Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 years ago

--we weren't just saying 'Happy New Year', or 'Happy New Decade' or even 'Happy New Century'. No, it was 'Happy New Millennium', even though technically the millennium didn't start until January 1, 2001.

--we were holding our breath, worried to no end about Y2K.

Not only the prophets of doom were wondering if we would make it. Even the more optimistic types weren't sure what might be hiding just around the corner.

Well, we've made it another 10 years.
Sure, we've had some major disasters in the last decade. Like the December 26, 2004 tsunami killing 230,000+. Or earthquakes in Kashmir (86,000), China (70,000), Iran, (30,000), India, (20,000), several heat waves, and a cyclone. War, disease and famine continue to plague the planet—and many of these deaths could be averted if we put our time, money, and energy into helping instead of fighting.

OK, so the world is a disaster, so let's just give up. (Would you have been surprised if I ended this post here?)

So why are some people happy when they can find one more tie-in between prophecy and current events that points to a soon end-of-the-world? Why are they so quick to give up?
Do we really think that is God's way of looking at things? Is he that anxious to see everything fall apart? Is he as willing to concede defeat as we seem to be?

Or does he still want to see His kingdom come?

Is he wanting us to climb to the top of the nearest mountain and wait for the end, or to be as involved as possible in bringing his kingdom into being?
Matthew 24 and 25 give Jesus' sermon about the end of the world. There is lots of imagery, and the first section really seems to point to something that occured within a few decades. The whole sermon contains many references to being prepared because we don't know when the end will be. But there is no call to sit back and wait for it. Actually, the opposite is true.

The story about the young ladies and the lamps shows us it might be later than we are ready for. Think about that one.

The story about the guy who gave money to 3 of his servants shows us that going out on a limb to use our abilities is more valued than hiding them and waiting for him to return.

Then he starts talking about sorting people into two groups. To one group he says: 'I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
To the other group he says: 'I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

Now, what do YOU think Jesus wants us to be doing? (Particularly for those who spend a lot of time thinking about the end of the world, but even for those people who don't.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After Christmas

It's been a different Christmas. Quite in keeping with the ruminations of my mind these past months, I suppose.
I'm not exactly sure what caused it to be different.
It's not the first time I haven't been around family for Christmas, although I've only missed about 3.
And it wasn't the first time I've been to a midnight Christmas Eve service (although I've only done a couple in my life).
And it's not the first time I was able to be out bringing people on the street some Christmas cheer.
It might have been the first time there were no colorful presents under my Christmas tree, but that kind of fits with the aforementioned ruminations, and wasn't a negative thing.

I think this Christmas has been more true to the heart of Christmas.
It may have started with taking time to think about Advent, the time of waiting and yearning. Thinking a bit more intentionally about what Christ's coming means.
Or maybe it started a couple months earlier when I did what little Christmas shopping I did do, so that I could bring stuff back to my family in Alberta when I went there in September (instead of mailing it in December). I really didn't spend a lot, although I tried to find gifts that had some kind of meaning. This took my mind off of shopping during December. Oh, I wandered through the malls a bit, but not with the harried look of a hapless shopper. So, subconsciously, I joined the Advent Conspiracy, or something along the same lines.

For several weeks we knew that our regular Friday night CARTS ministry would coincide with Christmas Day, so our planning took that into account. We wanted to make this week special, so extra treats were planned. A couple churches and a local ministry provided over 150 Christmas stockings to give out (filled with useful items, as well as some candy—which is useful in its own right). So, my thoughts for Christmas Day have been focused for several weeks on how we would serve, not on turkey, presents, or a party.
My personal life journey into caring about the street community has been growing for the past four years, so in some ways this Christmas has four year old roots.

The end result of these various threads has been:
--an intentional moving away from spending much money on gifts for people that are already blessed (not that they aren't loved, just that money went elsewhere).
--more time spent contemplating some of the deeper heart of the Christmas story.
--attending several church services that helped these meditations.
--being more present in some of the communities I am able to share in. Gaining more understanding of where the kingdom Jesus came to bring is intertwined with everyday life. Giving my time, attention, and assistance to some practical projects. Not because it is Christmas, but because it is right.
--being able to be a part of an awesome outpouring of love and generosity Christmas night to the 150 or so street people we were able to connect with. Realizing again how much fun it can be to give yourself as a gift (along with 35 other people who are doing the same thing).
--having several opportunities to hear people's stories. Some filled with pain, some with joy.
--enjoying a number of awesome friendships. Time spent together, ideas exchanged, passions shared, coffee ingested.
--Christmas has been so much more than just one day, even more than just one season. It has been both much more and much less than a couple warm moments in a cold, dark month. Because the spirit of the season is more entrenched in my spirit than ever, it was around before December, and will still be around when the decorations are packed away for another year.
-The people I love will still be around to share conversation with after Christmas.
-The people I can bless with a smile, a word, or some food will still need me after Christmas.
-The people who have something to teach me will still be talking after Christmas.
-The people who can learn from me will still be watching me after Christmas.

So, Christmas isn't really anything special, or at least shouldn't be. The love of Jesus is just as inspiring and unbelievable in March or October. Our response to that love is just as beneficial to others in the summer as it is in the winter. You can give something to a special friend any day, not just on Christmas Day.

If your understanding of the universe and the kingdom of God grew this Christmas, you don't need to let it slide back to its former level now that Christmas is past. If the fire is burning a little brighter, keep throwing on the wood. If you caught a new glimpse of where you fit in this crazy world, clean your glasses and look for even more insight.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas memories 4

Christmas Eve

My ancestry is Swedish—I am proud of the fact that all four of my grandparents were born in Sweden, and immigrated to North America where they met, married, and raised their kids (my parents). So, a lot of the traditions at home came from the Old Country. Including celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. Not that Christmas Day was ignored, but the festivities definitely started the evening before. Santa was never part of my upbringing, so the fact that we opened our gifts Christmas Eve did not conflict with when he might arrive.

I was privileged to have two families of relatives close by that we almost always got together with at Christmas (either Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day). One family was my aunt and uncle and cousins who were similar in age to my brothers and I. The other family was an older cousin with kids only a bit younger than me. So, we made a crew of about a dozen and a half.

The evening started, of course, with food. Swedish tradition called for a menu of rice and fish. (No, not at all in a Chinese style!) There was supposed to be one whole almond cooked in the rice. The person who ended up with the almond was supposed to have a year of good luck, or something like that.

As I said earlier, I grew up on a farm. Cows to milk, chores to do. So, after supper (the evening meal was never called dinner—that was the noon meal), the cows had to be milked. For us young'uns, it seemed to take forever.

Finally, Dad would come in from the barn, clean up, and we were one step closer to PRESENTS!

Then was the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible. It seemed that most of the Old Testament prophecies were included in what felt like a 5 hour scripture marathon. Actually, it was probably about 10 minutes, but it seemed like we would hit the Easter story before it was finished.

Then the patriarchal prayer. I realize now how blessed I was to have that kind of upbringing, but at the time it seemed to take FOREVER!

Then the gifts. Finally. Wonderful surprises, even in a setting where money was never plentiful. Funny thing is, I never remember feeling that I suffered. There was always lots of food, gallons of love, and no shortage of fun. Yes, there were the gifts of clothing, and other 'useful' things, but plenty of toys as well. I remember a chemistry set (with a volcano that never had enough 'oomph' to actually blow its top). Lots of board games like Monopoly or Clue or Careers. If there was a new one, the whole family would be playing it soon.

Jig saw puzzles spread over the table (only to be covered by a tablecloth for Christmas dinner the next day). And more food. Popcorn balls, mandarin oranges, fudge, fruitcake, lefse, pepparkakor and much more. Isn't it funny how food ends up being involved in all of our wonderful memories!

I have to take a moment to talk about pepparkakor. They are these Swedish cookies—quite spicy, rolled thin and baked until completely crispy. They MUST be cut into holiday shapes, and are best eaten by dunking in hot chocolate or coffee. A definite staple in any homemade Christmas cookie arsenal.
(By the way, the pictures are much more recent than most of these memories, and include my Mother, sister, and nieces, and show that the family addiction to jig puzzles has not been rehabilitated.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent-are we there yet?

As a kid, the build up to Christmas seemed to last forever.

Of course, it doesn't help when the Sears catalogue shows up before school starts in September, the ads and store displays are out in October, Mother is cleaning and baking (and you aren't allowed to eat!), the Christmas tree is up, the yard is decorated, and still it's not Christmas.

Our Christmas carols start expressing the longing and waiting:
"I'm dreaming of a...
"It's beginning to look a lot like...
"In the air there's a feeling of....
"Soon it will be......

But it's still only December 23rd!

Sometimes it feels like Narnia where the white witch had made it always winter, but never Christmas.

In many ways we still are looking for something. Not just lights or presents. Not even some nice warm fuzzy feelings.
Deep inside we are longing for real peace on earth.
Where is the joy that is supposed to come to the world?

Our Christmas hymns mix longing and fulfillment, desire and consummation.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

So don't worry.
Soon the bells will ring, the angels will sing, and again we will rejoice that the Baby was born. And we will again have renewed hope that somehow, we will have Peace on Earth.
It may not come to the whole world in your lifetime or mine.
But it can come to my world through me, and to your world through you.

Truly He taught us To love one another;
His law is love And His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;
And in His name All oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy In grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us Praise His holy name.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas memories 3

Christmas tree
I grew up on a farm, and Dad had planted 3 rows of spruce trees parallel to the road near our yard as a shelterbelt. The idea was that when the trees grew bigger than the 12 inches they started out as, they would stop the snow from drifting onto the road.

Well, it took a few years, but the trees became tall enough that we could lop the top off of one of them and bring it inside. Over the next few years the tree would grow a new top. For many years, we only had to walk a few steps down to the road, and harvest our yearly Christmas tree. The biggest challenge was bringing a frozen tree that was almost as wide as it was high through the door. Not as exciting as the stories of heading out into the forest with an axe, but it worked well for us. Those trees are now as tall as the power lines, so they are definitely doing the 'shelterbelt' thing well.

The decorations were an uncoordinated blend of stuff Mom had from her days as a child to whatever had been added over the years. The fragile glass balls, the unbreakable plastic ones, the bubble lights, and the angel at the top.

This was long before designer trees, fake trees or mini lights—but you can't beat the warmth of a 'real' tree with decorations that each tell a story of Christmases past.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas memories 2

Community Choir

Small town, small churches, lots of reasons to cooperate. For many years as an older teen and into adulthood, the four churches in our community plus one next town over (and people who maybe didn't even go to church) formed a community choir. We always had one person who could play the piano well enough to learn new and/or difficult music, and pound out the notes for the gang to learn their respective parts. We usually had a person who was either good enough or could be roped into leading this motley crew. And there were usually about five of us who could read music. The rest learned by hearing the notes often enough, and together we had lots of fun. Some years we attempted something out of the ordinary, other times, a familiar selection of carols.

Part of the fun was singing in each others' churches sometime in December. There were times that we hit three churches in one morning. We were incredibly ecumenical in a time when that was rather unusual. The churches ran the gamut from Catholic to Anglican to United to Lutheran to Pentecostal.

Then we would perhaps have a concert for the community in the local community hall.
And we would often haul ourselves through blizzards to the senior citizens lodges in the area. It always seemed to be blizzard season just before Christmas. But we would bring our version of cheer to add to the entertainment the seniors would 'enjoy' during December. And lots of home baking to finish off the evening.

We often did the same kind of thing for Easter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I think joy is the meeting point between 'waiting' and 'arrival'.
Whether it is the arrival of a family member for a visit, a parcel in the mail, or the birth of a child, there is great joy when the anticipated moment finally occurs.

Now it is not 'Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel', but:
'Joy to the world, the Lord has come.'

'Delayed hope makes one sick at heart, but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life.' (Prov. 13:12)
'And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.' (Luke 2:6, 7)

'But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. ' (Gal. 4:4)

I don't think it was a particularly 'Silent night'. I think the angels singing, and shepherds rushing, and baby crying ('cause I expect even Jesus cried) made it a noisy, joyous night.

'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.'

'Gloria in excelsis Deo!'

'Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
News! News!
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!'

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas memories 1

Memory is a wonderful thing.
It tends to be selective—you remember the good things better than the bad things. Sure, bad things leave their mark, but we do tend to remember the pleasant things more than the painful ones.
I think a lot of what we as adults try to recapture in our Christmas celebrating is the joy and innocence of youth. We work hard (and sometimes fail) trying to recreate the warm fuzzies of when we were kids. But time goes on, situations change, and even the way we celebrate takes on new forms.
So, I hope you have some pleasant Christmas memories as you slide through another December, and perhaps have opportunities to relive some of the fun you remember as a kid.

This is the first post of a few Christmas memories. May they at least trigger some good ones of your own. And it's never too late to start making some new ones.

The Sunday School Christmas Program

Every fall, the Sunday School teachers would start planning for the yearly 'event'. Finding cute (hopefully meaningful) little recitations, and some sort of drama for the teenagers to perform. It would involve several weeks worth of practicing, before 'that night' (one of my Mother's pet peeves was the constant reference to what would or wouldn't happen 'that night'.) As a kid I remember helping make the candy bags to give out at the end of the evening—a brown bag half full of candy, peanuts, orange, and probably some homemade fudge. And don't forget the costumes—angels with lopsided halos, shepherds in over-sized bathrobes, and wise men with 'priceless' boxes wrapped in foil.

One of my lifelong memories involves a play that I was in as a teenager. One of the bits of action on stage involved another actor handing me a note. Now it didn't matter if anything was actually written on the paper, it was just a prop. However, one rehearsal the gal who was to hand me the note had written this silly little riddle on it before handing it to me: 'What happened when they threw oranges at the synagogue?' 'The Jews (juice) ran out.' Well, it probably wasn't all that funny, but it cracked me up, spoiling the seriousness of that particular moment. And I still remember it mumblty mumble years later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year

That's what the familiar Christmas song says, but is it?

Being the pessimistic sort of people we are, we have the idea that Christmas isn't such a wonderful time, that suicide rates go up at Christmas, and so on. A quick Google search, however, comes up with the following:

“Contrary to what many believe, the notion of increased depression during the Christmas season is a myth. Suicide rates actually decrease over the Holidays." (source)

“Although the papers presented show a mix of suicide and parasuicide statistics it is apparent that there is a general trend for such events to reduce in December and in particular around the days preceding Christmas day.” (source)

“It is important to note, however, that while suicide rates do not increase over the holiday season, depression rates do.” (source)

But, these reports and statistics don't help much if YOU are feeling down. It doesn't help much to tell yourself that you should be less inclined to feel bad, statistically. In fact, the stress of thinking you should be feeling better may well make you feel even worse.

So, if you are feeling 'blue' this Christmas, what should you do?

The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests:
“Loneliness, depression, feelings of loss, financial burdens, family conflicts, and alcohol abuse can intensify during the holidays.
“Here are the experts tips for coping!
-Plan ahead. Take time to identify your feelings about Christmas.
-Be realistic, look at what you can afford to give.
-Choose to celebrate with the people who make you feel positive and hopeful.
-Let go of your expectations & make time for what is important to you!”

Depending on your circumstances, some of these might work fairly well, but some may be beyond your control. For example, for a guy living on the street, separated from his family by distance, money and/or apathy, even points 2 and 3 are pretty much impossible. But all four points deserve consideration.

Plan ahead. Take time to identify your feelings about Christmas.
By all means, realize that you will be bombarded with particularly strong emotions at Christmas. If you have seen a pattern emerge in previous years, don't let it sneak up unannounced this year. If you figured out some coping strategies in previous years, bring them out early and put them in place before the dismalness sets in. As best as you can, analyze your feelings and see what is particularly noxious. Is it the absence of family? The loss of a family member (by death, divorce, or distance?) Is it unrealistic expectations of 'Peace on earth', love, joy, and all of the other 'warm fuzzies' in the Christmas songs you are bombarded with? Is it the stress of buying gifts, and then having to pay for them?
Once you know the specific things that hit you hardest, look for a way to bypass the negative, and replace with something positive (even if it is small). Missing your family? Fins someone else in the same boat, and do something special together. It doesn't have to be Christmas dinner, but maybe an opportunity to share a seasonal activity—skating, Christmas caroling, watching a movie, checking out the Christmas lights.

Be realistic, look at what you can afford to give.

If money is a big issue (and it probably is for most us), persuade yourself that you don't have to keep up with the Joneses. Or even your siblings or fellow employees. Think of something that particularly reflects your own nature and passions, and turn that into a gift. It might be baking or a creative craft. It might be a gift of snow shoveling or your undivided attention over a cup of coffee.
Perhaps you would much rather donate to a worthwhile cause in the name of the family members that you know really don't need anything. Shop at a used book store instead of Chapters. Don't knock yourself down because you can't spend the money you wish you could. There truly is no value in going into debt just to make the rest of the family think you can afford to spend hundreds or thousands of $$ on them. And it's not only people with limited incomes that are choosing to cut back their spending on gifts. Many people are re-thinking the whole consumer-centric version of Christmas, and choosing to celebrate in simpler, more personal ways. Advent Conspiracy

Choose to celebrate with the people who make you feel positive and hopeful.
This might mean you will have a very small celebration. You might be better off alone than with a group of people that tend to bring you down—and that might even include family. Again, perhaps you can find another person who needs the same kind of simple, unassuming, time together.

Let go of your expectations & make time for what is important to you!
Your celebration doesn't have to be anything that you don't want it to be. Don't want to be in a crowd of people? Then don't. Don't want to have to decorate, or bake, or get dressed up? Then don't! Do you like a nice hot cider and some conversation? Then that's what it should be. Want to watch a movie and have some popcorn? Then make that your Christmas celebration. Remembering past traditions is nice, but it is easy to expect that DOING the familiar thing will automatically bring the same warm feelings that you remember for times gone past. That isn't necessarily the case. Don't do something just to try to make yourself feel warm and tingly. Choose to do something just because you enjoy doing it, and as much as possible, choose to do it with the people you want to be with.

Let Christmas be an opportunity to be reminded of things like love, relationships, good friends. It might include reviving an old tradition, or perhaps starting a new one.

Read a familiar story—Luke 2 is certainly appropriate!
Or perhaps Dr. Suess
or Clement Moore
or Charles Dickens
or O. Henry (William Sydney Porter).

Join with a few other people and go caroling.

Find a special church service. Sneak in to the back row, and just sit and absorb. Sing if you want (or not). Pray if you want (or not). Talk to other people if you want (or not). But let the peaceful presence of the spirit of Jesus invade you.

Choose a charity endeavor, and help make Christmas special for someone else. (And don't forget about either the charity or the people they serve the rest of the year. Lots of people get involved just before Christmas, but the need usually continues all year.)

There is something special that happens inside you when you do something for someone else. You can call it the Spirit of Christmas, or get a bit more spiritual and recognize it as the Spirit of Jesus.
Either way, it is love. Plain and simple. Not necessarily easy, but not complicated. Give away something that means something to you. It doesn't have to involve money, or things. It might go deeper and involve a gift of your time, your energy, your heart.

You will probably discover, as many have before you: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'. Or, as The Message puts it: 'You're far happier giving than getting. (Acts 20:35).

If you are facing the struggle of getting through another Christmas season intact, if you DON'T think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, then step back a bit, choose to make it a bit better for someone else, and I'll bet yours will be a bit better too.

Don't demand that you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for every minute between now and Christmas Day. Choose to be content with an opportunity or two to bring a smile to someone's face. Wish someone a 'Merry Christmas'. Remember that we can have Peace on Earth—but it's going to take all of us working together.

To all my friends and enemies near and far,
May your Christmas have special moments of joy, and remember that there are more people that love you than you know!


If Advent signifies waiting, expecting, yearning....what is it like to be waiting for love? And how does the coming of Christ fulfill that yearning? And where does love fit in to the presence of Christ in this world through us? If hope means that change is possible, where does love fit into the equation?

How many people are in need of love in our world today?
Should love be a characteristic of a Christ-follower? (Duh!)
Is it a characteristic of me?

I think love has to be a foundational component of the presence of Christ, whether 2000 years ago, or now.

Love looks past the appropriateness of a person's clothes, and sees inside.
Love ignores the smell of the guy who hasn't had a shower for ever, and hugs him anyway.
Love struggles to understand the broken English of the new immigrant, and helps her find the local amenities she needs.
Love senses the pain and fear showing in the eyes of the young lady worried about her unplanned pregnancy, and walks with her through the choices and consequences of the next months, and beyond.
Love endures the unfamiliar music style, and builds a friendship with the young metalhead.
Love recognizes the familiar humanness inside the unfamiliar attire of the neighbor kid and works even harder to connect.
Love says I can make changes in my lifestyle that will improve this global community. Small things perhaps, but a start. Riding a bike or taking public transportation instead of a gas-guzzling SUV. Fair-trade coffee. Less consumer products. Less landfill. Recycling. Reusing.
Love isn't satisfied with the status quo. Love recognizes the scope of where change needs to happen—and starts somewhere.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

About short-term vs. long-term

It's Sunday morning, and even before I'm out of bed I'm thinking. Maybe that's a great time to let your mind work on the big questions of life—before the immediate issues of the day come to the forefront.
And that is kind of what I'm thinking about. Should we (I) be putting time, energy, money into things that only bring momentary relief, or should all of my attention go to long-term solutions?

As I said, it's Sunday. A day of the week when (dare I say it) all of the Pharisees are too intent on attending church to attend to those around them who could really benefit from their time and help. Around here, at least, Sunday is the day there aren't many programs available for people on the street. Monday to Friday there are several meal programs and other services available. Saturday morning some of the downtown churches take turns hosting a nice breakfast. Sunday, almost nothing.

As I said, all the Pharisees Christians are too busy getting together to worship. Really reminds me about the poor fellow that the good Samaritan helped out in Jesus' story. The religious folk were much too busy keeping the system alive to actually notice (or help) someone who really NEEDED a bit of their energy.

But that also brings us back to the question: 'Which deserves our attention? Short-term or long-term?'
Or do we somehow need to juggle both?

The common wisdom often says: 'Give a hand up instead of a hand out.' 'Teach a man to fish for a life time instead of just giving him a fish today.' The principles make sense except for one thing: If it takes more than a few minutes for the guy to figure out how to catch a fish, he may starve before the long-term benefits kick in.

I'm sure we recognize the folly in telling the person who is on the street panhandling: “Get a job, go find a place to live, get over your addictions, get over your mental illness.” It just isn't that simple. But spending $1 million on low-cost housing and 0$ on emergency shelters won't keep the guy alive tonight in order for him to be able to move into that apartment next month or next year. Setting up that community garden will be a wonderful thing once it is happening, but that single mom needs a food hamper today to survive until the garden is producing.
Here in British Columbia there are rumors and grumblings about the government cutbacks of essential services (health, education, housing, etc.) and extravagance on the Olympics. So in many people's minds it looks like we are losing ground on both the immediate and long-term solutions to some prevalent issues.
Priorities, priorities, priorities.

But it isn't only the government's responsibility to look after people in need.
I am my brother's keeper.

Back to the question at hand (again): How to balance short and long-term needs and solutions.
I think Jesus (as usual) gives us a good example. He fed the hungry multitudes. He provided wine for the wedding party. He healed people from their diseases. Even though tomorrow they would be hungry again, the party would be over, and they would all die anyway. And He taught that the Kingdom of God was here. A kingdom that affects life today. A kingdom of justice and affirmation. A kingdom of love and compassion.

He also taught about life beyond today. An eternal home. 'I go to prepare a place for you.'

But it seems to me that most of His attention was focused on those around Him. He didn't tell people to suck it up and wait for a better life in heaven. He let them know He cared about them right at that instant. Calming the storm on the sea. An immediate large catch of fish. Healing blindness, deafness, leprosy, hemorrhaging, death.

For sure, it makes sense to build affordable housing, community gardens, drug rehab facilities. It makes sense to provide medical diagnosis and medication for the mentally ill.

But it's not a waste of money to give a guy some lunch. (Although it's a bit tougher to consider the panhandler who may well be making enough change so he can get his next bottle or bag of weed (or worse)).

Sitting here typing isn't helping anyone who is hungry and cold. But maybe tomorrow or next week there will be one more of us out there giving a cup of water on behalf of Jesus.

And that will be a good thing for both the short-term and long-term.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


There seems to be a lot of flurry (again!) about what greeting is 'correct' at this time of year. Some Christians are (again!) up in arms trying to make sure people are saying 'Merry Christmas', not 'Happy Holidays', or 'Season's Greetings' or 'Will that be on your credit card?'

I figure a great compromise is 'Peace on earth'.
It's Biblical.
It is the wish of Christians and non-Christians alike.
In fact, even war-mongers and peace-mongers would both likely rather have peace (I hope!).
Plus the fact that this is the original greeting used about the birth of Jesus, long before today's consumer-driven extravaganza came into existence.
Double plus the concept that the coming of Christ was to bring peace between God and His creation. To reinstate the relationship He intended all along.

Fighting over what greeting you use isn't exactly promoting peace.
Fighting over who has to host the family get-together isn't promoting peace.
Trying to talk your parents into going into even greater debt than usual in order to buy you the latest _______ isn't promoting peace in your family.
In fact, there's a lot about our typical celebration of Christmas that isn't very peaceable.

How can we change that?
How about choosing to do something as a family that will help someone less fortunate—drill a well in Africa, sponsor a child in Thailand, bring Christmas dinner to a family in need in your own neighborhood?
Research the involvement of your nation in a war on foreign soil. Honestly figure out if it is something you want to support or not. And then let your elected representatives know how you feel. (You might think the fact that I am including this idea in a post about 'peace' reveals a bit of my personal bias on this—Who knows? But even if you feel it is right to support a war in Afghanistan, for example, consider it in the light of how to ultimately promote 'peace on earth'.)

Think closer to home. Think of an issue that raises lots of public conflict in your city. Think of ways to promote peace, resolution, agreement.
Get really close to home. Work to bring peace into your relationships. Estranged family members, ex-spouses or other sticky situations. You may only be able to choose to not fight anymore, but removing one of the combatants usually cools down the war considerably.

Maybe the situation you face (personally, civically, nationally) is one that you feel requires more passion, not less. Maybe it is right that you should stand up and be counted. Maybe being peaceable is the last thing you should do. Maybe you need to get down and dirty and join a peace march. Or a march against some other social ill that really stirs you up. Or pick a fight with city hall.
Guess what. Jesus did that too. The Prince of Peace really stirred things up in the temple.
I think you can probably figure out how you can be a 'person of peace' and yet be an activist if that is appropriate.
Peace needs to go hand in hand with love and justice. They really aren't mutually exclusive. They are all segments of an integrated life.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Looking for feedback

This post is to get some feedback from my readers.
Do you read my blog directly from my blogger site (Does it show the sculpture of the thinker at the top?)
Do you check randomly, or are you signed up as a 'follower'?
Do you read it on Facebook when it posts to my wall?
Do you check it out on Blogger when I notify of a new post on my Facebook status?
Do you follow on Facebook's Networked blogs?

I'm trying to figure out which works best, which looks the best, and how best to reach my millions of fans! OK, not millions--but I have reached the grand sum of 12 disciples followers on blogger, so perhaps I can be satisfied--after all, Jesus only had 12 disciples!

I've been on Facebook's Networked blogs for awhile, but can't really see the benefit. I supposedly have 6 followers, but can't even find out who they are.

I have Blogger feeding to my Facebook Notes page, but perhaps using Facebook's Network blogs would work/look better. Any comments from anyone who already uses Networked blogs?

I tend to format with Blogger in mind, rather than Facebook, since Facebook basically has no formatting.

Perhaps I should consider using Wordpress or Typepad, although I don't know how much work might be involved in switching over from Blogger. I like some of the features on the others, but .....
Any comments would be helpful.
Speaking of comments, I find that some people comment on the Blogger site, others comment on the Facebook page, and there is no cross-pollination between the two. For that reason, I am tempted to use only Blogger, and stop the direct feed to Facebook. That way, I could post notifications on Facebook, but all comments would (hopefully) be kept together.
Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Twenty years ago today

Twenty years ago today Canada's worst mass shooting occurred. 14 women died at the hand of a gunman whose violence was directly targeted against women at the Universite de Montreal’s Ecole polytechnique. You can read more about it here.
As a result, this day has been declared Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.
With this post I want to remember 14 women, varying in age from 21 to 31 who did not choose to be martyrs, but had their lives cut short simply because they were women who ended up in harm's way.
Today they would have been from 41 to 51 years of age, in the prime of their lives, careers, and families.
These biographies are taken directly from a CBC story.
Geneviève Bergeron was a second-year scholarship student in mechanical engineering. She played the clarinet and sang in a professional choir. In her spare time she played basketball and swam.
Helene Colgan was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to do her master's degree. She had three job offers and was leaning toward accepting one from a company based near Toronto.
Nathalie Croteau was another graduating mechanical engineer. She planned to take a two-week vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with Colgan at the end of the month.
Barbara Daigneault was expecting to graduate at the end of the year. She was a teaching assistant for her father Pierre Daigneault, a mechanical engineering professor with the city's other French-language engineering school at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Anne-Marie Edward, a chemical engineering student, loved outdoor sports like skiing and diving, and was always surrounded by friends.
Maud Haviernick was a second-year student in metallurgical engineering, and a graduate in environmental design from the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz was a first-year nursing student. She arrived in Montreal from Poland with her husband in 1987.
Maryse Laganière was the only non-student killed. She worked in the engineering school's budget department. She had recently married.
Maryse Leclair was in fourth-year metallurgy, had a year to go before graduation and was one of the top students in the school. She acted in plays in junior college. She was the first victim whose name was known, and she was found by her father, Montreal police Lt. Pierre Leclair.
Anne-Marie Lemay was in fourth-year mechanical engineering.
Sonia Pelletier was the head of her class and the pride of St-Ulric, Que., her remote birthplace in the Gaspé Peninsula. She had five sisters and two brothers. She was killed the day before she was to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. She had a job interview lined up for the following week.
Michèle Richard was in second-year metallurgical engineering. She was presenting a paper with Haviernick when she was killed.
Annie St-Arneault was a mechanical engineering student from La Tuque, Que., a Laurentian pulp and paper town in the upper St-Maurice river valley. She lived in a small apartment in Montreal. She was killed as she sat listening to a presentation in her last class before graduation. She had a job interview with Alcan Aluminium scheduled for the following day. She had talked about eventually getting married to the man who had been her boyfriend since she was a teenager.
Annie Turcotte was in her first year and lived with her brother in a small apartment near the university. She was described as gentle and athletic, enjoying diving and swimming. She went into metallurgical engineering so she could one day help improve the environment.

Remember them today, and work and pray that it never happens again.
Saying anything more would take away from the point of this post.


If Advent is the season of expectation and waiting, then preparation is involved.
John the Baptist was God's Advent messenger for the coming of Christ. Matthew 3 tells us of this strangely dressed man with an even stranger diet who quoted the prophet Isaiah, and ranted about the Jewish leaders who were missing the point about actually preparing for the Messiah's kingdom.
We soon get the message that he was calling for an internal preparation, a reordering of priorities. To start doing things that would ultimately make it easier for God's kingdom to come. To begin to recognize the individual changes necessary for the kingdom to take root. To take one step towards God so that they would be ready to walk with Him.
John's call to repentance (turn around) was scary enough. Christ's declaration that the kingdom had arrived was potentially life altering. It's one thing to try to point your life in a new direction. It's another thing to surrender your independance to a new King.
Now I'm not saying we can or have to clean ourselves up a bit so that we can go have a bath. The idea of preparation that John's preaching brings is to make the first step towards following this new King. To turn around. To change your mindset. To watch and follow.
As we again contemplate that Christ came to bring His kingdom, let us recognize its' coming by taking a step in the right direction. Following Christ involves following. A step towards Him starts this lifelong journey with Him.
One final thought about preparation. Isaiah invites us to “Prepare for GOD's arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.” Is 40:3, The Message). To me that says: “Make it easier for other people to get to know God.” Not only are WE to prepare to follow Christ, but we should help (not hinder) OTHERS from following Him as well.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Last night was another evening out on the street with CARTS. CARTS is a 'backronym' for 'Christian Actions Reflecting The Spirit'. Since we walk around the streets of downtown Victoria pulling a few sturdy garden carts, CARTS is a good name for us.
These carts are loaded with hot chocolate, sandwiches, fruit, pastries, homemade cookies, blankets, jackets and other warm clothing, socks, underwear, toques and scarves, and other necessities of life.
Over the period of about 3 hours every Friday, we meet and help about 200 people in various positions of need. All of them receive love, and whatever we have that we can share with them.
For most people, it's not the excitement of getting a peanut butter and jam sandwich that brings them around every week. It's the love expressed in the smiles, the hugs, the words, the genuineness. It's knowing that our volunteers are out in any weather because we want to be there. We've never missed a night, and this year we're looking forward to being able to be out on Christmas Day. That is going to be such fun!
Last night we probably had a record number of volunteers. 29. We had so many that 3 or 4 had nothing specific to do except walk and talk. We had at least 4 new volunteers who joined us for the first time, while many of us have been doing this for several years.
We have the greatest caliber and variety of volunteers—and this includes the many who are involved behind the scenes who never join us on the street.
The faithful teams that make the sandwiches every week.
Those who make our famous CARTS chocolate chip cookies. They are huge, tasty, and include the secret ingredient—love.
The lady who faithfully goes to Starbucks for their day-old pastries, and wraps them for distribution.
The little old ladies who knit scarves and toques.
The people who regularly cull their closets for good used clothing and blankets.
The businesses and individuals who faithfully share financially with us, and the businesses who donate day old food items.
The school kids who collect and donate the proceeds from drink containers.
The church ladies group who stuffed 91 socks with personal hygiene items for us to give out this Christmas.
It's a never ending list.
Many items are donated, some are purchased with the cash donations. But there are the regular volunteers who not only join us in distributing everything, but who out of their own pockets buy special treats.
The young man who buys and gives away at least 100 full-size chocolate bars every night he joins us.
The lady who makes incredible home-made fudge, wraps it and gladdens the hearts of those who ask: “Is the fudge lady here?”
The lady who once a month makes about 180 of our famous CARTS cookies. Other nights usually have several people making a batch or two, but she does one whole night herself.
A young couple who give out the little Halloween-sized treats.
The guys with muscles who pull the heavily-loaded carts.
The guys and gals who give out the clothing items with grace and flare. It's almost as much fun as going to a boutique!

But I've saved the best until last. The two faithful ladies who started CARTS nearly 7 years ago (the two ladies pictured here). Two sisters with a vision for interacting with people face-to-face, on their level. Bringing joy, love and food to those in greatest need. Not worried about a little dirt or grime. Not deterred by the roughness of the street culture. Not scared by the unpredictability of someone on drugs. Just being angels of mercy. Rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.
I'm so glad I connected with CARTS a few years ago and am able to be a part of this wonderful expression of God's heart for people. Sunday morning church is nothing compared to this loving act of worship for the One who encourages us to give a cup of cold water in His name.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More thoughts on the five R's

Here are some more parallels between home and Church renovations.

One of the HGTV shows I have watched is about 'unsellable' homes. A house is listed for sale, but no one seems to be interested. The homeowner thinks the house is great as it is, but in reality it is dated, has projects that need finishing or the outside needs some serious curb appeal before anyone will put in an offer.
Pretty much any of the shows on home renovations demonstrate that a reno usually goes over budget—and I'm not just talking a couple percent. There are usually problems that aren't visible until you start getting down to the basics—bad wiring or plumbing, mold and rot, or structural/foundation issues. It seems that nothing is ever simple. And the big renos are even worse. The more you want to do, the more you are going to blow your budget.
It's not only money that you run out of in a reno project. It usually takes longer than you expect. Many of the shows like to give themselves a deadline—and then have to rush like mad to get it done on time. (Personally, I'd rather see it take more time, and be done well, but I guess that isn't suspenseful enough for TV.)
Another thing I've noticed is that our tastes and desires are always bigger than what we are willing to pay. People out shopping for a home have high hopes and dreams for the latest style, everything in top shape, and exactly the design they want. But something like that in their preferred location is going to cost them a lot more than they can afford. They give their real estate agent their wish list and budget, and the agent tries to find something. Then the prospective buyers pick apart the possibilities, and complain about the price. It often seems that the reality check goes right over their heads.
The lessons for the Church from this are obvious enough to not need any interpretation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Retain, redecorate, renovate, reconstruct, replace

There comes a time in every homeowner's life....that you think about doing something to spruce up the place. For some reason I like watching HGTV, the Home & Garden channel. There are lots of shows about new home buyers, trying to sell your home, renovating, decorating, etc.
OK. Let's assume you are wondering if you should do something to fix up your house.
You might think it is just perfect the way it is. You wouldn't change a thing. Retain.
You might decide to paint a few rooms, change a carpet, or get new drapes. Redecorate.
You might decide to knock down a wall, put in another bathroom, or turn the garage into an in-law suite. Renovate.
You might decide to rip off the roof and build another floor, gut the interior, move the kitchen to the back, and add two more bedrooms, or perhaps raise the whole house and build a new foundation. Reconstruct.
You might decide you like the location, but need to completely destroy the house and build a new one from scratch. Replace.
It all depends on how much work you think is necessary. How much is wrong with what you have. How to make your house more useful, more of what you need it to be. How much of what you have is worth saving. How solid what you have is, and how much it can stand major work.

Most of us recognize that the Church needs some work. It isn't showing it's age as well as we might hope. It isn't quite as practical or useful as it once was. There seems to be some rot in one corner, and we aren't sure how deep the problem is. There are a couple rooms that just don't get much use anymore, while another one could sure use some enlarging.
I guess the issue is the same as fixing the house.
How much work is necessary?
How serious are the things that are wrong?
What will it take to make it more usable?
How much is worth saving?
How solid is it, can it stand the amount of change necessary, or does it basically need to be torn down and completely rebuilt?
I think the difference between the positions taken by different people on the state of the church comes from their answers to the previous questions.
Some people think it is as close to perfect as you can imagine. The preacher is fine, the style is fine, the atmosphere is fine, the attendance is fine. Retain.
Some see that a couple minor changes will be all it takes to bring the church up to speed. Perhaps an adjustment to the music, or adding a new youth program. Redecorate (figuratively).
Others are ready for something a bit more strenuous. Ditch the liturgy (or bring it back). Start meeting on Saturday nights instead of Sunday mornings. Ditch the pulpit and pews, and put in round tables and sit the people around them in small discussion groups. Fire up a few candles. Renovate.
Still others think all of that is small potatoes. Sell the building. Eliminate the pastor. Meet in coffee shops or pubs, open a soup kitchen, live in a communal house. Welcome and affirm everyone. Reconstruct.
A few brave souls even want to go further. Reconsider the Bible more as literature and less as a question and answer book. Rethink salvation and grace. Question things considered fundamental like sin, hell, the sovereignty of God. Rebuild.
I'll bet that any of you that consider yourself a follower of Christ can see yourself in one of these categories. Anything less drastic doesn't seem like enough, anything more seems like heresy.
And therein lies the rub within Christendom.
There is something worth salvaging about this group of ragtag imitators of Christ. We just can't agree on how much.
There is a chunk of the foundation that is solid enough to build on. We just aren't sure how big that chunk is.
And if we figure out how deep to carve away, we still won't agree on what the new finished product should look like. Or how soon we will probably have to do it again.
I really appreciate the conversation these days about all of this. It encourages my heart and gives me hope. But also almost drives me to distraction sometimes.
God help us!

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