Thursday, March 29, 2012

Good Friday Provokes Change

I didn’t go to a Good Friday service until I was in my thirties. I like to think I had good reason, one being there was more than one church in our pastoral charge and the high services were always in the local town church. I guess I thought that everything we needed was given to us where we were. That meant as a child and young woman, I went directly from waving palm branches, singing Hosannas and getting in the Palm Sunday parade to the trumpets and Hallelujah songs of Easter Sunday.

As well, in our farming community, we didn’t have the advantage of any Holy week meditations, luncheons or supportive gatherings to take us through the various events of Jesus’ last week. As well I'd never attended a Maundy Thursday meal. Perhaps because we didn’t have the advantage of participating in these services in our little church, I should mention that as a child and later as a teacher, these events were always highlighted and taught both in Sunday school and in worship.

So it wasn’t that I didn’t know about the events of Holy Week, it was just that I’d never experienced them. I remember the precise day this changed when I phoned a friend and suggested we go into the town church to a Good Friday service. We were always made welcome in our sister church, but that didn’t entirely lift us from knowing we were from the country church – we were the rural folks. I remember admitting this was the most sorrowful, grief-stricken service I’d ever attended in my whole life. I also came home thinking, “Man, those town people really take all of this serious.” I also came home claiming because of the tone of the service that I’d never, ever, go to another Good Friday service.

And if the truth be known, I have to admit that I’ve never missed a Good Friday service since. The reason being, the experience of Good Friday changed Easter Sunday for me forever. Musical scores and lyrics were more meaningful, lilies were whiter, scripture spoke clearer and even the candles burned brighter. For me, experiencing Holy week changed my life. The privilege of being led through the event and later walking the Stations of the Cross put me into the crowd. And when I sang, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord”, I knew that my attitudes were reflected in the crowd, my fears were similar to their fears and the tone of my voice reflected other voices raised on that day — that changed Christendom forever. Yet now, we are blessed with salvation and sacraments, discipleship and the Body of Christ, fellowship and commitment, the Spirit and the reality once again of beauty for ashes.

Is 61:3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, . . . “
May your Good Friday be very good . . .
Donna Mann

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Social Media Thing-- Carolyn Wilker

I have met many people who are writers, some I know well and have met in person, and others I have never met face-to-face. I read their contributions to our online discussion forum through our Word Guild discussion group.

Later I met Elaine, Janet and Violet, to name a few, at Write! Canada. I continue my connection with them through twitter and facebook as well as private email messages and, in some cases, a phone call.

In Canada, we’re rather spread out geographically, and we’re a good distance, in most cases, from our neighbours south of the border. Online discussions can take us anywhere in the world, depending on who we connect with.

Through the Saturday Snapshot meme on At Home With Books, I’ve become acquainted with Alyce Kreese, a book reviewer from Oregon, as well as fellow writers from Canada, the US, Australia, Scotland, England and Australia. We’re all avid photographers.

I connected with Jill Kemerer through her presence on twitter. I liked what she had to say, and she clicked the follow button for me too. How would I have met all these interesting people otherwise?

I’ve learned that Jill, who writes inspirational romance, enjoys a cup of coffee in the morning and has a good sense of humor. While I have not read any of her books yet, who’s to know that could be in my future? I’ve connected with her on several levels, one having similar concerns as a writer and author.

Why does all this matter? When publishers do less for us as writers, regarding promotion and marketing, we need to do more of it by ourselves, just as business owners must promote their brand. The way to do this, of course, is to engage with people in our target market, those who would read our books, articles and blogs.

As a consumer, I can understand that; I prefer to do business with people I know, wherever possible, whether it’s searching for an editor or speaking coach, even hiring someone to put new shingles on my roof. Alternately, I may act on a friend’s recommendation.

Jill Kemerer wrote in her blog last week, “We already struggle to find time to write; adding all of the social media responsibilities takes even more of our precious minutes away. The tug-of-war between doing what we love, writing, with something that feels vague and at times uncomfortable, social networking, exhausts us.”

Jill considers writing as a business and compares it to a person opening a restaurant because he loves to cook. If no customers come to sit around the tables and taste the food, why bother cooking? It’s like that with writing too. Who will taste the offerings we writers present if we are not known?

We’ve had this discussion on our Word Guild discussion forum too. Many fellow writers agree with Jill; they find it exhausting to cast the net so wide, and a few have given up on social media. While I’m more diligent some days than others, I have often wondered just how much time to spend on it and how long it will take to get results.

For people concerned with return on investment (ROI), know that it takes time. In a seminar I attended more than a year ago, Scott Stratten reminded us to choose two or three social media platforms and do them well, whether it’s twitter, facebook or some other platform. While we may not agree with all of Scott’s methods, there’s one thing we need to remember—the social aspect.

Author of Once Upon a Sandbox

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More than just Chocolate... -HIRD

By Rev Ed Hird

For sixty-six years, the St. Simon’s NV family has been celebrating Easter. I have always enjoyed Easter, especially for the chocolate. Just like Christmas, Easter has its food connection and its spiritual connection. Most people love to eat. Easter family gatherings invariably involve lots of delicious food, especially those wonderful hot cross buns.

Good Friday is a traditional fast day where many choose not to eat in order to remember Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Easter Sunday is a traditional feast day where families celebrate with delicious feasts. Without Good Friday, Easter Sunday makes no sense. Without Easter Sunday, Good Friday is just a terrible tragedy. Good Friday shows that God can turn everything that is against us to our advantage. God transformed Good Friday (the most evil day in history) into Easter Sunday (the most beautiful day in history).

Many of us steer clear of Good Friday because it reminds us of death, of pain, and of our own personal mortality. Sometimes we may question: what on earth is Good about Good Friday? What’s so good about someone going through the worst suffering and most excruciating death ever? Good Friday seems too morbid, too deadly, too bloody.

Once every year, billions of people around the world pause to remember the mystery of Easter. Most people love Easter: bunnies, chocolate, eggs, bonnets, lilies, flower crosses, and joyful singing. In the air, you can sense victory and resurrection and new life. No wonder that churches have many visitors on Easter Sunday.

Modern medical science is wonderful in the way that it can prolong life that would often otherwise be over. But medicine can only postpone the inevitable facing all of us. We are mortals here on earth. In my mid-teen period, I lost sight of the power of Easter, and concluded that there was no life after death. Death was final, and that was the end of it. Nothing was waiting for me but the grave. What was it all about, I wondered? Was life really worth the effort? I began to fear the power of death and the meaninglessness and emptiness of life. I even secretly wondered if life itself was worth living.

In the midst of my teenage self-doubt, I still loved Easter, but I didn’t get it. Theflowers, the food, the fun and even Easter worship were enjoyable, but somehow I missed the message. It is funny how you can celebrate something that you grow up with, and yet the real meaning can be missed. When the penny finally dropped, when the light came on, it was like waking up from the dead. I finally understood that Jesus solved the unsolvable death problem, and that by faith in him, the future is bright and unstoppable.

My prayer for those of you who love the Easter season is that you may realize that at the end of the day, love is stronger than death, and love has the final word.

Rev. Ed Hird, Rector

St Simon’s North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)

-an article previously published in the April 2012 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 . 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, March 26, 2012

Non-judgementalism is a synonym for cruelty and desertion - Denyse O'Leary

For some while, I have been looking at sociologist Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, and focusing on Fishtown, his iconic neighborhood where working class people---far from clinging bitterly to guns and religion---are sinking helplessly into unemployment and family breakdown.

Now let us look at Belmont, the upper middle class enclave nearby. There, marriage, work, and voluntary social service are still the norm, and street crime is decidedly not.

Murray thinks that Belmont, nonetheless, shows one clear sign of civilizational decay: Despite the fact that its privileged residents were groomed and educated to lead---they do not wish to lead.

How can this be? Belmonters are, typically, officers in enterprises large and small, so surely, they lead. In that minor way, yes.

But socially, they do not lead. They merely wish to be left to prosper in peace. While they know what habits and practices helped make them successful, they show a surprising reluctance to advocate them:
The new upper class still does a good job of practicing some of the virtues, but it no longer preaches them. It has lost self-confidence in the rightness of its own customs and values, and preaches nonjudgmentalism instead. (p. 289)
Let’s say a guy ripped off an old woman’s pension for drug money for months, and the offence was only discovered and charged when she was hospitalized by her landlady on account of starvation/dehydration.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Spotless Bride - den Boer

The week after Steve asked Angela to marry him she bought an elegant, sleeveless, full bottom, wedding dress (off the rack to save money). The store which was out West (where Angela and Steve happened to be working at summer jobs) boxed the dress and sent it to our family’s home in Ontario. When it came, I opened the box and admired Angela’s taste, but wondered about the smudge marks on the bodice of the dress and the grit at the arm holes.

I phoned the bridal store in Edmonton voicing my concern. The lady there emphasized that Angela had received an exceptional deal on the dress simply because she had agreed to purchase “as is,” stains and all.

“You won’t really notice the dirt, but if you would like you could carefully spray a vinegar and water solution and sponge off any smudges. That’s what we do in the store,” she said. “But be careful, you don’t want to leave water marks.” I decided to consult Angela before attempting a delicate sponge job. I’m not known for a light touch. I had time: the wedding was still almost a year away.

Six months later when I laid out Elizabeth’s newly-made white flower girl dress beside Angela’s dress I knew we had to do something. The wedding dress looked grey and dirty.

At this point, there was no consulting Angela who was on a student exchange program in Egypt. She wouldn’t be back until just before the wedding. It was up to me, the mother of the bride. I telephoned the local dry cleaners. They gave me a big price, no guarantees and an uneasy feeling. I prayed for wisdom.
Then I contacted a bridal-gown cleaning service. I explained my situation to the gentleman on the phone. He suggested I wash the dress myself. I was incredulous.

He assured me. “It’s probably made of polyester. They all are these days. It’s just plastic. You can’t hurt it.”
He told me to pick a sunny day with a slight breeze, fill the bathtub, add a mild soap and dip the dress in. After a good soak, I could swish the dress around and then lift it out on a heavy duty hanger. I could then take the dress outside, hang it in a breeze-way and spray it down with the garden hose. Sounded very straight forward and the price was right. I thanked him and hung up.

When I mentioned the plan to the family, they were skeptical, all except Elizabeth who volunteered to help.
Deliberately ignoring all my qualms; on a sunny, slightly breezy, spring day I filled the bathtub in our upstairs washroom with warm water and mild soap. True to her word, Elizabeth was there to help. We plunged in the wedding dress with its several crinolines, pressing it down to soak
Twenty minutes later we swished it up and down and then I pulled the incredibly heavy gown up on a hanger. We let the water stream into the tub for a few minutes and then Elizabeth held a large plastic bucket under the dress as I carried it downstairs and outside where we hung it on the awning support beam above the deck. Elizabeth and I took turns spraying the dress with a hose.

It dried spotlessly clean.

I telephoned the man at the gown cleaning service and thanked him profusely.

The cleaning of Angela’s wedding gown makes me think of how God is cleaning his church. He gave us straight forward instructions in His Word and sent His Holy Spirit to guide us. Our job is to discern and obey.

God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know....
Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said,
The old life is a grass life,

its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
Grass dries up, flowers droop,
God’s Word goes on and on forever.
This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.
(1 Peter 1:16–19a, 22–25 The Message)

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Story Door -- Gibson

My daughter thought I’d love the thing she rescued from a friend’s truck headed dump-wards. She thought right. Now the old door, chartreuse on one side, white on the other; veined as a centenarian, flaking and rotten around the keyhole, stood against a wall near my own back door. Waiting for redemption.

We started the job, Butterfly Bean and I, with cloths, scrub brushes, and a bucket of hot water. The garage sheltered us from the frigid wind. Not warm in there, nor bright. Daylight showed through the small window on the east side, and a solitary bulb suspended overhead helped some. Every five minutes, I ran to press the round white garage door button. Once to lift. Once to stop. And once to close. That kept the wind out and another light on.

Her little hands pink under transparent rubber gloves, my first ladybean scrubbed fiercely, matching my efforts. Every so often she picked up a brush and scraped a bit of paint that wanted free. “This door sure is dirty, Nana.”

“Sure is, honey.” Then, because I didn't want her to get bored, I said, “But there’s something special about it, d’ya know?”

She paused, eyes bright in the gloom. “What’s special?”

“It has stories, Butterfly. Lots and lots. Every time it turned on its hinges, for all those years, it got a new one.”

She’s a story girl, that child. She sings them, plays them, immerses herself in them—like her mama.

“Tell me.” Excitement barely contained.

“Well…don’t know them exactly. But it has tales, sure as a bed has covers. And they likely started at a tiny house near here, a very long time ago, the day someone hung it in the front doorway of...”

“Who, Nana?”

“Hmmm, let’s call him Mr. Larkin….”

Our coat cuffs sodden with dirty water, Butterfly and I scrubbed and told stories. We rolled them back and forth between us like snowballs. Until they got big. Until they felt real and solid in our minds.

We storied that door clear to clean, she and I, till her lips and fingers blued with cold, and the old stories stood still.

The old door has a new story now, one it tells from its position over our queen-sized bed, white side out...

Who, me? Used up? Ugly? Ah…but l have a story. Got time? Forgotten, I was. Headed for the pit, till someone found me, loved me, and plucked me out. Said I was worth the trouble, scrubbed away my grime and told me who I was. Washed away the dirt, but left my character and my story. Gave me a new life, a new purpose, and a new story. That’s my story…and I’m stickin’ to it.

Redeemed. It's the story of every Christ-follower, including this columnist.

Published in Yorkton This Week and elsewhere, week of March 5/ 12

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kingdom Poets Celebrates Richard Greene

Richard Greene has recently gained significant acclaim as the 2010 winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, for his third collection, Boxing the Compass (Signal Editions). Greene is originally from Newfoundland — something often revealed in his verse. He currently teaches at the University of Toronto, and lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

In a recent interview in The Toronto Quarterly he spoke of "a despair in modern poetry". He said, "I think the valid emotions of poetry require severe testing. In that I am influenced by R.S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill. Bear in mind that as a religious poet, I am automatically thought by some readers to be sentimental...” He continued to say, Poetry “should not just evoke or report feelings, it should also test them with certain ironies.”

He has written biographies of the novelist Graham Greene, and the poet Dame Edith Sitwell.

The following poem is from his 2004 collection, Crossing the Straits (St. Thomas Poetry Series).

Occupation: Pilate Speaks

Execution hangs in the air
like a figure of Roman rhetoric,
every obscure point personified
and made plain, an allegory played out
in simple sentences and understood.
We are an occupying power, one kingdom
in the midst of another, compelling
loyalty where the heart is beaten down
and all things lie under the exaction of fear.
My task is to quell their riots,
to keep the peace of our advantages.

In this man is the fiction of kingship:
he requires or enacts no policy,
and recruits to his cause no persons
unworthy of nails. I wish to parley
for his innocence, for the due process
of irony ends in freedom or death,
and I would not depose his heaven,
his kingship that is not of this world.
Yet his small elevation, this mound
at Gabbatha, occupied at Caesar’s
pleasure, permits no gentle discourse.
A voice may carry, and there is no King
but Caesar. You know to whom you speak.

I hand him over to bloody converse
of the whip, those lacerating words
inscribing an empire in his flesh,
such rituals of his coronation
as will befit an ambiguous reign.
Mu regret will have its other meanings,
possible worlds invading our sleep
with all unchosen things, holy jests
as may stay for an answer I cannot give.

I send him form the mind’s place into streets
loud iwth voices of the world’s no meaning;
I linger in this moment’s constant death
to barb in three tongues my tribute to his reign.

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 an upcoming 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.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A fragrant offering - Nesdoly

Cherril Holcombe listened with horror as Marilyn Skinner, guest speaker at the May 2010 Life Women Conference in Surrey, B.C., described the facial mutilation many north Ugandan girls suffer when they try to escape from sex slavery at the hands of soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Marilyn first became aware of the problem when she saw a photo of Nancy, a woman with no nose, no lips, and no ears. Then Marilyn met Nancy and heard her story.

Nancy was only seven years old when she was abducted by the LRA. She escaped but was abducted a second time. After her recapture, another child soldier was forced to do the facial mutilations with a razor blade.

Marilyn went on to describe how it was virtually impossible for these women to integrate back into normal society. Their repulsive appearance and the way food dripped out of their mouths when they ate meant that nobody wanted to be around them. When they started businesses, no one wanted to do business with them. They were rejected by everyone, even shunned by their own families and left isolated with no hope.

Then Cherril watched Nancy’s Story, a short video that showed how plastic surgery transformed Nancy’s face from grotesque to beautiful. Cherril was moved to tears—and determination. As president of Women by Design (WBD), a women’s ministry of Christian Life Assembly (CLA) in Langley, B.C., she knew that taking an offering was one way to fund surgeries. But she wanted to do more.

Jasmine Wiebe, CLA’s pastor of women’s ministries, was at the same conference. Marilyn’s presentation drove Jasmine to her knees. As Jasmine prayed, Cherril and her husband, Grant, came up with the idea of donating the lavender that grew in thick hedges along the driveway of their Langley acreage as a fundraiser. With volunteer labour, Cherril figured they could make $10,000.

The actual work began on harvest day, mid-August 2010, when more than 30 people joined Cherril in the first step of the WBD “Lavender Project.” She describes that day:

“We worked to cut bunches and tie them with elastics. Then we loaded them onto a truck, drove it to the barn, and lifted the bunches into the hayloft, where wires were strung and waiting. Four people hooked the lavender onto the drying wires. It took us four and a half hours to cut and hang over 1,000 bunches. Then a large fan was left running 24/7 for two weeks to keep the air moving to dry the lavender bunches."

Work in the lavender barn / The women bagged hundreds of sachets.

Come September and the beginning of the WBD fall session, Cherril had lots of womanpower at her disposal. Through September and October, work bees of ladies went to the barn three nights a week to shuck and sift the lavender. When that was done, Rebecca, a local craftswoman, was given enough lavender to make 400 bars of soap. The remainder was packaged in pre-made sachet bags of various sizes.

Selling the soap and sachets got underway at the WBD’s Christmas event. After Cherril explained the project and showed the Nancy’s Story video, interest was high and sales were brisk. In fact, events took a turn Cherril never anticipated. In her own words:

“Not only did we sell lots of product, but the donations started coming in—far more than we ever hoped for. A few Sundays later, the story of the lavender was told again. God moved on the hearts of the congregation, and over $13,000 was donated. We were not asking for any donations; we only asked that people help out by buying our lavender products.”
Sales continued into March 2011, when Marilyn Skinner was a guest at CLA's mission conference. This gave CLA's women a chance to hear directly from her about the needs of African women and catch her passion. Cherril was also able to personally present her with a ceremonial cheque in anticipation of the total monies earned. The actual money sent to Africa that April was $50,584.89—enough to pay for twenty surgeries!

The success of that first fundraiser, combined with the continuing need for reconstructive surgeries, convinced Cherril to launch another lavender project in the fall of 2011. More products were added, including lavender milk bath, foot soak, body scrub, and aromatherapy bags. Lavender sales parties at which Nancy’s Story was shown brought in hundreds of dollars. Along with sales at Christmas events and in CLA’s foyer after Sunday services, a local farmers market displayed and sold the products over the Christmas season. Sales are continuing into 2012.

When asked what impact this project has had on her, Cherril talks of being encouraged in many ways.
"God encourages us to step out in faith when He gives direction. He also tells us that He will be with us each step of the way and will step in when we cannot do any more. He has done that way past our expectation and we are awed. Hopefully, we are all encouraged to keep going and not get tired in doing good. As a leader I want to keep encouraging the women of WBD to step out of their box, be creative, and trust God to try different things.” 

First published in the March 2012 issue of Testimony Magazine.

Additional resources:

by Violet Nesdoly:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Defines My Comfort Zone

 In preparation for an interview tonight on - I believe the interview will be posted tomorrow on that website - I decided to look up the word comfort zone. I have long believed that in order to live life to the fullest, to love and accomplish, people must step out of their comfort zones. Jesus told Peter to step out of the boat.

Wikipedia says, "The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk"  Most people, when asked, claim that they like to live in their comfort zone, free from risk and stress. For some, the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone means talking to a stranger on a street corner. They agonize and sweat bullets at the thought. But do they actually remain inside their zone all the time?

Wikipedia adds, "A person's personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. Highly successful people may routinely step outside their comfort zones, to accomplish what they wish." Does that mean that people, who live a relatively stress-free, risk-free life, are not as successful as they could be? I guess that depends on what you consider success. I know that when I was raising children, I wanted them inside my comfort zone at all times. When that happened, I considered my life successful. I didn't like it when they took risks and my stress levels escalated accordingly.

Wikipedia goes on to say that our comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning. "It causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it." I remember years ago, when I experienced a failed relationship, I wanted nothing to do with falling in love again. Someone said to me, at that time, that love was part of living. Love was a risk and remains a risk to this day. Whenever we fall in love with anything or anyone, we risk the pain of losing it or them. The risk takes us out of our comfort zone, doesn't it?

Wikipedia describes stepping outside a comfort zone as experimenting with new and different behaviors. New and different behaviors bring new and different responses. A few years ago, I took lessons to become certified as a scuba diver. This wasn't so far out of my comfort zone, I thought, because I liked being in water. But when I actually descended to the 28 foot level for the certification test, I was definitely out of the boat. Taking deep breaths; I took control of the panic, and passed the test. That day, I felt successful.

The feeling of accomplishment one garners when they've stretched themselves never leaves. In fact is almost makes one feel indestructible. "If I can do that, I can do anything." Today, there are whole segments of society who are risk junkies. They can't get enough so they take bigger and more dangerous risks, hoping to hang on to that ultimate high of accomplishment.

I believe there needs to be a balance and I also believe that it depends on who is asking us to step out of our comfort zone. The perpetrators of businesses that encourage extreme sports for example, do not care two hoots about me as a person. They care about their company's reputation and ask that I sign a disclaimer, protecting their hides. So I need to have some discernment.

On the other hand, I know that God cares about me...loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for when He asks me to step out of the boat, He is asking for my good. Whatever He asks me to do, will make me a better person, enlarge my vision, build my self-esteem, and grow me as a Christian. Stretching what I believe about myself is all part of it but it also stretches what I believe about God, too. I learn to trust God a little more than before and I learn that He is faithful...always.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Wretch Like Me - Reynolds

See Genesis 25-35 for the story of Jacob
Poor Jacob!  You can't help feeling sorry for him.  Oh, he was a cad.  Getting Esau to sell the inheritance for a pot of stew, it was clever but it was pretty callous. 
Then, that whole business of tricking the old man, his father, into giving him the blessing -- pretending to be Esau and going into the father dressed up in Esau's clothes, his hands covered with the hairy skin of the animal so that the old man in his blindness would think it was Esau, the first born.  That's about as dishonest as you can get.
Now, here he is on this hilltop, fleeing from home for his life -- a barren place, no shelter, lots of rocks, and night coming on cold and dark.  A stone for his pillow as he lay down for what would be a very restless sleep.
Strange the people God loves.  You and me too.  Oh we like to think we're pretty "loveable," and work hard to make it appear that we are.  And we don't do too badly at it and make a pretty good appearance of things.
But we all have our fears and our shames, I guess.  And we live for such a short, if glorious, time. 
Even now, after this marvellous dream and the assurance that God would honour his covenant with Abraham and that God would make of him a great nation and would be with him and would never leave him.  No conditions there.  That's just the way God was.
But Jacob?  He said, "If God will be with me, if God will look after me, if God will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God."
At that point I see Jacob plainly -- the conniving s.o.b.  What a wretch of a man he was!
Our title, “A Wretch Like Me,” comes from John Newton's hymn, "Amazing Grace."
            Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
            That saved a wretch like me.

We love to sing the hymn, and I suppose most of the time we don't even think of the words.  When we do, we sing this part with some discomfort and distaste. 
We don't like to think of ourselves as "wretches."  Horrible sounding word.  Our image of a "wretch" is not ourselves but  those we sometimes call "less fortunate than ourselves" -- someone in far worse state, in some miserable condition.  "Poor wretch" we say, seeing some human derelict huddling in a dark corner on a cold, wet night, or a poor vagrant, gaunt and diseased, digging through garbage in some back alley.
"A wretch like me?"  No, I'm not like that at all.
John Newton, who wrote the hymn, meant it quite literally, no doubt.  At nineteen, he was pressed into the British navy, deserted, was caught, whipped, and sent to serve on slave boats.  For a time, he existed in a condition almost worse than the slaves as he was made the servant of a white slaver's black wife! He became captain of a slaving ship for a while, and was known as a cruel man who made a thing of his unbelief and blasphemy.
Eventually he "was found" (as he put it), and became the well-loved vicar of the English village of Olney and writer, with Wm. Cowper, of some of the best-loved hymns of the Christian church, including "Amazing Grace."
His tombstone reads,

                                                                JOHN NEWTON
                                            ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE
                                             A SERVANT OF SLAVES IN AFRICA
                             BY THE RICH MERCY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR
                                                                 JESUS CHRIST
                                          PRESERVED, RESTORED, PARDONED,
                                       AND APPOINTED TO PREACH THE FAITH
                                       HE HAD LONG LABOURED TO DESTROY.

At 82 years of age, he said of himself, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”  (From A. E. Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns, p. 127)
"Wretch" -- it meant originally an exile, a fugitive, a homeless person.  We often think of it relative to our moral condition, but in a deeper sense, it referred to our natural condition, to the physical fact of our creatureliness, our mortality, our ultimate hopelessness in the face of death, apart from God's grace.

            Lord, let me know my end,
            and what is the measure of my days.
            Let me know how fleeting life is.
            You have made my days a few handbreadths,
            and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
            Surely every human being is no more than empty breath,
            (From Psalm 39)

We are but a bubble, a bag of gas.  That's what it's saying.
And Romans 8: The creation was subjected to futility, the bondage to decay, groaning in travail. . . .   Just like us.
It's true, no matter how rich we are, or how strong and healthy.

                                                            Just see me
            As I am, me, like a perambulating
            Vegetable, patched with inconsequential
            Hair, looking out of two small jellies for the means
            Of life, balanced on folding bones, my sex
            No beauty but a blemish to be hidden
            Behind judicious rags, driven and scorched
            By boomerang rages and lunacies which never
            Touch the accommodating artichoke
            Or the seraphic strawberry beaming in its bed. . . .
            Half this grotesque life I spend in a state
            Of slow decomposition, using
            The name of unconsidered God as a pedestal
            On which I stand and bray that I'm best
            Of beasts, until under some patient
            Moon or other I fall to pieces, like
            A cake of dung.
            (Christopher Fry, The Lady's Not For Burning, Act II)

In one of his novels, Frederick Buechner depicts a scene in a high-school English class, studying King Lear.  The teacher is the narrator.
It was the third act that was up for grabs that day -- Lear on the heath with Kent and the Fool, the storm coming up -- and nothing could have seemed more remote from our condition. . . .  There they all sat, drowsy and full of lunch.  There was a gym class outside.  You could hear someone calling out calisthenics, one and two, and one and two . . . . 
I sat on the windowsill asking questions written in the margin of my teaching copy, not caring very much whether anyone tried to answer them or not.  "What evidence do you find in Act Three of a significant change in Lear's character?"  And a fat boy named Urquhart surprised me by answering it.  He was sitting all bent over with his head in his arms on the desk, and I'd thought he was asleep.  His voice came out muffled by his arm.  He said, "He's gotten kinder."
I said, "What makes you think so?"
The second question, coming so quick on the heels of the one he'd just answered was more than Urquhart had bargained for, and he shifted his head to the other arm without saying anything.  You could see where his cheek had gotten all moist and red where he'd been lying on it, and there was the imprint of wrinkles from his sleeve. 
The ball was picked up by a boy named Greg Dixon.  He was the least popular member of the class.   He said, "Well, when it starts to rain, he thinks about the Fool keeping dry too. . . .  He says, `Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart that's sorry yet for thee.'  He's getting kinder to people, just like Urquhart said."
It was Laura Fleischman who spoke next.  She always sat in the back row next to a good-looking basketball player named Carl West. . . .  Usually she didn't speak at all.  . . .  "Also, he says a prayer for people," she said. 
Some horselaughed -- not so much at what she said, I thought, as at the fact that is was she who'd said it.   . . .
"Nobody says a prayer in my book," Greg Dixon said. 
 "Line 35," Laura Fleischman said. 
 "That's not prayer," Greg Dixon said, "That's not like any prayer I ever heard of.  It doesn't even say God in it."
I said, "Go ahead and read it aloud will you, Laura."    . . .
In a small, half-apologetic voice, with the callisthenic count going on in the background, she read:
              Poor naked wretches, whereso-er you are,
              That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
              How can your houseless heads and unfed sides,
              Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
              From seasons such as these?
"Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel," she read, "That thou may'st shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just."
And one and two, and one and two, the voice floated in through the open window. 
"Who are these poor wretches he's praying for, if she's right that he's praying?" I said.
 Greg Dixon said, "We are!"
            He said it to be funny -- they were the poor wretches to have to sit there . . . when they could be off having fun.  But nobody laughed. . . .  It seemed to me that for a moment or two, in the sleepy classroom, they all felt some unintended truth in Greg Dixon's words.
            Laura Fleischman in the beauty of her youth, Urquhart in his fatness, Greg Dixon with his pimples.  Carl West, handsome and bored.  They were the poor naked wretches, and at least for the moment they knew they were.   All of them.  The "pitiless storm!"  (Open Heart, pp 97-101, quoted in Telling the Truth, pp. 26-30).
And Buechner comments,
            Out of the silences of a high-school classroom, the word of the human condition is spoken.  The poor, naked wretches of the earth are all of us, everyone. 
            They are young and full of lunch and full of hope and clothed in the beauty that it is to be young, and thus of all people they are in a way the least naked, the least wretched.  But the play tells them that life is a pitiless storm and that they are as vulnerable to it as Lear himself, not just in the sense that beauty fades and youth grows old, but in the sense that youth and beauty themselves are vulnerable -- their beauty shelterless, their youth itself a looped and windowed ragged-ness inadequate to the task of sheltering them.  The words of the play, for a moment, strip them naked.
            (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, pp. 30-31)
And what of us. I live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, one of the most favoured places on earth.  We have plenty to eat. We are reasonably safe. We have comfortable living accommodations and the best in medical and dental care.
Yet for us too, the wretchedness of the human condition is a plain reality we cannot deny.  There is no shelter, no security -- neither money in the bank, nor the strength of youth, nor the wisdom of age -- that is not threatened by the risks of living, the "bondage to decay."
"Is man no more than this?" cries Lear -- and answers his own question:  "Unaccommodated man is no more than such a poor, bare, forked animal."
Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start.
            (Buechner, Telling the Truth, p. 33.  Note pp. 26-33)
For we are not just creatures of the dust of the earth, we are the children of eternity -- and we have no permanent home in this life.  Our hearts seek the ultimate, the Absolute, the Eternal.  Apart from God, we have no final hope.  "Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee."
But the other side of the story is that we are the children of eternity.  There is a Spirit by which we strive and sometimes conquer, by which sometimes some of us can be heroes and heroines, and saints and martyrs.
It was a day not that long ago --though when it was doesn't really matter.  It's something which happens everyday, somewhere.  This time I was the one standing beside the bed when death came -- the bare hospital room, the body grey with death and growing cold, mouth open, all the ugliness of death.  The son, big and certainly no weakling, after a time of silence said quietly, "We think we're so strong, so smart!"  And then he put his head in his hands and cried like a baby. 
The day ended for me again in a hospital room -- a woman with that hateful, debilitating disease of the bowels.  She had been in the hospital for unending weeks, and the next day was scheduled for an operation and probably a permanent ileostomy.  But I do not forget her smile, her courage, her optimism.
And I though to myself, "What a wretch!"
Thoreau's words are often quoted -- "Most men (people) live lives of quiet desperation."  But the ending is not often quoted,
Most men live lives of quiet desperation -- but many live in triumph in desperate circumstances!
Remember how the eighth chapter of Romans ends?
For I am absolutely convinced that there is nothing -- neither death nor life, neither spiritual power nor physical violence, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, nothing in all the universe, in the heights of the sky or the depths of the earth, which can separate us from the love of god which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
And that makes all the difference!

Popular Posts