Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carolyn Wilker--In the World of Storytelling

One of the first and most frequent lessons I learned as I began to write seriously was that I should show more often than I tell. In time, I learned that storytelling is a useful way of showing.

When I write devotions, a story shows what I mean. When I’m writing an inspirational piece, there’s no better way of sharing than by telling a story, mine or that of someone else. When I’m teaching my class and need to give an example, I use a story or anecdote where appropriate.

Even a poem can be a mini story to share some small slice of life. I could tell my readers that when I was a child I played in a sandbox beside a birch tree and that we had trucks and cars and water, but the poem does it better: “Once Upon a Sandbox” from my book of the same title (pub 2011):

Once upon a sandbox

its painted boards once leaned against

the silver birch

that shaded hatless children

sand turned to muck with hose and bucket

we built roads and riverbeds, fields and lanes

tractors planted and trucks got stuck

we drove those roads at five and seven

with tiny wheels and hoots of laughter

played out life with sand and water

Storytelling doesn’t stop with writers; it’s for speakers too.

Early in my membership in The Word Guild, one voice rang out strong. N. J. Lindquist, co-founder, reminded us that someday we may be called on to speak about our writing, give a workshop on writing, or promote a book. As much as standing in front of an audience was uncomfortable to me, I decided that I had better get ready.

Upon joining Toastmasters, and in giving speeches and practising impromptu speaking, I again learned the value of story. I can get up and speak on values, but in that process, I’d better have a story to illustrate it.

After achieving my Competent Toastmaster designation (now called Competent Communicator), I started on advanced manuals, including the Storyteller manual. As I worked through those projects, other Toastmasters said that I had a good storytelling voice. With a desire to learn more about storytelling, I attended an Open Story night at The Story Barn in Baden, Ontario, and then joined the storytelling guild too. It meant that I could listen to other’s stories while I learned about the art of oral storytelling. In truth, I was hooked on stories, not just for teaching, but as entertainment too.

Recently, I participated in a public event as a storyteller, at Steckle Heritage Farm, for their Winter Fun Day. I used folk tales, Aesop fables, song, and personal stories. Parents and children listened and participated, and at one point, a young girl who knew the story supplied the next line for me. She was so involved that she wanted to participate. Isn’t that what storytelling is about? Bringing the story to life through spoken or written word?

Stories— that my mother told at bedtime, that our teachers told or read in school, and that our pastor shared in confirmation class—passed along a love of story that I’ve never lost. I come home from a storytelling night or a concert so filled with story that I continue to think about it. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

As storytellers, we are the vessel through whom the story comes to life for the audience. The audience receives the story and is immersed in it. As writers we, too, need to take our readers on a journey. Just be sure, as writer or storyteller, that you bring the audience back when the story is over.

Book signing for Once Upon a Sandbox on March 10th, at Chapters Waterloo, King Street N. Waterloo, from 1-3 pm

Monday, February 27, 2012

When marriage died in Fishtown ... - Denyse O'Leary

When marriage died in Fishtown ...

... so did a lot of kids’ futures.

In Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, sociologist Charles Murray offers some figures to think seriously about. He estimates that in working class neighborhoods today, like his emblematic “Fishtown,” nonmarital births as of 2008 were around 43 to 48 percent of all births. (In nearby fashionable Belmont they were around 6 to 8 percent.)

But why does so-called “nonmarital” birth matter?, some ask angrily: Aren’t all kids precious? Who cares if their parents have wedding rings? What matters is love! And maybe, just maybe, some people are too obsessed with their private uptight morality, judging others when they should be helping them. Stop hating, stop judging, just help!

No problem, we won’t hate or judge. We will just help. But now a problem arises: What does the child of a lone parent lack that strangers can provide?

Commentator Mark Steyn provides a snapshot of Fishtown reality to set us thinking,
If, as I do, you live in the country, you have dozens of neighbors like Miss Strader – nice high-school girls who babysit your kids; you lose touch, they move to the next town, and you bump into them a couple of years later doing the late shift at the diner or the general store; they’re 23 or 24, with three kids by three different guys. And they’re still nice, and still kinda pretty, if aged beyond their years. But life and its opportunities are fled.
There are reasons why, throughout history, women have avoided having children on their own by several different guys. Here are two of them:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are We There Yet?

by Glynis M. Belec

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

     When Ruthie, Eddie and Jannie came to visit one week, I was reminded about what it meant to be a mommy to junior munchkins all over again.

The week was…uh…well…full. Yes. That’s it – full. Full of creativity cleverly disguised as messes. Full of cooperative play opportunities often interpreted as arguments. Full of educational moments initiated by questions upon questions upon more questions.

     When my visiting trio walked into a room they exploded. Books, toys, craft supplies, dress-up clothes I’d forgotten even existed, were scattered about the house. Messes I could overlook. A sore back from bending to pick up after everyone could easily be soothed by a good night’s sleep. Who knew how many kilocalories I burned dancing around the kitchen with five-year-old Ruthie to the ever hip sounds of “Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo; How about You, You, You?”

     Activity and creativity I could handle. It was the not-so-cooperative play part that sent me into colorful stages of bridling the tongue. Whining made me crazy. Bickering caused headaches. Telling tales grieved me somewhere in my teeth. That week I experienced a taste of all three. But I knew my junior relatives were going home soon. So I decided to grin and put up with it.

     The voluminous questions were the best. “Are we there yet?” was Eddie’s favorite. Every 60 seconds I had to give a run down on lap time, RPMs, distance, speed and ETA every time we went anywhere.

     One afternoon we went swimming. I think the best question that day came from Ruthie’s lips. “Aunt Glynis. Why do you gots two towels?”
“Because I have a lot to cover,” I said with lilting laughter.
“Oh,” came the sweet little beep in response. Ruthie didn’t get the joke. She believed me. I could tell by the look in her eye. Now she would tell everyone I was fat and needed two towels to wrap around me. She didn’t hear me say I was kidding. I should have known better.

     Then there was Jannie. Jannie was nine going on sixteen. She was a vegetarian, so she informed me. I thought vegetarians had to be at least 25 years old. Each evening she’d check out what was for supper and announce her hatred for the poor dead animal sizzling on the stove. “Eggs are okay as long as they are not fertilized,” she told me. I hesitated to tell her about Belshazaar, the macho rooster who dwelt amidst my contented egg-laying cluckers, lest she suspected. I pretended not to notice when I spotted her picking a bit of pork chop from her brother’s plate when no one was looking, though. I’ll wait ‘till she’s 25.

     Night times were the best. I had no complaints then. Was it the anticipation of lights out and tender, young bodies resting peacefully between the sheets?  Nah…it was the stories. I loved the stories. I loved to tell the stories. I loved to act the stories. Bedtime was fun.

“Stand back…I’m going to sneeze,” said the elephant. “Look out for the falling cloud!”

     Ruthie, Eddie, Jannie and I dove for cover under the bed. I was a kid again. I loved it.

     I sure do miss those kid-like moments. Big kids don’t ask for bedtime stories. Adulthood requires adult conduct – which doesn’t often involve high drama and various sound effects. Childhood is just too much fun.

     When I contemplate the scripture where Jesus talked about becoming like a little child, I get excited. I have a lot of grown-up hang-ups. But I also have a lot of child-like (much to the chagrin of many) urges. How hard can it be to become a child again?

     My adult mind tells me the criteria for entering the Kingdom of Heaven involves a little more than whooping it up when the elephant sneezes, though. I’m thinking this is more about the flawless faith of a child and his ability to wholly trust. Can I do it?

     I think it’s time to evaluate how childlike I really am.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Prodigal--den Boer

Angela wanted a dog. She never passed up an opportunity to say so. I didn’t want a pet of any sort and adamantly said, “No.” Of course Angela’s younger sisters and brother were on her side.

Secretly my husband was too; but Marty knew how much I didn’t want one, so he quietly watched the campaign progress.

I didn’t want to feed or walk a mutt and I absolutely didn’t want to clean up after one. Angela begged and bargained. She would feed the dog, walk the dog and even scoop the dog. I didn’t believe her.

She argued; I argued back. She tempted me with a glorious promise. She said she would keep her room tidy to show she was responsible enough to take care of a dog. I laughed for she was promising the impossible. She smiled for she knew she had found the path to her pet.

She immediately straightened her room. She organized her dresser. She hung her clothes in the closet. She put her books on the shelf. And best of all, she quit stowing candy wrappers, pencils, hair barrettes and dirty laundry under her bed.

I was impressed. Angela didn’t miss the opportunity, “See I am responsible enough to have a dog.”
“It won’t last,” I said. It didn’t, but it took almost a month before I discovered clothes on her floor and candy wrappers under her bed.

Of course by then I was hooked on the neat room and effectively lost the pet battle by saying, “Your room doesn’t look like a dog.” Angela smiled and efficiently tidied up.

“Your room doesn’t look like a dog,” held magic. For me it meant an instantly tidy room. For Angela, of course, it meant she would get a dog eventually.

Reluctantly I found myself saying, “Maybe after our holidays.”

At once a chewed-up dog house appeared. Grandpa came to re-trim and re-shingle this garage sale acquisition for us. Then Marty fenced in the yard. The reality of a dog was closing in on me.

I was still unpacking vacation gear when Marty and the kids rushed over to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), just to look, they said.

They came home with a dog. He was a young but full-grown collie-cross with short cinnamon hair. He acted friendly and wasn’t a barker. I resigned myself to his presence.

The kids loved him. They showed him his backyard domain and his dog house, explaining that Mom didn’t want him in the real house.

The very afternoon of the day we acquired our nameless pet, Marty and I had a local wedding to attend. Before we could go Marty felt compelled to vacuum the van. For some reason there were little brown and white dog hairs on all the seats. After the wedding ceremony it began to rain, so we slipped home. We were met by tearful children, “The dog is gone.” They showed us a narrow gap in the fence. I managed to contain my inappropriate happiness.

The kids had already inundated the neighbourhood with lost-dog posters and recruited neighbourhood children to ride bicycles up and down the streets looking.

Where was that rascal?

Marty promised to scout around, but first he drove me to the wedding reception where I sat, unaccompanied, wondering about my sad family. Meanwhile, Marty cruised the streets in vain, in what had become a pouring rainstorm. He arrived at the reception just as the newlyweds were leaving.

“At least he has a dog tag,” I comforted.

“That’s still in my pocket,” Marty admitted sheepishly.

We returned to our unhappy, pet-less abode. Marty phoned the SPCA. They remembered our wonderful animal and promised to return him to us if he were picked up.

Then the rain stopped, the sun came out, and a neighbour brought the news. He had caught a glimpse of 

Rascal (for that was his name now) up the street rubbing noses through a fence, with a girl
That evening there was joy in our home. As for me, I identified with the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28)

The displeasure I felt in sharing my home with a dog and my animosity toward Rascal are reminiscent of the anger the older brother expressed at the love their father showed to his contrite brother. It is also very similar to the way we Christians sometimes feel and express ourselves when the lost and broken try to join our church families.

This is an excerpt from Blooming, This Pilgrim's Progress by Marian den Boer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kingdom Poets Shares Marilyn Nelson - Martin

Marilyn Nelson is a Lutheran poet whose collections have, three times, been finalists for the National Book Award — including The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997). She served as poet laureate of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006. In a recent interview with Jeanne Murray Walker for Image, she said that some of those who most influenced her early writing were the Harlem Renaissance poets, such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, and other African American poets.

She is also known as a children's book author; at first, some of her adult poetry was published as books for younger readers — including Carver: A Life in Poems, a spiritual biography of George Washington Carver (2001), and Fortune's Bones (2004). She has now also intentionally written books for children.

The following poems are from her collection, Magnificat (1994).

Incomplete Renunciation

Please let me have
a 10-room house adjacent to campus;
6 bdrooms, 2½ baths, formal
dining room, frplace, family room,
screened porch, 2-car garage.
Well maintained.
And let it pass
through the eye of a needle.


So many cars have driven past me
without a head-on collision.
I started counting them today:
there were a hundred and nine
on the way to the grocery,
a hundred and two on the way back home.
I got my license
when I was seventeen.
I’ve driven across country
at least twelve times;
I even drive
late Saturday nights.
I shall not want.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

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:

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, February 20, 2012

A Silent Voice in a Small Box - M. Laycock

In his article, Rock in the Rain in Servant Magazine, Philip Yancey mentions the elections in Ukraine after the Soviet Union fell apart. He details how Victor Yushchenko opposed the standing regime, was poisoned and almost killed for his efforts. Undaunted he recovered and stayed in the race for the presidency. On election day he had a clear lead but through “outright fraud” the government reversed the results and declared him defeated.

But they had forgotten about a small detail on their national television broadcast – a small screen that appeared in the corner, providing translation for the hearing impaired. The translator, the woman who appeared in that small box, signed a very different message than the one the government wanted heard. Her communication, the truth that Mr. Yushchenko was indeed their new president, launched the “Orange Revolution” that eventually toppled the government and established him as leader of the country.

Mr. Yancey likens that small box in the corner of the big screen to the church. I liken it to communicators of faith, including writers like you and me.

In the midst of the barrage of lies that scream at us all continually, we are small, we are barely audible at times; yet, because we are speaking truth we are working for God’s kingdom and eventually it will prevail. All it took in that time of deceit and tragedy in the Ukraine, was for one person to have the courage to do what she could to get the truth out there. God did the rest.

We may be small. We may be almost unheard. But God will use our voices to accomplish His purposes. Keep signing from your small box. You never know who might see, who might hear, who might respond.

"Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. " Zech. 4:10

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eau de Parfum of Christ - Nesdoly

This Christmas my husband gave me a bottle of perfume—one of my favourite gifts. I loved the fragrance he picked and soon found myself online, finding out about my new scent and the world of perfume in general.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:14 that our lives are the perfume of God to the world: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."

Some of the characteristics of perfume I discovered as I researched my new gift help us understand aspects of the fragrant life.

  • Commercial perfumes come from a multitude of sources: barks, flowers and blossoms, fruits, roots, seeds, animal glands...
This speaks of how the scent of Christ wafts from many peoples and places.  Individuals of every tribe and nation and from all over the world will be in heaven (Revelation 7:9).

  • A perfume unfolds in stages. Its first impression is called its top or head note. When that fades the middle or heart note becomes prominent. Finally its base note is established, becoming the scent that lingers the longest.

This brings to mind the fact that the perfume of Christ pervades all our interactions from casual to intimate. Its fragrance should be evident in first encounters with people behind us at Starbucks and those we do business with on the phone. It should blossom in our relationships with people who know us better like neighbours, and friends. In fact, it should be the very stamp of our character so that even those we live with—spouse and children—will know its lingering fragrance.

  • The same perfume doesn't smell the same on every person. When perfume molecules come in contact with the unique chemical makeup of our skin, they react and unfold differently.
We can take this as a picture of how the perfume of Christ manifests uniquely through each person's blend of personality, talent and experience. It involves each of us growing the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and using our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Instead of describing this perfume as floral, spicy, fresh or woodsy, we could name these perfume types merciful, generous, prophetic, wise, faith-filled, instructive.

  • When putting on perfume, the advice is to apply it to pulse points. That's because perfume's fragrance strengthens as it's warmed. When our pulse increases due to exertion, excitement, or stress the scent spreads more efficiently.
Does that mean that life's stresses are good for spreading the perfume of Jesus? Probably. If we are full of Him, His scent (or lack of it) will spread more than ever when our lives heat up with trouble.

  • Another tip for perfume application is to spray it into the room and enter its mist in order to be enshrouded by scent.
This reminds us of how important it is to spend time in the perfume—reading and studying God's word, praying, meditating, and spending time with other Christians.

  • Finally, we all know that wearing perfume is forbidden in many places. That's because some people are allergic to perfume scents and actually experience physical dis-ease when in their presence.
2 Corinthians 2:16 reminds us that not everyone will appreciate or welcome the Christ fragrance that we carry. To those who have rejected Him, it is the fragrance of death. It should not surprise us that there are more and more places where sharing the good news about Jesus is forbidden. When we do it anyway, we'll probably get into trouble.

How are we doing as spreaders of the perfume of Jesus? Is this world a sweeter  place because of our presence?

(From the Archives of Other Food: daily devos)


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Other Prodigal Son - Arends

Only recently, however, have I begun to discover that the older son in Jesus' story is every bit as lost as the younger one. In his book The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller points out that the two brothers represent the two basic ways people try to make life work. The younger son pursues "self-discovery"—he's on a quest to find and fulfill himself, even if a few people have to get hurt along the way. The older brother is committed to a more socially respectable way of being in the world—the way of "moral conformity." He's on a program of self-salvation, earning the approval of his community and the favor of his father; when he feels the terms of this deal are violated, his good attitude evaporates into resentment.
Kenneth Bailey is a theologian who spent 40 years living in the Middle East, striving to resituate Jesus' stories in their original Palestinian context. He points out that for Jesus' audience, respect for one's father is paramount; the younger son's request for his inheritance from a still-healthy patriarch constitutes an unthinkable offense. It amounts to saying, "I wish you were dead."
But the older son's conduct—refusing to join the party for his brother and arguing with his dad in front of the guests—is no less egregious. Hospitality was of supreme value in 1st-century Palestine. The entire village would likely have been invited to the party, and the oldest son would be expected to co-host the proceedings. His refusal is another round of humiliating rejection for the father. But the father actually goes out looking for this son, entreating him to come join the party, and Jesus leaves the story unfinished. Will the son abandon his own plan for making life work and accept the extravagant gift of his father's love and inclusion? Or will he stick to the terms of his deal and exclude himself from his place in the family?
I was discussing this story not long ago with a Bible study group made up mostly of "older brothers" and "older sisters." We'd played by the rules much of our lives, but we were beginning to see that our good behavior had been at least subconsciously a form of self-salvation—an attempt to earn God's approval and maybe even obligate him to do what we wanted. When we considered the fact that Jesus told this story to the Pharisees (older brothers if ever there were some!) in response to their outrage over his association with "sinners," we realized the parable is primarily about the father's relationship with the older son. "How did this story about two sons ever even get called 'The Prodigal Son'?" one of us asked. "An older brother must have named it!" was the answer.
As we pondered the implications, one of the women confessed, "Still, it doesn't seem fair that the father had never thrown a party for the older son." ?Several of us admitted that we, too, related to the son's complaint.
We moved on to another of Jesus' stories: the parable of the Great Banquet. I began to wonder if, from Jesus' perspective, having a feast thrown in one's honor is a blessing, but being invited to help the father host the banquet is a vastly greater gift. My husband and I love holding pool parties in our backyard. When things go well—when lots of people come and the food is tasty and there is laughter and music and good conversation—there is a particular satisfaction and intimacy we share as we debrief together over the cleanup.
Maybe the father in Jesus' story felt he could honor and bless his oldest boy more by inviting him into the deep relationship of mutual service than by merely giving him a party of his own. Maybe becoming a Christian is not only accepting Jesus into my life, but also accepting his incredible invitation to be a part of his life—to participate missionally in the triune God's cosmic plan of redemption.
As Jesus tells it, the Father is hosting a lavish banquet, and we're invited—not because of our own merit, but because he loves us. And there's more. He's invited us to help him throw the party—neither as servants nor as guests, but as family.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deep Breathing - Derksen

Not too long ago, an older gentleman informed my husband about the healing properties of breathing deeply. He said that you don’t need to breathe like this all the time, but taking a few deep breaths periodically throughout the day helps you absorb more oxygen. More oxygen means your body can work better and you’ll feel better both mentally and physically.
The research shows that a steady practice of correct breathing is a good way to simply cope with everyday life: It will increase your energy levels after a tiring day at the office, help you be more alert even without a caffeine fix, and will help you focus better when everything seems to be happening at once. Deep breathing can improve blood circulation so that your bones and muscles get more nutrients, reduce your symptoms of stress, especially when you feel like your heart is racing a mile a minute, and it can relieve pain.

This is some good information, especially for those of us who have a computer at the end of our fingertips for most of the day. We sit crunched over the machine, taking shallow breaths with our diaphragms compacted and our shoulders slumped. But what about the other breathing that is so necessary to our vocation as Christian writers. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:25 (NLT) says, “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
If we truly are living, working, and communing with the Holy Spirit of God every day, how do we access His power, His comfort, His direction? A few years back, I listened to a speaker talk about Holy Spirit Breathing. He spoke about the practice of breathing in as we ask the Holy Spirit to take over total control of our lives and then to breathe out all the other things that we’ve placed in that position.
For instances, who makes the decision when you get up in the morning about what you want to accomplish that day? Do you or do you ask the Spirit to direct you or, for those of us who are writers, to direct our words. I love to spend time with my morning devotions before I sit at the computer because I know that the words will flow better and the thought processes will have clarity if I’ve taken a Holy Breather. However, there are days…
I stumble out of bed, grab a quick cup of coffee, and settle in, even before I’ve gotten dressed. I get boggled down with social networks, bill paying, invoices, and snail mail. The phone rings or the doorbell chimes and I have to scramble to get some clothes on before they leave. That is not a day controlled by the Holy Spirit of God. There is no peace, and certainly no clarity of thought.
Holy Breathing is something we can do no matter where we are. It’s simply acknowledging that the Holy Spirit has the podium. He sits on the throne of your life…not on the footstool. Like breathing deeply, injecting our body with life-saving oxygen, breathing in the Holy Spirit daily…sometimes more than once…refreshes, relaxes, and gives us peace beyond our imagination. Let Him lead and the dance will be smother, more graceful, and your audience will be thrilled.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Lion of Tekoa - Reynolds

Amos, the Man and his Message


I    Read:   Amos 7:10-17 
A voice speaking out of the distant past, yet speaking with a strange and startling relevance to our own time.  Words, unimaginable words, strong words, true words, frightening words.  This is not the past -- this is now!   For eighth century Israel and western society today are startlingly alike.
 A voice, not of an educated leader of the people, an aristocrat born to responsibility and respect, but of a simple shepherd who lived in the wild and lonely region south of Jerusalem called Tekoa.  But such a man! 
“I’m not one of your paid-prophets,” he roared at them, no member of the “Prophets Guild” whose members lived comfortably as any minister or pastor today, whose sons were trained in song and dance and politics in order that they too should be effective and pleasing “communicators” of the Word of God.
Rough-hewn and untrained he was, but not unintelligent nor lacking in insight.  Living in the stark-naked desert as he did, he saw things more clearly, in sharper relief.  And sitting down at night by the campfires of travelers and caravans who passed his way (for Tekoa was on the route of caravans which passed between Assyria and Egypt) he knew, perhaps better than King Jeroboam himself, what was happening in the world around him.  Certainly, in Amos, we are again reminded that intelligence is more important than education, and spiritual insight more important than professional training.
II   Read:   Amos 2:6-8, 14-15; 3:1-2
It was a good time to be alive – Israel, 800 years before the birth of Christ.  It was a time like our own, a time of relative peace and prosperity.  In the wars that she had to fight, Israel had been the victor.  The threat of distant Assyria was somewhat withdrawn as she had enough problems nearer home to keep her occupied.  Jeroboam II was a capable king, business was good, religion was flourishing – so what did this shaggy lion of the desert have to roar about?
But!  Beneath the placid and prosperous surface of life there were all the marks of corruption and decay – and Amos saw these.  Wars had wrought changes in the social fabric.  Small landholders were being forced off the land by large concentrations of land-holding capital. The “family farm” we would say was being forced out of existence – just as in the days of the late Roman Empire.  (The Roman mob, you may remember, were in large part small landholders forced off their land, who then drifted to the city looking for employment.  Today we have a dozen “Romes” around the world, cities of 18 or 20 millions or more, people who have been forced off their ancestral lands by large land-holding corporations.)
The prosperity was not universal, of course.  There were those who lived in large stone houses, lolling on luxurious couches inlaid with ivory, drinking cocktails and smacking their lips over the latest delicacies.  In the same city also lived those “beneath the poverty-line,” sons of Joseph ruined by hopelessness and obstacles they could never overcome, trampled down by “the system,’ broken for lack of education and training, cheap victims of wine and other drugs, living on the streets or lying in the gutters.  
So often, prosperity and wealth do not breed sensitivity and generosity but callousness and indifference.  Overeating and over indulgence become the chief causes of death on this continent, while overseas millions starve, and pictures of starving children with distended bellies no longer move us to tears or action.
Perhaps that’s one of the most terrible things about our own condition – we become hardened and human life becomes cheap!  In Amos’ day, he says, some people’s lives were sold for the price of a pair of shoes, souls for soles!  (In Vancouver’s downtown eastside, shoes are valuable items, taken even from the feet of the dead who are lying in the gutters or the back lanes.)  In Rome, remember the horrible spectacle of a man’s life depending on the whim of the courtesans of the moment – thumbs up, or thumbs down. 
Of course, we aren’t that bad.   We don’t do the really bad stuff – murder and theft and rape.  That’s other people, not us.  We lock our doors and close our eyes, except to watch the news every evening on TV.  Oh, we know it’s there.  But maybe it will go away, or the government or someone else will look after it.  In any case, surely, it won’t bother us.  Will it? 
Hand in hand with moral callousness goes a soft conception of religion.  The people of 8th century Israel were religious; they were very religious.  Shrines and sanctuaries such as Bethel and Gilgal were crowded at the set seasons of religious festivals.  Money poured into the coffers of the temples.  God had prospered them and they reciprocated with sacrifices and festivals that would have impressed Cecil B. DeMille.  God, they seemed to think, will pardon them: “that’s His business.”  In any case, they thought God was more interested in proper temple ritual than those wretched people who, if you gave them a coin, would spend it for liquor.  A bit of charity was all right, but religion didn’t have anything to do with the political system.
III   Read:   Amos 5:14-15, 21-24; 6:1, 4-7; 4:1-3
Against these conditions the lion of Tekoa roared.  God is more interested in righteousness and justice than religion, Amos claimed.  Don’t think you can “buy him off” with flatter and sacrifices, with praise and offerings.  He cried, The Lord says,
“I hate your religious festivals,
I despise these solemn assemblies. 
When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I won’t accept them. 
I won’t look at the animals you have so carefully fattened. 
Stop your noisy songs!  I don’t want to listen to the melodies of your harps.  Instead, let justice roll down like a great river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”  (Amos 5:21-24)
Don’t think, he told them, that God is concerned only with your relationship with him (“Jesus and me” religion!)  God is concerned about your relationship with each other as well.  He’s angered when he sees the poor deprived of justice, politicians who accept the influence of “gifts,” priests who are more interested in income for the church than help for the poor.
Woe to you who live at ease in Zion, to you who feel safe in Samaria,
leaders of the people, to whom the poor go for aid. 
You loll on couches inlaid with ivory, feasting on steak and lamb,
drinking wine by the bowlful and wearing the finest perfumes. 
But you are not grieved over Israel’s ruin. 
Therefore you will be the first to go into Exile
and your feasts and banquets will come to an end!
Listen to you, women of Samaria,
growing fat like the well-fed cows of Bashan. 
You demand that your husbands keep you well supplied with wine,
but you treat your servants miserably
and give no thought to their poverty-stricken children! 
The Lord God has sworn by His holiness that your time is coming. 
They shall thrust hooks into your bodies, every one of you like fish on a hook;
they will drag you to the nearest break in the wall and throw you out on the garbage.  (Amos 4:1-3)
IV Read:    Amos 3:3-8
But, the people said to Amos, we are God’s chosen people.  We are the church!  We are the saved!
All the more reason for God to punish you, came the reply.  “You alone have I chosen of all the nations of the world.  Therefore I must punish you, must discipline you.  If I didn’t love you I wouldn’t care.  But because you have known my grace and my love, because you have, so many times, sitting there confessing your sins, been assured of my forgiveness, therefore especially you fall under my judgement.  For it is written, “judgement shall begin at the house of God!”
And, said Amos, speaking for God, “my judgement is sure.”  It is certain, as certain, if you will, as the law of cause and effect. 
Do two people meet together unless they have made an appointment?
Does the lion roar in the forest unless it has killed its prey?
Does a bird get caught in a trap if the trap has not been baited?
Or does a trap spring unless something has set it off?
When the trumpet sounds the alarm, don’t the people take alarm?
Does disaster befall a city without a cause?
Does the Lord do anything without first revealing it to his servants, the prophets?
The lion has roared!  Who will not be afraid?
The Lord God has spoken.  Who can but prophecy? 
          (Amos 3:3-8)
Our world has grown smaller in the last one hundred years.  Improvements in transportation and communication have brought us into contact with many peoples and nations we knew before only remotely.  Most of us have been off this continent, some around the world.  The nations and peoples of the earth are being jostled together.  We have indeed become a “global village.”
In this world of ours today, do we not see that international justice is an immediate imperative?  How long do we think God will permit us to control 85% of the world’s wealth, we who are 15% of the world’s population?  How long do we think God will allow us to grow flabby with rich and soft living: red and beefy young men leaning on the marble tables of the beer parlour watching the immediate sports event on the colossal TV screen; women who spend more on their hair than they give to the poor; “suits” at expensive restaurants doing business over their two-hour martini lunches?
This, while children of Africa and Latin America and south Asia go hungry for want of food, blind for want of the simplest of medicines, crippled through life because of a landmine supplied by a foreign power, a mining company whose only interest in the country is the money it can make on the minerals in its mountains.  Not the people!  Not the people!  Will the Lord not use the lean anger of the deprived peoples of the world as a vehicle of His judgment?
If the “Lion of Tekoa” came out of the desert today, would he not look on the luxuries of our western world and say, “Does a nation grow rich without growing fat?”  And looking at the hunger of the rest of the world, would he not say, “Will a starving man not fight for food – for himself, for his family?”  -- Wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t we?
V Read:    Amos 8:1-3
Several times during his lifetime, Amos had joined the crowds going up to Bethel or Gilgal for religious festivals.  He had, each time, come home angry and bitter – and afraid.  He was sure that God must move in judgment to destroy his beloved people.  Once, it seems to him, he saw God coming in judgment through a plague of locusts, again by drought and fire.  Each time he prayed, and believed that the Lord God relented and said, “This shall not happen!”  But Amos knew that the next time God would not relent.
And as he walked up to Bethel, the long trudge in the hot sun, just ahead of him he noticed a slave, sweating as he staggered under his burden – a great basket of ripe summer fruit for the offering of his rich master, a sacrifice for the temple.  As he watched the yellow fruit rolling on the back of the bearer, the Hebrew word for summer fruit rolled in his mind – qayits, qayits, qayits!  Then the awful truth impressed itself upon him, and qayits, “summer fruit,” became qets, destruction! (The two Hebrew words sound very much the same.)
I had another vision from the Lord.  In it I saw a basket of summer fruit (qayits). 
The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”  And I answered, “A basket of summer fruit.”
Then God said to me, Destruction (qets) has come upon my people.  I will not change my mind again about punishing them.  The songs in the temple will become cries of grief.  Dead bodies will be everywhere.  They will be thrown out with no one to protest or mourn.   (Amos 8:1-3)                       
Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, “In every civilization its most impressive period seems to precede death by only a moment.  Like the woods in autumn, life defies death in a glorious pageantry of colour.  But the riot of this colour has been distilled by an alchemy in which life has already been touched by death.”
Will our civilization reach the height of its glory just before its impending doom begins to descend?  As the leaf reaches its peak of glory just before falling, as fruit becomes most tasty just before it starts to rot, will our civilization also at its highest point see the beginnings of its destruction?  Our comforts, luxuries, and much-prided culture, our chesterfields, Cadillacs and concerts – will they be swept away?  Is it necessary cause and effect – that human pride, arrogance, and love of comfort will destroy either us or the heritage we would leave to our children?
            Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
            Where wealth accumulates, and men decay!
            (Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”)

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