Monthly Archives: September 2011

Walking the Labyrinth With Mosquitos


Before I get to the actual story today I think some back-story is necessary. There are two things you need to know about me to truly appreciate this. First, I hate flies! Second, I am a fly magnet! When I was in my early teens I was camping with my parents at Kedji National park in nova Scotia. Almost every day we went for hikes. One early evening we were out for a hike and I saw my first deer fly ever. In fact, I saw many, many deer flies! I have to say I was totally freaking out about the flies; swatting and jumping and begging to go back to the car. My father, in his wisdom, told me to stop complaining and that I was making a big deal out of just a few flies. I did survive the evening and we finally turned around and went back to the car and home to tent-sweet-tent. Years later Dad told me that it was a good thing I couldn’t see my back, as I was totally covered!

After supper tonight I walked the Labyrinth at the Tatamagouche Center. As I began the walk I was greeted by a few late season mosquitos. The idea of the walk is as meditation so I took a moment, while brushing off the flies, to decide if I would go ahead even knowing that where there are a few mosquitos there will soon be many more. I persevered. Hands in the pockets of my hooded sweater and the hood up to protect the back of my neck I set out.

I am happy to say that, other than not spending any time sitting on the bench at the center, I completed the walk at a good leisurely pace with my mind focused on questions of wanting things I don’t need. What I noticed was that the structure of labyrinth freed my mind from thinking about where I was going. The focus was on that next step God had laid out for me without looking longingly at the goal ahead. This is something I have not done enough in my life, and I suspect this is the case for many of you as well. If we can ignore the buzzing and biting flies and keep our focus on God’s path as it lights up ahead of us imagine the barriers we won’t even notice.

Catching a Ride With Strangers


As I write this today I am sitting in the back seat of a car on my way to meetings in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. I am riding with three people whom I had never met until they picked me up in the school parking lot after work. We tell our children not to accept rides with strangers, and yet here I am, not a bit worried!

The thing that makes this different from hitch-hiking, or looking for a ride through Kijiji is that we have a passion in common and connections through the organization and various friends. The shared interest is justice, the organization is Kairos Canada, and as we drive along chatting the number of shared aquaintences continue increases.

When four people are all planning to travel four hours by car to go to the same place, it makes economic sense, environmental sense and social sense to car pool. You can learn so much about people in four hours together in a car. It is awesome, give it a try!

Hymns for Sundays updated today


October 23 is now finished if you are looking ahead!

Angels? What should we call them if we meet them?


Angels fascinate us.  Who can resist those little cherubs in the Christmas pageants, or the glowing tree toppers?

Calvin makes points on nine issues about Angels in the first volume of The Institutes.  I’ll look at three of these in this post.

  1. God is Lord over all!

  2. We should not indulge in speculations concerning the angels, but search out the witness of Scripture

  3. The designation of the angels in Scripture.

  4. The angels as protectors and helpers of believers

  5. Guardian angels?

  6. The hierarchy, number, and form of the angels

  7. The angels are not mere ideas, but actuality

  8. The divine glory does not belong to the angels

  9. The angels must not divert us from directing our gaze to the Lord alone

No matter how interesting angels are, they are neither God, gods, nor humans.    Calvin points out that since the nature of angels is overwhelmingly good, it seems that they should not have to be under anyone’s control, maybe not even God’s.  But if they are not under the authority of God that would make them equal with God.  Like us, they are creatures of God’s creation.  In the Nicene Creed God is called, “the Creator of all things visible and invisible.”  The mention of invisible is important and deliberate.  We do not pray to angels, nor do we pray through them.  God alone is God!

Calvin’s next section reminds us of the importance of keeping ourselves from indulging our imaginations unduly.  If you think this is unlikely, look at what we have done with the Christmas story.  We have added any number of subtle touches to the actual story as told in scripture.  We have added all kinds of details about the Wise Men, or Kings.  We have variously given them camels and horses for transportation.  We have added to the animal count in the stable and made up lots of details about the stable as well.  We have added halos over the heads of Mary and Jesus, and we have cut the time frame considerably when we depict the shepherds and wise men in the same scene on the night of his birth.

Take a look at some of the movies and television shows we have which are based on the idea of guardian angels; the Christmas season classic It’s A Wonderful Life has taught us all that angels need to earn their wings and that when they do a bell rings; the tv show Touched by an Angel continues the idea of the guardian angel taking direct action in our lives; Angels in the Outfield; Michael; The Preacher’s Wife; Teen Angel; City of Angels; Saving Grace; and on top of all that, there are all those based on the fallen angel concept.  If we want to learn about angels we need to stick with scripture and leave our imaginations at the door.

The final point I’m going to look at today is that of the designations of angels.  We have heard of Cherubim, Seraphim, archangels, heavenly hosts, messengers.  Calvin also points out that they are also referred to as virtues, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, and gods.  Many of these later designations make sense, like virtues and powers, but dominions, thrones and gods seem a bit less likely.  I’ll look into dominions, thrones, and gods in an upcoming post.

 

Angels? Get Real!


A Real Snow Angel

The other day I reposted Mary’s Angels: “I Am Not Alone” with the plan of finally getting around to looking at the question of angels as guided by Institutes of the Christian Religion by  John Calvin.

Calvin makes points on nine issues about Angels in the first volume of The Institutes.  I’ll look at three of these in this post.

  1. God is Lord over all!

  2. We should not indulge in speculations concerning the angels, but search out the witness of Scripture

  3. The designation of the angels in Scripture.

  4. The angels as protectors and helpers of believers

  5. Guardian angels?

  6. The hierarchy, number, and form of the angels

  7. The angels are not mere ideas, but actuality

  8. The divine glory does not belong to the angels

  9. The angels must not divert us from directing our gaze to the Lord alone

 In my friend’s story she said, “I encountered my angel.”  While Calvin talks about the fact that angels have been charged by God to watch over our safety, direct our ways, and take care that some harm may not befall us, there doesn’t seem to be any indication in scripture that we each have our own angel assigned to our cases.  The angels protect the people who fear God, the believers.  They do so in many ways which includes lifting us up when we are falling, but they also fight against the devil and our enemies in groups and Legions.

Are the angels glowing lights, and shining figures with wings?  Are they just a breath of inspiration in our minds?  Angels, according to Calvin, are real separate beings.  If they were just inspiration within us, then they would not rejoice over our salvation (Luke 15:10).  They also appear as men in several instances in which they accept hospitality.

So, what’s with glow, the halos, and the wings?  If the angels can appear as men dressed in white and that sort of thing, where do we get this idea about wings and halos?  In section 10 Calvin makes a clear case that God’s glory does not belong to angels.  If this is the case why would they need wings?  God’s glory makes it so that it is unsafe for us to look on him directly.  When we read the Christmas story we hear about the glory of the Lord shining around them and the shepherds being afraid.  God doesn’t need for the angels to glow or have wings.  There is nothing he couldn’t do without the angels.  We are the ones who need them to glow, we need them have wings…It is because of our weakness, our fear that we assign these characteristics to the angels.

What Will Your Song Be? part 2


When you hear of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, do you immediately think of her quick thinking that allowed her mother to be the nursemaid for her brother under the protection of the
Pharaoh’s daughter?  Maybe you think of when she and Aaron challenge Moses’ authority since God had also spoken through
both of them at which time she was punished, being struck with leprosy and Aaron and Moses plead for her healing.  I think she is most readily associated with this simple song of celebration at being rescued from a terrible fate.  Scholars believe, in fact, that the original song on the shore of the sea was the simple two line celebration song of Miriam and that the longer version, attributed to Moses and the men, was actually written much later.  If you study the lines in terms of poetry this makes a lot of sense as there is no use of simile or metaphor in the two lines, no sign of exalted language, just the most basic and important facts.  Miriam is known for her song, for what will you and I be remembered?

Mary, unlike Miriam but much more like most of us, was a total nobody to the greater community of the tribes of Israel.  She
was pregnant but not married, the father was God.  What she had to look forward to was being the central figure of all the local gossip, being shunned, and probably losing her fiancé.  She sang in thanksgiving for news which most young women would have thought was going to totally mess up their lives!  Mary sang when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, whom she visited right away after receiving her news.  There were no
instruments, no dancing, and no big crowd.  But she sang about being the most fortunate woman on earth and of all the good things that God had done for Israel since the days of Abraham.  She praised him for showing strength to bring down the tyrants, and his mercy in pulling up the victims, filling the hungry, and his faithfulness in remembering his promises to Abraham.  Obviously Mary is known for much more than her song, and yet it is the Magnificat, a song sung with almost no audience at all, which has become a part of liturgy.  We don’t need a crowd, we don’t need drums and trumpets to sing our songs.

Our children have begun another school year complete with the new shoes, the indoor and outdoor, the backpacks, binders, duo tangs, pens, pencils, erasers, etc. and a teacher/student ratio of no more than 1:29.  In Dadaab, currently the world’s largest
refugee camp, there are currently 156,000 school-age children.  Of those, 40,000 children now prepare to go back to school as well, but at a ratio of 1:100.  According to the UN, the camps are in desperate need of 1,800 more classrooms and the teachers to go with them. 

Whatever our place in the world, whatever our status in our culture, whether we are “somebodies” or “nobodies” we have a call to sing.  To be clear, while I firmly believe that everyone can sing music, it is not necessarily singing music to which I refer.   Anything you do to create harmony in the world, whatever you do in praise of God, whatever you do at God’s urging can be your song!  The feature of the September, 2011 issue of The Presbyterian Record is all about the Presbyterian women’s gathering which was held in the spring.  The theme was “Looking In, Shouting Out”.  At this event women from every province in Canada as well as from 12 partner countries met for workshops and worship on topics ranging from Caring for Creation, Nurtuting a Christian Family, Muslim Women-Myths and Facts, Yoga as Christian Practice, Bullying in Canada, and Women in Poverty.  The presenters of the workshops were shouting out!  They were
singing their songs!  And what of the over 500 who attended these workshops and worship services?  You don’t attend this kind of conference unless you already have a deep desire to make a change in the world, and these women were there preparing themselves to sing at home in their churches and communities, and perhaps even beyond.

I’ve been watching a British TV show lately called Ballykissangel.  It is about an English Priest who ends up
posted to a church in a little town in Ireland and all his misadventures.  Recently I watched an episode in which there
was a reporter who uncovered a scandal involving a local businessman and political candidate.  When the politician
suggested that the reporter was just, “whistling in the wind.”  the reporter’s response was that he was unable to whistle but he could  certainly sing really well!  He was not going to
keep a lid on the story; he was going to sing it out so that everyone would know.  Whether or not we can whistle, we
can all sing in some way or other to let everyone know about the great things God has done for us through his son Jesus.  In the words of a song by the Carpenters;

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.
 
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
 
Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.
 
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

What Will Your Song Be? part 1


When I read the Lectionary readings for Sept 11, 2011 and the passage from Exodus 14:19-31, 15:1b-11,20-21 with its very familiar story of a miraculous escape from Egypt by some 600,000 slaves, their dependants, belongings, and livestock, the thing that struck me was that anybody would have bothered recording the little bit at the end about Miriam and the other women singing a little short song after the great extensive song of Moses.   Not only is it included, but for some reason it seems to make more of an emotional impact than the longer song.  From all the times I have heard the story, I always remember the part about the women singing and dancing, but I retained no real recollection of the Song of Moses which comes first in the account as we read it today.  Women are often not even mentioned in Biblical accounts unless they are giving birth or being given in marriage.  I was intrigued and no matter how much I looked at the Lectionary readings in Romans and Matthew, I couldn’t get this oddity out of my head.  In internet searches under Miriam there are more mentions of this song than any of her other appearances in the Exodus story.  Miriam, it would seem, is remembered most often for this short song.

The Old Testament contains many songs of various types.  These include songs of; triumph, ascent, Sabbath sacrifice, love poems from Song of Songs, celebration, prophetic oracles, and Psalms.  The New Testament uses the terms hymns, psalms, and odes, which all refer to songs of praise.  Most of these songs are recorded with no mention of their sources.  There are, however, several named songs among which we find; The Song of Moses, The Song of Miriam, The Song of Deborah, The Song of Hannah, Songs of David, Song of Solomon, and from the New Testament the Song of Mary which is also called the Magnificat.   While women were not involved at all in the music of the Temple, they were frequently depicted with their drums, singing in religious celebrations and processions.  Indeed, women with drums took the second priority in the order of processions, just behind the singers.  This seems significant given that so little attention and respect are paid to women in this time.

The people of the Exodus were refugees.  Sometimes  I think that escapes our notice as we tend to think of them as a nation, but they were refugees.  Think of  the video or photo coverage you have seen of the refugee camps in countries around the world today.  On the road to the camps we see groups of refugees, some driving small carts or piled into trucks, but mostly plodding along by foot moving with their loved ones in sometimes vain hope of finding a place of safety, of peace.  Right now in East Africa this tragedy is added to by the fact that these people are near starvation as well.  They end up, if they are lucky enough, in big dusty areas in the middle of nowhere filled with tents and far more people than is probably sanitary for the amount of space.  Children are running everywhere, the people line up for hours to receive some small share of the food aid which is
provided, and often walk great distances to find fire wood and fresh water to drink.  It must be exhausting just living in such a state of chaos, away from everything with which they are familiar, clinging to their families and praying for the chance to go home.  Technically the Israelites were heading home, that is to the ancestral lands which God had given.  In reality, there was no one still alive in Egypt who had ever lived in this much talked about place.  They had all heard about Abraham and the whole story of God’s promises to their people, but what was familiar, what was home, was behind them with the Pharaoh and his army.

Miriam was “a somebody” among the Israelites of the Exodus.  She stood with her brothers Aaron and Moses in leadership over the group.  She was a prophet, not common for women, and people listened to her.  Along with the more extraordinary traits, she was the daughter of a family in slavery.  She was used to the harsh treatment which was by this time being meted
out on her people.  She was there when the Nile turned to blood, when locusts filled the land, when the midwives were instructed to kill all the male infants at birth, when the order went out from the Pharaoh to take every Israelite boy who was born and drown them in the Nile.  She was there also when Moses returned to his people and began the negotiations with Pharaoh to release the people to return to their own land.  She was there the night of the Passover when all the Egyptian first-born sons were struck down.  Along with all the other women she had quickly gathered all she could, including the bread, not yet risen, and set off on foot to an unknown place at a moment’s notice.  Twenty-four days from that hurried departure, exhausted from stress and anxiety and still in the middle of nowhere, Miriam sang and danced, leading all the women in thanksgiving and celebration of a narrow and miraculous escape from likely death or re-enslavement.

It is not too late to have your donations for the crisis in the horn of
Africa doubled by the Canadian Government. All donations received by September 16th will be matched. You may give through any of the registered charities one of which is Presbyterian World Service and Development. You can donate by visiting http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd

On Guard: How To Abide By a Code of Conduct


Standing Guard

Yesterday was the first day of school for 2011/2012 and as I was going over things with my 140 new students we looked at the code of conduct for schools in New Brunswick.  There is nothing shocking in the code and, as I said to the kids, if we could all follow that every day our school would be amazing!  The thing is that we all intend to do just that.  There is not one of us, I don’t think, who gets up in the morning planning ahead to break a few rules, be rude, pick a fight, deface some property and maybe steal something!

I am also listening to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and now feel I have to temper that last statement.  One of the characters is an exception to what I wrote in the last paragraph.  She does, indeed, wake in the morning with plans to, at one point in the book, connive to get someone to murder the Duke of Buckingham, break her out of a sort of prison, and provide her transportation from England to France where she has further designs to murder, or cause to be murdered, at least one more person.  I can hardly stand to listen to those portions of the book in which she is weaving her plans!  She is, in a word, evil!

I suppose that people who make their livings through crime are often engaged in planning to do things which would be contrary to the code of conduct.  I do maintain, however, that my students do not leave home in the morning with a plan to break the code of conduct.  What happens to most of us is that we get caught in unexpected circumstances for which we lack the preparation, or the strength to avoid reacting on a purely emotional level.  Sadly, neither my ever vigilant pooch, nor a selection of rapiers will protect me against the next time I

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rykneethling/4543063042

slip up and do something I will later regret.  My only real shield is the Word and my strength is the Holy Spirit.  The more I keep what I know about God’s commandments and the knowledge of the great sacrifice of Jesus in the forefront of my mind, the less likely I am to fail and the more ready I will be to apologize to anyone I have wronged.

PROVINCIAL STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT
As a student, I am responsible for my own behaviour to the best of my abilities.
I will be responsible for my own personal choices.
I will respect others’ differences, ideas and opinions and treat everyone fairly.
I will not tolerate bullying of any kind and I will report bullying when I have knowledge of it.
I will do whatever I can to help those around me who may be struggling.
I will respect the school’s rules.
I will attend my classes, do my homework, and be prepared and on time.
I will behave in a way that is empathetic, responsible and civil to those around me.
I will resolve my conflicts in a constructive manner.
I will treat school property and the property of others with respect.
I will respect myself. I will respect others. I will respect my environment.

The Book of Awesome; An Uplifting Read!


There are thousands of great books out there for you to read, some deeper and more philosophical than others.  Many of the best books I have read in the last year have one small draw-back.  This draw-back is that the topic is  disturbing.  Room was great, but it was hard to read about a woman and her child going through complete isolation and imprisonment.  Sarah’s Key was great, but again, set against the holocaust it was heart-wrenching to read.

Today I want to direct you to a book with no underlying negativity.  The Book Of Awesome by Neil Pasricha is a published version of the blog 1000awesomethings.com (see link below).  You may not appreciate all the same things as Neil, but all he includes in his blog and his book are Awesome things.  I applaud this blog and the books that come from it!  Awesome! 

http://1000awesomethings.com/

Please Step Up: Calls For Change


I don’t know who wrote this or where it originated, but I ran across it on Face Book one day a couple of weeks ago and it is one of the few things that I actually copied and pasted into my status update.

“Special request to all you kids returning to school in the next few weeks. If you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn’t have many friends or because they are shy or not as pretty or not dressed in the most “in” clothes PLEASE step up. Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway. You never know what that person might be facing outside of school. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone’s life! Pass It On ♥”

Unlike the “games” people play on Face Book which involve obscure notices with meanings blocked from the opposite gender or some other group kept out-of-the-loop, this message is clear about its intent and encouraging positive change.  This sort of move toward kindness, as you know if you follow my blog, is of great importance to me.

Where have we heard these sentiments before?  If Jesus had used Face Book the status update may have read something like this…”

My brothers and sisters, fellow children of God, don’t waste your time while you are waiting for my return .  If someone is struggling in any way, hungry, thirsty, friendless, or being bullied, LOVE them and do what you can to help them. Say hi or at least smile at them, share what you have. You never know what others might be facing in their lives. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone’s life, and what you do for them you are doing for me! Pass It On ♥