Wednesday, July 29, 2009

looking for the large

We returned yesterday from 5 days in New Brunswick at a Roundtable Leadership Retreat. There was a lot of sitting and talking and listening, but some time was made for fun and games, tasty food, and a hike up Dominion Hill where I watched my 2 fellow hikers cut down several dead trees with the chainsaw. Good stuff! However, I am pretty tired today from the lack of sleep due to a very early morning flight back (only 4.5 horizontal hours), recovering from the cold I caught while there (coughing - yuck!), and having to fast for a blood test today. (Giving blood just takes a lot out of me.)

Anyway, in all my travels I started reading a book about the life of Einstein. This brilliant man was a wonderful friend to many around him who shared his passion for learning and discovery. However, authority figures were frequently put off by his seeming disregard for their position and the accepted social and political practices of the time. His direct and abrasive manner caused him to lose marks at school, brought many to scoff at his methods and theories, and cost him more than a few jobs. But it seems that his supposed problem with authority was exactly what enabled him to go beyond the accepted scientific thoughts and theories of the day. He did not accept the order of things around him, but looked for something more satisfying. Something larger.

He dismissed rote learning. He taught by asking questions. He invited anyone to argue and wrestle over grand problems with him. He looked for unity in the universe, believing that the many natural laws of physics could be connected by something greater (the theory of relativity). His formulas led him to the frustrating conclusion that the universe was expanding, a notion that he tried hard to ignore. At first, he even fudged some of his findings in an effort to reinforce the view of a static universe, but he could not ignore the numbers. The man who questioned everything knew that he had to follow the logic, even if it implied that there was a point of creation, an idea he had been unwilling to embrace.

People who do great things are often those who end up kicking against authority in some way. I don't believe questioning authority is wrong in itself, but it can lead to some unhealthy attitudes if we are not humble in seeing our own limitations. Passively working within the system we find ourselves in, however, almost guarantees nothing of greatness will ever come from us. It is a supposedly safer, yet in reality far more dangerous way to live, for in doing so we sacrifice all our potential for the sake of the familiar, the comfortable, the predictable, and the easy answers. It is the submission to something small.

Let me always submit myself to the largest Mystery I can find.

These are some deer prints that we found along the road while on a walk near Dominion Hill.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mythbusters

Dean and I were watching Mythbusters on Monday night. He had just come home from a business trip, so we talked, ate, and chilled on the couch and had the TV on while we were doing so. It was an entire episode dedicated to seeing if there was any merit to the theory that the landing on the moon had been faked. Pictures and videos of the landing were analysed and the common so-called discrepancies were tested.

Two of the tests they featured caught my attention. One was the claim that the American flag that was planted on the moon is seen to be waving in the breeze in a video and the reasoning is that in the vacuum of the moon, this should not be possible. The other one was that in a picture taken of an astronaut climbing down from the lunar module, he is in the shadow of the space vehicle and yet he is quite brightly lit, leading some to claim that this was a staged photo with a second light source.

They tested the first theory by swiveling a flag (as if planting it in the ground) in an earthly environment, and then doing the same test in a vacuum simulating the moon's atmosphere. In our atmosphere, the flag waved as the stick was being moved, then quickly became still once the motion stopped. So far, so good. One could understand why the waving flag looked odd in the moon landing video. Then the flag and stick were placed in a vacuum and the same motion was made. The flag continued to wave long after the movement of the stick had stopped. Why? The resistance of the air in the Earth's atmosphere caused the movement to subside quickly, whereas in a vacuum where there is no air resistance, the flag continued its fluttering motion even after the stick had stopped moving. What seemed to be a breeze on earth was in fact the natural law of a vacuum.

The second discrepancy concerned a photo of an astronaut in the shadow of the lunar module. He is not cast in a dark shadow as one would expect. Once again, the people of Mythbusters tried to simulate the scenario. This meant building a mini version of the moon landing scene and obtaining something that resembled moon dust. The surface of the moon is known to have a much higher retro-reflectivity than earth, so they sprinkled a substance with the same albedo (reflectance of planetary surface) under the model of the scene. A picture was taken and voila! The reflective quality of the surface did in fact light up the white-clad astronaut much more than a picture taken on earth would have. The term sometimes used to describe this glow is Heiligenschein (German for "holy light"). [1]

A reading I was doing yesterday from C. S. Lewis talks about how we make the error of taking ourselves as the starting point and how this skews so much of our thinking. [2] Certain earth-bound people who looked at these photos and pictures of another world made the mistake of assuming that things would happen in the same way there as they do here, in the world they were familiar with. There was no recognition of greater freedom of movement because they were used to the restriction of their own atmosphere. There was no allowance for a greater light, a "glory" to be seen, because they were used to shadow and dark places. These things just could not be real because they did not match up with what they had observed around them thus far.

I have the feeling that my starting points are being challenged. I assume certain things about who I am, and how I relate to others, and how things will go in my life, and what church is all about, and what happens when I talk to God, and how he deals with humankind, and who God is. The problem is that all too often, I start with me and what I have perceived thus far. I leave little room for unfettered freedom and glows of glory because I am not used to experiencing them. I explain them away. I ignore them. I keep living like the atmosphere around God is the same as the atmosphere that I know, and like God planting a big sloppy wet kiss on earth does not change any of this earthly substance. [3]

But it did and it does. If I am ever to tread in new and uncharted places, I must give up my small and inadequate starting points. Let it begin with the biggest starting place I know, and that is God.

1. see Retro-reflection phenomena on http://www.wikipedia.com/
2. from Mere Christianity
3. a line from the song, "How He Loves," by John Mark McMillan

This is the Ferris wheel at Niagara Falls on a cloudy, not too reflective, day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

battery

I have a new battery in my laptop. Since I always use my computer on AC power, I was in no hurry to replace it when it gave up a few months ago, but there were side effects that I had not counted on. One of them was a frightful blue screen that appeared while I was on a trip to Niagara Falls a few weeks ago. It seems that the short term memory is lost when I unplug it and transport it without a battery. And so the computer forgot who it was and why it was here and I had to run a diagnostic to tell it where to look for this basic information (yes, I use blatant personification for many inanimate objects).

I unplugged my computer a few minutes ago, just to give the new battery a little test run. It says I have 4 hours and 23 minutes of battery life left. Wow, the initial factory-supplied battery never gave me that kind of mileage! I could not make it through a 90 minute movie without plugging in! This is sweet!

Reserve power is important in my life as well. I won't always have optimum access to energy and truth and encouragement and consistent good input. And when those times come, and they always do, what am I running on? Do I crash and forget who I am and what I am about, questioning everything from the existence of God to why I am still living and working here?

Or do I have a reserve, a basic remembrance of who God made me to be and why he has me here at this point in time? Do I remember that I exist through grace and am never far from it? Do I know that even though I feel unplugged, this is temporary and I am never alone without hope? I say YES to the last three questions. This is faith.

I love my battery. 4 hours and 17 minutes left.
This is Niagara Falls, source of much hydro-electric power.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Echo (echo)

I sold my Echo on Saturday. It has been a great little car for the almost 5 years I have owned it, but since moving closer to downtown, I decided that perhaps I could do without a vehicle. I already own a bus/metro pass and use it several times a week to get around because it eliminates fighting the traffic and paying for parking. Due to living right on a bus route and being within walking distance to many stores, my little car was sitting behind our condo for days at a time, lonely and under-appreciated. I mostly used it to get groceries, run errands, get somewhere when I was running late, or help out friends. It was really a convenience more than a necessity, and I calculated that the annual cost of registration and insurance alone would cover a car rental twice a month, before one figured in any maintenance and repairs. Plus, we still had Dean's car which I could use on evenings and weekends.

And so I put it up for sale on http://www.craigslist.ca/ (I love craigslist!) on Tuesday, July 7. I had three calls within the next few days. All the prospective buyers looked my car over and offered me money for it. Of the three gentlemen that I met, Nasir from Pakistan was the one that I wanted to sell my car to. He was a recent engineering graduate and a family man with a new baby and elderly visiting parents, and this was to be his first automobile in Canada. He was excited about owning a car, even though it presented some challenges for him, like learning how to drive on the right side of the road and shift with his right hand. He also offered me the best price, though his final offer came in $100 lower than I had hoped to get for my car. I asked God to somehow close the gap, whether through giving Nasir some money or having me find $100 on the sidewalk or whatever he saw fit.

We left it for a few days and I received no other better offers on my car, so I called Nasir and accepted his price, deciding that $100 was nothing to be concerned about. He was very happy and we made the exchange on Saturday morning. Six days later, I am still very content to be car-less. I plan my errands in advance to make the best use of my time and love getting outside to walk on a regular basis. If is it raining, I just postpone things or take the bus or wait for Dean's car. There is always a creative solution to be found, and I feel a new sense of freedom from the faux urgency of life and the chronic consumerism that is part of so much of life in the Western world.

Yesterday, someone unexpectedly gave me $100. I didn't make the connection between my prayer and the gift until this morning. As always, God is very good at closing the gaps, but often asks me to trust him first so that I don't confuse his characteristic faithfulness with things magically working out in my life. Whether I received the extra $100 or not, I was content, and I think that's more valuable than any money that came my way.

This is me, taking a brief stop at the pond to enjoy the scenery on my walk to the mall to do some banking yesterday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

are you a good receiver?

The topic of receiving has been coming up a lot in my life this past month. It started when I read the story of Mary again and was struck by how she willingly received everything that God was offering to her. Then I pulled a muscle on the day we were hosting a Canada Day party and had to receive a lot of help from my guests. As well, for a week, my modem had issues and my email program would only receive emails and I could not send anything. Okay, okay, I get it.

I have become much more aware of how badly I still receive. As a result, I have modified my behaviour and attitude in quite a few ways, indeed I have. I don't often pray, "God, I need this one thing," but I say, "God, what are you offering me today?" I consciously try to accept and embrace prayers, gifts, help, and true words from others and from God. I say, "I receive," a lot to remind myself not to be so self-reliant. So on Sunday morning when I was asking God what to speak on that night, I was surprised when the receiving thing came up again. I get it, really I do, so why is he still on this topic? I guess I still have things to learn. Here is some of what I brought on Sunday night to my friends.

Some basics about receiving things that God brings my way:
1. Receiving is not passivity, self-centredness, nor accepting everything people offer me. It is not becoming a yes-man (or woman) without discernment.
2. Receiving is not bartering or trading or making an even deal. It is just receiving.
3. It is not becoming a taker instead of a giver. It is getting these two things in the right perspective and order (see the example of Mary and Martha in Luke 10).
4. God ALWAYS has something to give.
5. Until I have the spirit of God living and moving in me like Jesus did, I have a lot more receiving to do.
6. We tend to think of learning in terms of completion instead of maturing (yep, took that course on love, got it down). Maturing happens every moment of every day.

Jesus pointed out that the goal is not to overcome evil and do good. The focus is on God and what he brings to our lives and to the world. "The great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God's authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you - that's the agenda for rejoicing. (Matthew 10:19-20 in The Message).

Here are some obstacles to being a good receiver (think football):
1. Being out of position. We must be willing to move, to keep our eye on the ball, to run hard if we have to.
2. Expecting or asking for inappropriate things. "Toss me the guitar!"
3. Something blocks our line of sight or stops the ball from getting to us (interception). This could be: fear, worry, control, self-reliance, self-absorption, and an unwillingness to leave our safety zone. But we really cannot score if we never leave our own zone.

If I think I am a good receiver, I just have to ask myself: do I have enough? Do I have enough love in my life? Enough authority over evil, sickness and death? Do I have enough peace in all circumstances? Do I have enough faith that nothing is impossible with God? Do I have enough comfort and hope in tough times? Do I have enough joy and patience in my everyday life? Do we have enough hope for the future? Do we have enough power and strength to change the things that need to be changed? If we don't, then we need to learn to be better receivers.

Football players practise every day; they work hard to become good receivers and do things that the rest of us only marvel at. Click here for some inspirational football stunts. We can become good receivers, but it means changing how we think, act, and position ourselves.

What is God offering me today? Am I in a position to receive it? Is anything blocking me from receiving it? I receive. God help my un-receiving heart.

This is a football practice in St. Catherines, Ontario. Go team!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

the cooking show

video

Here is my first cooking show, where a fabulous new recipe that I invented a few weeks ago is revealed. Please be aware that this video may cause your stomach to make strange noises.

No animals were harmed in the making of this video, but several corn chips were crushed beyond recognition.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

reckless <> careful

My new modem arrived today and I am back online. You don't know how valuable something is until you have to do without it for awhile. I can now research and write and reply to emails instantly with the flick of my forefinger. I can also run up and down the stairs in our home. These are both things I could not do a few days ago. I am sitting in the chair of gratefulness today, and I hope that I do not soon forget the privilege.

This past week I have had to receive more than usual. It is good for me. I always want to be willing to take what God is bringing my way. I have also seen that I get things mixed up sometimes. I am reckless where I should be careful, and I am careful where I should be reckless. I am reckless in areas where I think I know what I am doing. I am reckless when everyone else is doing something and I feel I should be able to do it as well (like play soccer with an injured muscle). I am reckless when I do not consider the value or cost to myself or another person. Mostly, I am reckless when I trust myself.

I am careful when dealing with God. I want to do the right thing and I think he is hard to please, so I hesitate. I am uncomfortable with what he is asking me, so I modify and compensate. I am unsure of what he is asking of me, it all sounds too crazy, so I rationalise and compare instead of act. I want to walk on the water when he calls my name, but there are so many things to consider first. One must be careful with these decisions, right? Very often, I am careful when it comes to trusting God, which just means that I don't. Consider the parable where the one servant buries his gift because he doesn't want to disappoint anyone. Bad idea.

See how these things are mixed up? I need to be more reckless when it comes to trusting God, and more careful when it comes to trusting myself. I need to just jump in and do what I see Jesus doing, to try to walk on the water, to try to heal people, to try to tell people the amazing truth, and to try to love outside of my safety fence. I need not to rely on my own abilities and experience and knowledge as if they were foolproof methods for making wise decisions and having things work out well.

Let recklessness and carefulness find their proper place in my life.

This a staircase beside the Welland Canal.

Friday, July 03, 2009

woman down

So, my modem died on Sunday. It just gave up all its lights and is now sitting lifeless and unproductive on the table, hoping I will consider giving it a second life as a paper weight or modern sculpture. Don't think so! I was supposed to receive a replacement in 2 business days, whatever that means, since it is now 5 days later and I am still doing without. Really, I don't mind being without access to the world wide web for a few days while I wait for my new modem, but much of my communication, writing, and studying is done online, and so I have already missed a webinar and fallen woefully behind in my writing schedule. On the work side of things, I have to disseminate certain information to our church community every week and on Tuesday, it took three attempts in three different Internet access locations before I finally managed to send this important communique. Rather inconvenient, to say the least.

We are in Ontario for the weekend visiting friends and now have access to their wireless network. Life should be good, but this morning when I turned on my computer, it refused to recognise its very own hard drive and Dean had to run it through a diagnostic (which is a very scary blue screen) before it would even start up. Quite concerning, yes.

Those are my computer woes, which are interesting enough, but there's more. On Wednesday we hosted a Canada Day party which included some frisbee tossing and soccer in the park near our condo. I had strained a leg muscle on Sunday while shooting a rifle (not sure how one manages to do that, but I found a way). My leg was still a bit sore, so I attempted to play soccer half-speed on Wednesday. I was successful until the ball came my way and I had to do something quickly. So I ran and turned and kicked and suddenly it felt like someone had sliced into my quadriceps with a knife. It turns out that I pulled a big muscle and though it is getting better every day, I walk like an 80-year-old who forgot his cane at home. Uncomfortable and bothersome, for sure, and a source of much amusement for my friends.

While this week has thrown quite a few challenges my way, it has also laid the table for a feast of good fruit in my life - an opportunity to chew on valuable virtues that I really had not taken the time to digest properly.

1. Receive. While I sat on the couch with my leg up and a frozen bag of peas on my strained muscle, my group of Canada Day guests prepared a delicious meal for each other, tidied the kitchen, and managed the party all very nicely without my help. Who would have thought that I didn't need to do it all myself and could actually embrace and receive help when offered? I am not nearly so good at this as I thought. How much goodness do I unintentionally deflect when it comes my way? More than I care to acknowledge.
2. Gratefulness. Being thankful attacks discouragement at the root and undermines deceptive and destructive negative thoughts before they begin. But it takes practise. Practise. Practise. So I have had lots of opportunity to do that this week.
3. Relax. Not everything needs to be done according to my specifications within the time frame I think is preferable and have the outcome I envisioned. In fact, not a whole lot of life will fit into those silly criteria. Instead, let me: Hope. Trust. Love. Life within these 3 dimensions is what I am really shooting for, so I want to learn to resist the temptation to force life towards a certain predetermined goal and instead, lean into the strong wind of Love and let it move me.
4. Tasks are not more important than people.
5. Rest is just as important as work.
6. Ask God before spending a lot of time developing my own plan. It saves time and energy and produces better results in me and in my situations.
7. Be patient with mobility-challenged people and slowness of any kind. People have enough challenges to face without some impatient person on their tail.
8. Walking is one of the most incredible gifts God ever gave.

This is the Niagara Falls, the American side, where I hobbled this afternoon with good friends.