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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

the heart of servanthood

long time no blog...

(it's a longen, so i figured to shorten it, i'd make the text smaller :D)
-- background --
// i'm taking education classes at the u of r
// one of those classes is a foundations class that explores a feminist view of the way society works (and for those of you who have your negative notions regarding feminists, shut up and listen) - this class gave me the ability to stand back after things happen and say 'hmm, what's goin on here'
// this previous monday i worked at souls harbour mission house, and God didn't just speak, he yelled
// God stories were shared afterwards, but i didn't share anything (i was still mulling over this for the blogspot...)
// and just after some long mulling hours, i shared the story with a couple friends at school, and the prof of the foundations class...

-- the story --
so the youth group (that i get the privilege of helping lead) was heading off to souls harbour, and i was not (by scheduling conflicts) able to join in the fun. BUT as God would have it, scheduling conflicts were just an illusion (cuz i mixed the times up) and i made a quick phone call to the mother and didn't have to pick the sister up THUS, i could make it to souls in time to serve my heart out.
as luck would have it, i wasn't one of the regular 6 serving there. no no, i was a part of the 12 that were serving there... WHOA! so what this says to me (a leader) is that there's something unique here... (hmm, what's goin on here?) after thinking i got around to the idea that i could just take pictures of the youth volunteering there, and take some time to develop relationships with the people who were eating the stew (that gerri and her team makes so often, for so many people).
so i met mike, marcell, derek and joshua. if you want to know more about what went on, and how you can get involved, talk to someone at Souls Harbour, they'd love for you to help serve soup and sandwiches and such.
anyways, God spoke loudly to me after several happenings...
1) i met joshua, a 3 year old who was toting around a pint size book of bible quotes from the NKJV (why would someone think this a good gift for a 3 year old... hmm, what's goin on here?)
2) mike, who i think has experienced every problem this world can offer - boy, he has the worst of luck...
3) the youth (derek, marcell and their sister who's name i can't remember) who have innocence in their eyes and the hearts to prove it...
and 4) the lady in the kitchen who kept on getting mad at me for doing nothing.. well, nothing physical...

besides how angry i got at the lady in the kitchen, i also got angry at a couple things. but this is the best kind of anger. it's the kind of anger that Jesus was filled with when he tossed tables over in the temple courts.

1- the nkjv is not aimed at 3 year olds. in fact, it's not aimed at me. unless you spoke the language of shakespear, that bible isn't aimed at you. so what did i say when joshua came up to me and said 'read to me' ? i opened the book and said 'one day billy found a dog. this dog had a blue ball. billy played fetch with the dog' and by that point, the boy and i were laying on the ground, 'reading' from the book... i can garauntee he doesn't remember a thing ... except that he has that book... and it was the best thing about his trip to the soup kitchen!
2- we came, we served soup, and we left. that is not a mission. i have nothing against souls harbour, they do plenty for the kingdom of God. Gerri gets the opportunity to talk with tons of people and lead them to know who Jesus is... my beef is with the soup servers. those from our church, and those who volunteered from elsewhere. sure, we did a great job, let's all pat ourselves on the back, cuz that's what we deserve for going out of our way to serve someone who has nothing... isn't that what it's all about
i'm sure there could have just as easily been an athiest group who served them soup and accomplished the same thing we did. in fact, they could have lined up buffet style and avoided the servers all together. so why the servers? RELATIONSHIP! get to know someone. you don't have to walk in their shoes to know them, but you do have to walk beside them ... ask them what's new, what's old, what's fun, what's stupid, what's interesting, what's happening... who's hot, who's not, who cares - ask something!
anyways, what did God say to me through this experience (how i got the privilege of sitting back and observing)? he said this -
"Jan, don't you ever think you have brought something to offer my sheep. I gave you everything, and apart from me, there is no you. You are not there to give them me, I am there to give them you."
and that is the heart of servanthood. offering yourself to God to be given to others.


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Monday, September 26, 2005

collective consciousness

so i have a couple of friends over to watch my redux version of fritz lang's metropolis (complete with soundtrack by nine inch nails, chemical brothers and the like) and God conversation breaks out... go figure.

to which my friend says 'yeah, well, you get three guys together who love God and what do you expect?'

Jesus, of course, said the same thing: 'when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am i in the midst of them'

i know all this... but i've also been in too many situations where two or three Christians have gathered and there is no intention of inviting or involving God because everyday life sometimes gets separated from the 'Godbox.' i find that to be a bit of a drag, considering that life is such a sacred, God-breathed thing in the first place.

it's not that you have to be talking you walk all the time or anything, but if Christ is the centre of a life, it should be inevitable that the spiritual sparks will fly whenever that Christ-centred life connects with another one, yeah?

perhaps it's just our failure to know how to meaningfully connect with each other... i don't know.

anyway, whatever the relational tanget, we get talking about the limitations that i am feeling are being placed upon my personal worship times by the basic architecture of my home. you see, the place has virtually no doors. apart from the necessary ones on the washrooms and the one important locking one on our room, the place is this labyrinthine house of tile and bead curtains. the problem is that, in our last house, i had a room that i could go down to with my guitar and my bible and pray or sing or weep or whatever as loudly as i needed to without disturbing the sleep of anyone else in the household. not so now.

now, if i go downstairs then i am just down the hall from my sons' room with only a bead curtain separating us; plus i am directly below our bedroom with some vents and ductwork bringing any and every sound into the room where my beautiful wife is trying to sleep. AND if i go upstairs to the living room, then i am directly above my sons' room and down a really echo-y tile hallway from our bedroom and mrs jollybeggar's rest.

so one of my friends looks up and says to me: 'but what's the problem if someone in your family awakens in the middle of the night to hear you worshiping and praying? as their father or husband, (not to mention one of the pastors of their church) wouldn't you be authenticating everything that you are about?'

good point.
i love having friends like these with whom i can fellowship and grow...
did i mention these guys are both half my age?
nice future.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

so long and thanks...

everyone in the group received the message:
Okay, everyone! It's prayer time!
We all need some of that time where we don't have to think. You know, the Christian Right's method of Transcendental Meditation. Let's all pray together!! Give it five minutes! C'mon, boys and girls! Five minutes of not thinking!
Okay! Starting now.....go! Pray!

Five minutes later: Whew! Was that as good for you as it was for me?

everyone in the group received the reply from jollybeggar:
well now that's a bit off... to presume that nothing is happening inside simply because there is an outer stillness is pretty shallow. really, you've gotta buy more expensive bait if you wanna fish in deeper waters.

everyone in the group received the next message:
I prefer to stand on a platform holding bait out while dolphin jump up out of the water to take the bait out of my hand to the applause of enthusiastic tourists

you know, sometimes you've just gotta say "that's it, i'm outta here."

i said that today.

i have been part of an online discussion group for awhile. this listserve started out fun and interesting, but recently it's just gotten old... probably no different than our blogs do from time to time.

however, the extent that people sometimes go to be both anonymous and funny can be a little cold. let me try to sort it all out here...

you have an online persona- it's a scaffold that you've created to give expression to these or those aspects of your character in cyberspace, allowing you to still remain true to who you are in the 'real world.' the persona allows you to take aspects of your character to extremes without all that troublesome integrity stuff that says your yes should be yes and your no should be no... after all, there are times when we don't know what our yes or our no is and we have to process what's going on in real time.

it's not that new, really. i remember reading 'brothers karamazov' by dostoeovsky years ago on a birthday bet (i bought my friend a copy and he bought me one and bang! the race was on)

what i found really interesting was that the novelist was able to wrestle through his own questions of life, the universe and everything through the characters he created- able to shout with one character and whisper with another, able to be blasphemously cynical (even by today's standards, muchless 19th century russia's) with one character, while spiritually faithful and edifying with another. without actually having a multiple personality disorder, the novelist was able to explore different aspects of who he was- essentially be many different people around any one issue, simply by creating characters designed to explore new perspectives in the first person. this allowed the novelist, (writing from prison, i believe...) to explore his faith issues and eventually arrive at an agreed-upon yes or no, rather than simply an opted-for one.

brilliant! similar things go on in moby dick- the novel that prompted our little book race in the first place- as well.

so i understand how an online persona can exist in a vacuum. for many there is the need to be a number of different people in order to keep their own minds and hearts uncluttered. fair enough. get it out in the name of intellectual freedom and the readership can always choose to read or delete.

somewhere in the process of mutating and spawning numerous cartoonlike characters, however, a bit of warmth seems to be lost for some. perhaps it's just that certain antisocial aspects of one's psyche need not be assigned an email address or a blogspot. i guess my big rhetorical question here is this: are there some things that we should actually keep in, working through them privately without sharing them with others because they are intensely negative?

this is a hard question for me to ask myself, because i know that, in addition to writers like dostoevsky, melville and bunyan writing some of the greatest literature of all time, there is also the work of people like kurt vonnegut, mark twain and douglas adams who poke fun at people who think they know everything by drawing connections between contradicting notions and then inviting the world to smirk at the dramatic irony contained in the inconsistency. thank God there are writers like this who don't kid themselves or their readership when their world is clearly not, in fact, sunshine and daffodils.

posted recently on the listserve was an article which spoke of kurt vonnegut, writer of such greats as 'cat's cradle' and 'slaughterhouse five' and 'galapagos' becoming more pessimistic.

i found the idea of "MORE pessimistic' a bit funny, as i didn't think that this was possible... he was pretty darn pessimistic already.

the thing about vonnegut is that you can read his stuff and shake your head at how silly people can be... and how ridiculous it is that we can't see how silly we are being. you can read vonnegut and laugh.

but on this particular listserve, the laughter was gone from my heart as i read cold remarks about the new orleans tragedy, scandalous and flippant references to the person of God, and enough blamebush politics to make me just really tired of the whole thing. as the cynical and melancholic poet/singer/songwriter mark heard said (bad georgian grammar and all) 'i just wanna get warm...'

although it is possible to be more cynical, it's hard to be intensely cynical and yet still funny... as the clouds roll in and the points are more deftly made, the laugh track fades until we are 'amused to death...'

i think that this is because there is a difference between working through your own stuff and working out your own stuff on others. many of the voices in this listserve had many many issues, particularly with evangelical Christianity, that they were working out on those of us who were reading.

in a song, bob dylan once said:
you ask me why i don't live here... hey how come you don't leave?

good question. if one with a strongly differing opinion is standing on a platform waiting for me to jump up and snatch the minnow from his hand to the cheering of the crowd because it's all about show, i guess i only have one thing to say:

so long and thanks for all the fish

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Friday, September 16, 2005

by the way

rather than clog up northVUs with sri lanka journals and reflections, jollybeggar has decided to set up another blog for just this purpose... poitu varam

if you are interested, there is a link to your right called 'jollybeggar abroad' which will take you there...

'poitu varam' is the tamil equivalent of apu's "thank you, come again!"

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

feel it burn

so doing the half-marathon this past weekend was great, although i kinda hit a wall around the 18k mark. my inner thighs were just out of strength and my calves felt like something was going to pop out the back any second.

i said to riel "you go on without me, man, i'm done for!"

and he said "no way, bro" and threw me over his shoulders, carrying me to the chopper that got us the hell outta there before charlie could put us in the woodshed for good... i still remember the smell of napalm and the image of burning rice patties to the sound of "he ain't heavy, he's my brother" playing on some enlisted man's radio as we pulled away from that little village in southeast asia where my world went fubar on that horrible day back in '71...

yeah, okay, i think the endorphins are still popping a bit!

many people have asked me over the last few days what this was for... charity? terry fox?

better question: why do people do anything together?
for community- just to be part of something that is going on!

hebrews 12.1 speaks in a related metaphor...

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

potty mouth

you know what i think is cool? how little i have to say blogwise apart from that which springs from conversation and experience. i have apologized to people over the years for talking their ears off... my friend dan was stuck sitting beside me as we drove through colombo the first time. i guess i owe him something for his patience with this 'chatty cathy doll' that kept pulling its own string.

anyway, recently a dialogue has been going on shandi's blog:
"Truth be told, I am angry. I've been angry for a good 5 years. I've tried to attend church for the benefit of my kids... so they can experience the tradition. Somewhere along the line, while pursuing truth, I aquired a tongue as well and cant seem to keep my mouth shut. "F**k" is not a popular word during service...."
(asterisks mine, for the benefit of the more sensitive -jb)

if the occasional 'f-bomb' is the best word to express what's going on inside, then so be it. to sanitize language to the point where we only express tidy little ideas with quiet little inside voices is to allow the depth of who we are and what we experience emotionally and spiritually as human beings to be cropped to the point of irrecognizable irrelevence... the connection with real life is severed by political correctness and a preoccupation with euphemisms. many of the most important words are not found in the thesaurus.

but you are probably right: letting the bomb fly in a local worship service in most churches might be a bit of a distraction to the moral majority assembled there!

Q: what do you think Jesus would have done with a moment in the synagogue had one of the 'others' in the crowd (asked by those in charge to sit on the periphery for maintenance reasons) ejaculated an exasperated and resounding "F**k!" to punctuate one of the pharisee's legalistic pronouncements?

A: hmmm. somehow, WWJD? is a really good question in this regard.

part of me (the rebellious, nongracious part) thinks that Jesus would turn to that person and go "Exactly!" yet, i know that that is probably just me being the unloving jerk i can be sometimes.

i don't know how Jesus in his grace AND holiness would respond, but in any event i don't believe that he would cut this person out of his plan for the redemption of all humankind just because the person said what many in the room were thinking, but were too culturally well-behaved to articulate it.

as a child, i thought that the fourth commandment was 'thou shalt not swear.'

once i actually read the exodus 20 passage, i pondered for years why some words were considered to be 'swears' and others weren't. the bible doesn't give us a list and pop media continues to allow just about any statement of any idea in any way as some sort of bluntly applied conviction concerning intellectual freedom.

here's what i think: language is just language- it's a means by which we share ourselves with others. words are simply sounds we make to express ideas- none are inherently good and none are inherently naughty... it is the meaning attached to the word which determines which contexts that word is suitable for. in strict adherence to the fourth commandment, the hebrews began printing out the name of God without vowels because his name was so awesome in its meaning to them that no one felt worthy of even writing it, much less uttering it... hence words of title like 'Lord' and 'God' in place of a proper name. similarly, in primarily catholic, french-speaking cultures, one of the worst verbal offences is to flippantly make reference to the 'tabernacle'- the 'dwelling place' of God.

in our vernacular, we get bent out of shape if someone uses language that crassly refers to bodily functions, sexual intimacy or genitalia, yet we fail to even notice when people call damnation down upon their enemies or something even 'less deserving'...

(remember steve martin's "the Jerk" with the humourous bit of dialogue:
STANLEY FOX: damn these glasses... DAMN THESE GLASSES!
NAVIN JOHNSON: (to the glasses) i damn thee!)

...or spew out praises like 'goddamighty' or 'hallelujah' that are words only- beautiful words rich in meaning, devoid of any relevent meaning for the speaker.

what is too full of meaning for the postmodern talker?

there are a lot of words that carry too strong a meaning to be used casually, yet we wince at words loaded with human meaning and all but ignore words bearing powerful spiritual significance because of habitually empty usage.

i wonder if every time someone says 'ommigod,' God looks up hopefully and then looks back down sadly, realizing that the created was not, in fact, calling out to the creator... he or she was just using a figure of speech as meaningless in the present day as swearing an oath on one's mule might have been in biblical times.

"in the beginning was the Word..."

Jesus is the Word of God. nothing else comes close in depth, meaning, purpose or intention. he is all God has to say on any given subject. and it is this name, this holy utterance, that gets used to both justify all manner of misguided retribution upon others and serve as a vocalized pause or emotional punctuation in moments of frustration. i'm not sure, but i think that that's using a holy word vainly.

but what about these other words- the 'unholy' ones? i recognize that it sounds like i'm contradicting an earlier notion about inherent holiness or unholiness of language, but if context and intent is a huge determinant as to the righteousness of a word or phrase, then the importance of choosing our words carefully based on context is far more than a situational ethic.

recently in sri lanka, i was acquainted with a new usage of a familiar term. there, the tamil or singhala words for 'snake' also mean 'dirtyrottensoulthievingsonofabitch' because the notion of satan is summarized in the word for snake, alluding obviously to genesis3. now, if i were to call anyone else a dirtyrottensoulthievingsonofabitch, i would probably have to examine closely the context in which i chose to use those specific words. likewise, you probably don't want to be walking around, flippantly refering to another person as a 'snake-in-the-grass' while visiting sri lanka. whether the usage is well-intentioned or not, people can be distracted and God's glory can be eclipsed by 'christians' using heavy words lightly. snake or dirtyrottensoulthievingsonofabitch, the meaning received is contextual regardless of the intentions of the speaker.

the bible counsels us to choose our words carefully. colossians 3.8-9 is pretty clear on this one, using a phrase like 'filthy language' and putting it alongside things like anger rage malice slander and lying. that's pretty heavy company for your basic f-bomb. we all recognize that these notions are anti-social, yet we sometimes forget the power of language to move people's hearts and minds in or out of receptivity.

i guess what i'm trying to say is that because our words matter to others who matter to God, our words matter to God...

(having said this, though, let me also say that you needn't scrub your comments on this blog clean of their actual intended meaning. just say what needs to be said- i think that that is a huge part of what this blog is all about.)

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

the big league

Regina said... "Red Rider in the park tonight."

now this shouldn't be any big deal, except that two posts ago i tossed out there what happens to me when i am 'moved' by a performance or work of art or whatever.

it happened again last night.

free concerts are awesome. tom cochran, the principal songwriter for red rider has this song called 'the big league' which tells the story of a father who loses his son in an automobile accident and all the dreams that he had for his boy come to a literally screeching halt. i've heard the song thousands of times and even own the album...

but this time, my two boys were in the crowd with me taking it all in- in fact, the younger was on my shoulders a good portion of the time because, like zaccheus, he couldn't see and found an accessable tree- me.

and the words landed in my heart:
my boy's gonna play in the big league
my boy's gonna turn some heads
my boy's gonna play in the big league
my boy's gonna knock'em dead
in the big league

i love hearing a song again for the first time.

i found myself leafing through the scrapbook of my mind, noting each stage and its passing, tears flowing down my face as if i were having some kinda spiritual experience there in the park... i was.

i prayed 'God, keep my kids safe and free to be all that you intended them to be. protect them from anything or anyone that would steal that away from them and from me. by your grace, let these words of regret never be mine... i'm not being selfish, God- just honest."

God has entrusted the future not to the next generation, but to their parents. it is our job to nurture that future, to teach and equip that future, to disciple that future, to empower that future with both the tools and the permission to make it something worth looking forward to. this is a pretty huge responsibility, but in God's eyes we're up to it... gosh, there are days when i wonder what he's thinking.

anyway, the song also hit me by surprise in another way.

you see, here in september i stand almost right in the middle of two anniversaries: two years ago i lost a brother-in-law in july when he took on a semi face to face, and another brother-in-law and his new wife three months to the day later in october to a drunk driver that had been driving for nearly an hour and a half in the middle of the night before he finally found another vehicle to collide with.

in that hard time, i asked a lot of the big questions and heard a lot of cheesey answers that made about as much sense as telling people that God causes tsunamis and hurricanes because he has this big plan that includes the devastation of families, properties and hopes. if that were true, then i would be free to conclude that, among other things, God was systematically knocking off my relatives in order to accomplish his big plan.

sorry, i just don't buy that one- i never will, no matter how cheaply you try to sell it to me.

sunday school answers like these just don't cut it in the real world, unless these sunday school answers also include some connection with the basic reality that we are living in a fallen world that spirals out of control due mostly to the poor first-person management of our free will and our resources, and that God occasionally steps in to supercede the natural flow of cause and effect in order to gain our attention when we are most ready to receive what he offers.

yet even then we get it all wrong... remember the air france flight that crashed in toronto in august and no one sustained even a scraped knee, yet people were discussing for days whether this could be a somehow verifiable miracle? VERIFIABLE? how much more verifiable do we need before we attribute a great mercy to God and not simply circumstance?

whatever- i'm ranting now. i can feel it. it's sunday morning and apparently i'm preaching today.

back to my original point: my father- in- law had four sons once. now he has only two. he never stopped being their loving dad. he never stopped having dreams of the things that they would accomplish. yet, when he lost his own, in a very real way he had that opportunity to feel the pain that God often endures when we crash on life's highway, having chosen to drive it all night long rather than engage in the balance and grace of God.

so, last night i heard an old song with new ears.

as we read in tolkien's 'two towers': no man should have to bury his own son.

never can tell what might come down
never can tell when you might check out
just don't know, no you never can tell
so do right to others like you do to yourself
in the big league
(cochran, 1989)

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

apocalypse now

"signs of the coming apocalypse..."

of course, my friend is allowed to say these things because he is a high school principal... and because i am a high school teacher and small 'p' pastor, i am allowed to argue with him on matters of spiritual/theological import.

"except that people have always been this way... so the apocalypse of which you speak has been upon us since the beginning... or at least since we took charge."

we both step back, reeling at the truth of the exchange that has just transpired.

"yes, but what a thin veneer there exists between what we rise to become at our best, and everything below it that we can be reduced to at our worst."

he is, of course, reflecting upon the news of calamity, violence, lawlessness, drug abuse and the like that is overtaking the survivors of hurricane katrina, all huddled together in the new orleans superdome, awaiting their 500 km ride to houston. ( it reminds me of quint's (robert shaw's) monologue from the film 'jaws', where he describes the botched final mission of the uss indianapolis in shark-infested waters, concluding that he was most terrified awaiting for his turn to be pulled out of the water, for fear of being victimized with freedom so close you could spit on it.

speaking of the thin veneer and spitting on freedom... here's something to think about when trying to figure out which direction to spit:

i'm not sure if i'm feeling cynical today or just disappointed.