Saturday, December 29, 2007
At the end, when you have finally seen the grand project or journey through to its completion, you are tired, happy, wiser, more humble, thankful, able to see the divine plan and purpose in all the twists and turns you experienced. You are more convinced than ever of the absolutes, your faith is richer and deeper and stronger, and your soul has a solidity that only the practical living out of what you hope in can bring.
Both of these are most satisfying places to dwell, and we love them. As people of faith, these are the times we relish and talk about and gravitate towards the most. Just ask anyone for their favourite passages in the Bible and they will most likely jump right to one that exhibits either great vision or a grand lesson learned through difficult times.
But what about "the middles?" Those long weeks and months and years in-between the beginning and completion of an era when things are unsettled, when you are lost and floundering and angry at God and clueless and everything you see around you is in direct opposition to the vision you thought you had. When you have virtually no energy and the energy you do have is negative energy, when you don't get along with your family and friends and leaders and co-workers, when the bank account is seriously ill, when things are at a standstill and you are tired of pushing and shoving and working with no perceptible movement on any fronts, when you question every absolute you were prepared to tattoo on your arm just a few short days or months before, and when death and sickness and depression and just plain bad luck follow you around. When you curse the day you called yourself a visionary, when you cry and pray and then mostly just cry, when you don't want to get out of bed in the morning and you don't believe anyone understands you anymore, and when hope is a four-letter word.
So much of the narrative that chronicles the story of God and his interaction with those he created and loves (a.k.a. The bible) is a record of "the middles." And God did not cut these stories short, focusing only on the inspiring beginnings, including a few troubles just for interest and literary tension, and then quickly jumping to the satisfying conquest . He did not edit the troublesome parts out of Job, nor the Psalms, nor all those depressing stories of kings and politics gone bad in Chronicles and Kings and Samuel, nor did he chop out the redundant day by day drudgery of the laws and regulations and censuses of Numbers and Leviticus.
The middles are what most of us live in much of the time. And it is what makes faith, faith. We can't see the end, no one can skip to the last page of the chapter and read ahead; the book is still unwritten and we are making it up as we go along.
When I was working at an art gallery, someone asked me what I thought about portraying anger and bitterness and doubt and misery and angst in art. I said it would be a very powerful study to have someone paint the different stages of their particular struggle while they were going through it, and not just record it from a perspective of time, having already come through it. I don't believe I knew what I was saying. First of all, who really wants to see someones pain that close up? And more importantly, who of us are able or willing to be that vulnerable? I know I am not, at least for the most part.
I hesitate to write anything here that does not end neatly, that does not have at least some of the loose ends tied up, that I have not already wrestled and come to terms with. I must have some peace and closure and wisdom before I can show that part of my life, or so I think. And that is not the pattern I see when I read the Bible. It is often raw; things don't go the way they should, emotions and misperceptions run rampant and circumstances go awry without explanation or tidy conclusions.
So let me be honest for just a moment here. Today, I do not see where I am going. I thought I had a good and godly idea but so far, every avenue I have explored leads to nothing. I prayed and changed my attitude and embraced truth with humility, but outwardly, things remain the same. There is no improvement in our finances and job situations and the move we are contemplating seems pretty stupid right now. I would back out but that scares me more than going forward. It is hard to be positive and hopeful right now. I am tired of putting my energy into things that never seem to get anywhere, like cleaning a house that never stays clean (yes, my house is in post-holiday untidiness right now - ugh I hate it!), so I am struggling with half-heartedness and that makes me sick for I hate half-heartedness and condemn it in others. So I am a hypocrite on top of it all as well. Tomorrow might be better, but most likely it will be more of the same. I am tired of the same. Can we please move on?
Welcome to "the middles." God does not hide them and neither shall I.
Thanks to Shane for encouraging me along this line of thought. (www.fakerepublic.com)
This is a tri-tree in the bush right next door.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Last week I came across a quote on another's blog, and it rang true with me. Here it is:
I have come to believe that it is important to personally learn and to teach people how to feel skillfully. I believe that there is far more information and awareness in feeling than there is in thinking. Certain forms of rational debate can point out the absurdity of different beliefs, but this fails if the person lacks the intelligence to understand the argument. And yet even the most simple can recognize when they have been insulted. And it seems the most simple often understand when they are being loved and how to return love more skillfully than their "intelligent" counterparts. - Richard Harty, www.whatisspiritual.blogspot.com
I am a feeler. I have spent much of my life trying to figure out what to do with my strong emotions. How to mature in them. I have also been blessed to befriend rational people who are gifted thinkers and they have challenged and guided me in developing my ability to discern inconsistencies and wrong patterns of thought and of equal importance, to be able to provide good reasons for what I believe and see my life within the bigger picture of truth.
However, some of my wonderful rational friends seem somewhat underdeveloped in the area of feeling and are often uncomfortable or at a loss when they encounter strong emotions in others. And I do not believe it should be so. There are plenty of courses on apologetics and debate that encourage us to develop rational and consistent thought, but I have never heard of someone teaching us how to feel well, to experience life deeply and richly, and to discover truth in the midst of our emotions. It is true: the simplest among us are often those who love the most skillfully, and we can and should learn from them.
Do you feel well? Do you emote skillfully? This might be a seminar I should develop. Any suggestions or insights welcome.
This is a photo of our intimate Christmas dinner on Sunday night: African Peanut soup, Angus steak, and onion roasted potatoes.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I was doing my kickboxing workout downstairs when the phone rang. It was Dean (husband of the year award-winner) asking me to look up some information for him that he could not access at work due to internet restrictions. I complied, like the good wife I am, and interrupted my exercises to run upstairs to my office. He had me on speaker phone with 3 of his colleagues, so as I was sitting at my computer, searching for a particular Skype identity, I could hear the office banter. I was not having any luck finding the person he needed and we were about to give up when I heard a strange noise coming from the kitchen. It was an odd meowing that was getting more and more intense and turning into a wail. I hurried to the kitchen, phone still to my ear, and saw Tea lying on the floor beside the fridge, her one paw stuck beneath it and her in obvious distress trying to free it from some sharp edge. I just said, "Cat emergency," into the phone and set it down on the kitchen counter without hanging up. I tried to calm Tea down and reached out to free her paw from the underside of the fridge, giving it a good squeeze in order to release it and thereby causing her to cry out in pain again.
What I did not see was Jazz coming up behind me, responding to the universal cat distress call, and upon seeing me tugging at Tea, assuming that I was killing her. Suddenly, I was being attacked by a territorial overprotective maniac cat (good thing I was wearing shorts for my workout!) who lashed out at my legs and growled and hissed at me. I turned around to fight her off and told her to get lost and received a few more strikes on my arm and my other leg. At this point Tea somehow freed herself and ran off, so I managed to get Jazz to walk away stiffly, still quite worked up, but not clawing me anymore.
I picked up the phone and Dean said, "What is going on?" I told him what had happened and mentioned that there was now blood oozing out of scratches on my legs and arm and while he laughed so hard that I could hear him struggling to catch his breath, the other three in the office were not sure whether to be concerned for me or horrified by our savage animals or just relieved they were not part of the wacky household. Dean assured them that I was fine, though slightly melodramatic, and everyone would recover just nicely. And thus ended one of the most interesting phone conversations those four would have all day.
For some reason, as I reflected on the strange events of that morning, I thought of Job, his wife, and his friends. How often, when we find ourselves (or see a friend) in a tough situation, feeling trapped, and things seem to get worse, do we blame or attack the very one who is our only hope of rescue (that would be God!). We so often hold our understanding up as the ultimate means for approaching truth, when in fact, faith is the thing that pleases God and enables us to know Jesus, the Truth.
Now, if my cats could only trust me instead of trying to understand a being so far beyond their mental capacity, we could avoid most of the stress, the unhappy noises, and the scratching.
This is Tea and the offending paw sleeping off the traumatic event.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
1. No Country For Old Men. This movie is garnering a lot of attention and nominations for its quirky characters and clever script. I went into it expecting to be intrigued. Halfway though the film, I wondered if I should walk out. I found it altogether too dark and somewhat predictable in that "I've got an awful feeling about this" way. I stayed to the end, which contained a huge dark stain followed by a glimpse of light. I left the theatre bothered, feeling ill at ease. Like I should take some action to make things right, but there was nothing to do. Indeed, the script and directing and acting display quite a bit of talent, but the story is heinous. It is a horrific chase. One man kills everything that stands between him and some money (and some random people he happens to encounter, just because it is what he does) in the most cold-blooded and calculating manner, yet he comes off as strangely interesting and fascinating. Or at least he is supposed to. And I think that is what bothered me the most: that something this evil can be made to fascinate us. Yes, the film is new and innovative, but I find that what we hail as original is often something that dares to cross a line of good taste or perhaps moral codes and titillates us for a moment, but in the end, adds nothing to us and has no lasting value. Every character in the movie, save a few, sacrifices themselves to the money. Innocence is mowed down and stomped on and obliterated at every turn. What is intriguing about that?
2. I am Legend. This story is also about a chase. One man is trying to survive in a world devastated by a horrible virus that turned most humans into savages. Yes, the dark souls chase him, but that is not the real chase. The real hunt is this sole survivor's fight against isolation, time, danger, and difficulty in order to find a cure for the very ones who are out to kill him. It is his sole purpose for surviving. Sure, the story is not that clever (some say it is too similar to 28 Days Later) or the dialogue that unique or original and there are some continuity and consistency issues, but the character has a big heart - he believes in something important. I find that talent is no substitute for belief. It is not money that he chases. It is salvation. The main character quotes one of his heroes, Bob Marley, reminding himself that evil does not take a day off, so neither can he.
I have been told that I cannot properly separate fiction from fact and that is why I sometimes overreact. While I will admit a certain truth in that observation, in another way I believe I am onto something. We are one - whole beings. We were never meant to separate our lives and selves into all these different compartments. What happens in our body, in our mind, in our emotions, in our work, in our play, in our imaginations - all these things affect us as people and it is naive to deny that this is so. How ridiculous to assume that what touches one part of me will have no affect on who I am or my wholeness as a human being. This is by no means an advocation of avoidance, but an encouragement to enter the correct chase. What are you chasing? What are you serving? What are you sacrificing for?
This is some snowy foliage behind my house.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Yesterday I was trotting around on my friend, Dave's, blog (http://www.nakedpastor.com/) and saw his latest video conversation with Shane from http://www.fakerepublic.com/. Excellent stuff. Go there right now and watch the fakenaked show part 2. It is about money and marketing and integrity and they toss in a few innapropriate remarks just for good fun. Anyway, that got me onto Shane's website where I came across this fine quote in one of his posts. I asked if I could include it here and he graciously agreed.
i shudder every time i hear the life-giving message of jesus preached as constricting, fear-inducing, death - the dysangel! i despair when the wild word of god is tamed and tethered to a proof-text in support of prejudice. every time i hear the too-familiar sermons reiterate the same-old slant on complex, tangled, intricate, infinitely new passages, i cringe. i know this is the reason so few spend any time exploring the scriptures for themselves any more - they believe all the gold has been mined from these depths and all that remains is a hollow, black, cavernous carcass. the two-edged sword has been dulled by timid, safe, entirely predictable and unshocking interpretation. tragically, aslan has had his claws pared (to paraphrase the inimitable dorothy l. sayers). - from http://www.fakerepublic.com/
I had just been reading Isaiah 10 where strong and untamed words of destruction are rife, the kind that peace-loving modern tolerants hate, and was struck by the perspective one small phrase brought to the whole wrathful chapter. Here's the gist of the scenario: Israel has gone in a really bad direction and done some very bad things. God sends Assyria to attack them to show them that evil is not alright and you can't get away with injustice. They suffer. It is bad. People die. Then God says he will turn his wrath on Assyria who is now arrogant in its victory over Israel. Sounds like violence upon violence, but listen to the love and careful thought for a people's well-being behind all this slaughter:
And on that Day also, what's left of Israel, the ragtag survivors of Jacob, will no longer be fascinated by abusive, battering Assyria. They'll lean on God, The Holy - yes, truly. The ragtag renmant - what's left of Jacob - will come back to the Strong God. Your people Israel were once like the sand on the seashore, but only a scatterd few will return. Destruction is ordered, brimming over with righteousness. For the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, will finish here what he started all over the globe. Therefore the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, says: "My dear, dear people who live in Zion, don't be terrorized by the Assyrians when they beat you with clubs and threaten you with rods like the Egyptians once did. In just a short time my anger against you will be spent and I'll turn my destroying anger on them. - From Isaiah 10, The Message.
Our fascination with violence and destruction and unrighteousness is only too evident to God (and to anyone who watches any television or movies). He takes that unholy idolatry and smacks us over the head with it to wake us up out of our deception, and then he obliterates the instrument of violence itself so that we will no longer give it power. How brilliant is that! I love this God! And this complex, tangled, intricate, infinitely new, never timid, nor safe, nor entirely predictable and sometimes shockingly wonderful way he has about him.
These are the woods beside my house in the blizzard on Sunday.
The water has come back on, thank you technicians of the town of St-Lazare. Blessed shower!
Monday, December 17, 2007
We had a Christmas function downtown that we had to be at around 5 pm which meant we should probably leave by 4 pm to allow for the bad roads. Dean brought out the shovel just after 3:30 and managed to make a minor dent in the heap the city snow plow had deposited at the end our driveway. He came inside after a short while and said there was no way he could clear the massive volume of white. He started my car which was parked outside, and in an attempt to free it from a snowbank, managed to get it good and stuck in the drifts behind it. We really were not going anywhere unless our snow removal guy showed up and rescued us. So for the next 20 minutes or so, Dean shovelled the front steps, cleaned off my car, and mostly just stood outside and gazed down the road, hoping to see the green tractor coming. I called Mr. Gravel's number but all I got was a message saying he was out clearing roads. I stood inside by the window, asking God to please send the deneigement guy in time for us to get to our function. We were helpless, utterly helpless to do anything.
At 4:11 the John Deer tractor sped down the road towards our house and even the cats were smiling at the arrival of the noisy snow blowing machine. He quickly cleared a path to the garage and removed most of the drift behind my car. He then leaped from his heated cab and motioned towards my car. I hurriedly pulled on a jacket and some boots and ran outside. While I steered and pushed pedals, the French man and Dean pushed and pushed some more and my car was free! I pulled out of the way and Mr. Gravel and his magic red snow machine finished clearing enough space for both cars to exit and enter and then hurried on to his next customer. What we could not have done in two hours, he did in two minutes.
We arrived at our function 5 minutes later than we normally would have.
I know that though I profess to trust God, I still prefer the kind of trust that does not leave me powerless or totally dependent and in fact downright sunk without some divine intervention. I like to have options or plan B. But really, what kind of weak faith is that? I might as well start realising that all my efforts and cleverness do not amount to anything without the power and grace of God. Teach me to trust more and worry less.
This is a picture of some reeds in the ditch behind my house during the blizzard.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Anyway, in my friend's living room, while we were talking and venting and in general just being honest about how this story made us feel, I suddenly had the overwhelming sense that God's presence was very near me. Then I heard him say (in the kindest voice, audible only to myself), "Mattie, Mattie, Mattie. You have let these things come between us. These things that you don't understand. You don't trust me in these places. Just let them go. You can trust me."
I was undone. I saw my unbelief and how I was withholding myself from God because I didn't care for his methods (polar opposite of Abraham's response, you might observe). And then I let the distrust go. I let go the misunderstanding I was carrying. I let my wary and cynical guard down and I chose to trust.
It is easy to confuse the two: a) a perception of inconsistency and b) unfaithfulness, but they are not equal. God's behaviour may seem erratic to us but that is because he dwells beyond the four dimensions that I am comfortable with. The stories and words in the Bible cannot encompass his character or adequately describe him, but they give us a glimpse of faithfulness that defies anything we have ever experienced on this earth. He will never leave me. He might do things I do not understand (in fact, I am certain he will because my understanding is less than God's by definition, especially in light of my limited view of time), but he will never be found unfaithful. He will stick by me when I am trusting and when I doubt. He will always respond to my call and my desire to come close. He will never put me in a position that cannot be turned into good. He will always do what he says. He will always be making things right. And in the end, he will always be trustworthy.
This is the snow on my deck today as seen through the vertical blinds.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
What is believing? I think it is giving yourself over to something, letting that protective wall down that we all use to shield ourselves from really showing who we are, and stepping into something that one cannot totally quantify. And it is a darn hard thing to do! Some days I do not know if I believe anything. There are days, like today, when I feel mediocre about my life and the tasks in front on me and everything I read and write seems flat and lifeless and the only thing my eyes see is the unchanging dullness all around. Then there are days that I awake with hope in my belly and I leap about, believing that anything is possible, that I have boundless love to give and grace to bestow, and I will burst if I do not sing or write or express that to someone. There are days I say, "I love you," and wonder how I could ever measure up to all that phrase entails and know that the hollowness in my words must be evident to my loved ones. There are times when loving words and deeds bubble forth almost frenetically from my own deep sense of being loved and being lovely.
I do not know why some days I am a doubter and some days a believer, but I do know that I always have a choice. Doubt cannot keep me from walking toward belief, from choosing to stand beside the standard of truth, from struggling with the chains of negative self-absorption refusing to let them strap me in. If I have one prayer, it is that I would live 100% in this day, totally believing every moment that I am alive, not wanting to be anywhere or anyone else. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
This is a barn at a country florist shop down the road.
Monday, December 10, 2007
When one looks at some of the marketing and media out there, it is easy to see how this diversity is being undermined in some ways. There are certain products and ideals presented as something every one should strive for, and while I understand the desire for greater market share, this premise goes against nature in a subtle way. Not every woman is tall and slim and should not be. Not every one loves coffee and chocolate and should not. Not every one wants to own a Porsche and I am thankful they don't. And yet, if we do not participate in the idealisation of certain things, we are made to feel odd in some way: like loving a chubby woman with a prominent nose makes one less of a man. Or not having an appreciation for fine wine and cigars makes you less sophisticated in some way. Not every one loves the same things and that is one of the ways this world is kept in such a wonderful balance.
One of the greatest gifts of living in a multicultural environment such as Montreal is that I get to experience those who are different than I am, and that is one of the greatest inspirations to be myself. I will not let myself be reduced to a common denominator, but let the whole expanse of humanity be exhibited in the way I live my life and in turn, encourage that in those around me. Because if I don't, someone will get left out and that is never the way God intended things to be.
I like the green grass on my yard, even though it is covered by snow right now.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Sunset and sunrise are some of my most favourite times. They are stunning and short-lived moments that speak of the hope of change. Celtic lore has a phrase that I love: the time between times. It refers to the dusk and dawn, when it is neither night nor day, when one is caught between light and dark, beginning and ending, death and life, waking and sleeping, and this span of time was seen as a portal to the supernatural.
It is that moment when we have stepped from the shore of a stream and are caught in mid-air, straining to set our foot on the other side. It is that snapshot in time when the trapeze artist has flung himself from the swinging bar and reaches out his hands to be grasped by his partner. It is that instant when we jump off the diving board and hope the water is still there when we hit it. It is not a safe place. It is the place of no turning back, of only forward motion, of trust and faith and perhaps if we are honest, a little bit of fear. And most assuredly, it is a window through which we often see God at work in our lives.
God created the world in such a way that this "time between times" happens twice every day. Perhaps as a reminder to us never to assume our present situation is permanent, a gentle nudge not to become so totally attached to our station in life that we are not willing to leap, to venture forth, and to stretch out our arms, waiting to be caught. Pretty exciting stuff, this waking and sleeping.
This is a sunset last January on Mont Royal.