Saturday, April 25, 2009

three

video


For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values Course with Dan Wilt

The trinitarian nature of the Godhead fascinates and puzzles me. It is like a prism or multidimensional sculpture that one cannot take in all at once, but every time you look, you catch a different angle. And so I keep looking and moving closer and catching new glimpses of this God who is unlike anything or anyone that I know. One. Three. One. Hard to describe. Virtually impossible not to be challenged and changed and loved by Him, if one is up for it.

For my final project for Essentials Green, I painted something inspired by my studies on the trinity this year, both in this online course and in my theology classes in university. I turned the video camera on and started painting, not sure exactly what I would come up with. It turned out to be an afternoon of joyful and playful creation. Sticks, fingers, knives, apples, and paint all joined together in a splash of worship. Fun! I wanted some music to go with the video, so I headed over to my keyboard, hit record on the computer, and the soundtrack you hear is what came out on the first take.

When I immerse myself in the creative process, I often feel God's pleasure. May you feel the pleasure of the Father today when you do that which he made you to do. Enjoy!

Friday, April 24, 2009

sprout

I just finished my last exam this morning. Well, let me qualify that: my last exam which completed my qualifying year for the MA in Theological Studies program. Beginning in September, I will be a full-fledged Masters student. I also have one final project to complete for my online worship course (stay tuned, it should be posted here in a few days) and then...I don't know. Perhaps I will read a book or go outside for a walk or do something crazy like watch television. Anything could happen.

This in-between time, when one thing is coming to a close and new things are on the horizon is exciting and fragile. Like the green sprouts outside my front door, this transition phase needs careful tending in order to grow into something big and strong and beautiful. I am still learning to do this well. Too often I start something and then neglect it when I get distracted or busy. Or I jump ahead in the game and try to use a skill before I have taken the time to really learn the basics well. Sometimes I require something from a friend that they are not ready nor equipped to give.

The sprout stage, when you start to see what something might become, is special. You cannot push it. You cannot hurry it along and tug at the flower to come out of the bud before it is ready to emerge. You cannot urge the apple to turn red and sweet before the peak of its growing season. You have to wait for the process to do what it does. Wounds heal, flowers bloom, brains learn, bodies rest, fruit ripens, trees grow, and time measures all these things out in wonderful precision so that they are natural and wondrous instead of jarring and harshly executed.

Let me enjoy this time and in four months find myself well-rested, well-traveled, well-invested in important relationships and tasks, more devoted to God, more responsive to love, less worried and stressed, less jealous and bitter about disappointments, more willing to be taught, and more equipped to lead and teach.

This is my in-between prayer and these are the sprouts just steps away from my front door.

Monday, April 20, 2009

T-day

Tea died this morning. For those of you who follow my blog, you will remember that she got very sick in December, but after some time at the pet hospital, some antibiotics, and lots of love and care, she recovered. She was never quite the same cat after that brush with death: her eating and drinking habits changed (we had to encourage her to eat and she was always thirsty) and she remained quite skinny, but she regained her energy and loved to be with people. When I returned on Thursday night after a short trip to Florida, I could see that Tea had deteriorated again. Even though we had a reliable cat-sitter come in every day, the wee kitty did not do well while we were away.

I watched her struggle through the weekend and this morning, I could see that she had very little life left in her. She had not eaten in days, could hardly walk, and I had to assist her when she did attempt to drink and go to the bathroom. Dean said it was time, so I packed her in a box with her fuzzy red blanket, walked out in the fresh spring air and warm sun, and drove to the vet. Thirty minutes later I saw her expend her last breath.

Tea was a special cat. As a tiny kitten, she and her litter-mates were abandoned in a park and as a result of that traumatic beginning, she craved constant reassurance that she would not be left alone or starved again. Last night at church we were singing, "The whole earth is filled with your glory, Lord." And I started putting specific names in that sentence, because "the whole earth" includes everything I see and touch everyday. I am filled with God's glory. Dean is filled with God's glory. Montreal is filled with God's glory. And Tea is filled with God's glory. Our imperfect and broken lives do not diminish the glory of God, as if he could be made smaller by coming in contact with us. No, his glory enlarges us if we will let it, if we can but see it and give it space.
I have seen the glory of God in a little 9 pound cat. It was evident in her constant desire to be loved and be near her master. She often meowed till I picked her up and then purred loudly as I carried her slung over my shoulder while I went about my daily tasks. This glory shone brightly when she greeted me at the door every time I came home and followed me from room to room. Though Jazz, my other cat, is notorious for trying to escape, Tea never thought once about leaving the safety of my side and would not stray out of range of my voice. Though her body was shutting down, she hung on for 2 days past when I thought she was going to die, too attached to the presence of people to let the life-link go. She brought much joy into my life and I count it a privilege to have been her rescuer.

May I be as loyal and grateful a companion to the One who has rescued me.

This is Tea in the laundry basket (November, 2008) and hanging out with Dean (April, 2007).

Friday, April 17, 2009

the privilege of being human

For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values Course with Dan Wilt

I just returned from 5 days in Florida. This trip held a number of firsts for me, one of which was flying first class. Thanks to the generosity of our hosts, Dean and I were able to enjoy this rare treat together. I had been told about the special treatment we would get: the special line to check in, the special food, the special attention to our needs, and the special seats. I was looking forward to this experience of not being one of the "regular" people for a change.

We arrived at the airport and got into the special line which was indeed much shorter than the regular line, but soon after we got there, we saw our check-in agent walk away. She did not return for a long time, obviously dealing with the special needs of the people in front of us, and we were left standing there feeling somewhat un-special. At the stop-over in Toronto, we disembarked and got into another special line with only one family in front of us. Yes, this was going to be great, I thought as I eyed the line-up of 20 people in the "regular" queue beside us. I observed the family at the special counter in front of us and things did not seem to be going too well. After about 5 minutes of phone calls and very intense conversation which included gesturing with several sheets of paper, the lady turned to us and said, "You might as well get in the other line because we are going to be awhile." So much for special attention. I hung my head and shuffled to the back of the regular line. First class treatment was falling short of what I been promised.

On the way back from Florida, I was flying without Dean. I boarded the plane and sat down in first class, seat 1A. My seat mate, a kind older gentleman, offered to put my bag in the overhead bin for me. How nice of him! I thanked him and gave him the bag. He turned, rose from his seat, and in doing so, upset his cup of coffee which was on the small table between us. Hot black liquid landed on my right leg and spread over my entire thigh. Thankfully, it was not scalding and I was wearing a pair of dark jeans. Nevertheless, even after a quick clean-up and apologies and light laughter all around, I was sitting in wet pants for the next few hours.

I was thinking about my experiences in first class and realised that somewhere along the line I had adopted a certain attitude of entitlement. I should be treated better than this! I paid for good service! I should be reimbursed for the inconvenience! This attitude that I deserve more than the next person, that I am a privileged human being, is filthy. Just plain filthy. Where I used to have patience and grace, I was now huffy and proud and ungrateful. It was a rude awakening for me, and I repented for my stinky attitude. Jonathan Edwards writes that "our religion takes root within us only as deep as our affections attract it," and one of these affections is gratitude. [1]

The privilege is not in getting special treatment, but in being a human being, alive and cognisant on this earth. The privilege is to live in the light of the sun every day, to feel the heat and the cold, the pain and the ecstasy, and to be wondrously affected by it all. The privilege is to be on this earth with over 6 billion other human beings, all of whom have the potential to make my life a richer experience. The privilege is that I can get a seat on an airplane for a vacation, that there is coffee to drink, that I have jeans to wear, and that there are kind strangers. If all four collide, then so be it.

It is a privilege to be able to write these words with ten functioning fingers from a comfortable home office while drinking a cup of green chai tea. Thank you, God, for the privilege of being a human that lives under your love and constant care.

This is a photo of my slightly sun-burned feet on the Naples, Florida beach on Wednesday.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Devotional Classics, Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 21.

Monday, April 13, 2009

consider

I am in Naples, Florida right now. Some things are just as I expected. The sun is hot and the weather is beautiful. Some things are different. Golf is pretty much the main past-time here and I am currently the youngest person in the 19th Hole clubhouse. Interesting. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful place to hang out with Dean for a few days while he works from his boss' condo and we squeeze in some play time as well.

On Thursday, one of my friends was talking to me about contemplating lessons from nature, like you find in the Bible: Consider the lilies, consider the ant, etc. There are many thing to be learned just by looking around us.

Here are a few interesting observations from Naples:
1. There is a bald eagle on the golf course who watches your every move when you walk by. Comforting and unnerving at the same time. She is guarding a nearby nest, and I am sure she could probably take my arm off if she deemed it necessary. Be watchful, be alert, care for those you love.
2. Today we took the resident pug in to get his nails trimmed and there were two cats at the veterinary clinic in a large cage. Of course, I went over and talked to them and petted them. Both of them exhibited some unusual movements and it became obvious that they had balance problems. One cat actually fell over while it was standing. That was very strange and I did not ask what their condition was, so I have no idea what was going on. It was so unusual to see an animal known for its grace in movement to be wobbling and mis-stepping. Balance issues might have to do with the tail or the ear canal (head). Guard your head and tail (beginning and ending, top and bottom, front and back) so that you are not caught off balance. We need both ends to stay upright.

This is the view from the plane over some Great Lake south of Toronto.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I wasn't expecting that


For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values Course with Dan Wilt

Something interesting happened to me last week. We had a number of visitors at our Sunday evening meeting at church and at the end of the night, a guy came up to me and asked me if I was the person who answered the phone. I said, "Yes." The phone number given for the church on our website is my home number and always has been, so yes, if he called the church, he talked to me. He said he had called the church in 2005 when he was in the Netherlands. He had been facing a surgery the next day that he was concerned about and wanted someone to pray for him.

I interrupted him at this point to say that I did not have a clear recollection of this call, but that I get a fair number of people who contact me with concerns. I usually just pray for them on the spot and unfortunately, the details do not stay with me for long. He confirmed that this was exactly what I had done. I had prayed for him over the phone regarding the surgery and asked God to intervene. The next day he had gone into the hospital for the surgery on his arm; he had injured it in a bike accident and the rotation needed to be corrected. Before the surgeon began the procedure, he x-rayed the arm once more and was surprised to find that the rotation was fine; there was no need to correct it. The surgeon told him to get something to eat (he had been fasting in preparation for the surgery) and go home. Very cool!

Thank you, Sylvain from Cameroon, for visiting our church and telling me this story, for showing me the other side of a simple prayer. God is always active and moving in our world, but most times we are aware of so little of it. As a result, we sometimes don't expect much from Him. He seems too distant, but the truth is that he is always near. Some days I feel like I am simply going through the motions of faith: praying, studying, interacting, teaching, loving, serving, and needing healing more than being able to offer it. As a result, there is not much excitement behind these disciplines on some days. But God does not require excitement, he requires faith. And faith exhibits itself through faithfulness. Let us carry on with what God has asked us to do, and leave him to do what he said he would do. And yes, he does always keeps his promises. Sooner or later, in one way or another, he comes through.

This is some ornamental tile on the plateau in Montreal.

Friday, April 03, 2009

shocking


For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values Course with Dan Wilt

The topics this week have been accessibility and cultural relevance in my online course. Not two of my favourite concepts, I have to admit. I think I have just had these ideas crammed down my throat by leaders once too often in order to get me (and other artists) to mellow out or put us more within their comfort zone. Or I could be misrepresenting the leadership's motives; I have been known to do that, but I do believe there is at least some partial truth in it.

I am a pretty messy truth teller sometimes, this past week being a good case in point. I will see a hazy picture of a situation, grasp a partial wisdom, get a vague idea of where something is going, and then let the words fly without really ordering them into cohesive and accessible sentences. Yes, I need to develop my skills as a communicator, but I believe that truth and love are too valuable to let them sit around until I get my act totally together. As long as I have love at the core of it, I am content to grapple with messy methods of delivery. Either people will have ears to hear and eyes to see or they won't.

I look at the life of Jesus: he was welcoming and shocking all at the same time, but he shocked where we often try to comfort, and he comforted where we often try to challenge. The people on the fringe felt very comfortable with him, yet he shocked even his family with some of his strong words - demanding and uncompromising words. He invited and repelled: he exhibited great power to intervene in life and death situations, and yet, chose powerlessness when confronted with an opportunity to really make a big splash. Such a shocking man - hard to be ambivalent about him.

How many people are ambivalent about us and what we do in our faith community? Do people hang out with us or walk into a group setting and say, hey, "What is going on here? This is really different." Or do they feel so at home that they continue to live an unconfronted life. In trying to minimize the shock factor from outside to inside the church, I think we might be focusing on the wrong things. Instead of trendy music, modern language, and snacks (all of which we do, by the way), I believe that people should be shocked at the authority, the compassion, the faithfulness, the humility, the healing, the uncompromising call forward, and the love for the poor that is present in our lives. They should be shocked that we don't want to promote ourselves or be successful. They should be shocked that we want to touch them and want them to touch us. They should be shocked at the things we say and do.

But if they want to see Jesus, then they will be comforted. They will be drawn to the truth. And they will never be the same.

This is a street on the plateau of Montreal.