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para

I was reading Luke 1 a few weeks ago, you know, the story where Gabriel the heavenly messenger brings messages of hope to the old priest, Zechariah, and then to the young girl, Mary. In both cases, women who could not technically have children were given promises that they would conceive and have a boy.  Zechariah was astonished and expressed doubt that this would be possible. He was soon given a sign that anything is possible with God. Mary was also taken aback and wondered how she could conceive a child since she had never been intimate with a man. Gabriel assured her that "Nothing will be impossible with God." Luke 1:37 RSV

And this is where I stopped short in my reading. The word "with" in verse 37 jumped out at me. It was like I had never noticed it before. So I took my dusty Greek bible off the shelf and took a closer look at the verse in its original language. Here it is:

ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰπᾶνῥῆμα
Then I pulled out the big, green lexicon and translated i…

there is no such thing as a free gift

It somehow seems apropos that I am doing research on the idea of gift during the Christmas season. When I first began to write this chapter of my dissertation, I was pretty sure where I would go with it. I was headed for the idea of the perfect, pure gift. A gift given without self-interest, without obligation. A gift which did not shy away from sacrifice and sought to bring the other person delight. Yes, that was the kind of selfless gift I was going to write about, the kind of gift motivated solely by concern for the other with no thought for oneself.

Earlier this year I read The Gift (1925) by sociologist, Marcel Mauss, his influential work dealing with gift-giving practices in primitive societies. Mauss concluded that gift-giving practices in archaic tribes located in Polynesia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest were actually part of a whole system which involved economic transactions, wealth dispersion, political power, familial ties, and honour codes. In short, Mauss was w…

vive la différence!

Over the past few weeks and months I have spent a bit more time than usual with people who have slightly different views or priorities than I do. It has happened in church meetings, at school, in social settings, and in random encounters. My conservative heritage tended toward steering clear of people with different worldviews, but I have found that real connection with those who adopt another way of looking at things is, in general, good for my personal growth as a follower of Jesus. Instead of responding to different viewpoints as threats (fear-based), I have learned to see them as instructive occasions. This is because they challenge me to differentiate between core values (guiding principles that I live my life by) and superfluous add-ons which are mostly based on preferences, tradition, or culture and which can change in different circumstances and times.

As important as this personal discernment process is, there is another, equally important, relational aspect to hanging out w…

The Perfect Gift

The cat is sleeping on the bed behind me. An early snow is resting softly on the balcony outside, deaf to my passive-aggressive hints that it take a hike. The kettle has just boiled for my second cup of chai green tea. After a few busy days and weeks, including another research trip to University of Notre Dame, I am back to reading, researching, and thinking about the idea of "gift."

My Name is Matte and I am a Control Freak

There. Now you know. I have little problem identifying this tendency in my life now, but it was not always this way. Control, like pride, can be difficult to identify in oneself. Business writer Shelley Prevost believes that controlling people seldom know that they are acting in inappropriate and unhealthy ways. She says: "Control freaks rarely know that they are one. They believe that they are helping people with their 'constructive criticism' or taking over a project because 'no one else will do it right.'"

So...what is a control freak? A control freak is someone who is focused on controlling outcomes. They attempt to control their own lives, the lives of others, and circumstances in general. An extreme form of control can be found in Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder where people are rigidly preoccupied with details, rules, lists, and dominating others at the expense of flexibility and openness. Control freaks can be perfectionists and often strug…

Names of God - Lord of Hosts (Part 5)

Here is the summary of the talk I gave on Sunday, November 2, at my faith community.

This week we are looking at the name of God, YHWH Sabaoth. You will remember that the word, YHWH, often pronounced Jehovah, means the Existing One and suggests the idea of "to become" or "to become known." YHWH is translated LORD in most Bibles. The most common compound name used with YHWH is Sabaoth, occurring 261 times in the Hebrew Bible. Sabaoth means hosts or armies and can refer to angel hosts, armies of heaven, and every living thing. Therefore, YHWH Sabaoth can be said to be the military name of God. It means the all-powerful ruler of the universe, the One who commands armies of heaven and will eventually defeat all enemies. All power and authority belong to YHWH Sabaoth. We find the Sabaoth name (also used together with Elohim) frequently in the writings of the prophets, especially Isaiah (84 times), Jeremiah (80 times), the short book of Haggai (14 times), Malachi (25 tim…

work and pray

Last weekend I organized and participated in a women's retreat. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not particularly fond of all-women events, but this turned out to be a lovely, restful, rejuvenating, and fun time. Ten of us spent two days at a quaint bed and breakfast in Magog, and there was plenty of free time to relax, read, take a walk around town, sit on the porch in the sun, chat with a friend, or go on a hike to a local lookout point. Each evening we gathered together to pray for each other, and these were precious times of laughter, honesty, and encouraging one other.

On Saturday afternoon we all piled into cars and headed to a nearby monastery, Saint-Benoit-du-Lac which is a Benedictine abbey situated on Lake Memphremagog. The abbey is remote, nestled in the countryside and at this time of year, surrounded by bright, colourful foliage. We wandered around the grounds in the cool fall air, bought cheese, honey, chocolate, and apple sauce in their shop, then a…

the first class

I have been trying to finish chapter two of my thesis (the rough draft is complete, thanks for asking) and also prepare for a class I am teaching tonight. As well, I had to plan a presentation I will be giving next week and write an abstract to be circulated ahead of time. And did I mention a house guest last week and a run of conference calls and evening meetings? Several times a year things clump up like this (hence no blog last week), but I no longer get all that stressed about it. In the journey of life, sometimes we sprint, sometimes we jog, sometimes we stand and wait, sometimes we sit down, sometimes we lie down and rest. One needs to be okay with different paces at different times.

What I love is being able to get into the zone when things get crazy busy. Instead of feeling stress or pressure, I find excitement building, I feel positive adrenaline coursing through my blood, and I revel in working with increased focus. Today, as I write in my home office there are two carpente…

Power and Jealousy: Names of God Part 4

Here is a summary of the talk I gave in our faith community on Sunday, October 5.

Power and jealousy: these are not really popular concepts in our culture. We have seen too much abuse of power, I suspect, and jealousy (the green-eyed monster according to Shakespeare) is something we all want to avoid. But despite the fact that these two words leave us with negative or at least mixed feelings, we find them associated with the name of God in the Hebrew Bible, so let's take a little closer look at them.

Power (El Shaddai):
Edward Abbey says, "Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best." That's a pretty negative view of power. Ghandi presented a more nuanced view. He said that, "Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective than the one derived from fear of punishment." Power in itself is not evil or corrupt; the motivation behi…