Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PROVIDE

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PROVIDE.

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners, "Do not worry." He encourages them to look at the birds and flowers, who don't spend time worrying about where their next meal will come from or whether they'll have warm clothes to get them through the winter. Be like them, Jesus says. "Your heavenly Father knows you need these things." He will provide.

Those are easy words for me to accept. I live in a warm, comfortable house. We have enough money to pay for heating and food and clothing -- and plenty left over for luxuries. I have never worried about whether I'll have enough food or clothing or whether my gas supply will be cut off in the middle of winter, leaving our family in the cold. But the people Jesus was speaking to must have had reason to worry about these things.

Jesus goes on to say, "Seek God's kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." It sounds like a simple equation: "Put God first, and all your material needs will be provided." 

But it doesn't seem to work that way in real life. Millions of people in the world still do worry about food and clothing and shelter -- and those needs are not met. They will go to bed hungry and cold tonight, whether or not they've tried their best to put God and his kingdom first.

Some Christians, faced with the undeniable reality that God doesn't always provide, reach for simplistic cliches that attempt to get God off the hook, like

  • "If you don't have something, that means God knew you didn't really need it." (Uh, well ... we need food to survive.)

  • "God sometimes tests our faith by making us wait for what we need." (Imagine God making a starving baby wait just a bit longer for milk in order to test its faith.)

  • "Doesn't the Bible say 'You have not because you ask not'?" (This is a classic example of snatching a phrase we remember hearing somewhere in Scripture and applying it completely out of context, while also implying that those in need are probably doing something wrong.)

Using these pat statements is something only the privileged can afford to do (and I include myself in that). It allows us to keep the poor at arm's length and makes us feel entitled to counsel them from a place of superiority.

But Jesus is not preaching from that place of privileged superiority. He comes down to our level to stand in solidarity with the poorest and meekest among us and invites us to a new life with him. Those of us who are privileged and well-provided-for should be part of helping to provide for others' needs and seeing their well-being and ours as a common cause.

I have a long way to go to even get close to this radical way of thinking and living. I find it way too easy to feel comfortable and complacent about what I've been provided with. No wonder Jesus commented on how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March 2018 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm joining in with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. I read one novel and four nonfiction books since my last Quick Lit post.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. This novel by Canadian native author Richard Wagamese (who died in 2017) tells the story of a native boy, Franklin Starlight, who has been raised in seclusion by a non-native man referred to only as "the old man." When Franklin is sixteen, his father Eldon, a dying alcoholic who has been in and out of Franklin's life only sporadically, asks him to take him out on the land so that Eldon can die like a warrior -- and so that he can tell Franklin his own story of war, love, and shame, achieve some measure of reconciliation with his son, and be free of the demons that have haunted him all his life. A beautiful, haunting book about the cost of forgiveness, the meaning of family, and the power of story. (By the way, I just learned that Wagamese wrote a sequel to this book before his death; it is entitled Starlight and will be published this summer.)

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. In this book Taylor tells of her time as Episcopal priest in a small-town church in northern Georgia: how the joys and demands of pastoral ministry changed her, revealed her own brokenness and need, and gave her a new appreciation for the church, for the reasons people do and do not gather in Christian community, and for God's presence in the people and places where God is least expected. I just loved this memoir.

Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. This book by the comedian and TV host chronicles his life as a boy growing up in South Africa as it emerged from apartheid. Noah was born to a white father and black mother, so his very existence was a "crime," as indicated in the title. He tells hilarious, shocking, and heartbreaking stories of his isolation as a mixed-race child, his life of petty (and not so petty) crime, his strong Christian influence and upbringing (particularly by way of his mother, who is the central figure in his life), and his relationships with his father, stepfather, extended family, and friends. I enjoyed this book, but (although I recognize by the subtitle that it is meant to focus on his younger years) I found myself wishing it had covered Noah's entry into acting, comedy, and broadcasting.

Self to Lose, Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil is one of two books I read recently about the Enneagram system of personality types. This would be a great book for anyone seeking an introduction to the Enneagram that focuses on Christian growth. Vancil is clear and accessible as she explains the types and centers of intelligence; connects the Enneagram to Jesus' invitation to disown ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him; and explores the contrast between our Authentic and Adapted Selves.

(A note re the above picture of the book cover: the book does not have a barn on the front, but I noticed I had a coaster with a barn on it with the exact same colours as the book cover -- so I put the coaster on top to create this effect.)

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher Heuertz. This book is a deeper, more complex exploration of the Enneagram: besides describing the types, centers, and triads, it also addresses the Enneagram's role in helping us engage in contemplative practices of (depending on our type) silence, solitude, or stillness. I appreciated Heuertz's thoughtful, pastoral style. One helpful feature at the end of the book is a chart listing contrasting characteristics of all pairings of types; these succinct descriptions (e.g. Five seeks knowledge while Six seeks security, or One focuses on means while Three focuses on ends) could be very helpful to someone who is not quite sure which of two or three types they might be. I should add, too, that the book is very visually appealing, with its deckle-edged pages and soft watercolour drawings throughout.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Five Minute Friday: TIRED

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is TIRED.


The picture below shows a plaque that I made when I was a teenager, and that I still have.

At the time, my dad was sawing wood, and this thin slice of a log ended up on the woodpile. I took it inside, dried it, and then simply used a pencil to draw a picture of a pathway and mountain and write these (now faded) words:

"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary,
and they shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31 (King James Version)

This was my favourite Bible verse in those days, and I still consider it one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible.

Two of the verses before it say,

"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak."
Isaiah 40:28-29 (New International Version)
Tired ... weary ... weak. These are familiar words. I often get tired of the demands of parenting. I get weary of repetitive words and activities. I feel weak when I stop and think about the overwhelming prospect of a lifetime of caregiving.

But in this Bible passage, God seems to be speaking directly to me -- saying, "Yes, I know you get tired and weary and weak ... but I do not. I understand what you are going through. I never sleep. I made this world, and I will help you. I will strengthen you and give you what you need to keep going."

When I made the plaque 40-some years ago, I didn't know what challenges the coming years would bring -- and maybe it's just as well. But I think I had a sense even then that reliance on God to renew my strength was going to be an important theme in my life. Today, I draw encouragement from the One who never grows tired or weary.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Five Minute Friday: REGRET

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

I thought I'd try a poem in response to this week's word: REGRET.

The gray cat trotting past my house
purposeful yet unhurried
the black squirrel leaping
from my roof and swinging 
like Tarzan from a thin branch
before scrabbling up the maple's trunk
 the cardinal flitting through
my back yard in a flash of scarlet

they know nothing of regret
subtract no hours 
from their lives by ruminating 
on tasks done or undone
roads taken or not taken
words spoken or unspoken

Jesus said consider the lilies 
because they teach us 
about living fully and freely
in the Now of the Father's grace
unworried and unregretful

Friday, February 23, 2018

Five Minute Friday: BEAUTY

As I do most Fridays, I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: BEAUTY.

Many years ago a friend of mine made a cake for a church event. I don't even remember what the event was now -- an anniversary or ordination or something -- but I know she had put a lot of time into the design and lettering, so it was really special. 

The plan was that after the church service everyone was going to come downstairs and the cake would be cut and served. But while the service was going on, the church ladies went ahead and cut the cake and put it on plates so it would be more convenient when everybody came downstairs.

Nobody saw the cake before it was cut except them -- yet they didn't stop and say, "Wait a minute, this is so pretty, we want to be sure everyone sees it before we start cutting it up." And they didn't take a picture of the cake, so no one else got to see it either.

My friend was crushed. Yes, it was "only" a cake -- and I am sure it tasted great and everyone enjoyed it. But it was beautiful too ... yet nobody else got to enjoy the beauty.

Sometimes, like in that instance, beauty goes unseen because someone is thoughtless. But there is also a lot of beauty in the world that goes unseen just because of the way things are.

In his poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,"  Thomas Gray wrote,

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Plants of all colours and types bloom year after year in unreachable mountain crevices ... thousands of species of fish and plant life, complex and colourful, dwell at the bottom of the sea ... gorgeous mineral crystals form on the insides of caves, in total darkness ... and none of these beautiful things is ever seen by human eyes.

If beauty always has to have a function and a purpose, then none of that makes sense. Why would something unseen have to be beautiful? Flowers and crystals might as well be ugly if no one's going to see them.

But beauty is its own reward. It doesn't have to have a function beyond itself. God created beautiful things, so God must love beauty. (I admit he must have a sense of humour, too, because there are also some pretty weird-looking creatures out there...) 

It's sad that my friend's cake went unseen. But I hope she thinks it was still worthwhile to make it look beautiful. Even if no one ever sees it, beauty is worthwhile. Beauty makes the world a better place.