Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Several years before my husband died, I found under a stack of paper and bills, a poem torn from a magazine. It described perfectly not only his attitudes about his love of farming, but also the kind of man he was.
In the spirit of Novel Writing Month, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, a writing marathon. Participants must produce a 50,000 word novel by month end. That means I have to throw down close to 2000 words every day for 30 days. For some writers this comes easy. But not for writers like me who agonize over every word. Is it a repeat? Active voice? Does it express exactly what I mean? For me, November will be a month of overcoming word obsessions. The distracting colors of spell and grammar check distract so they'll be turned off. A slip of the finger here or there won't matter. All that matters is that words flow unstopped from my brain to the screen.
I've buddied up with other NaNoWriMo devotees. A little encouragement from a friend is always welcome in a marathon. A buddy 10,000 words ahead can send an encouraging message . . . don't give up, keep those fingers moving. Remember, write in November, edit in December!
November is home to both my daughter's birthday and mine. A little celebration, a chunk of cake and then back to the keyboard. It's also Christmas shopping month . . . In preparation, I've picked the brain of a shopping friend. She's given me retail websites and other gift ideas. Perhaps every five thousand words, I'll break to fill my on-line shopping cart. "Drop my purchases at the door. No signatures please. I'm tied up in my den, plunk, plunk, plunking out the next great historical fiction."
If I make it to the 50,000 word finish line, it'll be a great accomplishment for a slow-poke like me. I'll need an occasional walk and a daily upturn on my inversion table to keep my body from seizing up. Hours of sitting at my laptop make my knees scream and shoulders ache.
If you see me puffing along the writing trail, yell at me, in your outside voice . . . keep moving, ignore joints and other distractions. No pain no gain. Pick up the pace .
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
What else characterizes adult orphans? The particular attributes of the parents determine what we have lost in losing them. In my case and the same is true for many others I know, the loss of our parents has meant a loss of a constant source of spiritual renewal. Some of us had the good fortune to be given parents who prayed for us from before we were born and every day of their lives, as long as they had breath. When they left this world, we found ourselves bereft of a source of energy and strength that we may have taken for granted or even completely forgotten. Sometimes at an almost subconscious level, when this constant spiritual energy source is gone, there is a strange sense of void that we cannot quite put our finger on.
Whether parents have been the praying kind or not, they have tried to care for us and have given us a unique gift – our name. They were the first ones to call us by our name. The giving to us of our name created a distinctive bonding between us that lingers when we have grown and become completely independent from them in all other obvious ways. The name they chose for us is a particular marker of a stage in our relationship that in some ways may have shaped the person we have become. When they have gone, we still carry that name and it becomes a part of our legacy.
A child who has been orphaned may have only a few mementos to remind her of the parents that she has lost. We who are orphaned after many years of relationship with our parents may have material goods that they have passed on to us. More importantly, however, in our awareness of our loss, is that bank of memories where we have deposited from times spent together. Not only did we deposit them we also withdraw them. We have occasions through the years to take out the memories and examine them, giving us opportunities to discover facets of them we might have overlooked in earlier years.
Our long-term relationships with our parents gave us the chance to develop some perspective on our mutual strengths and weaknesses. We were able to make allowances for each other and forgive each other for our human failings. As we return the memories to the bank, after examining them more closely based on our own life experiences, we may see them transforming, so that hurt of the painful ones become less acute and the pleasurable ones increase in enjoyment.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s, “I don’t get no respect,” sailed into my consciousness the other day. Dangerfield’s self-deprecating humour served him well and garnered him a lot of respect from both showbiz peers and the public.
It’s interesting to me the things that start a thread of thought or trigger memories. But what brought that late comedian’s famous tag-line to mind and got me onto this track?
Earlier that day an author friend asked me to provide an endorsement for her latest book. The manuscript was to be sent off to the publisher and she requested a blurb from me. Why me? I wondered.
We’ve known each other for about five years now.During that time my friend has read and commented on several pieces of my writing and I likewise have done the same for some of hers. We are both inspirational writers – writing from a Christian world-view, with the desire to see people come to trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and grow in their life of faith.
I smiled. In recent years I’d been asked to write several endorsements and forewords for colleagues’ books. Some of them had published several during the time frame I got just one book out. With aroused curiosity I perused this question of why me? with quiet mischievousness.
Okay, so I’m a ‘one book’ guy . . . so far. The world has a lot of ‘one book’ guys and gals; one-major-achievement-people who, while having ability in any number of areas, are known outside their immediate circle for just one thing.
I chuckled at the thought: Rodney Dangerfield pitched thousands of funny lines over his years of stand-up comedy, but his “I don’t get no respect” one-liner became a defining phrase for him. Similarly, several sports originated in this country, but ice hockey is the one that till now has been predominantly associated with Canada, and is often said (correctly or incorrectly) to define it.
Dr. Christiaan Barnard demonstrated many skills and received many honours during his lifetime, but one could be excused for thinking he was a one book guy, since he is remembered worldwide as the first surgeon to successfully implement the first human to human heart transplant. (Barnard, in fact, authored a number of titles.)
You and I may have multiple skills and be capable of many things, yet might get pigeon-holed metaphorically into a one book slot. The inspirational question is whether that slot is one of respect; that our failures don’t define us, but wholesome qualities and the grace of God working in our lives.
Few of us shine as stars in everything we attempt. Fail we do at times, whether in projects we attempt, or in attitude and word or deed, yet those failures need not define us; God’s grace is redemptive.
In my musing I came to the conclusion that those friends asked me to endorse their work and write forewords to their books because they trusted me, they had confidence that my view would reflect a valuable quality as inherent in the work they produced.
The clincher: They actually respected me; at least, respected what I would write. It had nothing to do with my own achievements, or lack of them; it didn’t matter that I’m a one book guy.
A need to be respected lies at the heart of many a person who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, does it not? Some turn that into a need to control others, and certain people resort to abusive behaviours towards themselves, their spouse and children, and even of others around them. For some, substance abuse is all part of the mix.
They want respect and they demand it, but their negative behaviour robs them of self-respect as well as that of others.
The solution can be found in welcoming the Holy Spirit to work grace in us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).”
© Peter A. Black.
Black is the weekly inspirational columnist at The Watford Guide-Advocate and is the author of “Parables from the Pond” (Word Alive Press; ISBN 1897373-21-X).
Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
As a child I was very much aware of war, low flying planes caused me to run to a ditch or into the safety of a building, my father’s voice singing ‘The Letter Edged in Black’ reminded me that even the mail carried fear and pain. My city cousins used to talk about having to lower black blinds during air raids and pull black curtains over the windows. Even on the farm, with plenty of milk, eggs and garden produce, I remember the dish of butter with the five squares, and the ration coupons for shopping.
Walking home from the cenotaph last week, I began to think about the sanctity of life. In one congregation in which I served, we had twin brothers who had served in France. I asked them during an open conversation in worship, where they got their courage. One of them said, “Faith” and the other said, “I used to sing the hymns I learned in Sunday school.” Sanctity of life, faith and God’s presence in the moment and in our memories are the focus for courage.
Several days later following Remembrance Day, the coordinator in a small group I attend, asked us to think about similar thoughts. Stories of birth and rebirth, loss and discovery, sorrow and happiness seemed to weave the thread of life through the experiences.
I shared a story about my birth during a January storm and how my father traveled to the highway with the horse and cutter to get the doctor. Then, in the middle of another January snow storm thirty years later, that same doctor attended me in the local hospital, to herald in the birth of our third son.
Interesting how life and death repeat themselves through the generations. We stand and watch, we feel joy and pain, we look to one another for support and encouragement and when we stumble, someone offers us a hand. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child; truly it takes a village to mourn its collective loss.
Blessings and courage for the days ahead
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Why Christianity might survive?
A key reason America may be spared is the persistence of personal (not national) religiosity. As Phillip Longman noted (in alarm), it is mainly religious people who raise children. Half of all American women of childbearing age say that religion is important to them, versus one in six of European women.
That in itself provides evidence that Americans will replace themselves and Europeans will not: “When children become a cost rather than an asset, prospective parents must identify with something beyond their own needs in order to sustain child-raising.” Especially in a modern welfare state where those who raise no children expect a comfortable retirement based on the labour of the children of others. Raising children then becomes an act of faith with no earthly reward. One undertaken by evangelicals and observant Catholics but not so much by mainline Protestants.
The really remarkable and hopeful thing we learn is that the vital American model of Christianity (including sustainable populations) seems to be taking root in the global South.Why Islam is dying too?
Islam is dying too because the Muslim birth rate - according to reliable statistics - has crashed. How badly?
Across the entire Muslim world, university-educated Muslim women bear children at the same rate as their infecund European counterparts.
Whatever they believe about Islam, they have one or two children, but rarely three or four. Not enough to deliver their societies from demographic collapse, given the size of the families they came from. For example,
The average young Tunisian woman - like her Iranian or Turkish counterpart - grew up in a family of seven children, but will bear only one or two herself.
Education for women doesn’t in itself cause birth dearth, but abandonment of the land does. Muslims are not immune from the urbanization that turns children who were once a source of wealth into a major cost centre. Increasing numbers of people, there as here, hope that others will undertake the trouble.- From my columns in MercatorNet.
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain. Follow UD News at Twitter!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
On November 8th, the announcement was made at a black-tie dinner and awards ceremony for the latest winner of the Giller Prize. Broadcast live on CBC, Scotia Bank named Esi Edugyan as the 2011 winner.
Edugyan’s book, Half-Blood Blues, was published by Thomas Allen. Its earlier acceptance at Key Porter came up in her interview at Studio Q the next morning.
The neat thing about the Internet is having the opportunity to watch the event and press coverage days after the ceremony. The reporter interviewing Edugyan asked her how she felt about winning, pointing out not only the honour, but also the $50,000 prize money and also that her book would be in great demand.
The thrilled author was nevertheless humble and stated that she would have time for her little daughter who was born earlier this year. On watching the actual footage of the announcement, I noticed the disbelief, excitement and awe on her face when her name was called. Her response reflected those emotions as she struggled to put words to her acceptance. “Miraculous” was one of the words she used.
In her interview the next morning at Studio Q, she shared more about her publication journey with Half-Blood Blues. The book was actually in production with reading copies and a cover design completed when Key Porter made its announcement to suspend publishing operations. What a feeling that must have been for authors who had signed contracts and editors who had worked hard to make those manuscripts the best they could be. Authors, wondering if their book would ever be published, and editors, if they would be paid for the work they had put into their projects.
Edugyan said that she had no publisher for the book for 2-3 months and that there was a possible contract in Britain. She wanted a Canadian publisher, since Canada is her home, and was pleased when Thomas Allen took it on and rushed it to press early in the fall. She was equally as pleased when she learned the wide range of people reading her book.
When the radio announcer asked how she had made the voices and language sound so real, Edugyan said that she had read biographies of Louis Armstrong and another book that had been dictated by a jazz musician as he lay very ill. She studied the language of jazz musicians to get the cadence right and also invented some of the dialog herself. Of other details, she said, “My desire is to be as historically accurate as possible.”
Edugyan was “utterly astonished” to be chosen, with Michael Ondaatje, one of her literary heroes sitting behind her at the event. She had written a few things on paper, notes to herself about whom to thank if she should win, but not a real speech. Her humility was notable.
All of this makes me think of another contest—The Word Guild Awards and Gala— that celebrate excellence in writing. That is, after all, what contests are about—to recognize writers who have been working hard to improve their craft and contribute to a body of writing. While this awards contest may not have the same stature as the Giller, Booker and other public prizes, we can nevertheless, recognize and raise the bar among Canadian writers who are Christian.
Acknowledging that awards acceptance speeches are expected of winners, being ready rings true with this Toastmaster. Those who make the short list would be well advised to prepare a speech, for the emotion of such a moment will surely take over, as it did for Edugyan.
To say our writing is a gift from God is not enough. We have to be willing to revise and polish and make our writing the best it can be, in whatever genre we write. That’s where writer’s conferences, critique groups and continued writing and learning come in. When we use our gift well, we can inspire, entertain and educate with class—and change the world.
As for black tie dinners and awards— imagine yourself there on stage, delighted and surprised, like Esi Edugyan. Then get your entry into the contest. http://www.thewordguild.com/contestsawards/
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I never imagined that we can grow through conflict, that we can discover greater intimacy through facing the conflicts in our lives. Many of us are conflict-phobic. Through taking a course with my doctoral advisor Dr Paddy Ducklow, I learned that conflict is not something to be avoided but rather to be celebrated. Many of us have learned from our families of origin to emotionally cut ourselves off whenever anxious situations emerge. But avoidance and emotional cutoff just make things worse.
It takes courage to face painful situations in our life, courage to listen, and courage to confront. Dr Ducklow modeled on this course a non-anxious presence that cared but did not get swallowed by people’s issues. It takes a lot of inner resilience to be able to stay present and calm when the storms of life blow in.
Jesus modeled this by how he acted on a Galilean boat during a storm. Rather than panic, he was totally relaxed and challenged his disciples to have more faith and inner peace. Then he spoke to the wind and storms, saying ‘Peace. Be still’. In the midst of our storms, Jesus is still saying ‘Peace. Be still.’
I first met Paddy Ducklow in 1972 during the Jesus Movement when millions of young people came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Paddy at that time was leading the youth ministry at West Vancouver Baptist Church which had between 800 to 1,000 young people attending their Sunday evening service Salt Circus. I remember attending Salt Circus. The place was electric. Paddy later founded the Burnaby Counselling Group before becoming the Senior Pastor of Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Wherever Paddy has gone, he has had a lasting impact on the lives of many, helping them to know greater intimacy and peace through Jesus Christ.
In more recent years, Paddy became the Senior Pastor of Capilano Christian Community on the North Shore, before stepping down to become the Professor of Marriage and Family at Carey Theological College on the UBC Campus. Over two years ago, I began to once again feel the call to do a part-time doctorate. E-mailing Paddy, I asked his advice as to where I might go to do my doctorate. Paddy responded, saying that he was being inducted at West Vancouver Baptist Church that very night Feb 26th 2009 as Carey Professor of Marriage and Family. I attended his induction, during which Paddy gave a hilarious talk on ‘Marriage for Dummies’. God spoke to me that evening, convincing me that I was to ‘step out of the boat’ and move forward on my doctorate. The exciting thing about the Carey Doctorate is that it is a part-time program designed specifically for full-time pastors.
In the past two and a half years, I have learned and grown in so many ways at Carey. Paddy’s own Doctoral Thesis was on how we process conflict. Paddy is passionate about conflict. I will be doing my Doctoral project on Strengthening Marriages, particularly looking at couple conflict and family systems theory. My vision is that many marriages will become more intimate, more life-giving as couples learn to embrace and celebrate the inevitable conflicts in their lives. I dream of couples who, instead of emotionally cutting off and running, choose to hang in there and learn how to really be present to each other in ways that do not take each out.
Marriages and families are worth fighting for. Marriages and families are building blocks of our very communities. It is so easy for us to take each other out and then give up on each other. My prayer for those reading this article is that we will find the strength to be ourselves, to embrace the gift of family and community, to forgive and reconcile at the deepest level.
The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-published in the Nov 2011 Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide : Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada
You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide
Monday, November 14, 2011
|by Glynis M. Belec|
|Dad - 'marching' in the Remembrance Day parade November 11/11|
"They'll have to carry me out!" is his battle cry if anyone dare ask him about moving. I love his spunk and spirit. My sister and I are doing everything we can to help his remaining years be happy and stress free. (We have often said he might just outlive us~)
Friday, November 11, 2011
Just a quick perusal of BBC online or English Aljazeera, two news sources that I go to on a fairly regular basis, one can see how privileged we are as Canadians. We have so many freedoms to be grateful for. We have a democracy that works.
There is a YouTube video that has, I am sure, gone viral by now, and maybe you have seen it - in it a street interviewer, microphone in hand, is asking groups of young people questions like, 'Do you know what the Halocaust is?' and when they shrug and say they don't know, he presses on. 'How about Adolf Hitler, you know who he is?' More shrugs. More comments like, 'The name sounds familiar, but I don't watch the news.'
Now, I don't know how accurate a portrayal this is of our Canadian youth, but even if only a few don't know the answers, we, as writers have a job to do, a sacred calling, if you will, to make sure generations to come never forget.
So, I will end , inadequate as this is posting is on this awesome day, and say thank you.
Lest we forget.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
“Nana, am I five now?” my third grandbean, aged a mighty three, asked the other day. “Cuz when I get to five, I can SPEED!”
Slow down, child. Just a minute ago, I was five too. Back then (a half-century ago, in 1961) the average hourly wage was $1.15, and the average annual full-time salary, about six and a half thousand dollars. But $18,800 would buy a new house, and $2,275 a brand new car. Gas cost 31 cents a gallon, and you could mail a local first class letter for 4 cents.
A half-century ago, the world contained just 4 billion people. Canada’s population sat at 18,238,247. In the U.S., John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President, and the same year marked the birth of future president Barak Obama—just in time to have his bottom pampered by the first disposable diapers in the world.
To the south, President Fidel Castro declared Cuba a Communist State. In Germany, Berlin constructed a wall.
But in 1961, entire Western families still sat together on tweed couches, watching Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision (or Dick Van Dyke) on 12” black and white televisions (perhaps munching toast that came from a 21 cent loaf, drinking milk poured from a $1.05 gallon jug.)
Those same families likely shared a church pew on Sundays, and bowed their heads to pray before they ate.
Times have changed some. Do I want my grandbean to speed, to five or fifty-five? On the contrary. I shudder to think what the next half-century holds for the simple faith already growing inside her.
Here’s why: A great and spreading ache has overtaken us. The Biblical message that God loves the world, and sent his Son as the answer for our deepest needs is under attack as never before.
In many countries worldwide, determined efforts to undermine the Christian faith—even eliminate it—have escalated. Inside many Western Christian churches, doctrine is dancing to the piper of social acceptability.
In other parts of the world, speaking up for those things that are trademark to Christianity: respect for life, right living, love for one’s neighbour, kindness to the weakest members of society, forgiveness of one’s enemies, intolerance for injustice and inequality, and defence of the Word of God, is tantamount to a death sentence.
There’s more: according to the organization, Voice of the Martyrs, in the countries of North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and over sixty other countries, one Christian is martyred every five minutes. It is routine in those countries for Christians to suffer torture, harassment, rape, imprisonment, slavery, kidnapping and death.
That organization has designated this Sunday, November 13, as this year’s International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. They would like to remind Christians in the West to pray. If one suffers, we all suffer, they say.
Pray this Sunday, for Christ's Body West and Christ's Body East. And for the sake of my grandbeans, and yours, and all the children of God--don't stop.
Find more information at www.dayofprayer.org
author, columnist, broadcaster
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
He was critical of the European tradition of propagandist poetry that glorified war, and its naive acceptance by his own generation. He upheld a poetry of truth, criticizing the artists and intellectuals who chose to serve partisanship. He was also critical of national churches for betraying the Christian message, and twisting the teachings of Christ to justify politics. He interpreted one of Christ’s instructions as: “Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms...”.
His poetry is often characterized by irony and sarcasm: In “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” Owen has the angel tell “Abram” — “Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.” Owen then twists the Biblical story into a new parable, making the patriarch a parliamentarian:
-----But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
-----And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Similarly those who claim to represent God are portrayed in the following poem:
I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.
And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, not even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.
In 1917 he wrote, “Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend...” and that it wasn't only the allies who heard that voice.
Wilfred Owen was killed by an enemy bullet, on 4 November 1918, just one week before the end of the war. The following, one of his best known poems, may suggest that the church had no place at the front lines, because it had sent young men to their deaths.
Anthem For Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca
This is this week's post from: Kingdom Poets Follow this link to see dozens more, including some of the world's most celebrated poets, as well as some lesser known treasures.
Monday, November 07, 2011
But I have come to realize that setting goals is important. The discipline motivates and keeps me on track. I spent a sleepless night last night thinking about that exact thing. (some of these chemo drugs are stimulants that keep me awake - could call it a benefit in some ways. Instead of 24 hours I get about 36!)
As I pondered the dismal part of my writing life lately - being dumped by my publisher and coming in second in a contest that would have seen that book published anyway - I decided to shake that dark cloak off and set some goals to keep moving forward. It was about 3:00 a.m. but my mind was whirling.
So here they are -
1 - Finish the final edit on A Tumbled Stone, the sequel to One Smooth Stone; format it into an ebook then get it online at Smashwords and Amazon.
2 - begin research for new project - historical non fiction set in Saskatchewan.
3 - write said book; re-write said book into a play - or maybe vice versa
And now that they're set I'm excited again. Goals can do that too. So how about yours? Have you set yours down yet?
Marcia Lee Laycock author of One Smooth Stone, (www.vinemarc.com) A Tumbled Stone, Spur of the Moment and
Abundant Rain. (www.smashwords.com/books/view/58017)
Friday, November 04, 2011
Dr. Robert McQuilken did the opposite. When this theologian's wife took ill, he stayed faithfully at the side of his partner of 40 years to the extent of quitting his job so he could provide around-the-clock care.
Sickness is one of many reasons we can find, if we're looking, to rationalize breaking our marriage vows. But the Bible is clear that marital separation should be a rare thing. Here are some things the Bible says about the marriage bond:
• Husbands are to love their wives as themselves and as sacrificially as Christ loved the church, while wives are to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:25,28, 33; Colossians 3:19).
• Wives of unbelieving husbands should stay with them, hopefully winning them to belief by their outer and inner beauty (1 Peter 3:1-4).
• Our prayers may be hindered by marital strife (1 Peter 3:7).
...and there's no expiry date on any of these.
This story in more depth:
- ABC News story "Pat Robertson Says Alzheimer's Makes Divorce OK"
- Christianity Today article: "Living By Vows" by Robert McQuilken
By Violet Nesdoly - excerpted from "Till Alzheimer's Do Us Part" posted originally on Other Food: daily devos.
- Personal blog promptings
- Writerly blog Line upon line
- Daily devotions for children Bible Drive-Thru
- Daily devotions for adults: Other Food: daily devos
- A poem portfolio
Thursday, November 03, 2011
The blessings—and danger—of divine proximity.
(In the October issue of Christianity Today, posted online 10/17/2011)
Here is my newest CT column - an attempt to grapple with some aspects of God's judgment in light of his mercy ... I'd love to know what you think!
Last summer, we hired a man with a power washer to clean our deck. As he blasted the dirt that had defied our feeble garden hose, I found myself wishing all the muck in my life could be dealt with so efficiently. Sticky kitchen floor? Messy relationships? Unleash the water pressure!
But not so fast. Two weeks earlier, a neighbor's teenager, Matt, was cleaning the driveway with a rented power washer when he felt an ant crawling on his calf. Instinctively, he turned the nozzle toward his leg, obliterating the insect—and, unfortunately, some layers of muscle and tissue. Matt's injury is not uncommon; an online search produces innumerable accounts of gruesome wounds and even fatalities related to the use of pressure washers.
So I decided to give my handyman and his potentially flesh-stripping machine a wide berth. I had to do some reading for a biblical studies course, so I sat by my kitchen window and kept one eye on my yard and the other on the Pentateuch.
I was making my way through Exodus, feeling a little jealous of my spiritual ancestors. It seemed they never had to wonder if God was there. They had only to follow pillars of cloud and fire, gathering up the manna served fresh daily from God's kitchen. At Sinai, Yahweh made his presence even harder to miss, clearing his throat with thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, trembling mountains, and billowing smoke.
I wondered why the present-day actions of the immutable God sometimes seem so muted in contrast to the God of Moses. I wouldn't mind a pillar of cloud or fire when I need direction, or some manna on my front lawn when I pray for provision.
But 10 chapters into Leviticus, I sobered up to the dangerous side of God's proximity to the Israelites. They had just set up the tabernacle, and two of Moses' nephews had been recruited for the priesthood. When they failed to follow protocol and offered "unauthorized fire" at the altar, "fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:1-2).
This seems a little harsh. Two guys make one mistake their first day on the job, and they get "fired." But other similar incidents had the same tragic result: Achan's stashed plunder (Josh. 7), Uzzah's casualness with the ark (2 Sam. 6), Ananias and Sapphira lying about their offering (Acts 5). In each case, God was inaugurating a new era in salvation history, and in each case, his holiness was underestimated with dreadful consequences.
These episodes remind me of a strategy employed by one of my schoolteacher friends. On day one, he sends the first unruly student into the hallway, knowing that an early show of authority makes the rest of the year go smoothly. It is tempting to think of the disturbing accounts of God's judgment as cases of extreme classroom management.
But as I struggle to reconcile Yahweh's apparent "zero tolerance" policy in these stories with the inexhaustible mercy we see in Jesus, I wonder if both the wonderful and awful aspects of God's power experienced at close range aren't more like the blasts of a pressure washer than the techniques of an irate teacher. God's holiness is the very thing we need to get wholly clean. But, unmitigated, it's too much for us. We can't survive it.
Maybe Yahweh's holiness (and its sometimes fiery consequences) became more visible at turning points in salvation history less because God wanted to set a stern example, and more because at those moments he'd drawn particularly near to his people in all his power. As envious as I might be of God's visibility to the Israelites, they clearly sensed the danger inherent in his proximity. In Exodus, they ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf, so they can stay at a safe distance.
When I grasp that God's holiness is necessary for my cleansing but is also, by its nature, a vaporizing force, two things come into clearer focus. First, I begin to perceive God's judgment as no more malevolent than the blast of water from a pressure washer. It is simply God's holiness doing what God's holiness does. Second, this reality points to one reason we need a mediator. Jesus is the only human who could vicariously absorb (and ultimately survive) the cleansing we so desperately need. Because of him, we are washed not by a force so intense it annihilates us, but rather by the blood of the Lamb.
Just like I wish I could turn the power washer on all the messes of my life (without the resulting carnage), I still find myself longing for more visible manifestations of God's nearness and power. But in the final analysis, I am grateful that the God who once resided in a cloud on the mountain now lives in us, baptizing us not with an obliterating flood, but with his Spirit.
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