Monthly Archives: January 2011

“Dee-dee” means I love you: lessons from a chickadee

Karen and the chickadees

A very good friend of mine posted some new pictures on Face Book today from a day of cross-country skiing.  There were an assortment of poses and some candid shots. Three of the pictures particularly got my attention as in these shots there were black-capped chickadees perched on the people’s hands and even on their hats.  I love chickadees, they are my favourite birds and I was fascinated to see them behaving so tamely.

 I must admit, I was also a little jealous.Chickadees are awesome little birds. Around the 12 to 15 cm in size, it would seem that this little bird would be very delicate like a little pet budgee or canary. This impression would be totally incorrect. On a day in New Brunswick at -30 degrees Celsius, when I don’t even want to go out with heavy coat, scarf, hat and mittens, these birds can be seen flitting among the branches or having a snack at a feeder.

According to Hinterland Who’s Who at chickadees are found throughout Canada, from the island of Newfoundland to British Columbia (except for the coastal islands) and extends northwards into the southern Yukon and Northwest Territories and except for rare occasions they do not flee o the south for the winter.  They puff up their feathers to stay warm, conserve energy by lowering their body temperatures for a portion of the day, and they adapt quickly to new circumstances such as the availability of backyard feeders.

Communication is another of the things that distinguish the chickadee.  One of the reasons I am so fond of them, other than them being cute and our provincial bird, is that I learned a little about their vocal repertoire a long time ago at an interpretation evening at Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia.  The two main things that I have learned of their calls are their characteristic “chick-a-dee-dee” which is one of the ways that couples locate each other, like saying, “I’m over here!”  The other is when they sing, “Dee-dee, dee-dee” which has been said to be , “love you, love you!”

I would argue that the chickadee has possibly been better naturally equipped than we have been.  Despite their petite stature they are well suited to change which most of us find it very difficult to handle at the best of times.  They are adapted to survive and thrive in the harsh winter weather without having to add any extra layers or rely on heaters etc. They care enough about each other to keep track of their mates, and perhaps most importantly,  they know how to say  I love you.  If only we could be more like the black-capped chickadee.

No More Arrogant Leaders?

In the last couple of weeks we have been witness to some extraordinary happenings around the world.  South Sudan has voted for independence, and regular people in Tunisia and Egypt have taken to the streets in protest of authoritarian rule in their countries. Despite their best efforts the government have been unable to totally shut down communication through social media in Egypt.  Perhaps most extraordinarily, today I watched uncut video footage on YouTube of members of the Egyptian army who had been sent out to calm the crowds actually placing their tanks between the protesters and the police force.

In Zephaniah 3, God promises that at some point in the future, “I’ll have gotten rid of your arrogant leaders. No more pious strutting on my holy hill!”  I think we can all agree that the day can hardly come too soon!  One might however wonder with what we will be left when they, and perhaps some of us among them, are gone?  Does this mean that we will be without leaders, or that honest, humble and competent leaders will appear to take their places?

We don’t know what the future really holds for our world.  But further along in Zephaniah 3 we read that what will be left is a core of people among the rest of us who, “will not do wrong.  They won’t lie, won’t use words to flatter or seduce.  Content with who they are and where they are, unanxious, they’ll live at peace.”

If we saw him walk on water would our hearts be opened?

Deep in our hearts what do we believe in these days?  Do we believe the promises of our politicians?  Do we deeply believe the claims of all the products advertised to us every day?  Do we believe that we will find our soul-mates and be with them forever?  Do we even really believe in God and in Jesus Christ?

Gospel Mark 6:47-56

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he (Jesus) was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

I have seen Twitter and Face Book comments lately like this, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.”  The second part of that has many variations, like barn/horse, or hospital/doctor.  They seem, on one level, to be innocent and funny observations, but there must be more to the reason for saying these things.  It seems clear that people are seeing and meeting people who identify themselves as Christians, or church-goers, whose actions or attitudes make them wonder if they really believe.  It isn’t that the statements are untrue.  Obviously people can attend church regularly and not really buy in, or perhaps are unable to surrender their lives to the extent of making real change in their lives outside the church.

Jesus was traveling around with his disciples.  These were people who had left their everyday lives with little or no warning to follow a man they barely knew.  In a sense they were going to church every day.  They were inspired by him, they were a little in awe of him.  They were out to sea in a boat alone  just after collecting 12 baskets of leftover bits of bread from the 2 loaves they had served to 5,000 men.  They didn’t really understand what had just happened and I’m sure they must have been talking it over, at least until the wind came up and they had to concentrate all their efforts on staying afloat and headed in the correct direction.

This group of men then looked up and saw Jesus walking across the lake on the waves.  They were shocked and frightened and cried out in fear.  Jesus then went over and got in their boat and the wind calmed.  From our comfy couches it is easy to be dismissive of these men who, after witnessing these two impossible feats, weren’t overwhelmed with faith!  Why do we not read that they thanked him, worshiped him?  Instead we are led to believe that he was met with something more like stony silence or  mutterings of disbelief.  What was wrong with these people?

I refer you now to the question at the beginning of the post.  I think we are afraid to commit our heart to total belief in almost anything in fear of turning out to be wrong.  When I married for the first time I firmly believed that it was for the rest of my life, wrong.  I try hard to believe that someday there will be no bullying, but then I am faced with the hard reality of my experiences.  Fear seems to trump belief.

If you read the Bible you will come across some form of the command, “Fear not!” 366 times (according to  Most people are, on some level, afraid of the dark, of the unknown etc.  God knows this about us and realizes that before we can hear the Good News we need to set aside our fears to listen.  If even his closest followers who actually witnessed all these things first-hand had trouble with fear, it is not surprising that we have difficulties.  Like the man who prayed, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief!” we need to admit that we are afraid to believe but that we want to be open to that belief that will open our hearts to Christ Jesus!

Where is our deserted place in this plugged-in world?

Gospel Mark 6:30-46

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Where can we find a deserted place?  I can go into my home but I am with my family, can be interrupted by the phone, the cell phone, Face Book messages, emails, the television, my kids needing to be driven places…

When the kids were a lot younger we used to go to our family camp for a week or two in the summer.  This was not a fancy cottage.  The floor was wood boards, there was a small stove, fridge, and microwave and a wood stove.  We had power and running water, but no phone connection.  For those two weeks it was as if we had disappeared from the world (we still took drives to the village for supplies) and it was awesome! We made simple meals that did not come from the freezer because it was too small.  After each meal we had to do the dishes.  The kids grew and soon they were helping with the dishes.  After supper each night we set up a game on the one table and played, and laughed, and argued some.  There was only really one room that was separate which was where we slept so after we put the kids to bed we had to be quiet.  My husband and I would read or play a quiet game of cribbage.

As the years went along the camp saw some changes and there was a phone line, and internet services and the experience changed.  The final change, prior to my parents selling the camp, was the invasion of a little television and VCR.  We still cooked and did dishes and even played the evening games, but we played for shorter times, and the camp was rarely truly quiet!  Even though these changes took place I still grieved when the camp was sold, and still do sometimes.

I want you to note that as well as looking for a deserted place, Jesus did not say find a deserted place and then I will lead you in devotions, team building exercises, or professional development!  He said simply to rest.  How often do we do this?  I don’t know about you, but if I am sitting and not doing something I get very uncomfortable.  I even find things to do while I watch TV!  In a society which places such high value on productivity it almost seems sinful to just rest!  A few years ago I spent a week in Cancun with my sister at the start of the summer.  Between us we took several pounds worth of books, some just light reads and some deep and philosophical.  It was our intention to sit under a palm tree, in a hammock, and read for the whole week.  We ended up doing some shopping and a little touring but most of the time we were at the resort we sat in companionable silence reading either on our deck, by the pool, on the small beach, it was heavenly!  We did not have to concern ourselves with schedules, neither of us took our computers and our cell phones didn’t work there.

I obviously can’t take off to Cancun at the drop of the hat, so I need to find a deserted place here.  I think that this has become an act of will.  In order to find deserted places we have to commit to unplugging ourselves.  My house can be deserted if I make the decision to make no plans, turn off my phone, cell phone, laptop, and TV.  If I am not able to convince my family to join me it may be a little harder to resist, but I can make it clear to them that I am not available for phone calls or other disruptions.

We need to take some time from our coming and going, take the time to eat and rest.  We will be refreshed after and better able to meet those demands we were reluctant to set aside.

Society goes mean. Is there still kindness out there?

Why are we so mean? 

As a teacher in the school system I hear a lot about bullying.  I work with the Gay Straight Alliance group and we do lots of  different activities to try to make our school climate better.  Theoretically we don’t allow bullying.  Having said that, it isn’t just the kids who bully, but some students bully the teachers, and there is also bullying on staff.  It is easy to lose heart!

I don’t know why I find it surprising that people seem to so enjoy making fun of others.  Look at the popular television programs.  We watch shows where people who are struggling  are not helped to succeed but ridiculed and ultimately eliminated.  Shows that are meant to be about helping people learn how to dress or decorate better start with mocking secret video footage making them look awful. People avidly watch shows about overweight people trying to lose weight, or people fighting addictions.  In theory they are for inspiration or education, but they encourage ridicule.  Even as I am typing this a show called My Deadly Appetite just started.  People in real life will actually take pictures of people so that they can laugh at them and show others to share in the joke.  Are we so insecure with ourselves that we need to put others down.

Somehow we need to turn this around.  We are much more aware of bullying now but we have we really changed?  How do we go about making people kinder?  I don’t really have any answers.  I start by being kind and hanging out with other kind people.  I do not allow unkind statements in my classroom, or at least I let it be known that it isn’t ok and respond to shut it down if it gets started. 

A good friend of mine, W. Owen Thornton was so concerned with this issue that he began The Human Kindness Project and I highly recommend his website  His latest post is called Be Contagious: Be …Glitter

 the photo above comes from

What To Worry About? How To Choose?

Up until around 11:00 this morning,  if you had asked me how I was doing I would have said things were pretty good.  But with a combination of a couple issues, I quickly discovered just how stressed I already was.  Without a preexisting stress load I think I would have been fine, but in this case I felt totally deflated, almost sick.  Today’s “crises” were just the proverbial straws that broke the camels back.  And from that moment I have definitely felt like a broken camel!

About what things do people worry?

bills/money/job security, health, popularity, competence, our children, our relationships, issues of injustice in our communities and the world, climate change, time/schedules, keeping up, technology or lack there-of, commitments, failures, love, blog stats, phobias…

The list could go on but I’m sure we are all too aware!  The question is, regardless of the number or nature of our worries what do we do about them?  “Don’t worry, be happy!” was not the phenomenal hit that it was by accident.  It speaks to one of our common issues.  Does that mean that we should just let go of everything and do nothing to manage our stressors?  I hardly think so.

There is the Serenity Prayer; God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. This idea is sound.  If I am not able to change the weather, there is no use in my worrying that it is snowing outside even if it might result in having to make changes to my plans.  It doesn’t let you dodge the responsibility for things like changing your spending habits if you are having money trouble.  It acknowledges our struggle to discern which things we should be responsible for and which are beyond our control, but most importantly it starts with asking for help!  This is not something I will be able to handle on my own, but I have help with me all the time.

Another popular approach to worry is summed up in the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”  In fact Christine and Richard Carlson have written several top-selling books with that title.  This idea could help us with choosing.  Many things in our lives may be irritating, but most things won’t matter even tomorrow, let alone years from now.  My only quibble with this idea is that if you have enough small stuff built up with which you have not bothered it may come from nowhere and knock you to your knees.  It is fine to say don’t sweat it, but that doesn’t actually mean to bottle up your response convincing yourself, as you do, that it doesn’t matter.

Somewhere in the middle there lies the answer.  I know that my situation will work out just as it always does.  I know that I tend to assume how other people will react based on my own tendencies to perfectionism and control.  So here is my plan.  I went out to lunch with a good friend and vented a bit.  Now when I go home tonight I will resist the temptation to curl up in a ball under a blanket and block out the world.  I will spend some time with my daughters, some time with my dog, get supper ready and then spend the evening with my husband.  After that when I do curl up, it won’t be on my own to block out the world, it will be with God who will listen to my prayer for help.

Permits Please!

This morning’s epistle reading was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 1:10-17 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.mmm

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Notice the section I made bold.  Here we have the issue of who is qualified to spread the word of the Gospel.  Do we need special training before answering questions people have about why we believe in God?  Do we need human approval and or that of specific courts of the church? 

One Sunday some years ago we had a supply in the pulpit for the service.  This individual had preached for us several times and I always enjoyed his sermons.  I knew that he was not an ordained minister and for whatever reason that got me thinking.  The next week our supply was an ordained minister whom I know well and after the service I asked him what one needed to do in order to be able to preach services.  His answer was short and simple, “Tell someone you are willing.”  I did this the next week when our minister returned from vacation and I have been doing pulpit supply ever since and have taken lay ministry courses since then.   

When Paul felt the call he did not head to the head office to get approved, he went traveling and telling people about Christ.  We won’t all be like Paul,  but we can all do our bit.  We can teach Sunday School, we can talk privately with friends and others, we can help to keep the church running so that its work can continue, we may even be able to preach the word.

Day of Rest?

It is Sunday, the Lord’s day.  This is the one day of the week that we are meant to set aside our usual work and spend Sabbath time with God.  In the old days you weren’t allowed to go out after church, were only allowed to read if it was the Bible, for kids it was painfully boring (so I’ve heard anyway).

Today I slept in a little.  I got up and had breakfast and gathered the things I needed to take to church.  I was at the church an hour before the service so I could print up some bulletin inserts (a whole other rant against web sites for another day) and run the choir through today’s anthem which is quite new to us.  We had a wonderful worship service.  After the service we had a time of fellowship and celebrated two members’ birthdays.  After that it was off to lead the youth group and make plans for attending a big event in Newfoundland in May.  Then home for two hours before taking supper out to my friend who is in a nursing home.  When I am finally home for real at around eight o’clock I don’t expect I will feel much like I have had a day of rest.

Without even bringing up all the people who have to work on Sunday due to the nature of their jobs either in service or retail fields, I am sure this doesn’t sound much different from many of your Sundays.  I’m even lucky enough to have kids who aren’t into sports that drag us out to ice rinks or gymnasiums for the whole day.  We have seemed to lose the idea of Sabbath or rest on Sunday and I, for one, would like it back!

How does one go about reclaiming Sunday?  After all, the weekend is only two days and all the things that can’t get done on weekdays has to be crammed in there.  In theory dinner out with a friend might count as “rest” but somehow when lined up with everything else it just becomes one more scheduled event.  Youth group, at least at our church, is hard to get together on any other day, and then if it were moved to Saturday it would push-off all those Saturday things onto Sunday anyway!

How do you carve out Sabbath on Sunday?  Is it the same if you declare some other day of the week Sabbath?  In her book I Quit, Geri Scazzero talks about the change she and her husband made to taking one day in every week, one month every summer and a three to four month sabatical every 7 years.  What do you think?

Six In Each Row, Did God Really Care?

I often have trouble when I am reading in the Old Testament.  Looking at all the rules and ceremony as well as reading of God calling for the death of whole populations.  This is not the God I know, the New Testament God who only requires faith of us for our salvation.

Last night I was reading Leviticus 24 in which the Lord is speaking to Moses, “Command the people of Israel…” It continues with directions for the type of oil to burn in the lamp outside the curtain of the covenant every night.  This command he says is a statute forever.  So far I was reading along ok and thinking about the menorah and how I had never made that connection on the candles being lit at night just as God showed himself in the desert as a pillar of fire at night.

The next section speaks about the bread for the tabernacle and it is at this point that I got stuck and actually had to force myself to read the rest of the chapter.  As part of the instructions of what the bread offering should be made from etc. it says, “You shall place them in two rows, six in a row, on the table of pure gold.” (v6)  It isn’t really a big deal, just directions for the offering but really, was it really God who said the six in each row part or was that a divine inspiration on the part of Moses to make the offering seem more ritualistic? 

When I imagine a person preparing this offering I am put in mind of someone preparing the communion table at church.  At a former church there was so much ritual to the preparation of the table, that one had to use the same pins to hold the table-cloth in place that had been used, apparently, since the beginning of time.  Following that of course there were exact locations for every item, where they had always been, and I’m sure that if I had been an elder preparing communion and decided to use a different napkin to cover the chalice or rearrange things for greater convenience there would have been a major uproar!

In the day of Moses all religions were very ritualistic and people would not have been ready for a god who did not require sacrifice etc.  I also believe that the Bible was given to us by the inspiration of God.  It was written by humans but is the word of God.  Do you see where the problem arises?  Would Jesus have refused to eat at the home of Mary and Martha if Martha had laid the table out incorrectly?  When we look at this passage in Leviticus, and the many more places where detailed directions are given, we can not help but to view this through the lens of the New Testament.  For me the bottom line on this one is I do not believe that God actually gave direct directions about how the loaves were to be placed on the table but even if, in Moses’ day he did I am glad that there are no such nit-picky details in the New Testament!

Pray for Our Enemies?

Last night I was thinking about those people for whom I pray.  I always remember to pray for my family and my friends, especially those who are struggling with ill health or personal issues. I pray for help with things I’m having trouble with.  I also join in with people around the world to pray for the victims of disaster and war.  In short, I pray for those whom I love.

Jesus said to love our neighbours as ourselves.  This raises the much discussed question of just what makes a person our neighbour.  In my opinion everyone is a neighbour.  I have many neighbours whom I have not met, or may never meet, neighbours whom I like and neighbours whom I do not like for one reason or another.  Not only that, but I’m sure that many of them don’t like me either.  They may not like what I stand for, how I look, how I behave, or the other people I hang with whom I hang around.

So, if I pray for those whom I love and am supposed to love my neighbour that means I should be praying even for my enemies.  While I am praying for Canada’s troops who are at war and their families, I should also be praying for the enemy soldiers and their families.  As I pray for the innocent victims I need to also pray for those who did them harm.  This is not an easy concept.

As in the Lord’s Prayer we pray for the forgiveness of our sins (debts or trespasses) as we forgive those who sin against us, when someone has done something to hurt me I can at least pray for God’s help to forgive them.  Even if they don’t forgive me I can still pray for their wellbeing.