Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Dry Bones and the Spirit


In Ezekiel 37:1-14 recounts one of the most important prophetic visions of the Bible. The vision takes Ezekiel to a “plain near a settlement of exiles at Tel Abib.” Ezekiel was prophesying at a time when the people of Israel were in exile. The Babylonian people had overcome the nation of Israel and scattered the people among their empire.

This message here, is a message for exiles. They were literally exiles who had been removed from their homeland and placed in the lands of the occupying nation. We too are exiles of another kind. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God living as exiles in a land that is opposed to the values of our Kingdom/nation. So, this message is a message for the people of Israel and a message for us as well.

The original Hebrew of the passage makes it clear that these are dry, scattered bones, not skeletons.  It suggests that these bones are truly scattered and dis-jointed and it has been a long time since they have been alive. And so, when God asks Ezekiel if they could possibly live again, the human answer would be “No!” This is a hopeless situation from a human perspective. But Ezekiel responds appropriately with something like, “you know, because you are the creator.” Ezekiel, much like Job, at the end of the book of Job, knows how to respond to God: “God, you alone know the answer to that question.”

This puts Ezekiel in a position to be used by God. God tells Ezekiel what to say and he tells the bones to get ready because God is going to make them come to life. Flesh, and muscle, skin, and breath will come into these bones and they will rise up again.

First the bones must rattle and rise up and find their rightful place. The Hebrew language gives us a picture of all of the bones having to move great distances to find their rightful place. Can you imagine what this must have sounded like?

Then sinews form, then muscle or flesh, and finally skin. I wonder if this too had a sound-track? I wonder if it sounded squishy, gooey, and slappy.

After all of this flesh, muscle, and skin formation, they are still just bodies lying on the plain as if they had been slain in a great battle. Think of this, all of the internal organs must be there, all of the biochemical processes that must go on in a living body are ready to go. But the hearts are not beating and there is still no life in these bones and bodies until God gives them life. They are still dead bodies.

And so Ezekial prophesies again and calls upon the four winds to blow the breath of life into these still dead bodies. God’s breath comes into these bodies and they stand up and become a mighty army of God. The word wind here is an obvious reference to the Spirit of God, what we would call the Holy Spirit.

God is communicating some very important things here.
·       First of all, it conveys the creative power of God. The same power that was at work at the creation of the universe is at work here.
·       Secondly, when we die, it does not matter if we are put in the ground in a coffin, burned to ashes, or scattered to the wind, God can put us all back together again. We can be disintegrated into molecules and God can put us back together at the final resurrection of the dead. He knows where all of our bones and molecules go.
·       Thirdly, the bodies can be all put back together and have all of their rightful chemistry restored, but they are still not animate. They are still not alive until God makes them alive. God is the author of life and there is something elusive about the nature of life. Scientists have studied life and understand something of how living things work. But life is something other and requires God’s creative animation and his breath.


God tells Ezekiel that this is a vision about the people of Israel. They thought they as a people were lost and dead, like dry bones. They thought that all hope was gone for them as a people. But God has other plans for the people of Israel.

Isn’t this just a bit like us today? We look at the Christian landscape across Canada and we lament. We are tempted to lose hope in our God. But God has other plans for his church. The bride of Christ will be brought to life again.

Just as our bodies must be enlivened by this mysterious quality we call life. Our institutions, churches, and programs are lifeless bodies, maybe even dry bones, until the Spirit of God enlivens them. God has given us the Holy Spirit to make us alive and make the church alive.

You see, “there is a message of hope for those who have lost all grounds for hope…. It speaks to us of a God who can achieve the impossible.”
(Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. 1956, 267)


One commentator puts it this way,
“The Spirit lies beyond all that can be seen and measured. Its most apt symbol is the wind which is astir all about us but which is all the while invisible. … The Spirit is not ours to command, but is given when we are faithful. Like the wind, the Spirit blows where it will. … There are no limits on what God may do; at any moment he may break in and transform our present situation; therefore let us serve him according to our knowledge, leaving it to him whether he will continue the discipline of failure or transform our frustration into his marvelous success.”
(Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. 1956, 267-270)

Acts 2 talks about God’s Holy Spirit enlivening people and giving them new life.
Acts 2:16-18, 21
… what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
 ‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy….
everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
    will be saved.’

Is that our experience? Are we today, sensing God’s Spirit poured out in us, his people?
Acts 2:32, 33
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.

Acts 2:38-40
“Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Conclusion:

Acts 2 reminds us of our constant need to repent and assess what we are doing with our lives. Nowhere does the Bible say to repent of the past once and for all. This is a continuous process.

Ezekiel tells us that the things we build must be enlivened by his Spirit. So, it is in our own lives, in our own churches, in our own ministries, we must ensure that we ask for and leave room for the Holy Spirit to enliven things. Do we actually expect the Spirit to show up or do we simply build more structures or pour on more human effort? If we build programs and structures and don’t ask God to make them live, then we have truly created a “zombie church.” It would be a church that walks around and does things but is not truly alive. What a horrible, ugly result that would be.

This truly requires us to rely upon the Holy Spirit in all that we do. Lauren Daigle, a contemporary gospel singer has a song in which she speaks of Jesus who is still rolling stones. Take a listen to the words and read them on the screen.

Still Rolling Stones
(Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Lauren Ashley Daigle / Paul Duncan / Paul Mabury
Still Rolling Stones lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
(Listen here)

Out of the shadows
Bound for the gallows
A dead man walking
Till love came calling
Rise up (rise up)
Rise up (rise up)

Six feet under
I thought it was over
An answer to prayer
The voice of a Savior
Rise up (rise up)
Rise up (rise up)

All at once I came alive
This beating heart, these open eyes
The grave let go
The darkness should have known
(You're still rolling rolling, you're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones
(You're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones

Now that You saved me
I sing 'cause You gave me
A song of revival
I put it on vinyl
Rise up (rise up)
Rise up (rise up)

I once was blinded
But now I see it
I heard about the power
And now I believe it
Rise up (rise up)
Rise up (rise up)

All at once I came alive
This beating heart, these open eyes
The grave let go
The darkness should have known
(You're still rolling rolling, you're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones
(You're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones

I thought that I was too far gone
For everything I've done wrong
Yeah, I'm the one who dug this grave
But You called my name
You called my name
I thought that I was too far gone
For everything I've done wrong
Yeah, I'm the one who dug this grave
But You called my name
You called my name

All at once I came alive
This beating heart, these open eyes
The grave let go
The darkness should have known

(You're still rolling rolling, you're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones
(You're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones
(You're still rolling rolling oh, you're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones
(You're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones (you're still rolling, rolling)
(You're still rolling rolling oh, you're still rolling rolling oh)
You're still rolling stones

Today, I pray that God who rolled away the stone from the grave of Jesus, might roll away the stone that keeps us from being open to his Spirit in our lives.

Works Cited

Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. 1956. The Interpreter's Bible: Volume VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
D'Costa, Krystal. 2011. "The American Fascination with Zombies." Scientific American, October 26.
Duguid, Iain M. 1999. Ezekiel: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Greenberg, Moshe. 1997. Ezekial: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Toronto: Doubleday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Land that Inspired Narnia


I am in the land that inspired Narnia: Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, UK. It is a picturesque place with vines growing over every surface of some of the houses, a quiet stream with a stone bridge running through the middle, and I can almost imagine a Faun with an umbrella coming up to ask me in to tea. But, alas, we are in The Church Bistro having tea and scones. It is a 1920s Methodist church building which was converted to a bistro and bar about three years ago. (This Bistro used to be a cute Cathedral – to parody a Steve Taylor song.) Although, it is not as interesting as a Faun’s cave, it is a beautiful bistro with delicious scones, clotted cream, and wonderful tea. The Irish (like the English and Scots) certainly know how to brew a pot of tea.



Yesterday, we stayed in Kilkeel, a beautiful fishing village which is just inside the border of Northern Ireland, a 20-minute ferry ride from Carlingford. Kilkeel is the place where my paternal grandfather, Thomas (Tommy) Shields lived until he was 14 and set out to live in Canada. I went for a run along the beach as the sun came up over the sea and I felt like I was reliving the opening scene of Chariots of Fire. What a glorious morning it was.



C.S. Lewis was inspired by the Mourne Mountains around Kilkeel and Rostrevor. I find myself imagining what he would have written if he had ever seen the Rocky Mountains near Calgary, Alberta. It is here, near the coast of Ireland, a little south of Belfast that he dreamed up the idea of Narnia, a land where it was always winter and never Christmas, until Aslan is on the move. It must have been a particularly cold winter when he came through this region. We are here in mid-October on a 17-degree Celsius afternoon and the humidity and sunshine feel wonderful. I am working on a book as we vacation, and the Literary Society of Rostrevor has many inspiring poetic quotes posted around the town and so I am feeling suitably inspired to write and think and dream. Ireland has always inspired poets and writers and sent them off to inspire the rest of the world. Who knows what will get written in this wonderful country? 


Sunday, September 30, 2018

With God's Help


Psalm 108 says in part,

Have you rejected us, O God?
    Will you no longer march with our armies?
Oh, please help us against our enemies,
    for all human help is useless.
With God’s help we will do mighty things,
    for he will trample down our foes.

The mournful cry of people asking if God has rejected them sometimes resonates for us in places like Canada, America, and Britain. We long to see the miracles of ages past and see the church grow at a rate where thousands are added to the faith daily. Having recently spent time with rapidly growing house-churches in Cuba and hearing the stories of miraculous breakthroughs in people’s lives, I am hungry to see church multiplication and stories of new spiritual birth here in my own country. 

The churches I worked with in Cuba are barely tolerated by the Communist Party. Occasionally, the authorities have stepped in and shut down a house-church and, in at least one case, tore down the structure in which the church met. Since the Revolution in Cuba, church that happens in pre-existing church buildings is allowed to persist but is highly regulated. If a program begins to have success in the community around the church and appears to be gaining evangelistic traction, a party member may report the program to a higher authority and the rules surrounding such events may be enforced making it more difficult to continue. House-churches have a particularly difficult time in this culture. They are even more subject to the enforcement of regulations about public assembly and are viewed with suspicion. See the following website for a greater explanation of the predicament of churches in Cuba.

In this context, we learned of God’s love for and strengthening of the people of God. I was able to preach in a church that had been closed down just a few months before (and their temporary shed torn down). The people had bravely reopened a service in a nearby apartment and sang praises out into the streets. These people were hungry for God’s word and discussed the sermon with joy in the midst of the service.

In another church, one woman spoke of her spiritual journey from “wild child” to follower of Jesus. She told us she previously drank excessively, went with several men, and was in a self-destructive mode. She had learned English and was hired by a pastor to do some translation work. One night, while she was drunk, she had a vision of herself dying and having to pass through the cross of Jesus to get to “the other side.” The vision scared her, she investigated the claims of Christ, and became a Christian. The week I was there, she was translating for one of the pastors from our team as he preached in a house-church.

Most of the people are extremely poor, yet happy as they serve the Lord Jesus. In one house-church they bring a box each week into which they place things like toilet-paper or food that they have in excess. At an appropriate time, they have a “lottery” to see who gets to keep the contents of the box believing that Jesus is guiding the process. Sometimes the recipient redistributes again to others in the community.

Psalm 108 also says,
My heart is confident in you, O God;
    no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!
Wake up, lyre and harp!
    I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
    I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is higher than the heavens.
    Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
    May your glory shine over all the earth.

Where is my confidence? My confidence is in “you, O God” and in your only Son, Jesus, who has shown us how to live. By God’s grace and “with God’s help, we will do mighty things.” My joy and confidence are growing as I think of how Jesus will work here in Canada. I will continue to trust in God’s help even as I pray for these dear followers of Jesus in Cuba.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Comedian


Some songs are so good it is almost irreverent to interpret the lyrics. Steve Taylor says that he worked twenty years on one of the songs on his Goliath album. There was not a week went by when he was not rolling this one around in his mind and coming up with better ways to say things. The result is astonishing. Not only are the lyrics an impeccable piece of poetry but the melody and the building of arrangement and presentation are highly emotive. I find that “Comedian” hits me at a number of levels and speaks to the challenges of being human and the mistakes we make as we take seriously the call to give honour and power and gratitude to the ultimate King and Lord of our lives.

Many have asked questions about what the song is about and Taylor has allowed the song to speak for itself without giving much interpretation. As with all art, the artist gives one side of the communication, and the one who appreciates the art allows it to speak to her or him and completes the other half of the conversation. With any form of art, what it impresses upon the recipient is a valid part of the exchange. Even when an artist did not explicitly intend for a piece to speak in a certain way, it may do just that in the life of the receiver.

I encourage you to listen to the song as you read these lyrics. Ask yourself, what does it do to your soul? After you have listened to the song and read the lyrics, I offer some of my emotions, understandings, and interpretations. They are certainly not the final word on this impressive work of art.

Comedian
(Music and lyrics by Steve Taylor)

The saints came marching in this morning
And they marched back out the door
Wholly offended
No pun intended

They gave up God for Lent and liked it
Declared Civilian War
No one's relented
No pun intended

I'll be doing stand-up
Here all week
I've learned to sign
So the deaf can watch me speak

The saints came marching back this evening
And they fell right through the floor
That number's ended
No pun intended

The Amen Corner's marching orders
Got nailed to my front door
They're all amended
No pun intended

The King of the One Liners
Had us thrilled
Then came the punchline
Now we want him killed

And when he's gone
Gone
Who gets the mic
If it's on?

The buzzards are attacking
Our prayer kites
We lost the air war
Now we're losing squatter's rights

And when they're gone
Gone
We'll need a new
Comedian

Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs

The King and I began a feud
That time will not erase
Until he wipes that
Omniscient smile
Off his face

The King and I are in a feud
That time will not erase
Until you wipe that
Omniscient smile
Off your face

And when it's gone
Gone
It's open mic
Is this on?

And didn't I thank you from the dais?
And didn't I do you good?
And didn't I take up all your crosses
That were made of balsa wood?

I've kept my demons pent up so long
The devil himself lost track
I've since repented
No pun intended

We stormed the stage
And occupied your place
To wipe that all-forgiving smile
Off your face

It's been there so
Long
Please welcome back
The first, the last
Comedian

Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans, God laughs
Man makes plans

(white-noise of a mic left on – the sound of a blade pulled from a scabbard – silence)

How this song affects me:

The puns throughout the song are subtle and sometimes hard to catch. They also cause me to pause and seek understanding. They have the effect of a “Selah” at the end of the line in a Psalm. “The saints came marching in this morning and they marched back out the door, wholly offended,” or were they “holy offended?” Thus, begin the questions in my mind. Steve Taylor has always been a controversial figure in church circles and in the recording industry. He is very much aware that he has wholly offended many of the holy, and not so holy, people in his life.

“They gave up lent … no one’s re-lented.”
“… kept my demons pent up … I’ve since re-pented.”

Court Jesters, a common person in the courts of Kings and Queens of the past, often over-reached and insulted the court in which they received their employment. Kings were known for allowing a jester to go so far and then throw them out (or worse). Taylor has a certain court-jester style about him in this song, and in his life. Sometimes he is going after the people of the court, sometimes himself, and sometimes his barbs are aimed at the very one who gives him life. There is mockery, confession, confusion, repentance, and shame in these lyrics.

I had to look up the concept of the “amen corner” to be sure I knew what it meant. One writer said that the “Amen Corner” is “the place where the most difficult and devout congregate.” Their “marching orders” get an official and collective “amen” even as they reserve the right to amend - so clever!

"I've learned to sign so the deaf can watch me speak." Is that a reference to film-making? Man shrugs and walks away.

Who is “the King of the One Liners?” Well, one might expect it is the song-writer and to some degree he does identify with this person, but more importantly, the “King of the One Liners” represents Jesus - in my opinion. The people of his time saw him as a great teacher and they loved his pithy stories and statements. But his punchline was that he would not be controlled by the preconceived ideas of the Scribes, Pharisees, or people. Jesus chose to lay down his life for the people rather than overthrow their Roman oppressors and no one knew what to do with this. Near the end, they cried out for his death. Taylor seems to be able to relate to the adulation, the “not being controlled,” and the cries for his death (or at least the death of his music).

Throughout the song, Taylor asks questions about who will ask the questions. Who will be the next comedian? He will not always be around to challenge the status quo and act the fool. Who will pick up the mic? “If it’s on!” “Is this on?” Can you hear me now?

“Man makes plans, God laughs,” is one of those statements that almost sounds biblical but is more accurately rabbinical. Its essential meaning is similar to what James 4:13-15 says. 

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.””

If we fail to take God’s will into our plans, our's are foolish plans. All the plans I have for my future must be considered within the will of God and must be encompassed in his plans for my life. Otherwise we become foolish comedians and God laughs at our naivety.

As God laughs and our self-centred plans are frustrated, we might even become angry with God; but the feud with God cannot have a pleasant outcome for us, as he smiles at us with omniscience and forgiveness. Still we take up the feud and storm the stage where he and/or his followers have been given the mic.

After the anger comes the self-righteousness. Didn't I do this and that for you? Didn't I carry your cross? Or at least the light piece? Why haven't you given me all I want?

The white noise at the end of the song begs us to answer the question: “is it on?” The mic is clearly on. Who will pick it up and be the next court jester asking the important questions and poking fun at the “amen corner.” The mic will not be on forever. One day the King will draw a sword from his scabbard and cut the cord, or perhaps - cut the chord.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ambition


It may be a surprise to hear a Baby-Boomer analysing his own ambition and the ambition of the rest of his demographic cohort. Put a group of us together and you will always have more “horsepower” than people in the room. Yet, we have not always been very good at introspection. We have traditionally left that to other cohorts.[1] Perhaps as we age toward senior citizens, we may find that we are prone to a little more self-analysis and questioning of our ambition. This allows us to see better how we might play nicely with the rest of the people in the work-force of the world, even as we begin our slow exit from that work-force.[2]

I return to one of my favourite artists, a Baby-Boomer himself, for an example of healthy introspection regarding our ambitions. Steve Taylor expresses himself in song-writing and film-making and has the reputation of a court-jester in the Kingdom of God. He speaks the questions we are all thinking and challenges our complacency about the things we have been taught but have not thought through for ourselves. Taylor, along with his band the Perfect Foil, released an album entitled Goliath in November of 2014. I wrote about the album at the time. Today, we return to the album for a song entitled, “Moon Shot.” Here are the lyrics (watch as you listen here):

I'm building a rocket
Been working so hard
Getting ready to rocket
Straight outta my backyard

I'm building a rocket
It's bigger than me
It's my gift to your future
My mega legacy

Ready, aim
The stars are aligning
Ready, aim
I've been sweating a lot
But I persevere
The hopes of a nation ride
Everybody gets one moonshot

I'm building a rocket
The neighbors are tense
When they point and they laugh
I don't even take offense

Ready, aim
A quiet confidence
Has been my mark
Since I was a tot
I've been sent here
To show you people how
Everybody gets one moonshot

I'm building a rocket
It's totally mine
It'll spell out my name
Where the sun don't ever shine

My motives are pure
I've untangled the knots
I'm ready for sure, Lord
Now give me all you've got

May the planets align for you
Hold steady and taut
If you're face down
In desperation, know
Everybody gets one moonshot

I'm building a rocket
It's not about me
You'll be thanking me after
I've saved humanity

I took steel and a feather
And welded them together
I took hellfire and ice
And made them play nice

The musical style of the song is right out of 90’s alternative and punk music and grabs my attention from the first drum beat and grind of the bass line. Steve Taylor’s two vocal styles within the one song (sweet and high; and scream growl) keep me listening and following the themes as I realize that the song is about more than a moon shot.

The song is about ambition and the crazy pursuit of fame. The singer is looking for a way out of his own back yard and he will do nearly anything to see his name spelled out in lights in some far distant place. He dreams of Andy-Warhol-type notoriety where he will get his fifteen minutes of fame. He senses the tension of organic fame rising up from those who admire him and the hard work he is doing to achieve his fame.

The singer wants to leave a mega-sized legacy and he believes it can be done, but there is still a questioning doubt as he wonders why it hasn’t happened yet. He tells us that his motives are pure, even as we the audience wonder if he is being transparent with us. He’s untangled the knots, a reference to the Gordian knots of ethical puzzles, and we sense there is still some ethical confusion and mixed motives, even as he says, “it’s not about me, I am saving humanity.”

The words that end the song are a tribute to the hard work of economics, performance, and art:

I took steel and a feather
And welded them together
I took hellfire and ice
And made them play nice

The person who could truly take the cold, hard steel of making a living and weld it together with the feathery beauty of art would be a "fortunate son." The only other question would be the staying power of that individual and so the video for this song nicely addresses the question of longevity. The entire song focusses on the band and the singer while the world revolves around them. Then, at the end, a small, young upstart shows up and crashes into the singer’s world. The upstart brings the singer toppling to the floor with a big crash. Cue the “New Kid in Town” and stand back. It’s their turn for the next “moon shot.”


[1]The concept of generational cohorts is a helpful, though incomplete, tool for discussing the driving forces of large populations. Although it is a poor representation of individual personalities, it provides a framework for discussions such as this blog. For a list of some of the major demographic cohorts of western thinking see these and other resources: “From Baby-Boomers to Generation Z,” Psychology Today, Ralph Ryback M.D., “The Truisms of Wellness,” 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201602/baby-boomers-generation-z; “8 Important Characteristics Of Baby Boomers eLearning Professionals Should Know,” Christopher Pappas, https://elearningindustry.com/8-important-characteristics-baby-boomers-elearning-professionals-know; “Baby boomers,” Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_boomers.
[2]My goal is to use the generational-cohort tool without relying too heavily upon it as we look at individual expressions of personality and ambition. If we press too heavily upon the tool, we will find that it readily breaks down with our analysis of individual motivations and natural tendencies.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Grace and Truth



Grace and truth, effort or earning, works or faith, justice or mercy, these are the conundrums of my life. I know that Jesus came into this world full of grace and truth and ever since, we who follow his example have desired to be people of grace and truth. I can never seem to find the right balance nor live in the right place of tension between the two. The newspapers tell us that the elders of Willow Creek Church in Illinois know all too well that one can easily extend too much grace, demand too much truth, trust people too much, love people too little, and fail miserably at justice for all. There is no doubt in my mind that I would rather extend grace than mete out justice. I would rather love and forgive than hate and punish, but there is a part of me that realizes that when I forgive Sir John A. MacDonald for his part in “The Indian Act,” I am hurting those who were hurt by the ethnic cleansing brought about by the Indian Act. Some of my current friends are people whose culture and their very lives have been damaged by the Indian Act. How do I seek justice for all? How does God extend grace and justice to all? Could God ever forgive those who have hurt or killed huge populations of people? If God forgave Hitler, could the Jews ever forgive God?

Perhaps “the answers to these questions are more questions such as these.”[1] Perhaps we need to give up our obsession with getting what we deserve and take what we are given. Perhaps the answers are found in songs, poetry, stories, and parables. J.R.R. Tolkien once interpreted the actions of one of his characters in the following way.

“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go” ― J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King

Might all of us choose to be one tiny Hobbit, one cog in the massive mechanisms of the universe? What difference might we make by pursuing the one thing to which we are called? Do we desire to be a Hobbit or a powerful Lord of the Eldar? Each has their place and their work to be done. Can we be satisfied if God has made us the Hobbit type?

"Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay by small acts of kindness and love." - J.R.R. Tolkien

I wish I had more answers and less questions. It seems that as I age, the questions multiply but the answers only subtract. I am learning more, but as I learn more, I find that I know less, because I have found more questions to ask. The stories begin to answer the questions. The parables hold the key, if only I could understand them better. The poetry of life contains the entire universe. May Jesus lead us ever closer to knowing him and his mission in the world.






[1] “Socrates” song written by Mac McAnaly on the album Live and Learn, 1992.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Once Upon A Time, Long, Long Ago


Once upon a time, in a land far away, a King awoke and surveyed his kingdom from the highest tower of his palace. He saw fields with green crops beginning to bear fruit. He saw a land of peace where neighbours cared for neighbours and disputes were settled with little struggle. He saw sheep and cattle grazing and young calves kicking up their heels in the dance of new life. He saw people carrying loads of goods that they had grown or made in their homes as they headed to the markets to sell their surplus. He saw children laughing and playing in safe streets. In short, he saw that all was well. It made his heart glad to see such a joyful kingdom for he knew that it had not always been so. Just a few years ago, this was a land of strife and people had grumbled in their homes and complained in the streets about the state of their country. People had starved for lack of food, the waters of the land were not fit to drink, and people had been quick to blame the king and one another for the sad state of this place.


The King had then gathered together all of his household and his staff and they had begun to work a plan. They taught the people how to care for the land and the wells, and they helped them manage their crops and plan for the future. They had held meetings to teach and to listen to the people of the land. They had poured many hours of labour and much of the king’s own treasury into making the kingdom a good place to live. And now that things were going well, people thronged from all of the adjacent communities to see this land and to learn from the collective wisdom of the people.

A celebratory thought crossed the king’s mind and he told his staff to prepare a banquet. He thought, “We should celebrate what we have accomplished.” They would celebrate the best successes of the land. They would feast and drink and dance and enjoy the crops of the land. The invitations were sent and the preparations were made. 

When all was ready, the king sent his criers out into the kingdom to call the people to the table. The message was sent, “All is ready come to the banquet.” But the criers came back with tears in their eyes. The people are not coming, they have busied themselves with other things. Some are doing business with their new-found wealth, some are working in the fields for even greater profit, and some are celebrating new marriages and new alliances.

The King was very sad for a moment. How could his people not see the importance of this banquet? Did they not see all that he and his staff had done for them? How did they become so fixated on the abundances of the land? Did they not see that there is a time for feasting and joyful banqueting?

The king’s sorrow lasted for just a moment and then he told his criers, “Go out into the new territories where the people have not yet been affected by the changes in the kingdom. Go to the places where the poor, the sick, the broken can be found. Invite them to join us. We will have a celebration greater than any seen before.” The criers said that they would do as he had said but there would still be room. The king said, “Make sure you look everywhere and ask everyone to attend. We do not want any to miss their invitation.”

So, the Great Banquet was held and all who came rejoiced and feasted. But, the king always knew it would have been a much better celebration if everyone had attended.