Saturday, February 27, 2010

tsunami

We are waiting for a tsunami to hit Hawaii just after 11:00 am. An earthquake in Chile last night set off a large wave in the Pacific Ocean that is heading our way. I heard the news around 11 pm last night. It is strange to receive news that "something" will happen in about 12 hours. This morning a civil defense siren went off at 6 am, and we received a notice from the hotel telling us to stay above the 3rd floor, stay off the beach, fill our bathtub with water in case the water supply is compromised, and prepare for possible evacuation.

Stores opened early this Saturday morning; water and other essentials are being snapped up. There are long line-ups at some gas stations. All this information comes from the constant television news coverage here in Hawaii. However, when I look out my window, everything seems normal. There are sailboats on the ocean. People are out for their morning run. The garbage truck came by and picked up the trash on the street.

Dean is excited because he has never seen a tsunami before. He also likes to drive in blinding snowstorms and would probably chase down a tornado if one was in the area. He's just like that. I asked God that if possible, no one be killed in Hawaii. The size of the wave in unknown. It could be a small swell that does nothing more than wet a few hotel lobbies. Or it could be 10 feet of destruction that comes in successive waves over a few hours and wreaks havoc on the coast. The last time there was a large earthquake in Chile (1960), the tsunami claimed 61 lives in Hawaii. The quake last night was not quite as severe, so I am hoping and praying that the impact will be minimal.

Here is what I read this morning in 2 Corinthians 4: We're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do....The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever.

I feel no panic and no fear. I will have a shower and we'll go out for breakfast (if the restaurant downstairs is open). Then I'll read a book, keep an eye on the news, and go out on the balcony to watch what happens. If the order comes to evacuate I will pack up my computer, an extra set of clothes, a few toiletries, and leave. If I see someone in need, I will help. And no matter how the day turns out, I will try to stick with God and follow where he leads. That's the only plan I have today and really, every day.

This is the view of Waikiki Beach taken from Diamond Head Crater yesterday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

three journeys

I am writing this from my hotel room on the 11th floor, a block from the Pacific Ocean in Honolulu. It is reading week at my university and Dean and I are spending it doing some reading (it is obligatory, I am told) and relaxing with his parents near Waikiki Beach. The trip here on Monday was a bit of an adventure. I have been learning that how the journey happens is not always an indication of success or God's favourable presence in my life.

A week ago, I had two days when I had important appointments to keep. On the first day, I missed my first bus because it was early, then missed another connection, and the whole trip was feeling quite out of control and late. However, I got to my appointment with a few minutes to spare, no problem. The next day, I was nice and early for my first bus, caught my second bus just as it was leaving and every step of the way was a picture of clockwork perfection. I got to my appointment a few minutes early, just like the day before. How was it that despite everything going wrong one day and my schedule running as smoothly as a well-oiled machine the second day, that I arrived at the end of both journeys with a few minutes to spare? What was the difference between the two? Aside from fretting and being frustrated and anxious the first day, and then exhibiting a level of confidence and excitement at how everything was working in my favour, even getting a little cocky at my blessed state on the second day, nothing was different. The journeys ended the same.

On Monday, when my flight out of Montreal was delayed by 45 minutes and put the rest of my trip in jeopardy because it meant I would miss my next two connections, I remembered these two days. How the journey appears to be taking shape has little to do with the outcome. Some journeys make me uptight because my calculated agenda is being messed with, and others go so right that I develop some misplaced confidence that God is on my side. In reality, both my journeys last week landed me in the right place at the right time. I think I am often too focused on how the dots will connect instead of seeing what a beautiful and original picture God is drawing with my life, using brushstrokes that are broad and free.
As for my travel day on Monday, I managed to technically miss both my connections, but they turned into different and more interesting connections. In the first instance, somebody decided to let 11 latecomers onto the plane after the door was closed and the docking bay had been retracted. In the second instance, I was immediately re-booked onto another airline and even had the luxury of going to the bathroom and buying a drink before I hopped onto the last plane. I arrived in Hawaii 45 minutes later than scheduled. I would have been just as content if I had been forced to spend a night in LA and had my arrival delayed by 12 hours. The journey would have landed me in the right place eventually and really, that was all that mattered.
This is one of the great views on the flight between Detroit and LA.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

??? = grace

I was doing some reading on Calvin's concept of predestination today and came across an interesting sentence of his: "The very inequality of [God's] grace proves that it is free." Kind of backwards to how we usually think, isn't it? Most of us would say that the seeming lack of consistency and justice around us leads us to conclude that God is not fair, too much of life is unpredictable and random, and no one can make much sense of it. This volatility makes the concept of God, a God who is supposed to be in charge of the whole thing, unattractive to us, and his grace too much of a loose canon for us to bank on. However, what Calvin is saying is that the very lack of predictability points to the freedom with which God dispenses grace, his divine favour, and ultimately, life and salvation.

Though I don't follow Calvin all the way down the predestination pathway, I do acknowledge that he saw something that I as a child of the enlightenment easily miss. We expect God to be reasonable and predictable according to human standards. He can't randomly pick one person to lavish grace on and select another to fall victim to tragedy. Things just aren't done that way; it's very un-Godlike and offends our 21st century sensibilities. God must treat everyone the same, give them all an equal chance to succeed, and if punishment is to be meted out, it must fit the crime. If a person murders someone, we would expect to see the same penalty come into play every time. And if someone faithfully tries to follow Jesus, there should be certain guaranteed benefits that come along with it, results that can be depended on, right?

Alas, grace doesn't follow any of these systematic rules. These rules that would make us all sleep more soundly at night, knowing that what we could expect the next day would be the reasonable outcome of all our previous thoughts and actions. But that wouldn't be grace; that would be rule-following, the law of cause and effect, a judicial system, a scientific chain reaction, and nothing about it would be mysterious or unfathomable or beautiful or creative. It would be a world that one would expect man to construct: a place without room for deviation, error, or unexpected, surprising gifts.

Free means you cannot fence something in. You cannot tell him which way to go. You cannot build a road and demand that he never veer from it. Freedom must be free to choose what is in himself to choose. I think "free" is a very scary concept to reason, to law, and to systematic approaches. And to me, if I have to admit it.

Some days I feel on top of the world: me and God are tracking and every little prayer and need seems instantly attended to. Other days I am sure he is taking a nap or watching sports because there is no reaction to any of my crises, no matter how earnestly I plead for his intervention and look for his attention. See how I am addicted to predictability? To the straight line of action and reaction? I even try to squeeze things like faith, love, and grace into this single plane of a + b = grace.

What would happen if I really just set God free? If I stopped trying to dilute him to an equation that I could follow? What if I threw the gates wide open and let grace run wherever it wanted? Even if it galloped off to someone else? What if I let God be love instead of trying to come up with a God that I could love?

This is a photo of chained bicycles outside the Mont-Royal metro last spring.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

format matte:

On Saturday night, my laptop succumbed to a malicious virus. After an hour of trying to identify it, delete it, and in the end, merely hoping that the computer would boot up and recognise who it was, I gave up. The sneaky bug had made its way into the registry and the poor machine didn't even know how to do something as basic as turn on. Fortunately, I had done a back-up a few days ago and all my writing and photos and contacts were safe on an external hard drive. Nevertheless, I felt stupid and helpless and wondered how I had let myself get into this predicament. I am usually very careful what sites I access and what I click on, but even though I tried to say no to all the pop-ups I got hit with after I went to a site I had not been to before, I now know that even clicking on the "No, thank you" button is an acknowledgement of some sort. Sigh.

I went to a computer store to see what they could do for me and they recommended wiping the hard drive clean and starting over. Sigh number two. I must admit that I was not excited by the idea of beginning again. Too much work. A waste of precious time. And just to get back to where I was before this fiasco. But that's a really cynical and pretty inaccurate way of looking at things.

I said, God, this is such a pain. He said, I like fresh starts. They are not a waste of time, according to him. And far from just bringing me right back to where I left off, they offer me a chance to get on a new trajectory. I can upgrade, I can streamline, I can consolidate and improve and make better-informed decisions. They give me a chance to build a stronger foundation by getting rid of all the unnecessary programs and add-ons that were cluttering up my operating system and keeping me from performing at my peak. They make me look at what I really want to keep and what is just a distraction. They give me a chance to stop, take a breath, and rest from the endless churning of information that goes through my mind without giving it a moment's pause. How many times do I wish I could have a "do-over" and never get it? Well, a do-over just got dropped into my lap. How foolish of me not to take full advantage of it.

Every morning is a sort of "do-over" if you think about it. We begin a new day in which we will work, think, move, interact, decide things, play, speak, and make our mark on this world. And it never has to be the way it was the day before. We can start off on any foundation that we choose. Before our feet hit the floor, while we are still lying in bed, we can decide which operating system we are going to run on. My own or God's? Will I press the help button often, asking God to be my partner in this day, or will I let igoogle dictate my options based on previous preferences?

I hope to get my squeaky clean laptop back tonight. I am now looking forward to putting only the best stuff back on the hard drive. I definitely want to be more discriminating in what I let into my life, my mind, my soul, my eyes, and my computer in the future.

Thanks to the Good Samaritan (Dean's friend at work) for saving my computer from utter ruin. This was posted from an old but trusty laptop usually reserved for church office work.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I heart you

I don't really do Valentine's day. One day cannot begin to contain the sum of my complex and still growing affection for Dean. And it would be unfair of me to burden him with expectations that he needs to deliver a momentous gift or gesture on this one day that will push all my love-starved buttons and prove his sensitive manliness. Our relationship is just not based on candy, cards, dinner, and the ability to read each other's minds.

Here are a few quotes I found from people who think along these same lines and say it much better than I could. Enjoy!

I hate being told, “Today, you will be romantic. Today, you will be amazing. Today, you will ‘Get It All Right.’ And tonight, you will arrange for one of the most romantic evenings you two will have this year. Tonight, sex will be on a level with the Hallelujah chorus. Hollywood will have wished they had filmed this day.

Who wants to live under that kind of pressure?

The rule of human nature seems to be this: The harder you push, the more the heart flees. The more we demand the heart show up, the more it disappears. We may try to Get It All Right, out of fear or guilt (like most guys on Valentine’s Day), or maybe even out of a desire to be good. But that is not the same as loving. So I find myself dreading the approach of Valentine’s Day. Can I pull it off? Will she be happy? And now we’ve got a culture crazed with the upgrade of everything. Dinner and a card used to be a home run. That sounds so blasé these days, like you barely even gave it a thought.

Romance requires free hearts....Pressure, on the other hand, kills everything it touches.
- John Eldredge, "I Hate Valentine's Day"

I realized that for years I'd thought of love as something that would complete me, make all my troubles go away. I worshipped at the altar of romantic completion. And it had cost me, plenty of times. And it had cost most of the girls I'd dated, too, because I wanted them to be something they couldn't be. It's too much pressure to put on a person. I think that's why so many couples fight, because they want their partners to validate them and affirm them, and if they don't get that, they feel as though they're going to die. And so they lash out. But it's a terrible thing to wake up and realize the person you just finished crucifying wasn't Jesus.

I was interviewing my friend Susan Isaacs after her book "Angry Conversations with God" came out...Because so much of her book talks about relational needs, relational fulfillment and unfulfillment, one of the questions asked was whether she believed there was one true love for every person.
Susan essentially said no. And she said that with her husband sitting right there in the audience. She said she and her husband believed they were a cherished prize for each other, and they would probably drive any other people mad. But then she said something I thought was wise. She said she had married a guy, and he was just a guy. He wasn't going to make all her problems go away, because he was just a guy. And that freed her to really love him as a guy, not as an ultimate problem solver. And because her husband believed she was just a girl, he was free to really love her too. Neither needed the other to make everything okay. They were simply content to have good company through life's conflicts. I thought that was beautiful.
- Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

May I be content in Love today, in whatever state of incompleteness it finds me.
This is some cheerio and nut art on my dining room table.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

new role

What character are you in the parable of the prodigal son (read it in Luke 15)? I have never really been the "bad boy" who runs away squandering an inheritance and breaking the old man's heart. I will admit that I have been known to whine and complain about always being the faithful and dependable one and never getting a party, but I'm getting over that. However, these past few weeks I have been thinking about the story in a different way. God has been asking me if I would like to play the role of the father.

This means that as a friend and as a spiritual leader, I have to let people walk away if they want to. This means that I have to be willing to give my riches (the things I have worked hard to build in my life) to certain people even though I know they will probably not value them. This means that I spend a lot of time waiting for people to realise they are making bad decisions without pointing it out to them. This means that I don't go chasing people down to make sure they are okay. This means that I do not take responsibility for the spiritual well-being of my friends and family. This means that I let people grow up and make their own mistakes. This means that I really have much less control than I would like to over those that I care about. In fact, I have none. This means that my job description is now boiled down to one thing: love without condition or judgment.

But it also means that when people make decisions, they own those decisions. It means that when people come back to a relationship, they really want to be there. It means that my most persuasive and often silent plea to others is a life spent on loving God. The Father is not asking me to do anything that he hasn't already done.

Here is me looking out my window at our house in St. Lazare a few years ago.

Monday, February 08, 2010

denied

I got word today that I did not receive a scholarship that I applied for last fall. Not that I was really counting on it, because you toss your application in with hundreds of others and never know how it will turn out. I thought I might have a pretty good shot at it, but it turns out that I never made it past the first round. Disappointing. I guess a tiny part of me had hoped that I would finally see some financial benefit from doing something that I loved - learning and studying. And I thought I was doing it quite well, but I obviously didn't have what they were looking for.

Dean is a very successful businessman and sometimes I feel the inequality between his ability to contribute to our finances and my lack of the same. I know I am smart and talented and creative, but it never seems to translate into income. In fact, all my creative projects seem to cost us money. I have asked God if it would be possible to get paid a living wage for doing what I believe he made me to do: be a creative and contemplative soul that shows the world things they would not see otherwise. So far...no go.

I don't fit very well into any known job description or vocation. I am not your typical academic. I don't have a trade to ply or a set of skills that everyone is clamouring for like a salesperson or an IT genius. After spending years in administrative jobs that were way beneath my skill set, I decided to try to make my own way and develop my own projects. Though much more fulfilling and challenging, they have failed to reap monetary rewards.

I get paid in encouraging words. I get paid in offers to share my writing and photography and other creative projects, but rarely for any recompense. My whole life is pretty much a volunteer job. And in general, I am content with that. We have a great place to live and food to eat and enough to share. Why complain? But every so often, the lack of receiving compensation for what I do strikes at my value as a person.

And so, I continue to ask God questions. Is this a silly request? To see uncommon rewards for an uncommon ability? I know my acquaintances (and even some strangers) appreciate what I do and who I am, but is that all I am to expect? Have I gone about this the wrong way? Should I just suck it up and get a normal job? Should I try to squeeze my creativity into something more recognisable and marketable? Can I ever give Dean the gift of not having to be the only provider? Is it just a moment of discouragement and it will pass? Do I just keep going or is there something that needs to be readjusted in my life? In how I think? What does it mean for you to be my provider? What does it mean to let you build my life instead of trying to build it myself? Am I enough? Are you enough?

I'll let you know if I get any answers.
This is a picture of 10 Downing Street in London, or at least as close as they would let us get.
A NOTE ADDED THE FOLLOWING DAY: Interestingly, my reading for today was 1 Corinthians 9. I realised this morning that my two reasons for wanting to be paid are not valid:
1. Taking the pressure off an over-worked Dean is not my job. How he deals with the pressures in his life is between him and God, and I have to trust that God knows what he is doing in writing Dean's story.
2. God provides for me without much help on my part. It is humbling to always be a receiver in this area, but this is one of my greatest strengths as well. I know how to receive. I know how not to rely on my own resources. Let me enjoy and be grateful for this life outside the system; it is a rare gift indeed.

Friday, February 05, 2010

slammin'

Here is a piece of slam poetry that was part of my presentation at a theology conference today. It is based on Psalm 127:1-2.

I woke up one day and said, I am going to build a house
I got a hammer and some nails
and a big book from Amazon that promised
"do it yourself without fail"
I envisioned something extraordin-ary
marble and glass, cedar and cherry
impressive and functional
smaller than Babel yet bigger than a stable
And I took my first nail and I raised my hammer
and I swung with all my might
and this is how I broke my right....thumb

I woke up the next day and said, I am going to build a career
I drew up a plan
go to the best university in the land
study smart, network hard, get straight A's
hire myself out to the highest bidder and one day
hopefully not too far away
build my own business empire
smaller than Rome, of course, but bigger than Bethlehem
And I took my first exam, after a night of cramming
which is after all, obligator-y
and this is how I made my first C...minus

I woke up a week after that and said, who needs a career?
I am going to get back to nature and raise my own food
I planted organic seeds
pulled out organic thorns and weeds
fertilised with organic manure from my organic pure-bred bovine herd
I irrigated with purified water and tilled the nutrified ground
from dawn till dusk
I turned vegetarian, bought a juicer, and voted egalitarian
The fields were turning ripe and heavy with harvest
not enough that I could eat, drink and be merry for the rest of my life, no
but certainly more than a handful of manna
And so I sharpened my sickle while I watched the harvest moon grow
and that was how I saw the hail coming out of no...where
I didn't go to bed that night as I watched my city of grain...maimed
my curses and threats did nothing to shame… this icy enemy
He marched in the gate and took what he wanted
He flaunted his cold power and flattened the tower-ing stalks of wheat
And only then did he beat his slow retreat

I woke up the next day and said
building a house is vanity, total insanity, all pain and no gain
a decaying proposition
and building a career is vanity, too
false expectation, deflation, promises that never reach gestation
and self-sufficiency, it is a vain lie, pie in the sky
requiring more for less
reaping nothing but stress
everything I have tried is vanity
is this the curse of humanity?
If there is a God, he is not on my side
He has taken me for a ride, and I want to get off!

I woke up the next day and there was a knock at my door
it was a carpenter, someone I thought I had met before
I can build you a house, he said, but it might take awhile
I use only the best materials and those don't come cheap or easy
Cheap and easy have already been tried and found wanting, I told him
What's the cost going to be? I inquired of the man who had come knocking

What do you have? he asked
Well, I said, due to some unfortunate circumstances
I am left with only my two hands
and one of them is giving me some pain
an old injury is to blame
I know all about old injuries, he said, and pulled out
an experienced hammer
I am ready to get started, he told me, and waited for my reply
Well if you want to build it, I said, I am willing to try...again

The arrangement had me puzzled, I had to admit
because there was nothing I was contributing to this equation
except the story of how I jumped from one failed situation…to the next
I had to know, so I asked
If you are the builder, then what is my task? Am I to be your assistant?
He laughed at the question
as if he heard it all the time, and said
You? Why don't you be....loved. Yes, beloved.
This is a photo of an old barn near St. Lazare.