Peripherals

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I know I am a little late with New Years resolutions but this year has already taken me to London, Istanbul and the emergency ward. The good thing about traveling is perspective and an important thing about illness can be enforced silence. All of this brings me to a New Years resolution that started germinating In Divorce Care.

One of the classes was on forgiveness. On the face of it, it would seem that the hardest part of a divorce is forgiving the other party. I had put a check mark besides that one as my goal was to move on with my life and to give as little energy as possible to fighting a battle where the treaty was already signed.

While in Istanbul the weather altered between snow and freezing rain. I’d watch as it would pour down on the narrow streets and what most held my attention was the persistence of the street vendors. There was every item imaginable for daily living. Even in the cold the life of the city, unlike in Canada, is primarily lived  outside in the side streets and alleys. I realized that the life of the heart is also caught up in the small daily purchases and encounters we have in the side streets.

Like so much of Christianity it is easier to deal with the big issues. Would you renounce Christ if a gun were pointed at your head? No, we proclaim. We would be heroes, but our lives aren’t made up of those moments. In forgiveness in my divorce it was one thing to say I forgive him but the truth is that forgiveness is a lot harder when it comes to all the other people who had a hand in the demise of my marriage and involvement during the divorce. By ignoring the side streets I had hidden resentments in the shadows. For a real forgiveness to take place I needed to inventory my feelings about these people and events. The problem was I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to relive the pain, and anger and hurt. Who turned their backs and said hurtful things? Who said nothing at all? etc. I wanted it all to be done. I wanted to make one grand gesture and be done with it. I didn’t want to live in the process of forgiveness.

Honestly I still don’t want to do this as it leaves me tired and sad but to really be free I need to search out the peripherals, the real places I have lived and bled so that I can mourn all the other losses and move forward in truth.

Wishing you all a New Year that is more than cliches and richer in joy than you ever dreamed, Sincerely, D.

re-post: The Danger of Making Your Experiences Fit Reality by Brad Sumner

The Danger of Making Your Experiences Fit Reality

I love the book of Job.  To me, part of the fun in reading it is assessing what part of the various speeches are true and square with God’s picture of reality and what parts are vain or idle words (of which all parties are guilty at points).  That’s why Job 21 is so intriguing to me.  Job’s friends have spent the better part of their speeches to date building a case that the wicked do not proposer and that everything they have will be riped painfully from them as God’s judgement on their behaviour.

But good ol’ Job looks around and notes that this isn’t usually true. He notes that the wicked “spend their days in prosperity, then go down to the grave in peace. And yet they say to God, ‘Go away. We want no part of you and your ways. Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him? What good will it do us to pray?’” (Job 21:13-15).  Job’s assessment of the situation seems Prosperity-gospel-motivation1fairly realistic and level-headed to me.  People with no regard for God, both then and now, often do fine at business, parenting, finance, marriage and life in general.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  The prosperity gospel is alive and well.

But poor Job’s friends can’t resist an opportunity to moralize, so they do something that is all to common then and now: they find selective stories that fit their worldview and they pontificate and over-spiritualize them ad nausea.  What they fail to realize, however, is that their selectivity doesn’t square with the overall data of experience.  Job reminds them “Look, I know what you’re thinking. I know the schemes you plot against me. You will tell me of rich and wicked people whose houses have vanished because of their sins. But ask those who have been around, and they will tell you the truth. Evil people are spared in times of calamity and are allowed to escape disaster. No one criticizes them openly or pays them back for what they have done.” (21:27-31).   His friends have conveniently ignored any examples that don’t fit their worldview or make their point effectively.

So next time you go to tell as story as an illustration of a point you are making, you might want to ask yourself if you have a sneaky habit of finding and sharing only blogs or tweets or experiences that agree with your pre-formed opinions. Or do you genuinely allow the aggregate and long-term data around the issue to speak for itself?  If you don’t you might be making your experiences into a reality that doesn’t exist!

Brad Sumner is the head pastor at Jericho Ridge Community Church in Langley BC. He has an amazing ability to open up the bible and challenge your everyday thinking.  This is a re-post of his latest entry on his blog Leadership Confessions on TypePad.  http://leadershipconfessions.typepad.com/leadership_confessions/

Christmas Legacy

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I hadn’t seen Pam in years.  Pam and I used to be neighbours. I was filling up the cart getting ready for my son’s birthday party.  We exchanged greetings and told each other how good we looked. “So” I said, “Are you almost ready for Christmas?”.  Pam looked at me and said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas. One of the reasons I married Joe was because he’s a J.W. and they don’t do Christmas”.  I didn’t know what to say.  I know many people don’t celebrate Christmas but I’d never heard of someone marrying someone to get away from feeling any sense of obligation to the occasion. Pam launched right in. “When I was little Christmas was the worst time of year. The minute the music started on the radio I would get a knot in my stomach because I knew my mom would turn into a nightmare. It was like she hated us because now she had to shop, now she had to cook, now she had to clean, now she had to entertain, now she had to wrap gifts and now she had to write cards.  Everything was a misery and so by Christmas morning she would refuse to come out of her room until she felt like it and we felt the hate.”  She told me how they’d tried saying no gifts and that make her mom angrier. She said the gifts they gave often sat untouched as if the godess had rejected the offerings because the offence was too big and not forgiven.

I stood there imagining the pain.  There were no words. We went on to other topics, hugged each other, and went our separate ways.  What started to stab me was my own attitude.  Just that morning I’d been complaining that I’d have to get the cards out and the price of stamps was ridiculous. No, I didn’t think it would turn my son against Christmas but what legacy was I leaving him?

I know that being divorced or separated or even in a tense marriage, Christmas can seem to magnify the pain because it is supposed to be a time of family harmony and togetherness. It represents a lot of what we’ve lost or never had.  The happiness of the season can almost seem to mock our sorrow or make us feel that we can’t live up to the ideals.  When we see advent scenes and see the plays and hear the songs they give a tranquil sweet veneer to the event but what was it really like?

Mary was a teenager who gave birth without family or village women to help her. How terrifying. She was really alone in the equivalent of an unheated garage. There was no one to help her with the process or aftermath. The wisemen did not show up at the stable. It was about a year or two afterwards when they were in a house. She was with Joseph who would have had no experience with these things and then poor local sheep herders. I’d like to think that some of the local women came to help but there is no record of that.  The point is that the first Christmas had none of the warm trimmings of a home decorating show or Christmas special. Pain and sorrow are native to Christmas.  The birth was marked with an immense importance and knowing that may have given Mary comfort but it was not easy.

The question is, what legacy for Christmas are we going to give to our children?  Do we give them our stress, sorrow and sense of profound disappointment?  Our attitudes can affect the children for the rest of their lives.  Are Christmas cards too much this year? Don’t do them.  Is a huge dinner too much? Have a potluck. No one to celebrate with? Create your own tribe of others without families.  No money or time for a big turkey dinner?  Try tacos. Really.  One year we were moving into a new house one week before Christmas. Christmas eve came and we couldn’t do the dinner. All I had was a package of taco shells.  I made them and sprinkled them with chopped red and green peppers. I presented them as Christmas tacos. The next year I had things together, presented the full turkey dinner and my son looked at me and said, “But where are the Christmas tacos?”  From then one we make sure it is a dinner that celebrates the season.   The biggest decorating need we have is the environment we create for our children. Being loved and treasured, being given those extra moments of warm attention is what will make any event special.  Be good to yourself.  If you are alone, allow yourself moments of kindness to yourself. Allow yourself moments away from the presssure of what you think your life should be.   Just stand in thankfulness for the singular reason for Christmas.  I say this because though I feel a lot of physical pain I feel an escape when I do this. I am grateful for so much. Those things will be the meditation for the season.

I’m wishing you all that escape from the consumer jungle, the made for TV event, and the confines of our own expectations. Watch the video “The Advent Conspiracy” on YouTube and have a peaceful Christmas,    love, D.

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything

The title for this post is not actually a delusional rambling.  I save those for close friends, family and politicians who come to my door soliciting votes. It is a chapter within The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a sci. fi./humour book by Douglas Adams. In it a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42 The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.  I read this years ago and thought it was rather brilliant.  In the past couple of years I realized it has huge theological significance.  Now don’t run away yet.  I promise I will bring this back to something that makes sense. Honest.

When I got married I knew it would be forever.  I married a man who would never leave.  I would have put money on it. I would have ended up broke. Thanks for not taking that bet.

Afterwards I tried to make sense of what had happened.  Why didn’t God fix it? Why didn’t he tell me how to fix it?  Why didn’t he fix us? What purpose did he have in this? Why didn’t it work?   I don’t need to keep on going. If you’ve gone through divorce or trauma you have your own list of hurts and confusions.  It was easy to feel that others were looking at me as defective and the unspoken “if you’d had real faith this wouldn’t have happened.”

Thankfully Mr. Adams came to the rescue and he did it in the form of the book of Ruth. (No really.  Please hang on. It will make sense in a minute.)

Naomi marries a man named Elimelech. They have two sons whose names mean puny and pining.  Really.  Who gives their kids names like this? Famine has hit Judah so we may have a hint as to how desparate things were. Imagine how you would be praying, begging God for help.  Save us. Save our boys. They decide to move to Moab, away from friends, family and their faith community. You would be praying that God would protect you there. Eventually the boys marry foreign women outside of the faith. How that must have burned and shamed Naomi, but it got worse. Her husband dies and then both boys die.  Naomi knows that God has abandoned her.  She hears that things are better in Judah and so plans to return home to survive. She sends the girls home. There would be no love for these foreign women back home.  One goes but one refuses to leave Naomi.  Naomi is a broken woman. She says she has nothing to offer, no future sons and she says she sees no future husband for herself. “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”  How could she think anything else?  She knew that that is how others would judge her life. She was not favoured by God and now she would be a burden to her family until the day she died.

Imagine being her, crying out to God as to why he hated her so much.  What was her sin?  What was her purpose?  In reality the answer is 42.  We know from reading the book of Ruth (and if you haven’t, take my word for it, and then check it out yourself) that the purpose of her life was to bring Ruth into the line of David and ultimately Jesus. Come again?

There is no way that Naomi would have ever understood the purpose of her life.  She had no ability to get that answer and if she got it to understand it.  The meaning of her life could not be puzzled out.

I believe we treat God like a glorious Rubik’s cube that if we line things up right, we can figure out. He is the Holy Wild and we do not have the capacity to understand his thoughts and workings.  Does it make it easier? Yes and no.  It reminds me that it isn’t always about causal connections.  I still have to deal with pain and confusion but I can step away from the thinking that says things like “pain is God megaphone” and trying to fit everything into my frame of reference. Sometimes the answers for what happens in our lives is 42. I am so sad that Naomi died thinking she wasn’t loved.  I am grateful to Mr. Adams for a great life lesson.  Reflection is good but endless navel gazing is a lousy view. Sometimes the answers are not where or what we would think.  The meaning of life is way beyond us and I’m O.K. with that.

Take care, D.

You’ll never guess the butler did it

Sue: ” Hey Megan.  I have a book you have just got to read.  You would never guess that the butler was actually the twins dad. He’d been disfigured in a car accident and blamed the family for stealing his children and was killing them off in vengance.  You will just love it. It is the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read.”

Megan: Cue sound of crickets chirping.

Knowing the ending of a book or a movie disrupts the story telling art.  It is the building up, the guessing and being on a shared voyage with the characters that creates the impact.

When presented with our bibles we are told that it is the living breathing word of God.  It is not like any other book. Most books you read from the beginning as opposed to New and Old divisions.  We read the histories but we have a big problem.  We know the endings.  We know that the ultimate battle will be won my God.  The suspense factor has been taken out.

I think we lose a lot of the meaning and impact of what we are reading because we see an overview of people’s lives and experiences.

Moving forward as someone who is divorced in the church it is easy to feel that we are alienated.  What if we stepped back and re-read some of the stories that we thought we knew from the perspective of the characters who had no idea what was next or what would happen to them?  What could we learn and take strength in?

I think of the story of Esther. We celebrate that she saved the Jews. We know the finished story. We don’t feel the true horror and sorrow that was her life.  To be a young girl without parents  must have been so isolating. To be sent to the palace meant to lose all her hopes and dreams. She would never have a nice Jewish husband and be able to raise their children in their faith. She was being taken out of her community to be put in a place of debauchery, violence and madness. She would be hated by the other women competing for favour and would be targeted for violence by them. She would undergo treatments and training that would be against her upbringing. She would have seen him drunk and out of control and pictured him touching her.  Her wedding night would be without mercy or love or committment. She would have no protection and nowhere to run. He could do anything he liked. She’d be tied to a man who killed his best friends son on a whim. His best friend had already lost one of his two sons in battle. He asked Xerxes if his second son could be spared. Xerxes called his friend to the courtyard and the friend witnessed his second son murdered as a penalty.  This was the man Esther faced.  Can you imagine her fear and hopelessness?  We know the rest of the story but she did not. We don’t know what happened to her afterwards but the dreams of her youth would never be given back to her and the rest of her days would be in this environment.  God put her in a place that was a nightmare and yet she trusted and served him.  It did work but she could not have known that.

Many times we will end up in places and situations that seem impossible for God to redeem.  We might see facets of our lives as nightmares. Re-read the stories as if you didn’t know the endings.  You will find that you are not such an alien after all.   D.

 

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