk to God.

First, second, third, fourth
chance to hear, then another:
How God talks to me.

Fetal position
under flannel sheets, weeping
How I talk to God.

Moonlight on pillow
tending to my open wounds
How God talks to me.

Pulling from my heap
of words, the ones that mean yes:
How I talk to God.

Infinite connects
with finite, without words:
How God talks to me.

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!