Monday, June 6, 2022

In the Way



Once upon a time, a woman bought an estate with a large house, an expansive yard and a brooding forest in the acres beyond. The woman fell in love with the mansion, with arched porticos and terraced gardens along the side. After moving into the house, she entered the lawn to bask in the rays of the sun. Eventually, she approached the forest and found a hidden path with an old oak tree positioned beautifully in the middle. When she returned to the sanctuary of her house, she thought, 'I have finally made it in life. I have everything that I desire.'

One morning, when the light was not yet fully born, the woman stubbed her foot on the wall while making her way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Cursing, she rubbed her foot and stared up at the wall vowing to remove it before it did any more damage to her being.

Later, with swollen foot elevated on a chair, she called a remodeling company. When they arrived, she pointed to the offending wall. 'I want you to remove it. It's in my way.'

The remodeler, with hands on hips, shook his head. 'I can't do that, ma'am. It's a load-bearing wall. The structural stability of the house will be compromised.'

'I don't care,' she responded. 'I want it out.'

He refused, so she called in a less reputable company who would do it if she signed a waiver to release them of any consequences. Happy to have the wall out of the way, she agreed, and after the company removed the wall, she felt content.

Until cracks began to show in the ceiling. Calling the company back, she pointed above her. 'Why are there cracks in the ceiling?'

'Because you've had the structural support of your house removed. It was inevitable.'

'But... but... you should have told me!'

'You wouldn't have listened anyway.' 

'What do I do now? My house is falling down around me?'

The man shrugged. 'Have you got a tent?'

And so the woman moved into a luxurious tent in the expansive lawn of her backyard. At first, she loved the thought of 'roughing it.' To feel the wind in her hair and to hear the night time noises was a wonderful change. Even though she felt a slight resentment for losing her house, she was happy with her beautiful lawn.

But the rains came. The woman could put up with the rain, but the grass began to grow, and continue to grow. Frustrated by the continual mowing and upkeep, she called a lawn care company.

'I want this grass removed,' she exclaimed. 'It's in the way.' 

The lawn-specialist put his hands on his hips and sighed. 'You can't be serious. This lawn is beautiful and well-kept. People would die for a lawn like this.'

'I don't care. I want it out. I don't want to mow the grass anymore and I certainly don't want to pay anyone else to do it.'

With great sorrow, the lawn-specialist rolled up the sod one strip at a time and replaced the offending grass with white pebbles. The backyard glittered with light, day and night, and the woman felt happy.

Until the winds blew up one evening. Startled awake inside her luxurious tent, the woman peered outside and saw the pegs were beginning to pull up from the rocks. Her home was about to be unmoored in the fury of the storm.

With great fear, she wondered to herself, 'Now where will I go? I can't go back inside the house safely and I can't stay in my tent because there is nothing to hold it fast to the ground.' Grabbing her sleeping bag and her small stash of valuables, she ran across the pretty white pebbles towards the almost-hidden path in the forest. Wending her way into the forest, she piled her belongings as the rain began to teem down. Hastily, she constructed a crude lean-to of branches and leaves and then hunched morosely with her valuables underneath the makeshift shelter. As the storm raged overhead, she rued the fact she couldn't sleep in her mansion or even in her tent. 

Finally, the storm passed and the morning dawned. But the darkness of the forest was frightening. Light was only filtering mistily through the trees. When she looked up, she saw that above her, were the beautiful oak tree branches that had kept the worst of the storm from her. Instead of being thankful, she was indignant that this large tree should be keeping the warm sun from her. Calling a tree specialist, the woman made her complaint.

'I want this tree removed. It's in the way.'

The woodcutter put her hands on her hips and looked up at the beautiful old oak tree. 'I don't think that's such a good idea. This tree is providing shade and shelter for you.'

'I don't care. I want it gone.'

Sighing, the woodcutter took out her chainsaw and began dismantling the ancient boughs. When finished, the woodcutter stacked the wood neatly along the path. 

Now satisfied, the woman felt the last rays of sun on her face. Then, as dusk transformed into darkness, another storm blew up and the woman's shelter was destroyed.

The woman and her shelter had been in the way of the storm.

In this parable, what does the wall symbolize for you? The lawn? The tree? The storm?

I'll give you my own thoughts next week.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

THERE



It's a definite Australianism (like 'G'day mate, Yeah - nah, or She'll be right, mate') to respond to the question, 'How'ya Goin'' by answering,

"We're getting there."

Usually, this response means that the person 'Getting There' is having a particularly difficult time but doesn't really want to talk about it, and the hearer of the response is to proclaim in a particularly cheerful way, "Good on ya."

Because I'm not one for idle banter, not that I despise it, but I find it a thick veneer to cover up what we really need to talk about, I ask the question that many don't expect.

"Where is there?"

"What?"

"You said, 'I'm getting 'there.'' I just wondered where there is?"

They wait, mouth screwed up, eyebrows knitted, wondering if I'm yankin' their chain. But I'm not. I'd really like to know where they're getting.

"It's just a saying..." they respond lamely and probably want to move on without any of my dialogue. 

But I don't want to let it go. I truly want to know where people are on their journey.

Where is THERE? What is THERE? And, most importantly, how do we get THERE?

While in prison, Paul writes to the people of Philippi telling them that he is (presumably) THERE

...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11b-13)

As some of the most mis-used verses in the Bible, often used to justify any endeavor (usually something virtually impossible) Philippians 4:13 states most assuredly that Paul can do all this through Christ who gives him strength. 

All This = THERE

THERE = being content whatever the circumstances. 

Often, in our contemporary post-Christian world, we imagine the journey to THERE travels directly through the mountains of psychological and emotional well-being. And yes, this is an important part of the journey. To work on the skills of self-control, monitoring both how we think and how we feel, is very important. But it's only one part of the journey to being well, to THERE. And the reason I know this is because there are many people who are able to 'control' their emotions and 'regulate' their thoughts, but aren't particularly content with where they are in life or who they have become. They have no idea where THERE is, only happily bouncing back and forth, like the tiny white dot in Pong, the video game.

No, there is something more than good mental health to find contentedness. 

There is also a hunger for something deeper, meaning with meat, something we can gnaw on and savor. We hunger for healthy relationships and people to share our stories with. We are well-fed on the exchange of both information and care. If mental health are mountains, relationships are a rainforest through which me must pass. And lastly, walking through the valley of physical health (or un-health) is part of this trek from life to death and back to life again. 

But even if we don't feel particularly healthy mentally or relationally, we know that contentedness can be found in Christ who gives us strength. 

This strength, a hope and a joy in Jesus that is something far deeper and mystical than simply focusing on ourselves, is what will help us find true contentedness even while on the journey. Strength on the way to THERE. And THERE, truly, is right now. THERE is here, whether stable or shaky, hungry or well-fed, needy or in plenty. THERE is being content.

Like Paul, I hope that you can learn the secret, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What Do We Do Now?



I was all set to write about the disappointing reality of attempting to remain positive with 3 EASY STEPS, but the truth is, everything crumbled again yesterday with the news of another school shooting in the U.S. 

Those three words:

Another

School

Shooting

are the greatest symbol of a world gone mad. And yet, while Americans scramble to fight over political militarized zones, gun rights versus the eradication of things that kill people (the irony should not be lost on many other things that both sides conveniently ignore which kill people), much of the world looks on derisively. 

Another. As if one school shooting at Columbine couldn't change things, nor Parkland or Sandy Hook, now Uvalde, the country reels from the word 'another.' According to the World Population Review, the state of California 'leads' the country with 'another' with 164 school shootings since 1970. 

Horrifically, this is not a new thing.

School. According to multiple sources, in a Jewish kibbutz (an agricultural, collective) children's quarters and the school are placed in the center of the community so that in case of attack, the children are hurried toward the middle and protected by the adults. The school was the safest place in the village.

Now, school age children have an urge to look over their shoulders. Which deranged adult in their community will enter into the sanctuary of the school, lock the door and end the beautiful dreams of families? Is not the society deranged? 

Shooting. In this world gone mad, assault rifles are placed in the hands of teenagers who, after years of metaphorically holding them in their hands during slaughterhouse video games, have taken them to the streets, and worse yet, to the schools. Some will take great offense to this, but a truth needs to be told: When Jesus said, 'If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out,' maybe the better answer is, 'If your society puts in the eyes of children that which causes them to sin, murder, rape, destroy life, it is better to hang a millstone around that society and drop it in the ocean.'

Both political sides keep harping about gun control vs. gun rights. And yet the basic question is something that Paul the Apostle said, 'All things are legal, but not all things are beneficial.' 

Yes, it is legal for me to buy an assault rifle. Yes, it is legal for gunshops to sell assault rifles to eighteen year olds. Yes, it is legal for my society to provide at least one gun for every citizen. 

But is it beneficial?

I would argue an emphatic no. It is not beneficial in the least. And if it is not beneficial, then our next steps should be not for gun control, and not for political control, but what's the best for our kids. Not... another... school... shooting... ever... again.

And what do we do next?

Firstly, and at the risk of offending a few people, but it's worth it: I believe prayer is an awfully powerful thing - more powerful, in some ways, than assault rifles. And the prayer is not 'Dear God, change the mind of our politicians so that they get rid of guns.' No, it sounds more like, 'Dear God, I'm so sorry that I've been part of a culture and society that glorifies violence so that lives are tragically lost in such horrific ways. Help me, and others, band together to act for change, not by screaming at other people, but actively, and gracefully, changing the world together.'

This prayer, as I prayed it today, was an eye-opener for me. I, as a Christian participant in this world full of incredible and amazing people of different faiths, cultures and ideologies, should be hesitant to make my prayer a public spectacle. 

People of faith, be implored not to take your prayer into the sanctuary of your church, surrounded in safety of your rafters, and your glass, and broadcast your pleas to the world. Don't invite me to be part of your online prayer, but go into your closets, or better yet, go pray with people where they are. Pray as Jesus modelled, Our Father in heaven, who is here with us today, make this kingdom like yours in heaven. With people dedicated to the transforming role of eradicating the trespasses before they occur. 

Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, people of every political party, set down your colors, your banners and your issues-du-jour, and take up the fight against this evil consuming another school, another family, another nation. 

Work together for the good of our kids and the fight for their dreams that they can live in a world without fear of attending school, going to the mall, or the grocery store, or wherever it is that they find life.

It's time. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Testing Positive


It's just one of those things. A common occurrence, I guess. First a sniffle, then a slight cough, Can I take a deep breath? and you know what's coming. You're about to jab a plastic stick up your nostril, past your sinuses and scrape the inner lining of your brain. 

A few mornings ago, I woke up with the symptoms listed above, and because I haven't had COVID yet (that I know of), I thought it had arrived. After dunking the plastic stick containing my grey matter into the little plastic tube, I squeezed it out and waited.

Deep down, I had a feeling it wasn't COVID. I was right. My symptoms probably have more to do with the incessant rain and humidity here in Queensland, which has been an incredibly conducive Petri dish for mold growth in our house, than with a virus. Yet as I waited while only one line appeared on my Rapid Antigen Test, I had time to ponder what I was testing positive for. And it feels equally harmful.

I am testing positive for negativity.

Yes, when I jammed a metaphorical stick into my mind to wonder why I feel so deflated and grumpy, the two lines appeared. My symptoms for negativity include:

Oversensitiveness

Persistent irritation with those who have opposing ideas

Impatience with people I love

A desire to escape 

An increased worry about what the next (or final) straw will be

Struggling with motivation for healthy activities

These symptoms have not arisen overnight, but over the last few years. The disease, I'll call it Chronic Negativitis, is contagious and I'm sure that I could have picked it up from any number of places. Most likely, Op/Ed pages of newspapers, Facebook posts, a general malaise from society in general that all things are just a little overwhelming right now. And I'm pretty sure that I've transmitted it to people around me at certain times. That's what infectious fake diseases do. 

Chronic Negativitis is not lethal, but it is certainly debilitating. As it shuts down my will for movement and crushes my spirit for excitement, I wonder what kind of medication will heal me. I wish there was a pill for it, or an injection of something fresh and new, but alas, there's no panacea. Only time, and natural remedies which are completely unnatural in our world.

So, if I'm going to diagnose myself with CN, I'm going to write a prescription for myself, also. I've got my little pad out now.

1. Turn off the news

This is not that we shouldn't be aware of what's happening around us, but embroiling ourselves in the daily dose of despising other people is making us sick. For all the articles regarding murder, hate crimes, and blaming governments for inflation, there should be items reminding us that life is good, even in a moldering world.

2. Take your social media app off the phone

Studies have proven that just one week without social media has incredible health benefits including healing Chronic Negativitis. If you type 'What happens when you give up social media for a week?' into your web browser, not one of the articles will say, 'Things will be worse for you.' In fact, every last one of them says that too much emphasis on social media in your life actually creates a breeding ground for CN. You and I both know that this is nothing new, but it's the reminder that might save us from the debilitating effects of testing positive for negativity.

3. Eat a meal with people you really enjoy

Once again, this is not rocket science, brain surgery or even underwater basketweaving. This concept is so simple, yet so rare (and so good for us) that we disregard it. We need a solution that tells us, do an hour of weightlifting, try yoga, six fish oil pills per day, don't drink alcohol. While these things are positive (but very difficult for some people), the easiest thing is to cook a meal together, sit down at a table together, use a knife and fork together, take your time talking about the great things of life together, and then do the dishes together. The healing benefits of relational bread-breaking is why religions all over the world stress it, and hospitality, so highly.

As I've tested positive for negativity, I'm not going to isolate. In fact, I'm going to do the opposite. I've written the prescription and hung it up on my board. This week, I'm going to journal my health (mental, spiritual, physical) and see what next Wednesday looks like. 

Would you like to join me on the quest for testing positive for positivity?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Interpreting Language

Recently, my daughter Josephine, who is in her last year of studying Chemical Engineering, had the opportunity to do some internship work at a lead smelter. Part of working at the smelter is to learn the risks of working with (and in) a facility that deals in dangerous chemicals. Thus, Josephine had to learn about the effects of lead on the body and how to mitigate against these risks by policies and procedures.

One of these obvious procedures is to cover up the entirety of her body so that no lead was absorbed into her skin. This meant that from head to toe, she wore a thick, orange jumpsuit and a full facemask which filtered the air that she breathed. This is a great idea to protect the workers at the smelter, but with the covering comes various drawbacks.


1. When it's 42 degrees Centigrade, the outfit becomes a mobile sauna.

2. Communication is severely limited when you can't hear the person who is trying to speak to you.

As the summer went on, and Josephine was in and out of the body suit, she came up with a great idea as to how to communicate with others in spite of the covering.

Josephine had been learning Auslan (Australian Sign Language) in her spare time. If she could somehow, at the very least, spell the words she was trying to tell others, then they could communicate without trying to yell through the facemasks.

One day, as the heat was building outside (and inside her jumpsuit), she had to tell one of her co-workers something. Beginning to sign the letters, she watched with frustration as her co-worker shook her head.

It then hit Josephine: It's all right for me to learn the language, but if they can't interpret what you're saying, it's useless, like speaking Spanish in India. No matter how much you emphasize your words, no matter how loud you speak, you are just going to frustrate the person who wants to know.

It's not a stretch to understand the same thing about the Christian faith. As the language has become bulky, so many theological words (even the word 'theological' makes some people scratch their heads) are confusing and irrelevant. Yet, as the decades and centuries have continued, we've continued speaking words that make no sense to our contemporary world, words like 'repentance,' 'righteousness,' 'doing life with Jesus.' 

And the world, covered by religious protective gear, shakes their collective heads, frustrated by the lunacy of repentance (when they don't think what they've done is wrong), the judgmentalism of righteousness (when they are, by nature, a good person) and doing-life-with-Jesus (when they are perfectly happy doing life on their own). Yet the Church keeps insisting that if you get our language right, or when you get our language right, then you will be ready to encounter God.

How does the world come to grips with a post-religious language? What is its syntax? How does a life-long Christian translate this? It would be like Elizabethan Christians speaking olde English attempting to understand (and communicate in) binary computer language (machine language). Unless they could find a middle ground and intersecting points, they'd just spend most of their time shaking their heads.

This isn't to say that the church sheds its theology, but certainly it can translate the beauty of the gospel into a language which some of the world, dressed in its religious protective gear, can understand. We can speak in terms of a different kind of abundant living, talking about the good works that one does as a reflection of a God who was thinking ahead, and living a faithful life with Jesus as the cornerstone of all that we do. And this can't simply be language, it must be action. If we proclaim the call to repentance, we must be active in establishing justice. If we proclaim a call to righteousness, we must be active in acknowledging our own moments of un-righteousness. If we proclaim our own walk with Jesus, we are fair-warned that we must start walking with people who are considered outcasts by the rest of the world (and by some of the Church world).

Is this not the new language needed? Can the world interpret this word and action better? Won't this draw people closer to each other and to God?



Thursday, April 28, 2022

What's in a name?


It's an amazing thing to be able to overhear how young people speak with and to each other. 

In general, teenagers are in the throes of navigating space, personal and social, and finding order in a chaotic world. Often, their discussions reveal a desire for understanding - both their own, and how they can be understood. In our contemporary world, teenagers catch a lot of flack for all sorts of things, but are they really any different than any other generation? Aren't they trying to find their way in a world that is completely different than the one their parents inhabited?

So they communicate through images. And in these images, their stories are written and told: memes and emojis express how they are feeling and how they want to be known and understood. They (and we) post how we want to be seen and also the things of which we are most afraid.

For people of all ages, one of our greatest fears is to be called names.

The other day, I had the opportunity to hear a discussion after a group of fifth-graders (roughly ten or eleven years of age) were having after we disembarked the bus after an excursion. They were ebullient, joking, doing what kids do (and practicing the craft of communication that they will need even more as they enter their teenage years). One of the students had a white, fluffy bunny attached by a keychain to her bag. Here is the brief description of their conversation as I walked behind them:

Student 1: "Hey! I really like your white bunny!"

Student 2: "Thanks. I like having it on my bag."

Student 3: (running up behind them) "You shouldn't say that. (He's laughing) You're being racist to that bunny."

Student 1: "What?"

Student 3: "Yeah, you're a racist!"

Student 1: (now slightly upset) "I'm not racist. I just said I liked her white bunny."

Student 3: "That's racist."

Student 1: "I'm not racist! I'm not racist! It's just a stuffed bunny."

To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. What I was expecting to hear was a thrilling discussion about Lego, or bus-riding, or... or... ANYTHING but a defamation of a young girl who had the gall to correctly identify the color of a stuffed rabbit.

This young girl was adamant about not being a racist, because in our contemporary world, there are few names that carry with it more negative connotations than 'racist.' And yet the term was bandied between eleven-year-olds as if it was a commonplace thing for eleven-year-olds to talk about.

This brief interaction helped me to realize two things we, as adults, need to be tremendously careful with.

Firstly, the words we speak in front of our children will be absorbed quickly and unconsciously. Whether we speak graciously or we practice a particular innocuous brand of slander, kids (as they always have done) will repeat what they hear. For us, a word filter should be fitted the moment we get up in the morning until we put our heads down for sleep at night. Not only is this a good thing for our kids, but it also changes how we see the world.

Secondly, no matter how much filter we have over our own words, unless we help children navigate the tumultuous online world, kids will be unable to understand the importance of their words on other people. I'm not talking website filters or nannying the internet, and I'm certainly not advocating censorship, but I am encouraging active participation in listening to kids and what they experience while online. For the kids in the above narrative, in all seriousness, they probably did not pick up the finger-pointing-racism from their parents, but have been osmotically gathering ideas online. Without guidance on how to correctly speak about racism, it just becomes a name (and unfortunately) a joke.

Some who read this may think I've overreacted. I wonder that myself. They were just playing around. It's just a white bunny. But somewhere deeper inside of me, I feel there is a modern metanarrative occurring that reveals this is not simply a one-time event, but will be a greater issue as the years pass. 

Each name we are about to stick to someone else is an opportunity: for them and for us. I hope we can stick to choosing a graceful name.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

When Giants Appear

The world is shaking with giants.

Giant fears. Giant anxieties. Giant obsessions and addictions. Gigantic problems with escapism. While these 21st century Titans of Despair may seem much larger than David's Goliath, the pathway to victory is the same.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the David and Goliath story is Israel's incredible devolution of a country devoted to hearing God through the Judges, to a nation quaking in fear at the thought of one man who would stand against the king that they'd chosen - a large man himself. Saul.

One would expect that someone like Saul would have charged headfirst into glorious battle, donning his own armor and carrying his own weapons, to defeat his greatest challenge. But as we read Saul's narrative closely, charging headfirst into battle has never been his modus operendi. 

In 1 Samuel 9, Saul's task was to go search for some lost donkeys. What we find from Saul, '...a handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else,' (9:2) is an unprepared, fearful boy who wants to turn away from the task because it becomes too difficult.

After this episode, Saul meets with Samuel and is convinced that he will be the first king of Israel. For some people, this would be a thrill - to have power, riches, people bending to every whim - but when Saul is announced to the crowd, he is '...hidden among the supplies.' (10:22b)

Although he looks the part, Saul is no giant killer. 

So when Goliath appears on the scene, it really is no surprise that Saul is paranoid, unprepared and fearful. 

It is here we understand that Saul's anointing, although serving a purpose, also serves the point that God does not '...consider appearance or height... the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at outward appearance, but the Lord Looks at the heart.' (16:7)

So David, the youngest brother, a shepherd - good looking with healthy cheeks (as if that's a prerequisite for royalty) - passes in front of Samuel. This is the one that will be king.

Interestingly, David is anointed king when there already is a king. David also is unwilling to lift his hand against the current monarch. He shows his integrity and his fearlessness - the anti-Saul, if you will. Then, the giant shows up. The time has come for Israel to see the future.

Giant's will fall because of God's faithfulness, power and unyielding mercy for his people.

So, how did David kill the earth-shaking giant?

I. Belief in God and belief in himself. 

       "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the Living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of the Philistine." (17:36,37)

II. Using his strengths and advantages.

       Everyone expected David to fight conventionally. To use a sword or spear would have been expected, but it would also have played into Goliath's strengths. For David, his strength was his size and speed and his ability to fight from a distance.

III. Faith in God.

        "All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands." (17:47) It is a tremendously freeing thing when ultimately we realize that the battle's victory is God's responsibility and the part we play is following his direction.

IV. Being prepared and realistic.

        It's always made me smile that David's faith in God was extreme, but he picked up five stones. Sometimes I have thought, 'If David really believed in God, why didn't he just pick up one stone?' But a true leader/warrior is prepared for the unexpectedness of battle. Flinging stones can be affected by all sorts of things - wind, movement, nervousness, sweaty palms - so best to be ready for anything. I'm positive that God doesn't see our preparedness as a lack of faith. Yet far too often I (maybe others, too) bluster about faith and pick up one stone because of laziness rather than faith.

So how does this translate to our contemporary giants?

I. Belief in God and yourself.

    Look, much of the world believes that there is a God, but treats this God as distant and hands-off-ish. With our words we exclaim that we trust this Lord who Saves, but with our handwringing and our worry, we look for someone else to protect us from the giants. Like Saul, we ask around for anyone (Beuller? Beuller? Anyone? Beuller?) who is willing to stand up. 

   The LORD will rescue us from the hand of our 21st Century Philistines and can use all of us to do so.

II. Use our strengths and advantages.

    We keep expecting to solve problems by fighting these giants of fear, anxieties, obsessions and addictions by doing the things we've always done: We battle with swords of words, cutting down people and histories in the process; we put up the armor of online anonymity; we retreat into another world and submerse ourselves in the swirling battle of social media, biased news and distorted talking heads. Yet the strength of the faithful person is not based in a war of words, but by care and compassion in acts of service.

III. Faith in God.

    I keep hearing the phrase 'Post-Christian world' and it makes me feel like someone is standing over my grave and talking about me, but I'm not dead yet. Christian and secular authors alike write both obituary and epitaph about Christianity, "She was a good person, well loved, but she got old..." yet the heart of the body of Christ, Jesus himself, never grows old. When it feels that we are at our weakest and frailest, there it is that God's strength is most magnificently revealed. We are given the courage and strength to stand in the battle with the Lion of Judah at our back, and pick up our stones.

IV. Being prepared and realistic.

    Unlike Goliath, our contemporary giants quickly shift shapes. They are wily and agile and can slit us to death rather than stab us. So what is the tactic - the polished river stone - of the contemporary giant killers? 

Retreat.

As I write that, I think, 'There are some pretty negative connotations from that word.' 

1. Retreat is not from the battle, but a retreat from the online world, away from the tech-giants, the media-giants, the fear-mongers and death-dealers.

2. Retreat from fear, not out of fear, but to regroup with fellow believers to remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. The giant cannot get at us when we stand behind the Lion of Judah.

3. Retreat from our own self-addiction and embrace the opportunity to reconnect with others, no matter their political, ideological or religious identification. If there is anything that the world needs most is to circle the wagons. They're all the same wagon.

In this world full of giants, it is the LORD who looks at the heart of his people, the body of Christ, and smiles. As we are prepped for a battle that he has been/is already fighting, breathe a deep sense of relief. It is already won.

Now, just pick up your sling and stones.


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Holy Distraction, Batman!

There is an Australian saying that goes like this: 

"Head down - bum up." This adage signifies that the speaker is going to keep one's proverbial proboscis to the grindstone, work hard and long hours until the task is completed.

Over the last two years, as some (if not most) employees have worked from home, perhaps promising to keep the morning raids of the refrigerator to a minimum and time spent on social media in check, they have also signed an unwritten personal contract to keep a head down and a rear end up.

So some (if not most) have worked from home, staring at a computer screen until their eyes swam. They've done meetings via Zoom; conferences held through Teams; purchased equipment and supplies through Amazon, and through it all, they've attempted to keep distractions at a distance. 

It's ethical, right? Just keep doing what we've been doing, but online. Just get the task done so we can move onto the next one. 

You can't spell routine without 'rut.'

In my opinion, Moses, in Exodus 3, was very much caught up in the adage, Head down, bum up. 

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within the bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.'

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!"

And Moses said, 'Here I am.'

Now eighty years of age, Moses had been routinely tending his father-in-law's flock, head down, bum up. From Prince of Egypt to Sultan of Sheep, Moses had taken a prodigious demotion, the mundane task of taking care of his father-in-law's flock. Can you imagine what that was like? The humdrum of following sheep across the wilderness: watering them, grazing them, protecting them. Day after day after day.

One day, though, he took his flock to the far side of the wilderness, to Horeb, the mountain of God. Whether or not he knew this was the mountain of God beforehand is up for debate, but for some reason his flocks are grazing on holy hillsides. Whilst the animals munch away, he sees a strange sight: a bush that seemed to be on fire, but it was not being consumed. He even mutters to himself, perhaps this is a sign of the craziness of the rut: "I will go over there to see this thing..."

It was a holy distraction. Moses was well within his rights to simply keep his head down and his bum up, but instead, he does the opposite. He puts his head up and sets his bum down in front of a sight that he would have missed.

It's here that we sometimes miss the third most important word in the narrative (beyond LORD and God)...

When.

It wasn't until Moses made a conscious decision to deviate from the original plan - to work hard, do the task, feed the sheep - that God could see Moses was ready.

When the LORD saw that Moses had gone over to look 

Then God spoke to Moses from the bush.

This holy distraction had caught Moses' attention, but if he hadn't turn aside, he might have missed God's call on his life to do something different.

Over the last two years - well, let's be honest - over the last few decades, Christian churches everywhere have been working really hard, keeping heads down and bums up, to attempt to grow the church. In doing the same things we've always done, whether staring at a computer screen or looking out over a congregation, we hope that in being faithful to the task, we are faithful to the calling. Somehow, if we can just keep going, things will turn around.

And yet, maybe it's at this point in Christian history when it's time to stop putting our heads down, but actually lifting our heads up to see holy distractions. Maybe it's time for us to turn aside from those routine tasks, to go and have a look at these new and creative things that God is doing in the world. Maybe it's from this new 21st century - almost burning bush - that we'll hear God's voice speaking very loudly to us, calling us by name, to tasks unthinkable and untouchable just a few years past.

What will it take for you to lift up your head and put your bum down? What will be your holy distraction to hear God calling you into something new?


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Injection




The old man sat with his hands resting on the arch of his cane. His chin, embedded in the papery skin on the top of his right hand, was set firmly. It was obvious he was unhappy and he had every reason not to be.

Over three nights, the rains on the eastern shores of Queensland continued unabated until finally, Tallebudgera Creek couldn't hold back it's gorge and it vomited millions of litres of water over the banks and through the streets near the creek. As the water surged between and into houses, most people were forced to evacuate. Emergencies services drove (or boated) through water-swollen roads to reach the unhoused. But the question that resonated with everyone was, where were they going to go?

For Eddie*, an elderly man who lived with his daughter Evelyn*, finding a place to stay was particularly difficult. As they, and a small mass of humanity were rescued from their home, they came to my school for short-term housing. It was here that I found Eddie sitting morosely in the middle of the hallway.

As a pastor, there are times when I am put (or insert myself) in situations which are completely unexpected. For me to be sitting with Eddie on a rain-soaked Monday afternoon was certainly unexpected and more. For my part, I did not do what a pastor was 'supposed to' do, but what a member of the human race is required to do.

I sat down with him.

Eddie was hard of hearing. To make matters worse, my accent was difficult for him. Thus, our interaction was a string of questions (by me) answered by a string of 'Huhs?' (by Eddie). For almost an hour, my first question was asked slowly and deliberately, and the refrain was asked even louder and  more deliberately. Finally, I worked out the best way for me to hear Eddie's story and why Evelyn was pacing further up the hallway.

"It's been a hard day," I said.

"You think?"

"Have you seen this kind of flood before?"

"Yuh."

"Tell me about it." It sounds like an abrupt question, but sometimes one is able to read people well enough to know that if I asked Eddie if he wanted to talk about it, he would refuse.

For a while, I'm not sure how long, Eddie's eyes wandered back to a previous place in a previous time. He jumped from topic to topic, from the last flood a few years ago, to his time on the farm. Acres and acres of wheat and sheep, reaping and shearing, harvest and drought. He spoke of his football playing days, how fast he used to be. Throughout his description of  'used to be,' it was quite apparent that much of his despondency was not about the flooded river, but the flooded emotions of being unable to do the things he wanted to do. At the end of his narrative he fell quiet, and I asked the question that is considered taboo, but I asked it anyway.

"How old are you, Eddie?"

When he turned to me, I saw the drained tiredness in his eyes. "I'll be ninety at the end of next month."

"How will you celebrate?"

He snorted. "I won't. Basically, I'm ready for the injection."

Startled, yet not surprised, I pressed him.

"When you can't do the things you used to do," he responded, as he stared into the vacant space opposite him, "and you can't enjoy life the way you want to - they won't even let me drive a car anymore - and my daughter has to take care of me and take me to places, it's time to hang up the boots."

I wanted to object. I wanted to contradict this dark assessment of his life, but there was nothing I could say which would bring back the joy of 'used to be.' His instinct for an injection was rational. Pain and loss can bring us to our knees and a desire to end their influence. And the thought of being placed in a nursing home, even short term, was almost too painful for him. 

"I'm so sorry, Eddie." 

He grunted, but there was something about empathy that stirred him.

"Maybe when the waters go down, we can drive over to your house and have a look." 

It was his turn to be startled. "You would take me to my house?"

"Yes," I answered. It was then, I saw an injection of something different in his life. 

Hope.

It wasn't simply seeing the house, damaged or otherwise, it was that someone had taken the time to sit with him in the dark hallway of time and shine a light to expose a connected humanity. 

I hope, as you read this, that this episode had very little to do with me, and more to do with a perspective of humankind which injects hope rather than selfishness. A humankind which seeks a joy for the communal rather than a protection of the individual. Even as we see the endless debates over masks and restrictions, wars and threats, anger and outrage, can we not infuse the syringe of the future with hope rather than despair?

I hope we can.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Limited Resources

As the rain came down this morning, I stared over my coffee cup towards my friend who was smirking. He had lines around his eyes. I knew that he was tired, but we wanted to have coffee. We won't have that many opportunities soon. I'm moving and he's staying.

So that's not so easy.

He started off our morning conversation this way:

"I've been meeting up with a lot of people. It seems like the world is full of struggle and tragedy."

I nodded. He's right, but...

"I was meeting with another friend who's going through a tough time," he continued, "and we got onto the subject of 'time.' He doesn't know how much he has left. Whatever is still in the hourglass, it never seems enough."

I agreed with him. We don't really think about the time that we have, only the time we don't have. We don't have time for conversations like this because we've spent too much on work, on recreation, on distraction. So we complain that we have 'don't have time' to slow down because life is fast.

My friend agrees with me on this, but he actually acts on it.

"As my friend and I are talking, I said to him, 'We don't realize how precious a resource is until it's limited."

My mind caught there. Like a skipping record, I realized that he had expressed something I'd been pondering for a long time. Not the old flippant, 'Time is Money," but time is the most important resource that we have. But just like any other gift we have, time isn't just spent it should be shared.

We're bombarded by the media today the limitations of resources. Pipelines are being nixed, there are shortages of fuel and deliveries; people are worried that there won't be enough presents for Christmas (what has the world come to?), there's even a question of supply chains not bringing us the goods we need for everyday life. (Toilet paper shortages, anyone?)

These media driven fears are all a distraction from the fact that there is only one resource for humanity that is completely limited, and that's time.

And yet we waste it on so many things that don't matter. We spend frivolously on things that don't mean anything. I'm preaching to myself even before anyone else.

Yet one of my other friends spoke just as profoundly to me the other day as he left the church. He said, 'Pastor Reid, thank you for sharing time with me.'

Incredibly, I was stabbed through the heart, because this person expressed the truest of all truisms - when we think about time as something being shared, it is multiplied. That sounds odd and perhaps cliched, but it is true. As he and I sat together over a cup of tea, time seemed to cease to exist. Just two people who had all the time in the world.

As each of us draws closer to the end of the line, the last grain of sand in the hourglass, whatever metaphor you want to use for the end of life, wouldn't it be great if our world recognized that this limited resource is so precious, that not a second of it should be wasted, but shared. 

I hope you have a chance to reach out to someone you love today and share time with them.


Monday, September 27, 2021

Laces Out

 Around 8:00 p.m., a nine-year-old boy came to me with a problem.

It had been a long day. It started early, around 5:30 in the morning: packing, checking, rechecking the list for all the things one might need on a 3rd and 4th grade school camp. 

  • Sleeping bag and pillow - Check
  • Towel and bathroom necessities - Check
  • Ear plugs - Check
  • Patience - Pick some up on the way
If you've ever been at camp before, there are always things one forgets, whether deodorant, toothbrush, pillow or clean socks. But what one can't (or shouldn't) forget, is an open mind ready for fun.

For many people, chaperoning camp might sound like a foray into one of Dante's circles of Hades, somewhere between Anger and Heresy. Yet for me, there is something incredible and uplifting about seeing young people away from their devices and left to their own devices to entertain themselves and others through conversations and laughter.

We arrived at the campsite on a particularly beautiful afternoon. The sun shone across a vast expanse of grass, then to the right over a rustic looking Old West village replete with hitching posts and dorms labeled "Barber, Locksmith, Saddler and Bank." In the back of the camp were two sets of adventure opportunities, a 'Tarzan' swing and a Flying Fox, both of which were underlined by woodchips for safety. I'm pretty sure those wood chips were for the adults that pretended they were still kids. The young ones tended to land on their feet whereas the older ones tended to land on their... well, you know.

Throughout the day, after various activities from rock climbing to laser tag, archery to low ropes courses, I thought for sure that the kids would be as tired as I was. By 5:30 p.m. when the dinner bell rang summoning voraciously hungry children to the dining hall, I was exhausted. Sometimes you forget the limitless batteries that kids have (and you used to have) that don't really need recharging, just cooling down.

As the decibel level in the cafeteria rose to ear-shattering proportions, one of the teachers spoke over the din with the microphone.

"After dinner, when everything is all cleaned up, you'll be allowed some free time before we have our closing calm-down."

The cheer went up. Free time, of course, was the icing on the camp cake, and I wondered in the swirling cyclone of noise how the teachers actually planned on calming them down. Other than a plane flying over head dusting the camp with tranquilizers, I had no idea how tranquility might settle. Oh well, I thought to myself, I can always sleep next year.

After dinner finished, the dishes were packed up, the last announcements made, the kids were released from their bondage of the cafeteria through a crack in the door and they burst from it like water from a dam. 

The adults, we teachers and parents, were asked to 'supervise' the free time which basically meant that we were strategically positioned around the Old West village to make sure that there was no shoot out (kids getting angry with each other) no stampede (kids getting trampled by each other) no bank robberies (kids entering other rooms and looting stashed candy and other goodies) and no jail breaks (kids running off into the night to test out the Tarzan swing or the Flying Fox). 

I was positioned like Wyatt Earp between the Livery and the Grocery Store. As free time went on, more and more children had decided to 'Ding Dong Dash' which was to rap on the door of whichever kids had barricaded themselves in the room and then run away screaming with delight that they were so clever and clandestine. 

Thus entered the boy with a problem. He was one of the 'ding dong dashers,' a bright faced, brown-eyed boy with rosy cheeks and sweaty hair. Looking up at me with pleading eyes, he asked for help.

"Pastor Reid, can you help me tie my shoes?"

"Of course," I responded without extra thought. I suppose at nine years of age he should have been able to tie his own shoes, but what difference does it make? I only have one pair of shoes anymore that actually has laces.

I could see the problem immediately. Along the tongue of both shoes, a twist had shown up not allowing the laces to be tightened, thus his impediment for dashing while ding donging. He stood above me (impatiently, but grateful) glancing around at all the frantic activity across the Old West village. I could tell he wanted me to hurry. This may have been a new occurrence in his life. Many of the young people had mentioned how little time they spent outdoors - most played video games in their off time. To run and jump and laugh and interact with other young people, not simply at school, but here in the 'real world' was a learning opportunity and he wanted to get back at it.

Finally, with great relish, I finished tying his shoes. His smile was as wide as the western horizon. Amazingly, he didn't run away quickly, but stopped and thanked me. And then said, 'Now, I can go play again.'

The older I get, the more I recognize that's why we're put on earth. To help the next generation 'go play again.' To provide spaces where they can learn to connect, to learn safe (calculated) risks, to be without a screen and make memories. Sometimes kids face obstacles, much greater than loose laces; whether emotional, educational, family situational or otherwise. And it would be easy for us (and often times it happens) to overlook their struggles by focusing on our own: the mortgage, work, marriage, stress, our own personal/emotional difficulties. Of course we can't disconnect from our own problems, but alleviating the distress of a child sometimes changes our perspective and brings a new dawn beyond the setting sun.

This week, if you have a chance, find ways to tie the laces of young people around you. Whether this is literal or metaphorical, watch the reaction of those who are allowed to go play again.

In the Way

Once upon a time, a woman bought an estate with a large house, an expansive yard and a brooding forest in the acres beyond. The woman fell i...