Today we begin with a confession. I am that distracted blogger referred to in today’s title. By what have I been distracted? *hears the beep indicating new email and quickly switches tabs to see what it is* It doesn’t seem to take much these days to distract me. We give my dog a hard time because he will get barking over as little as a leaf blowing by, but I’m afraid I’m more like him that I would like to admit. I’m hoping that I am not alone in this trait of distraction.
On the up side, as far as I know no traffic accidents are caused by my distraction. Unlike driving with my cell phone to my ear, there are no immediate effects to my distraction. People don’t get a notice that I have posted anything for several days, no one’s hurt in this story. No one but me that is.
For every day that I go without posting I get less and less inclined to even click on the link to wordpress. I spent most of the weekend on the computer but just left that tab in the corner and ignored it. I began to feel guilty, even about not doing something no one asked me to do, with no deadline except the expectation I have set up for myself.
With Easter two weeks away, I would like to claim that my distractions have been church related; planning and practicing for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and 6 weeks of Easter Sundays. This, at least, would feel justified. No, my distraction has largely been looking at things people have for sale on-line. I don’t need anything, don’t have any intention of buying most of what I see, and yet there I sit skimming through the latest offerings on etsy.com or ebay. It can be mesmerizing!
Whatever our distractions may be, and I’m sure there is huge variation in causes, pulling our attention back to the things that really matter to us; our faith, our families etc. can be a tough one. Everyone else has some idea about what should get your attention. The Pharisees felt that Jesus was giving all his attention to the wrong people. They did all they could to distract him and get him back on their religion and the people at the top. But in the end it was for those of us at the bottom that he suffered humiliation and death, so that we might have eternal life.
Here’s to our efforts against distraction in these last 13 days before Easter!
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!
As I was driving up to Montreal last week I drove past countless fields at various stages of planting. Some fields were bare, with the earth prepared and awaiting seed, some were newly planted with a bright fresh crop of green or yellow covering them, some were burned over and likely to be left fallow for the summer, and between them all there were wild areas with an abundance of plant life most would call weeds. What do we see when we look at ourselves, our congregations, families,colleagues etc.? Do we see fertile ground awaiting seed, rows of plants growing to bear seed, or a tangled mess of weeds?
Living Faith 4.2.1 says, “The Spirit enables people to receive the good news of Christ, to repent of their sins, and to be adopted as children of God…the Spirit enabled us to believe.” Living Faith 6.1.2 “God brings us to faith in many ways. We may have trusted in God from childhood; or our faith may have come later in life. Faith may come suddenly or only after a struggle to believe.”
Given these statements, it is clear that it is not really you and I who are bringing people to faith. The job of sowing faith is the work of the Spirit through the Word. It is with this understanding that we come to the parable of the Sower and the Seed this morning ( Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23).
Have you ever prepared a garden bed? There are many things that need to be removed; sod, old patio stones, weeds, and rocks in the ground. Whether in our own hearts or those of others we’ll need to remove preconceptions and prejudices against Christianity and or the church as an institution, negative prior experiences, hurts, and fears. Some of us have built up walls around our hearts which may take considerable care to break down. Sledge hammers are never called for, and it is important to save all we can of the soil. Our primary tools for this work are our open minds, our love, compassion and our listening skills. Once cleared, we add fertilizer of some kind in order to aid in the growth of the plants. Here we apply such offerings as Sunday School, Bible studies, service groups, book clubs, VBS, and of course heartfelt weekly worship. Even if all hearts are already prepared to receive the Word, care needs to be taken over time to watch out for and remove any weeds which may come up and attempt to take over, and the weeds are many and insidious.
I can easily justify my lack of follow-through in my garden at home. After all, if I don’t support the local farmers by buying their produce I am contributing to the economic decline, right? The problem is, at the end of the day I will still have the hearty crop of weeds there reminding me daily of my failure. There will, however be another spring and another chance to get the job done properly. Those of us in the church would do well to
remember that only ¼ of the seed in the parable turned out to be productive. Numbers are not everything! The number of people in the pews on Sunday, the number of children in Sunday school each week, the total number of families and members, don’t need to cause stress. When they are high we may be on the top of the world and feel that we are truly doing the work of the Kingdom, and when they are low we may fear for the survival of our congregation. Even if our programs or events seem less successful than we would like, so long as one plot of soil was readied, or one seed planted we have done well.
Whatever Kingdom gardening we may be doing, we need to remember to take time out to praise and worship the Father who has sown the word in our lives, the Son who is that word, and the Spirit who inspires us to listen.
Living Faith is the Statement of Christian Belief of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and can be downloaded at http://www.presbyterian.ca/resources/online/2447
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged attendance, Bible, Bible study, blog, change, Christianity, church, details, distractions, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, improvement, Jesus, Kingdom, listening skills, Living Faith, love, Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, numbers, patio stones, Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in Canada, problems, promise, rocks, sledge hammers, Statement of Christian Belief, Sunday school, survival, weeds, worship
On Feb 20th I wrote a post I titled, While Visions Of Seed Packets Danced in My Head (http://wp.me/p1hsO8-6p). At that time, with my garden under a foot of snow, I was distracted from tidying the living room by the lure of a gardening book. An hour later there I was with my pencil and paper making plans for what to plant in my vegetable garden and wondering if last year’s compost would be ready to use. As soon as the snow cleared, sometime in April, I was out in the back yard with my work boots and gloves on, and my tiller in hand turning soil and getting all the weeds out of a section of the
garden. I got about half the area cleared that day before hitting the shower. Time passed……a little over a week ago I was sitting on my deck with a lovely view of what was once bare earth and is now covered with weeds of various types, many taller than my tiller which is still stuck in the ground where I left off.
The Gospel reading this morning, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, is all about gardening, or agriculture to be more specific. In this very familiar parable Jesus shares a story with a crowd of people beside the Sea of Galilee, so large that he actually gets into a boat to get free of the press of people. He talks of something with which all these people would be familiar, a man, the sower, planting seed. This man has a “packet” of seed. We assume that all the seed is basically the same and equally capable of growing and bearing a good
yield. Some of his seeds fall on the path and are snatched up by birds, some fall on rocky ground where they begin to grow but with shallow roots they shrivel up under the sun. Some of the seeds fall among the weeds where they begin to grow only to be choked off by the weeds. Some of the seed falls on good soil, grows and provides an extraordinary harvest. He sows all his seed, but in the end only one quarter of the seed produced a
harvest. Interestingly, the harvest was many times more than might have been expected from the whole amount of seed
Israel, situated as it was in the Fertile Crescent, was a culture which based on agriculture and much of the imagery in the Old
Testament was related to sowing and reaping. Their laws included regulations on when and where to plant, what kind of
seeds to plant, when they should harvest, and even what to do with any grain left in the field. They were used to God being referred to as the sower. In creation he planted every plant of every kind in the Garden of Eden. He is variously said to have sown Israel and Judah into the land, sown peace in Zion, and sown righteousness in the nations.
For the most part, although they were familiar with the trials of farming and the vagaries of rocks, birds, and weeds, people didn’t understand the point of Jesus’ story. The disciples, who didn’t get the point either, had the benefit of Jesus’ extra time and patience when he explained it to them later, when they are alone together. Unlike in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the imagery of the sower is used to represent the sowing of the Kingdom. Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds in his story represent the Word of God. When the Word does not get into the soil at all, on the path, it is stolen by “the evil one.” For the other examples, where the seed reaches the soil, our hearts, the image refers to what happens with us. Sometimes we are turned away by troubles or persecution for our beliefs, sometimes overwhelmed by the distractions of the secular world, and sometimes the seed takes root and we produce a good harvest.
There are many ways of interpreting the message of this parable for our lives. Are we meant to look at ourselves as the soil, the seed, the plant, the sower, or the harvest? If Jesus is the seed and we are the soil, what kinds of harvest how can our soil provide a
better harvest. If we are a seed and plant and we produce a good harvest, what form does that take? A lot of time is spent in considering the present condition of the soils. One interpretation I read took the view that within each of us we may have areas of
all the types of soil, thus when the seed is sown some of it may find good soil while other parts of us are unwilling to yield. All of these points are worth consideration, however, when I first thought about this week’s readings it occurred to me that maybe we aren’t supposed to focus so much on the current condition of the soils in the Parable and which type we are ourselves, nor on how we can do a better job of sowing the Kingdom in our communities, but on what we do in our churches and ministries
to prepare the soil for planting.
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, blog, change, Christianity, church, details, distractions, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, improvement, Jesus, love, Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, Presbyterian Church, problems, promise, survival
I’m looking across the room at a picture of Winnie the Pooh in his classic thinking pose. His eyes are scrunched closed, one arm is around his chest and this other hand is up to his temple. Even looking at the picture I can hear him saying, “Think, think, think.” Maybe he is trying to think of an answer to a question piglet has asked, or maybe he is working on a hum, but he is thinking hard!
Here at the front of the room the same scenario is playing out. OK, I’m not physically squinting my eyes or knocking on my temple, but I am mentally trying to squeeze some kind of coherent thought out. I have an assortment of posts in the works at the moment, but they are stalled at some point or other. Some are just cool titles at the moment, while others were going along fine until I hit a mental snag on a point of logic or an annoying fact making my conclusion questionable.
There are various ways I get around this. Today’s choice was to write about the block itself rather than try to dislodge it from my path. Other options which I often use for blog writing include; saving my work and then choosing tags, previewing the post as it stands, heading off to http://creativecommons.comto find a good image to use, doing a spell check, or fixing the font and paragraph spacing. If all of these distractions fail to help me reach the dangling strand of my thought, I just stop for a while and do something totally unrelated.
There are times when the strands just won’t be caught and I eventually give up on the post altogether. Those bits often come back at a later date when they end up fitting like the missing puzzle piece into a completely different topic. I’m sure you are familiar with the adage, “I think, therefore I am.” It is the thinking that really matters and a slight change of focus can make all the difference.
Posted in Pet Peeves, Reflections
Tagged blog, details, distractions, help, improvement, Piglet, problems, quiet, reflection, survival, think, thinking, Winnie the Pooh, writer's block, writing
I expect most of us are familiar with the expression, “The medium is the message” coined by Marshall McLuhan. The phrase is as old as I am, well ten months older. At the time it was spoken in reference to the quickly changing face of media and our tendency to focus on the obvious effects and not really look for a deeper level. I don’t pretend to really understand McLuhan’s message, but I think that it is important to look at our messages, especially as they are becoming more and more public through blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.
When I prepare a message for any of my usual churches I do so knowing that, for the most part, I will be preaching to a Christian audience with a fairly similar frame of reference to mine. When I write something for my blog it is different, I have no way of knowing who may read my post so things I wouldn’t normally explain get explanation. Things that are totally open to the world on the internet need a different filter than comments to my friends and colleagues over lunch. Awareness of audience is even one of the sections on rubrics for evaluating student writing.
I am working on a service I will be leading at my sister’s church in the Montreal area. I have led worship at all four of the Presbyterian churches in my area, but this will be my first time preaching out of the province. I am somewhat familiar with the church as I have worshipped there and sung in the choir on occasion, but I don’t really know it. I do know that there are several retired ministers and theology professors who attend her church. While I am used to having one or two retired ministers in the congregation for my services at home, they are people with whom I am very familiar and comfortable. This is not the case for my sister’s church, and who knows what other areas of speciality I may trip upon in my message?
One service I did on Aboriginal Sunday a while back went well. At the end I greeted people at the back as usual. One woman hung back for a bit and when she came up to me said she was debating whether or not to tell me what she really thought. I asked her to go ahead. She was not pleased with my message and gave me various reasons mostly related to her perceptions of “special treatment” for First Nations people in our area. While she had, in part, missed the actual point of the sermon, she needed to talk about the issues it raised for her and I hope that helped her in some way.
So, would I write a different message if I was speaking to the un-churched, the working class, a room full of professors, or atheists? In the end, all I can do is what I usually do. I will study the texts carefully, review what other’s have said on the topic, do some fact checking, and then write what seems to flow. Hopefully what I say will give people something new to think about, something to inspire them, or something about which to debate.
Posted in Bible Study, Reflections
Tagged atheism, audience, Bible, blog, choices, Christianity, church, debate, details, distractions, expectations, facebook, faith, God, inspiration, leadership, Lectionary, preaching, reflection, sermon, stress, theology, writing
Several years ago my spouse gave me a big book of crossword puzzles for Christmas. There were 316 puzzles in the book, with solutions provided at the back. Over time I have worked away at the puzzles, sometimes losing track of the book for months at a time (housekeeping is not my forte). I found it and have been working on it again since I began my fast at Lent (see Turning it off for Lent http://wp.me/p1hsO8-8T ) Most evenings in the past several months have ended with me curled up in front of the TV with my book on my lap and a pencil in my hand. The challenge of the puzzles is refreshing and the delight when I manage to complete a puzzle without peeking (cheating) is amazing!
- By lovelihood Kim Love
So, what does this have to do with the Bible?
Like Bible reading, crossword puzzles are something we often begin to do early in life when we first begin to read and write. I’m sure you remember doing them when you were in grade school.
The older you got, and the more education you gained, the harder the puzzles you were able to solve.
Many people wouldn’t have bothered with another crossword once they got out of public school.
Some continue to challenge themselves and work at the NY Times puzzles daily.
They will go better if you do them in a quiet place without too much distraction.
These puzzles can be affirmation of your knowledge and thinking abilities at times and baffling and completely unclear to you at other times.
Every time you revisit a puzzle you see it differently.
It is nice to have someone with you off whom you can bounce ideas.
The remaining questions sometimes stay in your head for days as you puzzle over their meanings.
If you really can’t get something, there is no shame in peeking, or asking someone for help.
- By baslow Barry Solow
Last night I filled in the last puzzle in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t completed all the puzzles as many still have holes in them. Some which I started in pen and then got muddled up have a big X through them. Every time I get the book out I go through it to see if I can fill in any more of the holes. It is amazing what a little time and perspective can have on the problems. There are some which I just don’t know, like the names of certain towns in Great Brittain, and those I will look up and hope to remember for another puzzle at a later time.
By jaybergesen Jay Bergesen
Unlike crossword puzzles I expect to continue puzzling out and exploring the Bible for the rest of my life.
Posted in Reflections
Tagged Bible, blog, cheating, Christianity, cross, crossword puzzles, details, God, graduation, help, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leaving blanks, lifelong task, perspective, primary school, reflection, school, time, understanding
In early times people’s animals grazed on common land and were distinguished from those belonging to different people by use of marks burned into their hides. This process is known as branding. Modern livestock branding is less damaging to the hide and is done by freezing the skin in a distinguishing pattern or with a number. Where the hide has been burned, or frozen, hair does not grow back and thus the animals are marked. Animal branding has existed since the times of Ancient Egypt and continues today. Branding humans has been used to identify criminals, as punishment, to indicate ownership of slaves, and most recently to “decorate” the skin.
The other day I was sitting at the kitchen table and just happened to notice the brand name on my cereal box. As I continued looking around I saw: Froot Loops, Splenda, Kraft, Frigidaire, French’s, Kahi, Orville Redenbacher’s, Sobeys, Air Miles, Magic Chef, Proctor-Silex, Magic Bullet, World Vision, Kenmore, Macleans, and XM without moving from my seat. When I looked up information on branding for this post almost all the hits that came up were for commercial branding, brand names, not livestock branding. Most of us are not branded with an identifying number but we are certainly branded!
We wear brand names on our clothing, carry them on our coffee cups, have them marked on our cars. Even our “no-name” brands have developed into brands. Not only do we spend more money for brand name clothing, but we advertise for them at the same time by having the brand name in big letters on the front!
Is there a way to beat the branding? Short of making all our own textile products, furniture, etc. and growing and cooking all our food from scratch I don’t think we can do it. Even at Kings Landing, a nineteenth century historical village, there are Enteprise stoves, and Fawcett stoves, different brands of china, and brand named carriages and farm machinery. I think the best we can really do is to be careful of our own personal brand. I need to be aware of what being Cathy Scott says about me, the image I project to the world needs to be more than the companies from whom I buy goods and services. The only brand I want to project is love, how about you?
This morning our congregation took our first steps down a whole new road. Just like the road in my picture it is not clear right now what it will look like or what side roads may come along but we have cleared a straight path and leveled it out.
For any of you not familiar with the way things work in the Presbyterian Church, we do not hire ministers, we believe they are called to a congregation by God. Once the search committee has heard and interviewed a candidate and decide that they are the right person they arrange for that person to preach for the congregation. After that service there is a congregational meeting at which it is decided whether or not to extend the call to that individual or go back to the drawing board.
This morning we heard a candidate preach, had some time with her at a reception (along with celebrating a members 93rd birthday), and decided at our meeting to extend a call to her. This document will then be presented at the next level of our church courts, the presbytery. If they affirm the call we will have a full-time minister again. It is pretty exciting stuff!
How often in our lives do we face this kind of “new road” experience? If we change jobs, begin or end a relationship, become parents we start new roads for sure. Other than that I suspect many of us are on the same road upon which our parents put our feet when we began to walk, or at least the road we took when we moved out on our own. I know that despite some side streets and dead ends, I am pretty much walking the path my parents showed me.
How does that translate to a church community? We have the comfort of all those things that have “always been done that way” but the real path we walk is the one cleared for us by Jesus and he was hardly one timid about change! I think the big thing that will change in the short-term is that we will have something definite for which to plan. There will be ordination and induction services to plan. There will be house hunting and moving for our minister.
The little things will settle themselves over time. Order of worship is one thing that is likely to undergo subtle changes. This morning for instance we were invited to sit after the call to worship. It seemed strange, but then I still remember when that was the norm and the strangeness of standing right from the call through the prayer and then the first hymn. I think the change was made for time-saving, but today it was quite nice to sit for the prayer.
I think the new road I have pictured above is going to be a new subdivision along the road which goes past our church. If this is the case, it will be leveled, graded, and lots will be sold. Gradually people will buy the lots and move into the area making it into a neighbourhood. Side roads will be added to accommodate more homes. Hopefully the same will be said of our church over the next few years. New people may move in to join those of us already there, perhaps new side-roads will take the form of new groups or initiatives. We can’t know from where we stand now, but we have the road started and it is time to move forward!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged blog, calling, change, choices, Christianity, church, faith, God, improvement, Jesus, leadership, new roads, preaching, promise, reflection, subdivisions