Monday, June 22, 2009

Pouncing on Weakness

There’s this guy who lives in the neighbourhood. We met last night at the park near our house. He’s a very friendly guy. By that I mean, as I suppose most people do, that he willingly and easily strikes up conversation with almost anyone. We start talking. He asks me if I am still doing church work. When I tell him I’m not, he hardly bats an eye. But I know that makes a difference for him. I first met him through another friend and she made sure he knew that I was a pastor. That seemed to make a difference for him at the time – in what way though I am not sure…
At our poker games he used to show up and down a couple of pops with us. He would usually proceed to tell us a few lewd or racist jokes. He loves motorbikes. Stitches redneck on his underwear if he wears any…
So we’re talking right. And the conversation slips unprompted over to religion.
This is a conversation completely familiar to me – predictable.
He says religion is fine for those who want it, need it, but look at all the mess it makes – like overseas. Yup, I agree. He says prayer doesn’t work ‘cause he asked my friend to pray for his buddy’s cancer test and it came out positive – so there must not be a God. He says that religion is about keeping rules that don’t seem to make sense (why can’t some people play baseball on Sunday – but watch the whole game on television). He says there’s a ton of hypocrites. He says its confusing which religion is the right one. They’re all teaching the same thing. He’s figures he’s pretty well off with the principles that he lives by – caring for other people, etc. He says if he ever did go to church it would be with people like my friend – someone who he feels comfortable with.
All the classic excuses and even an indication of opportunity...
Come on four spiritual law this guy – he’s ready!
Oh it gets better!
He admits that as a dad he loses his patience with his kids. He also tells me of the bender he went on last night. Perfect. Here’s an opportunity to tell him about the difference that being a Christian can make.
But wait – I lose my patience with my kids and even though I’m smug enough to think that my loss of patience is less harmful than his – I am uncomfortably aware of my own hypocrisy. And though I may not have polished off 15 beers and a bucket of rum sauce – I too could recount the excesses of my own choices.
So I tell him that following Jesus for me is not so much about answers, behaviour cures, or (hollow) miracle solutions to life’s problems. I tell him it’s about living some proven principles that not that unlike his own. I also tell him that he should follow his instincts about church. He definitely should check out a church with people he likes to hang out with. It’s nice to know that following Jesus is something that my friend is good at. Her and her husband’s relationship with this guys and his wife means the best opportunity that he has to experience the transformative power of Jesus’ lifestyle. It makes me happy to see that at least in this way living Jesus’ way has made a difference already.
I didn’t pounce on the evident weaknesses – I’m not ready for that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Bleeding heart

My bleeding heart is growing through your fence
You’re annoyed, I’m not dense!
That was not your plan
For the span
Between your cherry tree and gate
A clean picket slate
But my over-zealous plant seems to exaggerate
Its claim on the property it can stake
My mistake

The lady next door is losing her life to a malfunction her body cannot seem to correct. We call it cancer so that we can externalize it and make it the villain but it really is our own body turning against us. If only we would have eaten different or been more cautious we might avoid the tentacles of the monster lurking in the shadowless inside. She sits by her living room window to squeeze the last ounce of joy out her misery. So her husband asks me if it would be okay to trim my front yard tree so that she might see the neighbourhood a little better. I will not deny this simple pleasure even if it means that an already shabby looking tree looks even less respectable. Hidden away from sight she sits and stares out past my tree. She is looking uglier each day. My tree looks uglier than it ever did before. She feels even uglier than she ever has before and I forget that when I look at my tree. I’m struck by the inconvenience of illness. It really messes things up….

Your bleeding heart is growing through my fence
I’m not annoyed, I’m not that dense!
You would have kept those blooms
to yourself if you could have – not shared the doom
impending - coming too soon
with the quarter moon
rising and the darkness and the gloom
when your bleeding heart will stop growing
through my fence…

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Appreciation and New Complaints

Current roles that Char and I have adapted into post-BIG SWITCH, mean that I have been doing more of the household chores than I used to. This has lead to a new admiration for the role that has too often been relegated to stay-at-home-mom’s (ugly term). In my view there are a number of things that women have done around the house and still most often do (even if they work outside the home) that hardly measure on the radar of most common discourse. Here are a few examples…
1. Laundry. With four teenage boys, we are doing laundry once a week. It’s an all day task that if you are not careful with can run into two days. Set the timer on the stove to go off every 45 minutes so you can stay on top of it. Sorting the laundry must require some highly evolved cognitive superstructure that only women are advantaged to possess. I have been instructed numerous times with diligent attention paid and I still have to have all my piles resorted. It’s not as simple as matching colors or fabrics there are a myriad of nuances that can influence the creation of a particular pile or grouping of clothes. I admit freely I am not able to master this skill. As for the drudgery of sorting through people’s dirty stuff? – whatever. No big deal. But seriously ask yourself when was the last time you heard a riveting story about laundry catastrophe or surprising outcome from a sock inadvertently missed in the process of turning it inside out. Write off your day and do the laundry. Oh and to it right ‘cause we all know you can definitely do it wrong. I am betting that if laundry had been in man’s domain there might have been a few more technological advances. I mean the biggest thing that has changed since the day of the washboard is that they have turned the washing tub sideways? Really? And they have allowed you to use less soap? Really? Really?
2. Grocery Shopping. Again do to the Hoover vacuum cleaners at my table every day. Groceries are a weekly excursion. Grocery stores are stupid. It makes no sense to shop the way we do. With all the weaving back and forth between isles only to have the freaking manager decide he is going to change the location of almost everything in the store… If a man built a grocery store to match the fact that he was going shopping. It would be one long building with only one isle and a moving ped walk floor. You would begin with your dry goods and end with the coldest stuff and your cart would take your money when you dropped it off at the kiosk at you had loaded the stuff in your car after the valet had brought it around. Seriously, grocery shopping is messed up. I suspect there is some kind of covenant agreement between the underground women’s league with all grocery store chains to keep these stores laid out the way they are. I understand taking your time with the produce – touch it feel it you know! But listen lady standing in front of the granola bar section and staring at the box in your hand for ten minutes will not make the item cheaper or healthier. Grocery shopping is best understood as a covert military mission. Find your targets, capture and then get the H#$%^ out of there. The super store is not really all that super. It is not a park where you can get your ‘walking’ done.
There you go. I have to say I love my life and the changes that I get to live into but I am starting to wake up to this other part of the world which slowly I am recognizing as alien due mostly to that stinkin’ Y chromosome…

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rules of the Church Potluck

God may have rested on the 7th day but I’m pretty sure that the night before he told the woman, “hey, we’re havin’ a potluck tomorrow!”
Having been to a few potlucks in my short 40 years I have decided to lay down some essential laws pertaining to the potluck…
1. Children should be highly supervised by experienced adults (preferably the crotchediest woman on the church serving committee. Potlucks are invariably a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. Filled with the legends of potlucks dancing in their heads children are liable to take much of the precious potluck food which will sadly go to waste once they have sat down and return to their normative gustatory peculiarities.
---Corollary: Parents whose children do not finish their plates are obliged to finish their children’s plates also... even if they did take the mystery meat by mistake.
2. Two meatballs is an acceptable serving size at a potluck. ‘Overachievers’ will be prosecuted by the church board at the next meeting.
3. When considering which dish to bring to the potluck BANISH any thought of what might be the healthiest or most weight conscious entrée to prepare. Make your food as rich and full flavour as possible. Remember that Church Potlucks are intended to bring parishioners closer to their Maker so do your part by clogging their arteries as much as possible so that they might meet Him sooner.
4. It is critical to recruit a threatening tactical unit which will ensure that the youth of the church do not sit closest to the desert table. These young ones are just clever enough to have figured out the benefits of potluck without having the courage for the restraint needed to ensure the safe potlucking for the whole congregation.
5. THERE SHALL BE NO PREFERRENTIAL TREATMENT in allocating place in the line. The end of the pastor’s prayer shall be considered the starting gun – at which point it is the right and responsibility of each individual to make their way to the food line.
---Corollary: Some might suggest the pregnant women and the elder be given advantages in the line. This is potluck heresy. Consider that the elderly can make full advantage of canes and walkers to secure their place in line and pregnant women are ornery enough to get to where they need to be without some special jump-ahead-in-line pass.
6. Remember that your plate has a finite surface area and will snap when loaded in excess of 14lbs of food. You will be asked to clean up your own mess and there is no excuses acceptable that contend that food items have “run together on my plate!”
7. If you can skip out of the church gym there must not have been enough food – ask the pastor to preach a message on the topic.
8. If you waddle out of the church and barely make it to your couch for meddah shlope - You shall send an encouragement note to the evangelism committee telling them how good a job they are doing.
9. Potluck Serving ladies (and these days more and more men are attempting to take on this role) shall be nominated by the deacons and shall present their testimony to the membership meeting. Any evidence that the serving crew has intentionally reserved or orchestrate the placement of the food dishes to advantage their own repast shall be excommunicated (unless of course it can be proven that they always bring meatballs).
10. In-experienced potluckees (those who bring the potluck meals) shall not be compensated for improper labelling of their own cookware.
11. There is a proportional responsibility on the part of the potluckees who bring the most popular dishes to share their recipes given an appropriate compliment is given followed by an equally appropriate incredulous, "is it alot of work to make?"
---Corollary: Having had a wildly popular dish's recipe shared with you - YOU SHALL NOT bring it tot he next potluck and usurp the position of favor afforded to the reigning champions of previous potluck.

Monday, June 1, 2009

a little help here...

We recently had a wonderful visit with an old friend. We laughed and tossed around the obligatory reminiscences after a few months of not seeing each other. Inevitably as it seems most conversations seem eventually come around to talking about “Holy Things” (Nacho Libre ref.). Religion, church etc seem to crop up a lot in conversations that we have with people in general. My friend it would be fair to say has wandered around a bit spiritually – disillusioned by so much of the institutional expressions of church but certainly not abandoning faith at all. This is a smart talented person. One statement that my friend made caused me to extra intrigue in our conversation about God. In the course of our conversation my friend said something like this, “As far as faith goes, I pay attention to my heart and not my head. I’ve had so many questions lately and if I would have paid attention to my head I probably would not be a Christian right now.”
There is a lot to take away from a statement like that. First of all, it is a good reminder that we all approach the concepts of faith in nuanced pathways that involve both intellectual arguments and appealing emotional tones. It makes me wonder if sometimes there has been too much of a focus on thinking the right way or feeling a certain way in order to fully identify with the believing community. Modernity has served the church well in raising the requirements for thinking the right way as a measure of the suitability for participation in the body.
Second the statement is also a reminder of the fact that faith is far more complex than it used to be. I suppose this is due to the influences of a post-modern culture. Engaging with faith is not as simple as cognitive assent to 4 ‘spiritual’ laws or a codified catechism. There are significant questions that affect morality, doctrinal position and the like. This is not your Mom and Dad’s church/religion anymore. And if you still face the requirement to ‘think the right way’ you could be in a rough shape for a long while – trying to wrap your head around big issues like homosexuality and violence…
Third this statement teases out a rather scathing indictment on the body of Christ. Consider that there are numerous scriptural references that speak to the simplicity of following after the Rabbi from Nazareth (we are to be like children quickly springs to mind). Could it be that the church has complexified the essence of faith in all of its theological and doctrinal discussions to the point where it really remains out of reach? What I mean is that perhaps the church is guilty of the same folly that earned the Pharisees Jesus’ sharpest criticism, by making faith unnecessarily complicated for the average individual to engage with. Here I wonder if the disconnect is at the point where the actions of the church do not match what it is claiming to teach.
On the other hand perhaps this statement is also fairly revelatory about the mode of engagement that at least a certain group of people are inclined to pursue. Maybe this statement is a self-condemnation of sorts that reveals the instant-ness that we have all come to expect out of in our culture – a lack of willingness to engage with the deep thing of God, if you will.
All of these wonderings are significant if one supposes that the statement above is somehow indicative of the way (some) people are feeling/thinking. Some of Reg Bibby’s work (Restless Gods) tells us that more readily identifying as religious people and that the trajectory of secularism projected by the doomsayers of years ago are out to lunch. However even though people are identifying themselves as religious they are typically staying away from attendance and involvement in local institutions in greater numbers than before. Could it be that my friends statement is a least a contributing factor in these trends? I think it is worth exploring.
Ruminating on this statement has left me in a melancholy frame. It serves as an interesting mirror to reflect on the years of ministry that lie behind me. I am also prone to wonder if churches are paying attention to stuff like this and if they might be interested in taking the role of the presumably spiritually mature agent in this faith engagement. What I mean is that the church should take the burden of responsibility in addressing any stumbling blocks which might lie between apparently interested individuals and the faith in Christ that they claim to be purveyors of…
Here’s my goal to look for places where the body of Christ is doing this well – removing obstacles…(Humming: Arcades Fire's Intervention)