Losing the ability to read!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil 4.8

When I was younger and in grad school my wife would sometimes marvel because she would leave the house for the whole day—commuting by metro, studying at McGill all day, maybe hanging out a bit with classmates—and when she returned I would be sitting on exactly the same chair as when she had left, reading the same book (obviously I got up from time to time for water, coffee, and the resulting bathroom breaks). Back then I was studying and studying hard and my capacity had built up over years and so I hardly considered this ability to be a meaningful one. 

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That was then and this, as they say, is now:

I am reading a wonderful biography of one of the most influential people in my spiritual journey (Colin Hansen’s Tim Keller: his spiritual and intellectual formation) and as well written as it is, I am a week in and not halfway through the book but back in the day I would have finished it in a day or two (and far more of it would have sunk in!). The book itself is reminding me of this because the man it is about is a prodigious reader, known to have walked around New York City with a book open on the sidewalk, and to drive around (it was the 70s) in Virginia with a book open on his steering wheel, and just generally to always have his nose in a book. His reading was critical to his own spiritual life and his ability to share it with others, it is a model for someone like me. 

That’s why this decline in my ability to read matters (and yours does too if you are in the same boat as me): because I read far less books and absorb less of what I am reading than I used to and yet my effectiveness is in many ways tied to this ability. Even if I do read I often have to re-read a page because my mind was wandering so badly while reading that I have no idea what I just read. We are all called to pursue God’s truth, to dwell in the Truth, and to be able to explain it to others. It is important to me because as a minister I can only give to others from what I have, I must be able to receive well if I am to give well, and as I take my role in the community seriously I see my reading difficulties as a major issue. 

Maybe you have encountered this diminishment of reading focus too? If so, have you found any good ways around it? I have read my share of books on productivity and spent my life as a reader so I am not oblivious but I would be interested in tips and tricks you have picked up on. 

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We can blame any number of realities for our collective loss of ability but that doesn’t move us forward unless the blame leads to actions, like taming our phones and screens meaningfully. For my part I want to commit to doubling down on meditation which helps train the mind to focus and to blocking out times that are digital free and meant for reading. For several years reading (other than my morning bible time) has been put wherever in my schedule there happened to be space, I think getting back to a more daily routine of blocked out time for reading and reflection is going to be important. It is simple really, screens off, book open, sit there. 

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Gratitude Silences Complaint

The title of this post is from Paul David Tripp’s excellent lenten devotional Journey to the Cross. He writes that “it is impossible to give thanks and complain at the same time.” As you well know, lent is a season for reflection and for looking at how we lead our lives and where we are in need of changes and even saving. One of the practices in my life that could use changing (and forgiving) is grumbling aka complaining. 

It is a well known truth that among the easiest ways to lose a habit is to intentionally replace it with another one, like smokers who learn to chew gum (nicotine gum or not), or nail biters who learn to put their hands in their pockets. Perhaps if one finds oneself complaining a lot then replacing the complaint with a thanksgiving would slowly shift one away from the complaining. This plan permits the complaint but turns it into a trigger for a thank you (at least I hope it will).

I am capable of complaining with the best of them, speeders in their steel traps upset me, don’t get me started on OC Transpo (which I don’t even use because I am privileged to live a mostly walkable lifestyle), mention certain people or organizations in my presence and be prepared for a speech; I bet you get my drift and have your own list of complaints. I might never forget the man who was upset one day in my office because his wife of 50 some years was away for a girls weekend and she had turned the dishwasher on before she left (leaving him a clean kitchen!) And he was upset and lingering in my office because he knew when he got home he would have to unload the dishwasher himself (gasp!). This sort of thing would be funny if it didn’t rob us of the pleasures right in front of us, like being thankful for the many privileges that man had, or for the fact that I am not reliant on OC Transept to get around. 

1 Thessalonians calls us to give thanks in all circumstances, and gratitude is called for in many other places in the bible. Gratitude is an important practice in the faith. We give thanks not just for our circumstances, though writing this by a fire, typing away on a multi-thousand dollar apple desktop with fair trade coffee by my side and listening to my children get ready for school all gives me much to be thankful for, Jesus gives me more to be thankful for. 

Jesus can overcome my spirit of grumbling and point me in the right direction. Jesus can forgive where I fail to be grateful which is good for my soul and also empowers me to apologize for a lack of thankfulness. Holy Spirit promises to help me out as I seek to turn complaints into thanksgivings. Jesus did what I cannot do so that I can live and eternal life I could not otherwise live. And while I am here I can live with a freedom, generosity, and abundance that would be beyond me on my own. It all amounts to eyes that see all there is to be grateful for amidst the brokenness.

To complain is to find lack. To complain is to fail to see all that is gift. 

May we each receive the gift of gratitude as the snow melts and the flowers being their journey skyward, resurrecting from their winter sleep.  

Meditation and Pain

One hard truth about life is that we have all known struggles and pain. In lent we reflect on where we have caused pain and maybe also where pain has been inflicted upon us. Christianity with its story of the curse agrees with Buddhism’s truth that life involves suffering. Where the faiths go from there varies but experience tells us that they are both correct in noting the presence of pain along the journey. 

In my experience when one gets into meditation our forgotten pasts can bubble up. The apostle Paul tells us at one point to take our thoughts captive, I imagine he knew about this feature of the quiet time many spend with God. Many have experienced past trauma, stuff they had completely forgotten, percolating up for through meditation, this is hard but normal.

In some instances the trauma that comes up brings us to tears. We may find ourselves surprised by what is happening. If we are experienced enough we might be able to hold a certain curiosity towards the emotions and images. If they are too difficult we may even want to seek help in addressing them. This is noble, remember you are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God in addressing whatever it is and we are stronger for facing the past. 

If it is not such that you will want to seek counselling, or if you are the obstinate not-gonna-see-someone-type then I want to suggest a natural process you might try sometime. 

Much of prayer is about healing, healing our world, our community, our friends…it can also be about our own healing. Our realizing we are forgiven, our realizing we may forgive others. If you sometimes find meditation bringing up painful matters, you may try to thank God for bringing these matters to your attention and then asking God what you ned to learn from them. If any clarity comes you may ask God to help you to move forward in whatever manner seems correct. 

God can heal us, he can show us the pains we need to address, teach us how to address them, and see us through the challenge. There is so much promise in this, we can become so much more fulfilled, whole, and satisfied in our lives as we progress down the road, facing fears and tragedy head on. 

At the very least, I want you to know if this happens to you and you find yourself crying know that you are not alone in this, it is a relatively common event, and also that God can and will be with you in the difficulty. Do not stop because of this but forge on ahead. On the other side is something worthy of your striving. 

Do you speak loftily with a stone cold heart?

Psalm 73 speaks of the dangers of wealth. It speaks of getting fat, of not knowing the troubles of life and so becoming disconnected from others, and of the sinful levels of pride that grow some such a position. The line that really struck me today is “They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression…” It struck me hard because I know beyond any shadow of a doubt I have been in this position, arrogant and self-satisfied and so less willing to help others and more willing to uphold systemic oppressive measures. 

It is the position that says tired people should get more discipline in their lives and learn to manage better

It is the position that says some people’s lives aren’t working out because they haven’t worked hard enough

It is the position that says why should I have too…just because they didn’t…

It is the position that says they deserve the trouble they are in

It is the position that says they should have thought about that when they bought the house way out in the suburbs

It is the position that says they should have known that when they took the first toke

It is the position that says she should just leave that @$$ hole who hits her

It is the position that says covid was fine for me and my family, church business, what’s wrong with “those” people and churches and businesses?

It is the position that says such and such could never happen to me because I am so put together. 

It is a position many who live in the developed world have towards one another and often towards other parts of the world. 

It is the position of a black and white world where everything is clearcut and obvious and when I cannot make sense of another person’s choice they must be foolish or wrong. It is a position that refuses to recognize that sometimes there is no good option, no healthy path forward, or no ability to make that choice. 

The assumption underlying all this is that we have somehow earned our positions by “doing better” “working harder” or “making better choices”. That it is right that we should have a bit of money and food and stability, and the implication is that it is right for others not to. We struggle to recognize the privilege of the choices we have, and the abilities we have to make them. 

Lent is a time for reflection, to me that means (among other things) slow reading. So I slowly read psalm 73 and find myself in it. 

I can come up with all those examples and many more, and many far meaner ones, because I have thought them at some point in my life, they lack compassion and mercy and I am not proud of them, but I must recognize that truth if I am to work on it. 

I come from wealth, I am not a self-made man, so to speak. I am not independently wealthy (far enough from it to not exactly know what that even means:) I have to work. Still, beside many folks around the planet I sure am rich. I own a home (carry a mortgage), have graduate degrees (yes multiple), I never worry about where my next meal comes from, I have family and friends, I am healthy, I have a job that I can be proud of and that interests me, and I belong somewhere. I work hard at these elements in life I see as worthy of investment. I am wealthy. 

But to say that I made this be the case, that others who I might be inclined to look down upon or question could have done the same, is a lie the Devil (that king of deceit) would have me believe. It disconnects me from others, lowers my empathy, and my willingness to help. And yet I want to help!

I have inherited this in many ways, from modelling of how to parent and husband from my father and grandfathers, to actual cash as I come from a family that has been in Canada for many generations and thus has accumulated some means. I grew up assuming one went to university and have been shocked to learn how few people graduate, sheltered is the only word that comes to mind.

I am sharing all this because an important lenten liturgy is to repent, to stare into the face in the mirror and recognize where I am not living up to God (or my) standards. Too often I sit in the seat of scoffers, too often I buy into a dualistic mode of thinking that I know to be false intellectually but emotionally and spiritually I want to get to the place of compassion and mercy as an instinct rather than an intellectual conviction; just as one must know Jesus relationally not just dogmatically.

So I found a prayer about all this, a prayer that I would be molded more into the character of God. Maybe this lent you need this too, 

Gracious Father, my heart has grown a little cold for some reason, and I am have lost touch with Your love and compassion for others. I ask You to please touch my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh that beats in unison with Your compassionate heart for those around me. Please open my spiritual eyes and lead me in Your love to others. Amen.

The badges of Lent

I am a sucker for a gamified life. I take more pleasure in earning a Garmin Badge for some monthly achievement than I should, I have spreadsheets I use to track financial progress because that gamifies the priorities I otherwise struggle to focus on. I am not alone in this, many of us have jumped on board the gamified life. From Wordle scores and streaks, to 10 000 steps a day trackers, from to do list apps to dry February, we have made many games to help us. Sometimes these are great, like how some of us try to gamify our finances to encourage us to be wiser with our funds today in order to be more generous with them tomorrow and sometimes they are silly (see below). 

I have been thinking a lot about this element in life lately because my household has added two more such gamified aspects of life and they are pretty opposite. First, we have added Zwift to our lives. It is an interactive video game based on cycling (you must ride and actual indoor bike for it to work). You get “drops” of sweat as points that accumulate faster the harder you are working (say riding up a hill or sprinting) and these “drops” let you “buy” new digital bikes/wheels/cycling/accessories and bike-type-products that only cyclists will care about. You can imagine how motivated we are to earn “drops” to “buy” bikes and wheels we can only drool over in real life. 

But wait! There’s more! You must cover certain distances in order to gain experience points and “level up.” The stuff in the store is only available to you if you are at certain levels! Oh the combined magic and fun makes thousands of us sweat happily in our basements, garages, living rooms, anywhere at all that we can fit the set up really, and sweat we do, you wouldn’t believe how sweaty cycling is without the cooling and drying effect of wind! I am grateful to the folks who made Zwift because my lads and I are fitter for it and we will enjoy the gains come spring when our bikes hit the road for real, the more levels and “drops” the better. 

The other device is a PS4. This is a video game system that involves sitting on the couch for interminable hours. Every game, as far as I can tell, has badges, experience points, international rankings and the like, all meant to motivate to us sit longer. I know some people take these very seriously, many aspire to be “pro” play-stationers (whatever they are called???). But for me, when I saw the points after finishing my first game of Madden with the kids, I shuddered. Imagine if this existed when I was young! How embarrassing it would be to have those endless hours accounted for in stark incontrovertible digital numbers. Ugh, the mortification of my misspent hours. Ironically, these points on the PS4 make me want to use it less, because the higher they get the more time of my one precious life has been wasted time, sorry Playstation. Of course, we bought it to relax, to play to have fun, especially when it hist -42 celsius (as it did the other day) and there are only so many hours one can ride a bike inside Zwift or no Zwift. That does not mean I want a record of the time spent. It does not mean that I will be proud to hit high levels.

The reason I am sharing all this is that it has me thinking about what we are building towards with our lives. How we spend our hours and days is, obviously, how we will spend our lives (someone famous said that). Is it to be spent playing video games or even counting steps? 

Maybe this is where the desire for daily reading schedules with little boxes we can check off came from, they gamify bible reading, or prayer apps with their streaks or meditation apps that count our sessions and total time spent “sitting.”Certainly the Youversion Bible App has this built in and down to a science. They are meant to help us gamify practices that we have decided upon, that we believe will help us transform from who we are to who we want to be, that will help us grow closer to God and make it easier to love others. 

We need so many external motivators to do this simple work of the Holy Spirit because we are all broken people. God helps us! The Spirit must combat Zwift, the PS4, our finances, and whatever games we play as he tries to get us focused on things that matter. The good news is that the Holy Spirit can and will do what needs doing to get us on the right track. 

As Lent 2023 begins, what might you gamify in order to help you move in a more sanctified direction?

Now, I am off to ride my bike to nowhere:) 

What we fight about when we fight about money—Not just another Valentine

Ah, Valentine’s day. A swell day for a lad like me whose had the same valentine since I was 17. Still, often there are arguments on this day. Arguments that are on-going in some cases. One thing I have learned as a pastor is how often our arguments are not about what we think they are about. I believe it is easier to see this as the third party, the person with a bit of distance from the presenting problems. 

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Jesus was often approached by people asking questions or presenting problems to him. Very often his response appears to ignore the presenting issue altogether as he aptly gets right to the root of the issue and focuses his mind on it. Sometimes this leaves the reader baffled, and often initially really confuses whoever he is speaking with. Still, it is a gift to be able to do so. 

As someone who does some pre-marital preparation with people and who discusses marital well-being with folks from time to time as struggles arise in marriages I have noticed (along with many others) that very often the presenting issue is not really the problem. Next time (anytime) you find yourself getting hot under the collar, maybe take a step back and try to sort out what is really going on. What need of yours is not being met and which need of your partner’s is not being met and how can you all move forward lovingly. 

Often we think something is rational but in reality emotions are extremely important and we ignore them at our peril. To use a somewhat obvious field within marriage let’s look at finances. With all those numbers and equations involved you would think decisions around money would be  purely rational; you would be mistaken. I want to look at two familiar arguments and reflect on the rational-emotional connection involved. There is paying the mortgage off early and there is how the holidays (and the money involved in them) are to be spent. 

Financial planners are relatively split on what is best when it comes to paying the mortgage off early. Folks like Dave Ramsey are adamant that paying down the mortgage and only investing about 15% of the household income for retirement is the right decision (in Canada we might say 18% to take full advantage of the RRSP). Only once that house is paid off  would Ramsey have you invest more. Ramsey has studied thousands of millionaires and countless people can attest to the wisdom of his system, many have followed this route to a paid off house and healthy bank balance. Other financial planners/advisors argue the math is clear, invest invest invest because the mortgage rate of interest is likely (over 25 years) to be on average far lower than the rate of return on investments. Many folks following this advice end up with a paid off house and a healthy bank balance.  What these have in common is the agreement that aggressively saving and/or paying off debt are important in the long term, a reality that requires living bellow one’s means and regular “sacrifice” in the here and now for the sake of the future. Choosing your route is more than a rational question, emotions are involved.

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Some couples will fight about money and fight often because they cannot agree to (or how much to) save and/or invest because it means giving up something in the moment. Others will argue about the best strategy for long-term financial planning. Here is where we start to see the emotions, the hidden elements. To make a caricature for the sake of argument: James grew up poor, his family moved a lot, looking back on it he realizes his family was evicted more than once. James wants to pay that mortgage off pronto. Steve grew up in a nice house, his parents had stock options that worked well for them…Steve wants to invest. They both believe their position is rational and clear. To come to terms they are going to need to recognize the history and the emotions involved and only then will they be able to establish how to handle the money. Thus many advisors will ultimately tell you pay it off early or not, as long as you live below your means you are doing something smart. (If you are fighting me in your head because you firmly believe one or the other route is the only rational option I invite you to take the time to ask yourself what about your life story or emotional wellbeing might be leading you to that.)

Amanda and Jane have 6000$ to spend on holidays. They have worked hard and saved diligently to get the money together. Amanda is an introvert, Jane an extrovert. Amanda grew up with quiet parents who had a small cottage they went to often, a place without the internet and no tv, a place of board games and books and tea by the fire. Jane grew up with a big family, lots of family parties, trips with multiple households involved,  going to waterparks, concerts, and visiting big cities. Amanda wants a quiet holiday, maybe a retreat, certainly not too many people involved that is how she understand and defines “holiday”. Jane wants to gather a bunch of family and friends and rent a big place for everyone to eat drink and be merry together that is how she defines “holiday”…In my experience both will think their choice is obvious. They will often think they are arguing about the 6000$ they have scrimped and saved over the year, but in truth the argument lies elsewhere, deeper. 

this is what our holidays look like

On this Valentine’s day I have no idea what arguments you might be involved in with loved ones. What I know is that often what looks on the surface to be obvious and rational is anything but. Jesus knew a lot about humanity and so he often sought out the root of the issues before him. May God grant you the patience, wisdom, self-awareness, and love to pause and seek to do the same, especially with your most beloved. 

Happy Valentine’s day everyone, 

What Does Your Arguing Prove?

Job, you might remember him, he had a wife and a business and lots of kids until God placed a bet with the Devil and havoc descended upon his life. He had some friends come to help him out, they sit quietly with him for a week as he grieves, then they start to reason with him, I guess his socially acceptable time to mourn had passed. The friends begin a process of trying to tell Job that the world is the way it should be and he shouldn’t be so upset, or something like that. Basically they are saying that he is wrong to feel slighted and should figure out where he has gone wrong, or maybe look at others who have it worse etc. etc.

Job responds “how forceful are right words! But what does your arguing prove?”

What a great line for us living a time seemingly endless arguments. Maybe they are global arguments (think Donald Trump’s role in the world, the war in Ukraine, the role of social media, housing and opioid crises in Canada…) or may be they are more personal arguments, should you take the job, leave the partner, should a parent affirm the gender pronouns of their children, should one live at home or go away for university (as though money isn’t a key factor in the decision!), should someone propose to another, or is one wise to have accepted a proposal this year, is it right to retire early or selfish. Morality arguments about food choices, health choices, vehicle selections…we sure can find ways to argue. 

But what does the arguing prove?

At its worst the argument proves you are smarter and the other person “dumber”  which is to say it hasn’t ‘proved’ anything worthy of attention or discord. 

If the argument “proves” something you have no power over, then the question ‘so what’ needs to be asked. 

At least some of the time I know that we have crafted an elaborate story to explain matters that we truly do not understand at root but since we fear the anxiety of said ignorance we make stuff up to make ourselves feel better. Imagine fighting (fighting!) over these cleverly wrought stories.

More often the argument is personal because (if we are willing to admit it) the argument is an elaborate defence of how we have lived our lives (did we go away for university or stay home and do we feel like we must justify what we did?)? In such cases we are not evaluating the real scenario another person is in, but rehashing our own lives and seeking approval for actions taken long ago.  What a pity we would let that get between family and friends after all the isolation we have been through. 

Let’s move cautiously: What arguments really need to happen and what is at stake in them?

Might I suggest we all pause before we visit Job (or worse the successful person we are jealous of and thus have to poke holes in!) and write out what arguments we believe there are between us and the people we are going to be spending time with. Not to write the ‘winning’ argument but to ask the more complex question of why this is contested ground and why we feel like we need to defend it. Sometimes we really do need to, but imagine those are far more rare circumstances than we generally suspect. 

Mostly I think we would do well to listen, to help others feel heard, to affirm whatever we can affirm and occasionally push back a little. I know for my part I tend to double-down on certain practices when they get praised and quietly move on from some that I was testing out that didn’t garner any attention or prove useful in my life. Maybe a positive impact on others would come if we were more diligent and discerning in picking our battles and giving right attention to matters and actions worthy of our consideration.

The bible is full of characters picking the wrong battles and following poor reasoning, let’s learn from them instead of repeated the cycles that lead to disharmony and isolation, there has already been enough of both. 

The history of medicine as analogy for theology?

Leo Tolstoy described doctors engaging in what were ordinary practices in his day and sometimes I find it hard to tell if he is making fun of them, questioning their sincerity (were they knowingly selling snake-oil?), merely describing accepted practices from the day, all of the above? I am neither a Tolstoy scholar nor a historian of medicine but this got me thinking about how the human body has not fundamentally changed in a long while and yet medicine has changed dramatically over the centuries. Of course some “practitioners” throughout the ages (and still today) were con artists knowingly hoodwinking their victims, but many were serious & compassionate people trying to help others, people who recognized suffering and wanted to alleviate it. Slowly, ever so slowly, this has evolved into more and more effective forms of medicine. Discovery by discovery, painful experiment after painful experiment, medicine moves forward in its pursuit of alleviating suffering.

I was among the first in line for my covid vaccine and I lean liberal when it comes to theological disputes, I have no idea how closely aligned those two truths are but the media seems to suggest they are linked. Nevertheless, when I speak of faith issues with my more orthodox christian friends (most of whom are vaccinated, let’s not get carried away in to unhelpful stereotyping here) they often remind me that the bible hasn’t changed, God hasn’t changed, and so, they argue, why should the teachings of the people of God change. This, sadly, tends to be a discussion stopper. 

I wonder if the history of medicine may be able to enlighten us, or at least open space for more meaningful conversation? I admit I am something of a born centrist and I think the ideal scenario is one in which we can learn to agree to disagree while not shaming each other or disrespecting each other (as we do when we end a biblical argument questioning the other person’s obedience to or belief in scripture). Call me naive but it appears to me that mature, well-meaning, intelligent, capable-of-reading-the-bible-Christians can honestly and with integrity come to different conclusions after reading the same words, all while remaining friends.

Here is what I am getting at: just as the human body didn’t change but medicine has evolved over time, the bible hasn’t changed but what we make of it evolves over time as we learn more about what it means to be human living in the shadow of the cross. As we recognize what doesn’t work (which interpretations are harmful or simply too outrageous for most of us to believe—think practices like shunning or stories like Jonah in the fish or 7 day creationism leading to climate change denial); and as we discover practices that help (interpretations which consistently appear to help people flourish, grow closer to God, make better sense of the grand arc of the bible, and find community) we slowly shift and change what we make of the bible and as people living from a posture of faith in the God revealed in scripture. The body is the same today and yet our responsibility both to it and to those suffering around us is to learn and adapt as we go. Why should something as important as faith, the meaning of life, and our purpose on the planet, be treated with less nuance and respect or given less time to develop?

Even if we agree to try to look at it this way, there will still be conflicts, like traditional versus modern medicine, or the more subtle arguments as to the exact best treatment of a given patient, but perhaps this is a helpful analogy for us to bear in mind as we seek to get along with each other while honestly living with, understanding, and submitting ourselves to God and the bible in our lives today.  

At the very least, perhaps this analogy helps us to look fondly on our own walks of faith the things we used to believe and believe no more, the joy we have in discovering new insights and hearing a word from God. I know very few honest people who can say that the faith they learned in Sunday school (good and important as Sunday school is) has been sufficient for the life of an adult. This too might help us to get along better in our changing churches and world. 

Slow Drips Build Enormous Icicles 

The neighbourhood I call home is an older one and it has many old homes with a wide variety of styles. I am not that into architecture so I have no idea what they are called but I do appreciate that they are not all the same. One thing a lot of them have in common (not being an architect I have no idea why) is that they grow icicles. Some have them all over and others just a few. Some have grown to the point you can’t but marvel that the roofs don’t cave under the weight, others have grown so long that they reach from the eavestroughs all the way to the ground. They are beautiful to look at, partly because they are temporary and partly because they are strange. 

Staring at one particularly large icicle I started to think about how incredible it is that they are formed one little drop of water at a time. Think of it. A single drop, like a tear, and over a period of time large, beautiful, heavy, chunks appear. 

If we were to focus on the weight then I would suggest the metaphor of sexual abuse. Something that may start ever so slowly, ever so subtly, a look here, a “joke” there leading to a “minor” inappropriate touch…drips and drabs until the house caves in under the weight. We should all be paying attention to the drips we are doing and the drips coming our way and take very special care to do no harm and to call for dignity (ours and everyone else’s). 

If we were to focus on the beauty then I would suggest the metaphor of faith. Built up real slow (much slower than the icicles). A scripture passage that sticks in the mind, a meaningful prayer moment, a godly connection with another person, a hymn that brings you to tears…drips and drabs until one day something magnificent and concrete it present in your soul. Something worthy of noticing, something people will stop and take photos of. Something that can carry the weight of our existential worries. 

For now I am a bit tired and so I focus on the beauty of it. The glory of the colours refracting in the ice, the wild unpredictable twists and spikes, and the desire to give thanks to God. 

Focus where you will these days, but please focus, and notice the drips, and their ability to add up to something far larger than they let on at first. In faith—as in so many other elements of life—we overestimate what we can do in a day or month or year and underestimate what we can do in 5-10 years. Let’s embrace the slow growth of the soul and submit to processes that lead us to where we want to be. 

Lego and the open faith

One of the joys of being a parent these days is the popularity of Lego, that imaginative toy full of possibilities. One of the sadnesses of parenting these days are the Lego kits that are hyper-specific and full of single-use pieces. I much prefer the old school lego: blocks to be moved around in an endless array of settings to make exciting scenes (highways, castles, dinosaurs, whatever). In my day (dang I can sound old sometimes!) I could make a car with Lego without the special pieces of today, just using those old block shaped pieces and the car could be van one minute and a Lambo the next. Lego is losing its creative power and capacity to inflame imagination and spark new little engineering minds as it more and more carefully designs its sets (I get that it must do this because we all already have the blocks but it still weakens the brand and my joy in it) and I don’t like it. 

I often find the same can be true of the Christian faith: it was born with beautiful creative power and possibility and it can lose these traits over time. It can be fossilized, the risk is that over time the faith can be rendered flat, over-specific, one-size-fits all, with heavy/burdensome rules. Just as Lego is meant to be imaginative, Christianity is meant to be a living faith, always has been, and thus we must push back against fossilization. If the plethora of denominations teaches us nothing it else, it teaches us that Christianity is not one size fits all. From the beginning people have been encountering God and trying to fit the pieces together for their own lives and families and communities. Paul, Peter, the early church, they were experimenting, experiencing, walking a journey with surprises and wonders. They were finding blocks and organizing them creatively.

Too often today we think we know the whole path, how all the blocks fit together and where every block belongs. We know all the rules and truths, learn them and that’s it, break them, question them, deviate from them? There is no room for that, the pieces fit exactly where they fit, end of story (some story I say as I kick the Lego and leave the room). Maybe there is someone on our shoulder paralyzing our creative impulses, someone we do not want to fail or disappoint. I suspect more often we are not open to the Spirit of God working in us and through us because we are worried about what might happen or perhaps we feel foolish for leaning into the mysterious side of life as people living in a secular world. 

One of the great joys in my faith life has been the times when I experience the presence of God, or a new idea, or maybe an old idea with a new emphasis, like a Lego block that was lost under the bed. God shows it to me and then I can pick it up, look at it carefully, imagine where it might fit and then try it. I can move it around to different places, and try employing it in different ways. I am not stuck with man-made instructions of how it all has to fit together. None of this is possible if I am stuck with what I have received from the “authorities” of the faith. And yet at the end of the day I am responsible for my faith—and you for yours—and so we must experiment, we must be open to new ideas and phrases and vocabularies, we must be true and honest and admit when something is unbelievable to us or simply has no meaningful application. We do well to embrace the older freer, mysterious and awe filled religion, powered by the very Spirit of God.

When was the last time you got excited by an idea or experience in faith? When is the last time you tried to move a block from one place to another? I encourage you to try it, the good thing with Lego blocks is you can always rebuild what was there, and the good thing about God is that he is merciful and forgiving so if you discover you have made a mistake, he will catch you.