Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Day 2 - What was God saying to me today?

Sometimes, when I am listening for what God is saying to me, the message is so direct, it can't be missed.  Those are the times when I am forced into a situation I have been avoiding or those times when I just keep encountering the message over and over again.  Usually, in those instances, I am hearing the message loud and clear, I am just avoiding really hearing it.

At other times, I feel like there is something I am hearing but it's like a sound that I can't quite distinguish - it's familiar or it hints at something but I can't tell what it means.  All of my ponderings today are of the second variety.

The last two days have been really rich with simple and yet wonderful things that speak to me of what Christmas is supposed to be and that evoke such warm memories for me.  I keep feeling this sense of comfort and safety and warmth.  I feel this intense sense of belonging and quiet and peace.  It's bliss and it's what I love most about Christmas.  It's evenings that are sweet rather than exciting and tastes that are comforting and smells that smell like home.  It's such a comfort.

I had begun to wonder whether my Christmas memories have more to do with where I live, in a reasonably affluent area (compared to the rest of the world) and in which there is no war and pretty much everyone celebrates, despite the fact that our celebrations may take different forms.  I got pondering whether there are people around me who truly don't have those warm and safe memories that carry us through the hard times.  While my family was pretty close to poor when I was growing up and there was a Christmas where there hadn't been gifts and an anonymous benefactor supplied my parents with gifts and a turkey, I had no knowledge of the struggles, I just knew that were had a family and we would be together and all of the familiar ornaments were around us and we would feel blessed.  A friend came over the other day, though, and started to cry.  She said that she hates Christmas because she has no warm Christmas memories - it was always awful, with her parents fighting, her alcoholic father angry and her being afraid of what might be to come.  It really hit me - there truly are people, and people I love, who don't have that warmth to carry with them.  I know I sound hopelessly naive, but in my world, despite the fact that people have horrible experiences, they do have those blessed times to remember and warm them.

It came to me that truly, while it's easy to dismiss those cloyingly trite Christmas memories as being shallow and unimportant but that would be wrong.  Christmas is a time that we can truly bless the people around us and help them to build those feelings of love and comfort.  While much of what Jesus had to say was challenging and compelling and, frankly, downright scary, there is still always that message of love, of the fact that we will be fed and we will have fellowship and we will have someone counting the hairs on our heads.  It made me want to bless everyone I encounter - a homemade knitted gift for my friend's mother who is sinking in alzheimers, a warm and welcoming Christmas Day breakfast for my friend the widow who misses her husband so much at Christmas, a welcoming Christmas party for my daughter and several of her friends, a hand-knitted hat with a letter to welcome a refugee, a small gift for everyone who cares for my kids.  It made me change my perspective from one of trying to get everything done to one of trying to make each experience a blessing.  I want to treasure each chance to help someone to build a memory, to feel a sense of love from someone and to know that he or she IS NOT ALONE. 

That is the gift I want to be able to give this Christmas and it is a gift that gives to me as much as to the person to whom I am giving.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 1 -What is God Saying to You This Advent?

I go to this women's study group/prayer group on Wednesday nights that has been such a sanity-establishing place this year.  It's the MOST eclectic group of women (that's another post) and we meet, talk about parenting and struggles as mothers, discuss a book and pray together.  I think, terrifyingly, that I may even have found my "tribe".  Anyway, each week, J, one of the women opens by asking us the question, "What do you think God is saying to you this week?" 

The first time she asked, I was really stumped.  I read the Bible, I pray, I listen to faith podcasts and I read voraciously.  Despite all that, I have never simplified it down like that.  I had really changed my thinking.  It has made me much more conscious of my need to listen.  It's been life-changing to me in terms of what I actually hear.

I have also been feeling very much called to honour Advent this year.  I love Christmas but so often, it becomes a crazed rush and belief and quiet and preparation don't come into it.  I wanted this year to be different (and if you ever read here, you have heard me say THAT before).  I thought I might combine the two and ask myself, "What is God saying to me today?  How can I get ready for the arrival of Jesus?"  While Advent begins today, I have already been hearing God's call to me., which makes want to write so that I don't forget.  So, a blog series is born.  I don't know whether I will be able to write every day but that is my challenge.

Post 1 -
Over the last few days, we have been getting out our decorations.  In our family, we like to decorate first Advent (I find that if we jump into Christmas too early, it's tired by the time it actually arrives.  I grew up in a family that put the tree up Christmas Eve and it adds so much to the excitement that the time is actually here!)

Of course, the kids want to help and they have been frenzied with revisiting familiar ornaments.  Me, in my slightly OCD way, feels that there is a "right" way to do it and I found myself feeling very frustrated (to the point of getting a bit chippy) with the fact that every time I turned around, another display had been rearranged or "messed up."  Then, the question popped into my mind, "What might God be saying to me here?"

Then, I suddenly saw it.  The kids were playing with Jesus and the Wise Men and the shepherds.  They had Rudolph and Hermie and the scary white thing from Rudolph (forgive me, I was traumatized by Rudolph as a child, I don't get the appeal) coming to worship the King.  Wow.  My kids were seeing something that I wasn't.  They wanted to be right in there, worshiping, getting to know the story, acting it out right in our living room.  They knew that everyone needed to come and worship and I am quite sure that shepherds and sheep and camels and poor urchins certainly would not have stood in a properly choreographed line.  The chaos they were creating in getting into the story was exactly what we should be doing.  I was acting like the apostles when they tried to keep the children away from Jesus. 

Have faith like these little ones... My first challenge for this Advent season.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Feeling Thankful

So often, I use my blog when I feel a need to vent and I don't have anyone to listen (or I don't want to subject anyone to my frustration).  I thought it was time to share that I am not always a grumpy, frustrated and judgement person (my mom says that when she dies, I am to burn her journals since she only writes when she is angry or upset and we will get a skewed picture of who she really was - it appears that runs in the family!

This past weekend was Thanksgiving here and it has this funny tradition of often being the nicest weekend of the year (in my opinion).  This year did not disappoint.  The weather was warm, breezy and the sky was that stunning shade of blue that one only sees in the fall.  

Thanks to having to walk my dogs (one of the best things about having hunting dogs - they NEED to run and when you are going to walk anyway, you might as well go somewhere nice), I had a chance to see autumn in all of its glory.

I've been slowly reading An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor and both the chapter on Attentiveness and Groundedness reminded me of the importance of truly seeing the beauty in creation.  For me, at least, it's so true - being outside in the lovely places serves to remind me almost better than anything else, how truly blessed I am.  If anything, it's humbling - I kept feeling overwhelmed that I am allowed to live in this area with horses and farms within walking distance of my house and a huge maze of forests around us that are all within about a 7 - 10 minute drive from home.  Best of all, it's safe here to walk alone and I am very aware that for many people, they can't venture away from home without needing to be hyper-vigilant and to feel unsafe.  I walked an hour in the forest with just my dogs (who would be useless against trouble, I think, unless it was a squirrel or a raccoon) and when I did encounter people, they were just fellow walkers like me, who had a smile, a "Happy Thanksgiving" and then just continued on their way.

We also had so much time this weekend to enjoy each other.  We saw friends, we visited family and, most of all, Dh and I and the kidlets were able to just "be" together.  I can't say how lucky I am and how much I enjoy my family most of the time.  I feel so lucky to have two healthy, happy children and to have the privilege to try to craft a childhood for them.  Having little people truly does allow one to see the world through different ideas, with a lense of awe and excitement and to appreciate the little blessings, such as a rope hanging from the tree or a pile of leaves or a magical tree.

This weekend served as such a reminder to me that I need these slower times to remind myself that no matter how awful things may be that are happening in the greater world, there are so many blessings for which to say thank you.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Crushed Under the Weight

It’s really unsettling and depressing to discover that the world I thought was my home is not at all like I had understood it to be.  Yes, I am naive and I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt (Dh has accused me, for years, of putting up with garbage from people and making excuses because they have had issues and he is probably right).  I generally assume that, unless someone has been really damaged by something in life, that he or she is capable of compassion, empathy and understands that others have needs and rights as well.  I’ve learned that I am wrong.

I’m a Canadian.  I grew up believing the myth that we are the kinder, gentler version of our American neighbours.  I thought of us as the world’s peacekeepers – trying to help third world countries, having national health care and having a welfare system that, while not perfect, at least attempted to be sure that everyone’s basic needs were met.

In the last several years, I have seen glimpses that all is not what I had believed.  First Nations people were homeless on their reserves, living in desperate poverty, driven out of their homes by toxic mold, if they had homes, and dealing with a lack of just about everything (while also coping with the legacy of the unbelieveable cruelty enacted upon them in our residential school system).  I listened to stories being told at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that made me nauseas and that made me ache to reach out to these victimized native children.  Then, I heard that the government had “saved” millions and was balancing the budget, in part by not spending the money allocated to our native peoples.

I stopped hearing about Canadian outreach in struggling nations and began to hear grumblings against refugees.  I was stunned when, earlier this fall, I began to hear talk that we were refusing to take Syrian refugees because they “might” be terrorists.  What happened to the Canada that stepped to the front of the line in helping the Vietnamese Boat people?  Other than the First Nations peoples in Canada, we are a country of immigrants – how could people forget that most of our ancestors arrived here as a result of some kind of crisis?  This was a refuge for them, why weren’t we willing to act as a refuge for others?  I saw the images of Syrian families stranded in various places in Europe, mothers with young children with no shelter, little food, no belongings after a harrowing journey across dangerous waters in unstable rafts.  I couldn’t imagine what circumstances would make me put my children at such risk and I couldn’t understand where our compassion had gone.

Then, finally, the rhetoric began to spew out in our election campaign.  I began to see online the truly offensive Islamophobia spilling out.  I heard stories of pregnant women being assaulted for wearing a hijab, of Muslim women being verbally abused and told to “go home.”  I began to see posts on Facebook from people I thought were much more compassionate arguing that these Muslims were trying to “take” “our” country and that there is no room for them here.  I couldn’t see how people were unable to see that if Muslim acts of piety and worship were unwelcome here, it would only be a matter of time before my Christian faith would become unwelcome, as well.

I have felt almost crushed by this.  I see that the party that is pushing this agenda is now leading in the polls and I am terrified for what this means for our country.  I am so tired of fighting and calling racism where it is rearing its ugly head.  I hate the conflict and I am struggling to find a way to “love my neighbor” even when he or she is spewing hate towards people who are already victims.  I don’t know anymore whether it is time to be quiet and stop the conflict or whether that is just continuing the pattern that was so evident in Nazi Germany – “it’s not me and it’s not my problem”.  I am seeing so many parallels and yet, there are so many people caught in this mass hysteria that I am becoming afraid to speak.  I don’t want to go to church because I know that some of the people in that church on Sunday morning hold these views and I am waiting for them to turn on me, too.  I debate leaving Facebook entirely because I find this all so upsetting but I also worry that if we stop calling this what it is, that it will only become more socially acceptable to hold and express these views.  I am confused and tired and mostly, just SAD.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Following Party Lines?

One of my favourite bloggers, Sarah Bessey, invited readers to share some questions with her and answering the questions would be the focus for her blog in August.  It's funny, I feel so isolated sometimes in terms of what I believe but I have so many questions, too.  I yearn for the chance to sit down and talk to people who will understand and since there seem to be so few people in the territory in which I have planted myself, evangelical and liberal at the same time, I often wish I could ask a few of my favourite bloggers to help me out.  Politics has been a BIG one for me of late, especially since the election announcement yesterday.  I was so excited to be able to ask Sarah about what she thinks and it made me think that it's only fair that I share my musings (I'm still forming my thoughts).

Obviously, there's a large part of the world whose politics are supposedly shaped by their faith, or so they would claim.  To those of us who don't share those beliefs, it's hard not to think that the faith is shaped to meet their politics, not vice-versa.  I don't understand how we can be reading the same Bible and come away with the same message.  Hatred, judgement, oppression, violence and greed are so inconsistent with the Jesus whose teachings I'm reading in my NRSV but there are so many people who seem to read the Bible and come away with the idea that judgement, oppression and dog-eat-dog capitalism are the way Jesus wants us to go.  I find that perplexing and, frankly, alarming.  I can't help but think that Jesus is weeping at our stupidity.

On the other hand, I also worry that maybe I am guilty of the same thing.  Am I so worried about loving and inclusion that I do push for a political system that 1. breeds dependence?  2.  accepts anything, even when it's morally wrong, in the name of being inclusive?  3.  is not economically sustainable, which ultimately is as oppressive (such as the collapsed system in the former Soviet Union or China's lack of freedom)?  Where does Jesus direct us in terms of politics?

In considering where my vote will go, I am finding it increasingly hard to find a place (ah, such the story of my life).  Clearly the Conservative platform in Canada is of no interest to me.  The lack of funding for any programmes to support the poor, the horrific negligence of Canada's First Nations communities and the abysmal track record on the environment are so in opposition to everything I believe that I could never go that route.

On the other hand, I don't really feel at home in the left, either.  It's interesting.  On paper, the more left wing parties would certainly seem to be where most of my beliefs would fall.  At the same time, there's something missing for me.  I've been pondering it over the last few days.  DH and I went as delegates to the provincial teacher's union meeting last summer (and are going again) and while I agreed with so much, there was still this tiny voice saying in my head, "I don't fit here."  I couldn't place it and I've really struggled with what the gap is.  I heard talk about social justice and support for initiatives that build up the poor.  I heard talk about fair wages for low income workers (including a call to make sure that we didn't use the hotel cards saying we didn't need our rooms cleaned so that the hotel workers, who are not unionized and make minimum wage, would get more hours).   There was tremendous respect shown to First Nations peoples and peoples of every minority group and a clear agenda to support all who are marginalized.  Still, I didn't quite feel a fit.  Why?

It finally came to me today.  It's not what we believe but it's from what our belief is based.  I don't just believe in justice for the sake of it being "right" but rather, that it's a call from God
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
This is not about being entitled to these rights but about being obedient to God's call.  There is a struggle, too, between rights and the fact that we can't read the Bible without coming away with the idea that there are some moral absolutes which is sometimes at odds with the rights of others (e.g., such as that as Christians, the Bible clearly tells us that we are not to kill, which makes war, even in cases that some would qualify as "just war" questionable at best).  We need to uphold the role of the family and the role of the community to support each other and for some, this is an old-fashioned ideal that is out of date.  Most of all, we are to be ruled by love, not by anger, despite the horror of the situation or the frustration and we are to show respect, even to those with whom we entirely disagree.
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37 - 40
When the person with whom I agree politically is not guided by this command, there will always be a gap.

Anyone know of a Christian social justice party getting started?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Just the right post...

Today, I had two posts that I read that reasonated with me so much.  It's funny how things sometimes come to you just as you need them - I could have read either of these posts on a different day and skimmed them with no real connection.  I just thought I'd share.

After my rant about church yesterday, I should say that Dh and I have landed in a church that we love.  We feel a strong sense of belonging and as the church is in our local community, we have church connections in daily life, something that we haven't really had before.  It's lovely!  We are really enjoying it and also, we are finding that the interpretation of what it is to be a Christian is fairly close to our own - Evangelical but also loving, with a definite challenge to go into the world to be Christ's hands and feet.  I am sure there are people whose views are not ours but it's been unexpectedly wonderful for us.  Today was a church day and I was happy to read Sarah Bessey's post this morning, basically explaining why she loves her church.  It made me eager to go to church and to look at our worship and the community through new eyes. 

I spent a good portion of today out in the garden, trying to get stuff done with my kidlets.  Needless to say, it slowed me down.  A LOT.  Pk was constantly saying, "Isn't it great that we are helping you?  I need ________ to be just like you mom!" while with LB, I was just struggling to keep from getting hit in the head with the shovel (yesterday, he clocked me upside the head with one while trying to "help" - nothing like feeling as if you need to comfort a child who is afraid he has accidently just killed his mother when you are afraid that if you remove your hand from your skull, a chunk might just fall out).  I am a very random gardener - I have no idea what I am doing and at different times, I go in different directions and create all kinds of chaos.  Today, it was trying to clean up some beds in the "dog" area of the garden (think bomb testing range) and to plant a few veggies to get that bed going.  I waffled between gratitude for the presence of my children and then wanting them to be anywhere but in my way!  Then, I read this post this evening and realized how awesomely lucky I am to have to two kids in the way.  Please pray for Michaela as she learns to live without her precious daughter, Florence.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Just a Little Rant since it doesn't belong on Facebook...

Sorry, I disappeared again.  Life has been insane with school concerts (I'm a teacher) and Welcome to Kindergarten and family visiting from England and just general "my life is too busy" kind of stuff.  I'm finally coming out the other side of this season of crazy and it feels really good to be back here.  I doubt I was missed but I missed writing so that's all that really matters to me.

I don't know whether other people do this but I have this little Facebook problem.  The problem is that I check Facebook way too often.  I'm not addicted, really, and I am not interested so much in the little fluffy stuff that people post about how popular they are or links to Huffington Post articles or various quizes or top 80's trivia.  I just get bored REALLY easily and if I'm in the car and unfocused, I scan my feed, looking for anything that will hold my interest.  That's when I get in trouble.  I have a bad habit of clicking on articles that people have posted and then, I get enraged at whatever I find offends me.  I am usually pretty good about not saying anything or even commenting (I tend not to comment unless I agree) but sometimes, it's all I can do to keep from either writing an inflammatory rebuttal or posting a link to something that directly attacks whatever the person has said.  I feel as if it would be truly satisfying but deep down, I know that it's not worth it and I would end up feeling like a nasty person.

Today, it was a link to this article, criticizing all of the op/ed pieces about what is wrong with church.  Facebook suggested this article below it and I am guessing that the first article is a response to the second I am linking but it's possible not. 

Why did it bug me so much?  Because the first article, which is attacking all of the writing that is against church these days, expresses so clearly what is wrong with so many churches these days and why so many people ARE leaving.  More personally, it expresses some of what I was feeling at our last church that led us to finally and very painfully, leaving after being there a long time.  What is it about church that makes people so blind?  They feel as if they are getting their needs met (whatever those needs might be), anyone who is not or, worse, anyone who dares to name what isn't working, is just being selfish and greedy and wanting to change what isn't broken.  Given how the church is declining, let me say it - IT'S BROKEN, FOLKS (at least in affluent North America - interestingly, in more impoverished parts of the world, and even in some struggling spots in urban North America, it's thriving and alive and gospel fulfilling).

I'm probably not at the most reasonable point for discussing this right now because I am just finishing reading Jesus for President by Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw.  It's a brilliant book but I am certain that it offends most of the world.  While I would call these guys extreme expressors (which I think is a dog breeding term I picked up but I digress), they hit the nail on the head.  If you actually read and take seriously what Jesus says, so much of what "church" is now is not based on anything Jesus said.  Jesus was certainly not an advocate of big, flashy buildings, of constant fundraising drives to make our spaces more luxurious or of hugely expensive lighting and sound systems that make us feel like we are at a concert at a major venue.  The message of the early church was not mega-churches in which people would come week after week without making any meaningful connections to others.  Church was about relationships and relationships not only within the church walls but outside of them.  Jesus did not endorse only helping those who are "one of us" or that charity only counts if it is done within the walls of the individual congregation.  The church is not a denomination or a building or an exclusive club - it's a group of people who follow Jesus and his teachings and who look for the needy and the suffering and the marginalized and try to meet their needs.  It's people who forgive, who love, who ignore nationality and language and class structure and who use their resources to live out their faith, caring for others, including those with whom we strenuously disagree.  It isn't comfortable or easy or in keeping with the culture around us but it is rewarding, loving, meaningful and powerful.

I need to point out, as well, that I am not anti-church.  Given the number of hours of my life spent at church and involved in church activities and the fact that Dh and I spent so much time talking about how we love our church community, we are "church" people.  I think, though, that years of being in and around churches has taught us that the institutional church IS killing itself slowly (maybe not so slowly these days) with its focus on the superficial (e.g., the setting and the light show), its being a self-rewarding institution (e.g., the church we attended whose Advent focus was "random acts of kindness" and most of them happened within the walls of the church to other people who were equally blessed and it required no sacrifice) and its lack of credibility outside its own walls (with its lack of effort to improve the lives of others or to stand up against injustice). 

I guess I should just let these self-absorbed people continue to be "the church" (or, should we say, "their church").  They will gradually eliminate themselves while, I hope, those who are listening hard for the words of Jesus and trying to put them into action can transform "church" into something more meaningful and relevant and world changing.  It still makes me angry through, the hypocrisy of it all - how can you claim to be listening to Christ when you are so against listening to the cries of those around you?  The cries are deafening and those with earplugs in are making it harder for the rest of us.

There, my rant is over and I haven't offended anyone on Facebook and I don't have to feel guilty.  That was satisfying!