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Friday, November 23, 2007

disappointment with God


i was thinking about the giving and receiving of gifts the other day...
it's beginning to feel a lot like christmas?

sometimes we receive something from somebody and it's like
yeah! thank you SO much! i love this! i know just how i can use it!
and there is this embracing and a sense of connection.

but there are also those times when it's like
uh- yeah. thanks, i guess... um... what the hell IS this?
and you walk away wondering if the person even knows you...
much less cares.

that's probably why gift cards are so popular now.

anyway, we tip our head a little to the side when the uh-yeah, thanks gift comes from God. we get feeling like God doesn't even know us, doesn't even care.

i see this often in meeting with people. there is this ongoing motif that seems to be running through a lot of the appointments and such i have been sitting down to lately. a strong sense of is this as good as it gets?

there are a lot of things that we pray for and receive answers for. jobs, relationships, holiday opportunities... all of these things seem to be important enough to us to pray about and even important enough for God to acknowledge with a yes answer. yet we, in our delusions of entitlement, start to grow disappointed with God when the requisition form we prayerfully submit comes back marked backordered or no longer available as ordered or some such thing and for the prayerfully petitioned something, God substitutes something else.

i don't have a problem with being disappointed with God.
in my view, disappointment with God is simply about being really small and yet trying to relate to someone really big.

where it starts to move a little off the mark is this embarrassing expectation that presumes it is appropriate to requisition gifts in the first place. a good friend of mine once told me, in a conversation about spiritual giftings and such, that it is rude to ask for a gift. hadn't really thought of that at the time, so his words have resonated in my heart for years since we had the conversation.

there is something else that may be a bit presumptuous here, and may be part of the problem: our expectations of God that seem to be always somehow locked into providing us, blessing us, serving us.

as a little boy, i had a stamp collection that had been started for me by my grandfather. my northstar binder contained stamps dating back to the early 1900's in canada, because he went tirelessly to stamp auctions and such in search of this or that stamp that would complete this or that page in the stamp album that he would bring out to show me proudly whenever we came to town. i still remember how he turned the pages with tweasers.

on one occasion, i went with him to a stamp auction. because my grandfather was really good at spoiling me, i had grown accustomed to some things within our relationship that were probably standing in the way of the two of us relating to each other more deeply.

so i wanted a stamp from this stamp auction. honestly, i don't think it really mattered which one- i was only seven years old and didn't have a clue as to the value of any of the items up for auction. i just wanted a stamp. why? because my grandfather bought me whatever i wanted when i was with him. i had grown accustomed to receiving something just for the pleasure of my company.

and i was disappointed when stamp after stamp came up for auction, only to be sold to someone else. i was disappointed in my grandfather who didn't even bid. there was no drama, no excitement, no payout and no explanation- just nothing. we drove back to my grandparents' house in a silence that remained unbroken except for the rhythmic cadence of the windshield wipers of his 1964 valiant, lazily but effectively keeping the windshield clear enough to see where the puddles on the street were.

but my understanding of the way things were changed that evening. although i was provided with no followup conversation- in truth, my elderly grandfather probably didn't give it any thought at all- i came to understand two things that night:

1) my grandfather knew what he was looking for in stamps... not just any stamp would complete the gift he was preparing for me because he had a clear picture of what it was he was preparing for me.

2) my grandfather wasn't going to just do whatever i wanted him to do or give whatever i asked him to... although he recognized that i had my own desires about things, he was also trying to set up some other things that i would appreciate more later, with some experience of my own.

okay, so the God-character in the story happens to be a kind old man. my bad. we'll have to get past that. the point is the learning that is represented by the story, not the age and gender of the person that taught me the important lesson about entitlement.

i recently read something in a book that made a little sense in the larger dialogue respresented here:

Disappointment is the difference between our expectations and reality.
(
John Maxwell, Thinking For A Change, p126, 2003)

so what does this current gift received have to offer me in the area of insight and growth?

better question: who is God really?

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Broken Pieces - A Jewish View


The image of the broken tablets in Torah appeals to me on many levels. The first time I encountered it I was hooked. If it doesn’t describe life I don’t know what does. I wrote about them initially almost two years ago and what follows is an updated, slightly modified version of that post:

Moses came down from Mt Sinai carrying the tablets on which God had written commandments for us but when Moses saw the people dancing around the Golden Calf, Moses threw the tablets on the ground and broke them. Later God had Moses write new tablets and place them in the Ark along with the broken pieces. Both the broken and the whole are kept for reminders.

The broken pieces were still there, God didn’t have Moses try to put those tablets back together, but God didn’t have Moses throw them out either. Both the broken and the whole give meaning to life, but only the whole tablets are used for guidance. The broken pieces go with us, but what’s broken in our lives does not direct us. And that is probably one of the hardest things to do in life, keep those pieces in their proper place.

I find it interesting that God wrote on the broken tablets but Moses wrote on the ones which remained whole. It’s like God gives us our life, we are created a certain way, but then things happen along the way in life and we become broken, our dreams and illusions, our hearts, our very souls, are often broken. We stand there looking at the mess of our lives, the sadness, the regrets and we don’t know what to do next. We might pray that God would put the pieces back together for us, but that’s not what happens. Instead, God expects us to get to work. God isn’t doing the work anymore; now it is up to us.

So, out comes the chisel. It’s time to get to work making something of life again, perhaps this time it will remain whole? The broken pieces come along with us as a reminder, but ever after the whole tablets on which we wrote are to be our guide.

I suppose many of us think no one’s life could possibly be as messed up as our own but I don’t guess broken tablets are all that unique or this story wouldn’t have been included in Torah. It’s tough though to keep working on those whole tablets, slowly chipping away with that chisel while those broken pieces keep getting in the way. Times have changed. I don’t know why we’re not allowed to just use a laser, zap, we’re done and moving on….but I don’t suppose it can ever be quite that easy….nor should it be.

(Originally posted on No Mechitza In My World)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

we all wore black


it’s exciting to sit at a kitchen table and hear an accounting of the life of a complete stranger from those who knew him best… quite engaging to witness the sharing back and forth of memories as loved ones volunteer experiences and insights in the many different aspects of a man who was known to all of them, but who shared a unique and fulfilling relationship with each one.



the opportunity to be a fly on the wall like this was afforded me recently as i was asked to preside over the celebration of life service of a man i had never met.



many times, as we sat around the table the other day, a brother or sister or another brother would toss a story into the middle that represented an element or aspect of their father’s character not experienced by the others. so the family sits down at the kitchen table to do a jigsaw puzzle together, only this time each, having many pieces entrusted to his or her care, finds where each piece fits in the picture of an extraordinary life.



but men like this one are hard to summarize. full lives like his take full lives to recount, although the sharing cannot be complete until everyone who has experienced this person has shared everything they know with everyone else.



such is the richness and character of relationships with ‘renaissance men’ - with men like this one who seem to always be changing, always moving, always heading somewhere, having come from somewhere else.



as i listened, one observation came to me… knowing a guy like this is probably a lot like having a relationship with a freight train: depending on where he has just been and where he’s going, his cargo will be heavier or lighter but one thing is certain- there will be a story to tell at the next stop… one of those stories that is so good that even the teller begins to believe it, with all the facts and an extra portion of flavour. one thing everyone agreed on was that their father had a gift for telling a good story.



now, as the presiding minister, you have the responsibility to somehow offer hope, peace, strength and comfort to the assembled family and friends, but to do so legitimately and meaningfully. there can be no glib pronouncements, no prepackaged, processed little sunday school-type lessons that ring hollowly in the hearts of those who are deeply engaged in the big dialogue, having been transported there against their will by simple mortality and the fact that someone that they are used to having around is now gone.



so what to say? i sat at my desk yesterday, the service just hours away, staring at some pages of handwritten notes with nary a clue as to what to do with them. all earlier attempts had yielded nothing, but we were approaching the eleventh hour.



for some preacher like me to try to find a single bible character or passage to apply to a life so full seems absurd. as i sat and listened to the yarns being spun, it occurred to me that there might be a theme which is more appropriate to focus upon than any one character or teaching.



theme? for this fellow, having ridden the rails in the thirties, become a pastry chef while in the army due to some rather strongly held opinions resulting in a need for 'constant supervision,' climbed telephone lines in the fifties, farmed in the sixties and so on... the most applicable theme seemed to be that of continuous movement and growth that we find so evident in the teachings of another story teller: Jesus.



Jesus’ words are always laced with a sense of journey, of movement, of progress, refining, defining and then redefining. he speaks of being the way to God more than actually being God. he speaks of the kingdom of God being near, or at hand, rather than giving a list of things for people to do in order to get there. when asked what the most important commandment is, instead of giving one definitive answer, he summarizes all the law by painting a picture in broad strokes (Mark 12.28-34)



it’s not that Jesus is dodge-y or evasive (although many would probably disagree with me on this one). it is simply that he challenges people to never feel that they have arrived, to never feel that somehow God’s greatest desire for them is realized and there's no adventure left, no grander vision to be pursued, no further work to be done. there is always hope and challenge, walking side by side down the railroad tracks of time.



for the man whose life was being celebrated yesterday, hope and challenge remained ever together, with a gaze fixed on moving on. to those who knew him, life never seemed to be about any kind of arrival, only the next departure. in his later years- from 2003 and on- however, the challenges were different, and there was a deeper and deeper sense by those who loved him that he was being slowly imprisoned by health conditions that are part of having lived a full life. the hope became represented by something else too.



a music lover, one of his favourite singers was johnny cash- a man whose own life seemed to be marked by dramatic changes and constant hope and challenge. in preparing for the celebration of life service, the family gathered around the table with me agreed that one song would be appropriate to close with. it is a song that tells the story of a man who needs to be moving. a man who has made mistakes and recognizes that we need to own them and then move beyond them.



we all wore black.



AND IF THEY FREED ME FROM THIS PRISON
IF THIS RAILROAD TRAIN WAS MINE
I BET I'D MOVE IT ALL

A LITTLE FARTHER DOWN THE LINE
FAR FROM FOLSOM PRISON

THAT'S WHERE I WANT TO STAY
AND I'D LET THAT LONESOME WHISTLE

BLOW MY BLUES AWAY...


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

hyperlink
























Answers make me suspicious.
I was never good at math. Maybe my aversion to answers stems from that. I have come to be a little more friendly to the answers in math books in my old age but I still can't stomach answers when it comes to religion; too often people wind up dead because of them. Let's wrestle like Jacob and pray the answers never arrive.
(hineini)

as is often the case with me, the words of another become a pilot light in my soul which burns for awhile on its own before eventually igniting the whole furnace. in this case, it was the idea of the beautiful, unanswered question.

not mere rhetoric, presuming answers even in the asking,
but a desire to keep looking
to keep growing
to persevere in one's pilgrimage.

in my view, the unanswered question is the exploration of that which is yet to be revealed, not the continued fortification and defense of the things that have been somehow established by someone...

to seek the heart behind the face
to be ever searching
to be fine with unexplainable truth
to make this profound truth, explained or not, part of oneself.


awhile ago, a friend gave me a copy of augustine's 'confessions'.
speaking of confession, i must confess that i am probably the slowest reader in town, taking forever and a day to finish even the shortest, simplest of books. so, over a year later (oops, just defined 'awhile ago') i'm still reading this little 4th C gem. in one of the later chapters (
'Book of Memory') i came upon a beautifully crafted section of dialogue between the writer and creation. the writer is trying to sort out just who God is to him and what part all of creation, in its sensate glory, plays in his faith experience.

My contemplation of creation posed my questions.
Their beauty gave the answer.


and as he explores his faith through nature, he receives the answer again and again:

We are not your God. Seek above us...
I am not He, but He made me


notice it? in the answers afforded the seeker by nature, the challenge is made to look beyond that which is immediately revealed, that which is naturally evident... to see these things as mere signposts on his journey, verifying that the seeker is simply on the right road, but nowhere near its end.


put another way, these things are hyperlinks to understandings
about God.

the hyperlink isn't actually as bad an analogy as one might first believe. i mean, a hyperlink is a means by which we get from one place in cyberspace to another without extensive calculation and endless code, right? they are great, but they are not the destination, they simply assist in our navigation by providing a direct route. honestly, i love hyperlinks.

i do grow frustrated, however, when a link leads me to a rather blank page that has another link on it.

how long would i patiently click and reclick link after link in a quest for something online before abandoning my search? four clicks? three? two?

and yet our journey towards some kind of contemplation, some personal theology based upon interaction, study and personal experience involves endless clicking on hyperlinks to God... never really arriving at a destination, but nonetheless engaged in a lifelong journey through truth, not towards it.

a dear friend of mine is currently processing some life and career change issues that are effectively dismantling the
absolutes upon which he has built his picture of God and his faith in that God over the last twenty five years. the way he prays, the way he engages- in truth, even the way he believes- has been profoundly challenged by some of the plot twists in this chapter of his own lifestory. the phrase i've heard him use a lot as we have spoken of this is his disappointment with God.

but really, if one's faith is built upon the experiences of a mildly charmed life that has unfolded in the affluence of the canadian version of the bible belt, then it is probably due for a bit of a bump. together, we both agree with the idea that God is this ultimately loving, ultimately just, ultimately everything good and holy person who cares deeply for us as individuals. however, like most rich kids (and i need to say here that most of us are hopelessly rich and completely unaware of it because plenty has become the feeling of life) my friend is being challenged in his faith by the reality that this God in whom he has built his faith is actually the same God who deeply cares for my friend in sri lanka who recently discovered a live grenade carefully placed at the door of his church; the same God who deeply cares for the person who placed the grenade; the same God who deeply cares for the Christian Peacemaker Team-members kidnapped and tortured by Swords of Righteousness Brigade terrorists for 140 days in 2005; the same God who deeply cares for members of the Swords of Righteousness Brigade that did the kidnapping.

this same God has been 'worthy of praise' for people enduring adversity, injustice and pain since the beginning of time. what have their faith questions been? if we deconstruct our own faith, especially in times of adversity, and then reconstruct it using only the blocks that seem to be true to our experience with God in times of strife as well as times of opulence, perhaps the conclusions that we draw are a bit more truthful than the faith that was once held but not tested... at least until the next testing of it.

so anyway, as i thought about the questions posed by augustine and those posed by my friend, i picked up my guitar, my bible and my notebook and began to pray...


WHAT DO I LOVE WHEN I LOVE YOU?

WHAT IS THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION?

GOD? WHAT IS MY GOD?


WHO DO I LOVE WHEN I LOVE YOU?

WHO IS MY HOPE AND MY SALVATION?

LORD? WHO IS MY LORD?


YOU SHINE INTO MY SOUL WHERE SPACE CANNOT CONTAIN YOU

YOU SPEAK WITH THE SOUND THAT DOES NOT FADE WITH PASSING TIME

THE FRAGRANCE OF YOUR PRESENCE REMAINS WITH ME IN ESSENCE

THE SWEETNESS OF YOUR NAME DOES NOT GROW STALE


WHAT DO I PREACH WHEN I PREACH YOU?

WHAT IS MY MESSAGE OF EXHORTATION?

WORD? WHAT IS MY WORD?


SALVATION BELONGS TO OUR GOD AND OUR GOD ALONE

ALL HONOUR AND PRAISE TO THE ONE WHO SITS ON THE THRONE

“WORTHY IS THE LAMB- WORTHY IS HE”

IS THE ETERNAL SONG OF A SOUL SET FREE


WHERE DO I GO WHEN I SEEK YOU?

WHERE DO I SEARCH FOR YOUR REVELATION?

GOD? WHERE IS MY GOD?

*ideas and inspiration drawn from Augustine of Hippo’s ‘Confessions: Book of Memory’ (circa A.D. 4th C) and from Revelation 5.11-13; 7.9-12



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wink























if you start winking at things that are important,
eventually you are just living with your eyes closed.

"Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins the movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things!" (ned flanders)

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