Tag Archives: choices

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.

Yard Sale Mentality: Cheap or Wise?


Have you ever noticed that people who will gladly pay five dollars for a smoothie at MacDonald’s, if transplanted to a yard sale, balk at the idea of paying the same price for a bicycle which needs an inner-tube?  A one-time fast food fruit drink wins over a bike which with only a little investment would give years of exercise and enjoyment.  It is hard to get past the fact that in order to buy an equivalent bike now would cost over one hundred dollars, to even listen to a person dither over spending five.

For the most part, when I find I am no longer using something I have purchased or been given, I don’t even consider a yard sale.  If I don’t know someone who would like the item, to whom I can give it,  I donate the items to Value Village or some other similar agency.  They in turn sell the things for reasonably low prices and give some of the proceeds to charities such as the Diabetes Society.  When my church is holding a yard sale I give any items I can to them and go and help out with sales.

Spread out over tables in the front lawn of the church were hundreds of items which at some point seemed vital to the people who bought them.  The crock pot, the set of dishes, the book on learning Korean, at some point in time all passed the test of worthiness and got us to wedge open our wallets to make the purchase.  Even worse, some of them probably went on credit cards so that years later we may still be paying them off.  At the time we were convinced that those items were going to make our life better, more interesting, or easier.

Stuff…Comedian George Carlin has a famous routine about stuff and its vital role in our feeling of well-being.  You may like to watch this routine/rant at  http://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac but be aware that there is a little iffy language.  His point, that we are obsessed with our stuff, is a good one.  He calls our houses piles of stuff with a roof on them, and makes reference to storage rentals spaces as a whole industry based on guarding the stuff we no longer have room for in our homes.

What does the Bible have to say about stuff?  We are warned to avoid storing up riches on earth (Matt 6:19), encouraged to sell all we have and give to others (Luke 18:22) (hopefully at prices greater than at yard sales), that we can not take our stuff with us (Psalm 49:16-17).  (maybe that is why we fear death so much)  Jesus tells us that we don’t need to worry about what we will wear or what we will eat because God will provide for us just as he provides for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air (Luke 12:22-31).  If you don’t believe that you can be happy with almost no stuff at all, watch some video footage of children in a refugee camp or other poor area playing soccer with a bunch of plastic bags tied up to form a ball and see the smiles!

I will not pretend that I am not as adicted to my stuff as the next person.  Not only that, I am constantly tempted by ads, flyers, and catalogues of more cool stuff I could add to the stash!  A new Costco just opened in our area and I was there the first day drooling over the stuff which appealed to me and snickering at some of the stuff for which other people would spend their hard earned or even borrowed money.  It is a struggle with which we all deal to some extent and would take an entire cultural overhaul to reduce, let alone eliminate.

Maybe the people who didn’t want to pay five dollars for the bike are actually on the right track.  Where food is a necessity, though not necessarily from MacDonalds, the bike may actually end up just sitting in their garage as it ended up doing in ours for the last eight years. 

Unrequited Love: When What We Love Isn’t Good For Us


It is August, and in New Brunswick that means it is corn season.  I love corn season!  There is nothing to equal the taste of a freshly boiled corn-on-the-cob rolled liberally in butter and salted to perfection!  Let’s pause and give thanks to God for creating such an amazing food!

OK, so my problem is that some years ago I began to have problems digesting corn.  I love corn, but corn doesn’t love me.  I won’t gross you out with details, suffice to say that I am now at the point where I know for a fact that I will suffer significantly if I even eat a tiny serving of niblet corn and a fresh cob is really out of the question.  But then I start to think or say, “it is sooo good !”…”maybe this time it will be ok”…”what is a little pain anyway?”  The end of this story is probably quite clear to you already.  Of course, I end up eating the corn and I enjoy it so much at the time.

My village has an annual corn boil at the community hall around the corner from our home.  What I should do is not even drive by the hall on corn boil night.  Most of the year I don’t have any real problem avoiding eating corn.  The only other challenge is the corn chowder at the fall bazaar.

We all have our issues like this.  Things that we enjoy so much even though they’re not good for us.  Of course many of those issues are a fair bit more important, dangerous, unethical or even illegal.  That is why in the Lord’s prayer it is so important that we have the line, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” 

Follow the Bubbles: 8 Lessons from the cenotes


My sister and I just got back from a trip to Cancun.  We had been there before and planned to mostly sit in the shade and read books.  We did decide to visit Xcaret (esh-ca-ret) which is one of the biggest parks in the Cancun area.  There is so much to do there that we will need to go back several times to cover everything.  Our biggest adventure was definitely when we decided to go ahead and try snorkeling through the cenotes (underground rivers).We hummed and hawed considerably, but eventually packed our things in a locked waterproof bag to be taken to the outlet area next to the sea.  Next we got in line and picked up flotation vests, goggles, snorkels, and swim fins.  We set off to the entrance spot.

 

Our swim in through a cenote began with gingerly stepping into the cold water in a brightly lit and beautifully clear pool.  Once acclimated to the temperature it is quite beautiful and little effort is required due to your flotation device.  A little practice breathing with the snorkel and we were off…

 

Faces down in the water and breathing through our snorkels we headed off down  the river.  We were a little nervous, but  reassured by the idea that it was a river and would head directly to the sea.  What could go wrong with that?  Well, it sounded good!  We quickly moved from this swim in the sunlight, into…

 

the dark.  While you were able in the darker underground areas to see a glimmer of light up ahead, this was only the case when you had your head above water.  When you swam into these areas with your face down you were frequently unable to see anything.  It is here that the trouble began.

 

There were two main problems; staying together and finding the right path.  With my sister in the lead not lifting her head at any point I was aware when we took our first wrong turn but unable to catch up to grab her swim fins there was no way to get the message to her.  When we came to the next open area, which had no outlet, I explained about our wrong turn and we headed back around.  Eventually we ended up behind the group who had entered after us and came out into another open area where a man who worked for the park wanted us to pose for a picture.  Somewhat dazed, we complied but didn’t strike any happy thumbs up pose at all and in the end we didn’t manage to find and buy the picture which would have been our only proof that we had really gone on this excursion.

 

We left that area, headed downstream.  I led this time and all was going well, I thought.  We came into the light in another spot but it seemed that we shouldn’t have been there.  With a picture of the map of the park in our heads, it seemed that we had somehow gone in the wrong direction again.  We made the decision to go back to the start  and get out.

 

If you have been paying attention, you will know that this decision meant that we would be swimming upstream the whole rest of the time in the cenote.  Did I mention that I am a middle-aged, not terribly fit individual?  We only made one more wrong turn in our adventure but the struggle to keep up and stay in contact was considerable for me.  Very often I felt that as much as I used my feet to propel me, I was going nowhere.  I had to use my arms most of the time just to keep up.

 

How did we end up getting out of the cenote?  My sister, in the lead, stopped frequently to make sure I was still with her and encourage me,  and I followed her bubbles which, under water, is the same as following her breath.  So long as I was near the bubbles, I knew that even if we were lost, we were lost together.

 

The steps, when we found them, were a welcome sight.  We were not just climbing out of the water after a vigorous swim, we were climbing out of the dark and uncertainty, and we were together!

 

What lessons may be taken from the story of our adventure?
1. If you have to go into the dark, take a friend.

2.When you are leading people don’t forget to lift your head up to stay on track.

3. When you are in the lead, stop frequently to be sure those behind you are still there, and encourage them.

4. Stay together in dark as well as in the light.

5. It is harder work getting back on track once you have taken a wrong turn, but do it anyway.

6. Like your life vest, God will keep you afloat come what may.

7. There is no substitute for a good map (Bible) or a guide (Jesus).

 8. No matter what, keep the bubbles (the breath of God or the Spirit) in view at all times. 

Ten Ways To Get Rid Of A Volunteer


The following is a primer on the best ways to lose a volunteer.  You need not employ all the methods, many people will quit after only one strategy.  Remember, volunteers are individuals so you may need to experiment before you find an effective method for each one.

  1. Perhaps the best way to lose volunteers is to fail to recognize them.  People do not, as a rule, choose to volunteer to get credit, recognition or attention.  People choose to volunteer for various organizations  because they believe in the cause or the need of the people for whom they are working.  That being said, there is a limit to how long they will continue to be engaged if nobody says thank you at some point.  If you look you can find blog posts, and even books on the topic of how to keep volunteers and the top of the list is usually acknowledgement of their efforts.

  2. You can actually lose volunteers before they even start!  To do this, do not return their phone calls or emails in which they express interest in being of help and or place a lengthy complicated process in place (especially if you call it an application process).

  3. Select one volunteer to do a task that really requires several.

  4. Give several volunteers the task of doing something simple which would be better and more efficiently done by one.

  5. Fail to  listen to their suggestions for improvement.  Treat them as though they have no education, background, or expertise.

  6. Hover over them as though you don’t trust them to be competent.

  7. Get a volunteer started on something and then never check in to see how things are going.

  8. Expect that they will stay forever/ make it a life sentence.

  9. Arrange times to meet with your volunteers and then cancel without notice, “Because something important came up.”

  10. Stop thinking of a volunteer as a person, once they are on board they are just one of the numbers.

Hopefully it is clear to my readers that I do not actually advocate any of the above actions.  Indeed it would make an excellent list of what not to do when you are working with people, either employed or volunteers.

Too much to eat: gluttony in a land of plenty


I just came out of a restaurant with my parents having finished a great meal and, of course, feeling over-stuffed! Even having ordered the “mini” plate of liver and onions I was unable to finish all the fries. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had carrot cake for dessert!

A few days ago a friend sent me the following email which included pictures of families with the food they would eat in an average week on display.

“Quite a powerful story in pictures. What is eaten in one week around the world?  Very interesting assortment.  Note the large amount of drinks in some pictures.This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting e-mails I’ve ever received.  Take a good look at the family size & diet of each country, and the availability & cost of what is eaten in one week.

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide, Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina(Sure hope most American families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily, Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca, Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna, Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo, Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo, Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village, Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp, Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

Don’t know about you, but right about now, I’m counting my blessings!”

It is a pretty stark picture of the plenty with which most of us live, while others are smiling and proud to display what we would consider to be barely enough.  Growing up many of us were told to consider the starving Armenians when we didn’t finish all our supper.  Obviously our parents were hardly planning to send our left-overs overseas, but they were on track with their mention of the need to stop and think about the lack of balance in food distribution worldwide.

The Verses In The Plain Brown Wrapper: Why The Lectionary Skips Verses


If you look at the Revised Common Lectionary listing of Bible readings over a three year period you will notice that while in theory it covers the whole Bible in each cycle there are parts you may never hear preached.  Thankfully one section in this category includes most of the book of Numbers which contain seemingly endless lists of genealogies.  One of the most curious things is that even with the Psalms there are frequently parts of the Psalm which are not designated as a part of the reading.  For example; two of the Sundays in June had small pieces removed from the Psalms in the RCL.  On June 5 we read Psalm 68 but left out verses 11-31.  On June 12 the reading was Psalm 104 and we left out verses 1 -24 and 35A.

If you read these Psalms responsively in your worship service, these skipped sections can lead to confusion for the congregation as well as the minister, unless you print them out.  What could be so wrong with Psalm 68 verses 11-31 that would deem it unusable in worship.  It is a part of the Bible, that is not denied, the planners of the lectionaries, though, presumably thought it best to skip them.

Psalm 68
11
The Lord gives the command;

great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12   ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13   though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
Selah
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

I assume that in the case of the above verses there were a couple of concerns.  In many of the verses God is portrayed in a very militaristic and vengeful light.  God’s army is huge, will shatter the heads of the enemies, there is talk of feeding the enemy to the dogs and the victors bathing their feet in blood.  Yuck!  One of the things that is most disturbing about reading in the Old Testament comes from this sort of portrayal.  This is not the loving God with whom we grew up in the mainline churches!  The other thing I noticed was how much God’s desire of a mountain top abode, receiving of gifts etc. reminds me of what I have taught for years in my unit on Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations.  This is not surprising exactly, but in early days it would have been very important to distance Christianity from pagan practices.

Would the reasons be the same for Psalm 104?

God the Creator and Provider

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2   wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3   you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15   and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

As you could see, Psalm 104:1-24  had none of the more disturbing elements to it at all.  Paired in the lectionary as it is with the creation story from Genesis, I think we can be fairly certain that this shortening was done for time.  The Genesis reading is long and covers all the same ground as in verses.  Verse 35A however consigns sinners to be consumed (one assumes by fire) which seems contrary to the concept of Christian love.

I wonder if we do too much of this covering up, or brushing aside, the uncomfortable parts of the Bible.  I certainly understand that one might not want your five-year-old repeating lines about feeding their enemies to the dogs, or bathing their feet in blood.  My concern is that it is a little like issues of family violence.  People didn’t ever talk about family violence.  It was something to keep behind closed doors.  Neighbors might be somewhat aware that things were happening, but would never think to ask or offer help.  What ends up happening, in the case of the Bible, is that we educate Christians while side-stepping the issues, and then later when they come across these verses in their own study they are ill prepared to deal with them.  I know I wasn’t prepared the first time I seriously sat down and read the Old Testament!

I’m not sure what a solution might be.  Perhaps we need to be offering Bible studies on the unpalatable parts, but then, being so unpalatable, who would attend?  I do feel, however that it is important to get the verses out of their plain paper bags, and into the open.

Check out this great post by a friend of mine:o)


http://thehumankindnessproject.com/2011/06/20/strange-animals.aspx?results=1#SurveyResultsChart

Does the Audience Change the Message?


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.

Evaluation and Testing: Our Everyday Need for Positive Feedback


flickr.com/photos/english106/4357228335

I am supervising exams this week at my school.  Right now I am covering another teacher’s class while he has a break.  This is a grade eleven math class, and if they have questions I will be of no use to them at all.  I did pass math in high school but that was a very long time ago now.

What I see in front of me is a group of twenty some students with calculators, papers, and pencils.  They glance back and forth between their exam, the calculator and the booklet.  Some are looking off into space as if praying for divine inspiration or intervention, others are hunched right over their desks.  There are looks of determination, fear, and the occasional wry smile as we briefly make eye contact.  There is near silence, papers turn, pencils scratch and feet shift on the floor, but there is no talking.

When you walk into an exam room, prepared or not, you know that in the next two hours your work will be judged.  If you have a good day and a following wind, your exam mark may raise your over-all grade but you know that it is more likely to go the other way.  On the up side, when the hours are over, so is the course and in June that means summer break!

Many of our life evaluations, however, do not take place in a classroom and are not neatly scheduled and limited to a two-hour block of time.  We are often not even aware that we are being tested; that a customer is forming judgments about our competence or friendliness; that a student is deciding whether or not we are trustworthy enough to ask for help; total strangers may be deciding whether we are doing a good job raising our children.  We will never know the results of most of these tests.  Unless a customer goes to complain or compliment we won’t realize that they don’t return to the store or that they avoid our check-out.  The student who decides against us will just walk away, and we almost certainly will not hear the strangers opinion of our parenting.

Whether or not we have any right to evaluate the people we meet and work with, we do it naturally.  Unless you are a person’s supervisor or they do something hurtful to you, I see no reason that we should share negative feedback with them.  Neither do we need to share with a person the nasty thing we heard someone else say about them, though we might want to defend a friend with the person doing the criticism.  What I think we do need to be doing, however, is telling people when we think positive things about them, or when we hear someone else making a positive comment about them.

We don’t hear enough positive feedback.  Certainly we don’t tend to give ourselves positive feedback, we tend to focus on our flaws and our failures.  This does little good, and contributes a great deal to our level of stress.  It may be as little as a smile or the like button on Face Book, or as big as nominations for awards or letters of thanks, but we need to praise more, encourage more, love more!