Faith Signals

Faith on trial does have a purpose. Jesus' encounter with the Devil in the desert had a magnificent outcome. Our battles often demand that we undress our version of God, and in doing so, we offload some of our religious certainties that don't measure up under pressure. Unclouded sovereignty remains standing. We have to dig deep to find where He dwells - perhaps digging in way deeper than we thought necessary. So play with the concept of God being closer than you think - because maybe he is farther away. Yes and no.

Holy Smoke

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They said 

 ‘Don’t miss out on what God has got for you’. 

Made me sort of desperate and frantic. Turned my pilgrim slippers towards the neon lights of the ‘Price is Right’ and away from the mystery. It’s just how I am wired - to please God and to get where the action is.

Now I sit by dim candlelight barely able to make out the river or the sky. Just boiling the kettle faithfully over the smouldering ashes. Warmed by holy smoke.

Strange connect

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My shoe lace is undone. I know it.

Two strangers: ‘Hey, your laces are undone’.

The zipper pocket of my backpack is undone. I don’t know it.

Fellow walker.  ‘Hey, your back zipper is undone’ .

Stroller getting off the bus. Big helpful commotion. 

Passenger: ‘Driver, there’s a stroller getting off at the next stop’.

I’m lonely.  

No response. 

I’m odd.

Turn away.

 

Cleaning the Tea Leaves

It's an annoying job to dispose of soggy tea leaves. I have a beautiful little blue teapot, and occasionally I make myself a nice pot of tea. The act of brewing a cup of tea is just so soothing for me.

“When the world is at odds

And the mind is all at sea

Then cease the useless tedium

And brew a cup of tea” (Anon)


Then comes the difficult job of cleaning out the tea leaves.

My musings are like used tea leaves – the tea has been drunk and enjoyed – that is found in the experience of life. The leaves are grown and produced somewhere else – not here. Like forefathers and traditions, I now try to discern what to make of it. What to do with those deep things. The residue of life.

God is in the tea leaves.

He is in the questions and the answers.

He is in the mystery.

He is in the wonderful traditions that make up our spiritual practices and in the haphazard sways between.

In his beautiful work, "I want YOU to BE', Tomas Halik says 'there are some questions that are too good to spoil with answers, that should remain an open window. Such openness need not lead to resignation but to contemplation."

The leaves look sad and used, but they have brought joy – rich is the experience of the cup of tea. Rich is my experience of the spirit. Although not always satisfying. Not ever complete with results or success.

My writing is a report on the Way – a mid-term paper.

We live in a world that likes things packaged up – neat – clear – finding the details are written down and itemized for every occasion. Survey results. Top ten lists for everything from public toilets in Moscow to Thai food restaurants in Brooklyn. The fine print is having its moment in the sun. Meanwhile, the mystery is the quiet winner. In the secret place, we find satisfaction in the questions without needing answers.

Thomas Aquinas strongly asserts that "God is not evident" He's not? Right? As much as our faith, (especially my faith practices of yesteryear) try to convince us to believe that,

'There He is'

'Right there'

'Don't you see him'

'Don't miss him'

Yet He remains elusive in many ways. Many religions try to convince us that he is closer than we think. Which is both true and not.

It's in the tea leaves. It's in the pot. A place that takes time to clean out. To clean out traditions and make way for new ones. A place to savour traditions and a place to throw them out.

I want to feel safe

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Kindness is safe even if it is delivered in a package labelled loss or pain. It is the kindness offered in times of anxiety that creates a cushion to fall on instead of a concrete slab.

Kindness is my favourite adverb. It is one of the fruits of the spirit marked out in the book of Galatians that seems to fit neatly into the heart centre. It is love in action. It says to others, ‘I am here for you and not just for my own well-being’. It suggests restraint to our ego. It scratches away the hard enamel of self and polishes the confidence of others. It has immense power.

Recently working late in the centre of the city on a Saturday evening I was handing over after my shift to the night watchman. He is young. Young enough to be my son. Quiet and unassuming. I was putting on my warm coat and preparing to walk through the city and catch the last bus home. I look forward to the 10 minute walk to the bus as it helps me to decompress after work. He was concerned. It was a cold night, and he offered to drive me home. I declined, but his small kindness after a long and difficult shift was a beautiful moment. It changed my mood right there. The grandeur of the act is unimportant. Do not underestimate the power of kindness that serves as the travel agent for love. I feel grateful for his offer.

So as we journey to find significance and place, we also crave for safety. Often the desire for safety and significance are at odds with each other. The person who is desperate to be known may sacrifice the comfort of security. The person craving emotional shelter may give up any illusions of grandeur in order to quieten the heart.

I find the message of the gospel so attractive as it harnesses both these desires. It allows me to feel known and to feel safe.

Security

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I know everyone is talking about the effects of technology on our mental well-being. I found this article insightful on many levels. 

 https://biggerpicture.ft.com/cyber-risk/article/decline-human-empathy-creates-global-risks-age-anger/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=paid&utm_campaign=bigger_picture

 

 “And unlike previous waves of globalization, today’s feelings of discontent aren’t just confined to displaced workers. For business leaders, the challenge is to create a corporate culture of openness and diversity that is responsive to the concerns of employees and customers.”

 

Serving as Empowerment

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Perhaps the most satisfying part of our mission here in Vancouver is the opportunity to empower others. The food program is a great platform where those who feel powerless can be empowered. People sit together and enjoy a meal around the ‘family’ table. They gain friendships and good conversation. CONFIDENCE GROWS. Others join the kitchen brigade and learn skills and, as they find more purpose, they discover a renewed sense of dignity. CONFIDENCE GROWS. They join a team that takes meals out to the streets and serves the very poor and marginalized. This serves to build compassion and a healthy social context. CONFIDENCE GROWS.

It is a beautiful thing to see God at work as men and women are being transformed out of a place of hopelessness and disconnect. Together with our partners at More Than A Roof, we are equipped to provide the support and opportunities for empowerment to takes root and for people to flourish.

Treasures

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Suppose a family decides to move to Another Land. They give away or sell many of their belongings and pack their two leather suitcases. In Old Country the family store five large boxes filled with things of little value other than sentiment.  They withdraw all their money from the bank. They fly off to their new adventure. They find a new house and begin their new life in Another Land.  

A little time later they return to Old Country to celebrate the wedding of their eldest child. They are welcomed back by family and friends. They go to sort out their boxes of special things and find, that where there were 5 boxes, instead there are 50 boxes.  They ask the Caretaker,  ‘We left only 5 boxes here in this place and now there are 50.  What has happened and what lies in all these boxes?’ The old man removes a white cloth covering the huge mountain of boxes revealing that each one is stamped with a different word. ‘Friends. Seeds. Trauma. Gifts. Family. Sand. Pain. Laughter. Grief. Worry. Words. The woman still doesn’t understand what this means.  The old man takes her hand and looks into her eyes with such love. He says 'This is called The Well-come Home.  This is your box of time. This is the record of things eternal. These are the things you carry and the things you dropped.  This is both the school of your youth and the temple of your old age. These boxes hold the battle scars and your medals where you won first place. They smell of the ancient and of the future. ‘The boxes that you left on these shores have multiplied. I packed the pages you left behind.  They speak of redemption and eternity. Friendships are a huge and valuable investment.  I found some of those forgotten behind the door.’ says the old man.  

The joy of these treasures was unexpected and very deep. His words induced a long audible sigh. Once the stale air had fully exited my lungs I breathed in a batch of new and energetic oxygen.  I was a little freer.   A little more free.   

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.  You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 0 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.
— Psalm 139, 7 - 12 


Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was a rather remarkable series of the 90s. Remember there was no Netflix, so a whole lot of people were watching episode by episode of this trippy and complex crime series. You really had to lean in; to listen hard to follow the plot and absorb the off-beat dialogue. The main character, FBI special agent Dale Cooper, often thinks in the abstract. He is reminiscent of a sophisticated Colombo for those of you who remember that bumbling detective of the Seventies.

Dale Cooper looks at a crime scene with a quality that thinks simultaneously in the past, present and future. Like God, Cooper comes up with strange conclusions. He asks unusual questions.

God knows me and takes me off balance.

I suppose when we say ‘yes’ to God (see how I continue to use that language - the language of evangelism) or, put another way, when we open our mind, heart and soul to explore a relationship with God, we permit the God police to enter into our scene. My life is a perpetual crime scene. You may as well cover me in the yellow and black police tape — with 911 on speed dial. The God detective comes and surveys the scene. He takes notes. ‘Oops, she did it again’.

I wait. Head bowed in shame. My Dale-Cooper-of-a-God sees my past,my present and my future. He lifts my head and looks me deep in the eyes and kisses the top of my crown and commands me to go and sin no more.

This scene is on repeat.

Remember ‘go and sin no more’ are the words Jesus uses to send the adulterous woman back into her community in the 8th Chapter of John. I find it amusing that he would says this with a straight face. Perhaps it is said with the same conviction of a mother saying to her quarelling children ‘ Now go away and play nicely together’. She knows there will be another scrap between them, another time she needs to enter and mediate.

Despite all my angst and uncertainty, it is this sense of God’s forgiveness and kindness that keep me rooted in this life battle. Allowing me to keep my head above water in real barbarian struggles; to keep on believing in God and heaven and all that.

Dale Cooper in one of the episodes takes the Sheriff to breakfast in a diner. I like to think these words are how God would counsel me when I am all knotted up and anxious about life:

Dale Cooper:

Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee. Like this.

Sheriff Truman:

A present? Like Christmas?

Dale Cooper:

[Taking a sip] Ah, man that hits the spot. Nothing like a great cup of black coffee.

No doubt we have a complex relationship with God. He sees all. He deserves our best. He is both our judge and our defender. Allow him control of the mess and take up his offer of a place of rest amidst the battle.

The Pavement is Dreaming of Grass

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Go to the place where your imagination lives.

The child spot.

The dreamer place.

Experiences of life can stifle and numb this part of ourselves.  As Westerners we live in a culture increasingly interested in what is ‘right’.  What is just?  What is the tribal definition of justice?

In an increasingly fearful community, we endlessly analyse events and behaviours and place them up against the mirror of judgement in order to maintain a grip on order.

We have lost our glasses through which we see glory, and, then become free to imagine what a life without eyes of judgement looks like.

I am working on retrieving some of my lost functionality – my lost imagination.

“The soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest, and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass.”

— Wendell Berry, Given

To dream of pure friendships,  of mountain walks, of witnessing miracles, of beauty, of sleep…..

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Sabbath

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I remember a time many years ago when my children were ready to start their ‘careers’ as footballers. They wanted to play soccer. In our city at that time, the regular games were played on a Sunday. Our church day. We didn’t think of it as being a clash with any rules of the Sabbath but, rather, as an inconvenience. The logistics of combining a two-hour church service in the morning, soccer games, and the evening service would be a problem. We have four sons, (and a daughter who, thankfully, didn’t want to join the girls soccer team) so it was an important problem to solve. As so often happens someone more passionate and more determined to solve the dilemma founded a Christian soccer league which played games on Saturday. The four boys played in this league for many years to come.

Recently I have been reading a book entitled ‘ Sabbath as Resistance’ by the eminent writer and theologian Walter Brueggemann. He suggests the fourth commandment on following the sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to a purpose that goes against the most elemental mores of our commmodity-propelled society. A society that peddles control, entertainment, and ‘do-what-you-want-when-you-want’ to the max. Rest.

I am now asking myself, how well am I offering the gift of Sabbath to others? How does Soulkitchen include a stretch towards sabbath - a big deep breath away from these compulsions in our society? Sabbath is not simply about my ‘pause’ but, as with all our actions and positions, it should offers space for others in my practice. It can create a time for imagining our lives away from the roar of commerce and social anxiety. It offers a seat for those who are heavy and weary to join me in rest.

There is perhaps no better time than this to take time out and prepare a place for your neighbours to rest.

Maybe Sabbath becomes your Gift Card of choice. An invitation of rest and safety for others. A time where you and others acknowledge the gift of life and breath.

Brueggemann completes his short book on Sabbath with these words:

Sabbath is a ‘no’ to the worship of commodity; it is a ‘no’ to the pursuit of commodity. But it is more than a ‘no’. Sabbath is a regular, disciplined, visible, concrete yes to the neighbourly reality of the community beloved by God. We used to sing the hymn ‘Take Time to be Holy, but perhaps we should be singing. ‘Take time to be Human’.


— Sabbath as Resistance (2014)Walter Brueggemann


Sabbath is taking time. Time to be holy. Time to be human.

Encourage

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Amidst the programs, the food service, the Christmas planning, the housing symposiums, the migrant education, the job training, grant applications – one thing remains urgent – encourage one another!

At the heart of personality is the need to feel a sense of being lovable without having to qualify for that acceptance.

— Escape from Loneliness by Paul Tournier


A little bit goes a long way. Because of the prevailing winds of self-doubt – or even self-hatred, we must take the lead on this. We can move to a culture of encouragement as a balance for the fashion of rating our work only through the eyes of success and deliverables.  Let’s find ourselves intentionally raising the hopes of the vulnerable through words of encouragement.

The Life Saving Club

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This week I was reminded of a modern-day parable re-told by many. Here is my rendition…..

On a beautiful piece of coastline, where the waves are dangerous and drownings frequently occur, there was a once a cute little life-saving station. No more than a hut on stilts. A local man donated a boat that could be used to go out into the surf and assist those in need. A few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. Many of those who had been rescued told their story and, so, the rescue work became famous. Many wanted to support the work. New boats were bought, and crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the new members of the life-saving station felt that such good work deserved a better building and higher quality equipment. After all, didn’t those who were being rescued need a comfortable place to recover?

So, after the new building was erected, they replaced the hammocks with IKEA furniture and made a pleasant lounge area with a first-class coffee machine.

Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and added a wrap-around ocean-view patio and a state of the art sound system. The daughter of the Club President suggested the potential for Friday night live music and dance. She was the first one to be married on the patio at sunset. The view was divine. Many followed using their increasingly expensive membership fees to host school graduations, weddings, 21st birthday bashes and any event you could imagine.

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Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so the Board of Directors decided to pay the lifeboat crews to do the work. The interview process was fierce as many wanted the jobs. To have the life-saving club on your resume was gold!

In addition to devising smart fundraising programs, many members volunteered as accountants, event coordinators, marketers and such. The Club was a hive of activity and became the sweetheart of the local city council. A beacon of the community. It quickly matched the influence and budget of the local Rotary and Lions Club combined!

About this time a large fishing trawler caught fire about 400 metres off the coast. The newly hired rescue team, enthused about using their new equipment, went out into the sea. They returned with about a dozen cold, wet, and half-drowned people.

Most of the rescued were Indonesian, and it was difficult to communicate with them. The fire had left them with a strong smoky smell and blackened with ash. The life-savers didn’t quite know where to place them. The beautiful new carpets inside the Club house would be ruined, and the bathrooms did not have showering facilities. It was near dark and freezing outside, so the beach showers were the only option. They asked the rescued folk to kindly shower before entering the building. By 9pm the group were huddled in blankets around a pot of good soup.

‘Well done to my team who went above and beyond to keep our community safe’ was the quote from the Club President. The story made it into the headlines for of all the major evening news broadcasts.

However, as they say, there was trouble in paradise.

At the next Club board meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities or at least curtail them. A consensus was reached. The Club would not go out past the end of the roped off section of the beach to help. Any incident further than the end of the jetty would be handled by the local Coast Guard. This action would safeguard the normal life pattern of the club and protect the members. The Club would donate 10% of their annual budget to the National Coast Guard service.

Many left to start their own clubs. They wanted to return to the real mission of saving lives.

If you visit this part of the coast today, you will find many ‘well equipped’ clubs along the shore. Any surfing or boating accidents occurring outside the breaks are passed onto the Coast Guard. People continue to drown. Club membership continues to grow

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