Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hand off

Control freak confession #17: Lately I am realising that my style of leadership/friendship is sometimes too heavy-handed. I see things, I know things, I have some life experience and wisdom, of that there is no doubt. But does that give me the right or responsibility to try to steer other people's lives? I am beginning to think not. Trying to actively guide others has felt like the responsible and loving thing to do, but in truth, it primarily satisfies my sense of well-being when we are all going the same direction (MINE) and involved in the same things (WHAT I THINK IS IMPORTANT) and helps me feel successful. God is just not that one-dimensional nor that boring. Unity is not stuffing all the working parts into the same box and dragging them behind me. It is much more beautiful and strange than that.

Control is like my hand grabbing onto someone or something that I love, trying to keep them or it in line with my idea of godliness, and today I feel God prying my fingers off, one at a time. First, he loosens my index finger. This is the digit that I use to point out things that are wrong in a situation, wrong in someone's life, wrong about how people relate to God and how they are missing the mark. Apparently, this is not my job. The Holy Spirit convicts and God's kindness leads to repentance. His love is a wooing love. Sigh. One less thing I need to do, I guess.

Then he pulls my middle finger away from steering wheel of my life and my friends and my church family and my occupations. This is the finger that does two things: it is the strongest one in holding onto things and not letting go, but it is also the fastest one to lose patience in the middle of conflict and tell everyone to f*** off. It knows no middle ground. It is the place I dig in my stubborn heels and insist that we are going to see this thing through (tunnel vision), especially the way I intend it to go, or I get disgusted and disappointed and flip everyone off, threatening to walk away. Neither are all that useful. God's patience is as longsuffering as his mercy. His mercy comes in an open hand, not pushy or threatening.

Then the next two fingers come off together. They are the co-dependent ones, not able to do anything without the influence of the other. They are looking for support and affirmation and someone to do life with, but in an unhealthy way, always looking for their cue from someone else, lacking confidence to act bravely and selflessly. Jesus is my bravery.

Last to be coaxed out of this controlling grip is the thumb. It is the opposing finger. It always sees the alternate view. It says, "No," before it knows why, just because there is surely something that won't work about what is proposed. It doesn't like to be told what to do, and hates not being the one with the final say. It believes it is there to provide a necessary check and balance, but in reality, it doesn't work all that well with anyone; it just pushes against everything instead of cooperating and providing support. It knows how to make a fist, too, and really has little concept of what its intended position is. God knows how to cradle someone softly, or how to enclose them in the safety of his hand.

This is my hand on my life. This is my hand on the church community I am trying to serve. This is my hand on my friends. This is my hand on my family and my possessions. This is my hand on my job, my school, my cat, my household, and my soul. But then the kind driving instructor comes along and now we are learning a new way to journey. Hands off is not for the faint of heart. Brake off. Heart engaged. Surrender is the most courageous and effective thing I will do all day.

This is me and my hands a few years ago in my office. Hey, Matte, it's not that scary.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I am her

I don't know about the church. I love her. I am frustrated with her. I am her. I have spent so much of my life investing in her, trying to help her find her hidden beauty, coaxing small steps forward out of her, and telling her inspiring, mesmerising, and often bewildering stories. At times, I have to admit, I have given her stern lectures about her disappointing behaviour. But there have been lots of good times, too. We have laughed at life's oddities and joys. We have gone on road trips that have changed us. We have eaten the best meals together, so much more tasty because of the hours spent elbow to elbow in the kitchen. We have strung flowers from ceilings and stripped off our clothes and jumped about foolishly and called it art, or worship, or both.

I am deeply committed to her as a part of me and a part of Jesus. When I am with her the human and divine come crashing together, sometimes painfully, but most times like a symphony being written by a group of gifted children who are still learning the fine art of playing together. The sweet notes take your breath away, and when you hear them, you forget all the sour notes that were tripped over on the way there. Sometimes it feels more like a tug of war, or a standoff. Sometimes it is like that peaceful moment just before you fall asleep. Always there is movement. At least that is my hope.

Last night one of my friends stated that we live in a place where people have deep wounding in the area of commitment. That much is becoming obvious to me. I cannot count the number of times I have been the only person to show up on time, to come prepared with a prayer and some thoughts, or to suggest a plan of study or an activity. I am always there. It is what I do. I am trying to be faithful. I no longer get annoyed at people not responding to my emails, not returning my phone calls, only showing up when it is convenient, and almost never coming up with any initiative of their own. If people don't want to do it, I cannot make them. We are not a healthy body in some ways for though we love and care for each other in a very familial way, we have very little sustainability, much less growth.

Part of the problem is that I probably carry too much of this weight of sustaining and building something: I long to see the emergence of a vibrant community of people that welcome Jesus and the outsider with equal excitement. I cannot make that happen, and perhaps I am using all the wrong avenues to try to nurture it. How do we heal that deep wound that never wants to commit, to give oneself totally? That always wants the option to bow out? I don't know. Lately I have found myself toying with the idea of not showing up and seeing if anyone notices. But that's no solution - that's just walking away because it is hard.

What I can do is this: I can bring myself to that frightening place of commitment every day. I cannot drag anyone else with me. I cannot force them to do the holy face plant of surrender in front of King Jesus and then to take up his great heartbreaking love for Montreal with all its demands. All I can do is point out some of those passions buried deep inside of them and then ask if they are willing to do the work of digging them up so that we can fan them into life. And while they are thinking about it, I will still be here. As a friend. As someone who wants to learn life together. As someone who is willing to go first.

Being the church is never about showing up to a meeting or taking on a role, but about talking to people the way Jesus talked to them, walking beside them the way he did, and pursuing their healing and freedom while he is pursuing ours. It should be our life, happening everywhere and all the time. If we are not living like this, we are not extensions of him. We are not his body. Sometimes we have to learn what we are not before we can see what we truly are and can become.

I don't know about the church, but I know someone who does. I will have to trust him, because I am her.

This is photo of a maple leaf in the woods earlier this month. Oh, Canada!

NOTE: I realise that the correct grammatical structure would be "I am she," but the blog just wrote itself this way and I like it. Apologies to all speakers of good English.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

relapse

Someone must have rearranged our bedroom furniture during the night. I got up this morning , it seems, on the proverbial wrong side of the bed. After a month of blessed and undeserved contentment and gratitude in my heart, I felt the old brain start to go in negative patterns again this morning. The sad thing is not that this happened (and will occasionally happen), but that I allowed myself to go down that road, to stay on that track, and ended up saying things to people that I now regret. Yes, apologies have been given, and I have to trust that forgiveness and redemption are bigger than my blunders.

It started when I got irritated and annoyed because one little thing did not happen the way I wanted it to this morning. My prayer as I walked to the bank this afternoon was "God, I am a control freak. Please help me to be a lover instead." It is so hard to remain out of control of my life. I can do okay for a period of time and then WHAM I just get tired of not having a say in how things go. I want to write the "to do" list for God and for others, thinking that having my needs and desires met will be good for mankind. My version of "the good life" is very small and self-centred, if I am honest with myself. It takes very little into account except how to feel at ease with myself and my circumstances.

However (big however), God's love knows no bounds. His grace is more than enough for any shit that plops in my way. God is not scared off by bad moods and frustration, because hope is greater than all of it, and he always has plenty to offer. He never walks away. He gives good gifts, especially when I ask for them, and waits for me to open wide, ready to receive whatever they are.

I have the potential to be an incredible receiver. Sometimes I forget that and jump into the position of quarterback. Then I try to throw my own plays to myself. No wonder it never quite works out. Let me be content with receiving. Let me practise and practise until I do it so well that it becomes second nature to me. And let me untwist my heart from its painful contortions of confusion: trust is not helplessness, though it often feels like it.

Being a control freak results in chronic disappointment. Being a lover ends in being in love.
This is a pond where beavers have built a dam somewhere in the Laurentians.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the zone

We are in an interesting place as a faith community, literally. The lease on the space we currently rent expires at the end of the month, and we are unable to renew it due to zoning issues. We found a new space that was smaller and much better suited to our needs (with our own private bathrooms!) and after we met with the landlord and signed a lease, that space also fell through due to a zoning ruling. The Director of Urban Planning suggested that we rent space from an existing church in order to avoid the zoning problem. Now we would be perfectly happy to share space with another church, but most of the congregations are housed in old, formal, cavernous, pewed buildings not conducive to our casual and interactive worship and teaching style. At Vineyard Montreal, we have couches and sit in a semi-circle and you are free to interrupt the speaker with a question or comment at any time. Plus, where would the drums go? Sadly, meeting as a church in a non-traditional church space seems a bit difficult in Montreal.

So on October 31, we will be homeless as a church. Sort of. One of the brainstorming ideas that we tossed around was that if nothing worked out, we could just go hang out with another church a few blocks away that also did church outside of the conventional box. They are associated with a totally different denomination, but they have much the same vision and demographics as we do. They also meet the same time as our group, and not far away. I mentioned this in passing to a few of the people in our group on Saturday, and I was surprised at the strong reaction I got. One person teared up. Another smiled broadly. I was told that there was something profound about this joining together, about not erecting a fence to protect what we had.

I took the words seriously. After consulting with Dean (who was still in China but called me late that night just to chat), I phoned the point man of the other church Sunday morning and he was very excited by the possibility of meeting together as one group for a period of time. He said he would talk to his people that night. I said I would do the same, and we would see what came of it. That evening, I sat down on a PA speaker after my thanksgiving talk (which had consisted of a bible story, discussing some Dutch and Canadian art, and a music video from Sister Act 2), and asked the folks on the couches what they thought of the idea of being part of something bigger than just ourselves, at least for a time. The response was overwhelmingly positive. There was an excitement about the "coming together" experiment that I had not anticipated.

On Sunday night, November 1, we will be heading over to Reggie's Bar at one of the largest universities in Montreal to join in worshipping our great God with a group of people that we don't know called The Living Room. They have asked us to perhaps lead one of the meetings in a few weeks. We are trying it for a month and seeing what comes of it. Perhaps God wants to do something here that we would never have dreamed of had it not been for inflexible zoning regulations.

I have no idea what we will be doing with our music equipment, couches, desks and various tables and chairs that we have in our current space, but we have found a place for the people, and that is the most important thing.

This is a photo of a stick in a ditch, somehow beautiful in all its muddy tangle.

Monday, October 12, 2009

bump in the road

It is Thanksgiving Monday. I should be cleaning my house in preparation for a half dozen people coming over to cook and eat and be loud and make it messy again (that's what a family does). Dean is still in China. I miss him, but life is good. God takes care of me and there is nothing to complain about.

Two nights ago I was on my way home from a dinner with friends when I decided to follow the suggestion of the GPS voice and take an alternate road to my house. It said it was shorter, so I decided to try it. I had not taken that particular route in a while and as soon as I did, I realised that I was in trouble. My exit was closed due to construction. Then the next exit put me on a side road with orange pylons and scraped pavement and still the exit I wanted was blocked off! I kept driving, not enjoying the bumpy, excavated driving surface, and too late, saw one of those horrible manholes sticking up a few inches out of the pavement with its sharp edges.

A loud noise came from the back of the car and I knew something had happened...again. (see this blog for another time the evil manhole got our tires.) I kept going since I was on a road that was down to a single lane due to the construction and finally came to a place where it widened and I could turn off. I pulled to the side of the road, let the exasperated driver behind me whiz by, and got out. Yep, my rear driver tire had a huge gash in it. What to do? It was after 10 pm and Dean was out of town. I have helped people change tires, but really had no desire to try it myself on a dark street. I decided to drive the 2 kilometers home, slowly, and run the risk of ruining the rim.

I put on my flashers and crawled home, wincing at every small dip and pothole in the road. I prayed all the way, whining pleading fretting prayers, and was sooo relieved to finally pull up in front of my condo. I decided that the next day I would ask someone to help me change the tire, but for now, I would stop worrying about it. I enjoyed a drink, watched a bit of tv, and went to bed at 1:41 am. At 1:45 am Dean called from China.

We talked about everything and anything and I told him about the tire. He said, "Matte, you have Honda Roadside Assistance. You can just call them and they will come change the tire for you." Duh! I hadn't thought of that! Help had been 10 digits away last night and instead, I just went on my way, dragging my flat tire with me, hoping for the best. I called the HRA the next morning and just over an hour later, my tire was changed in a few minutes by a friendly guy who had obviously done this before.

How many times do I just keep on going in my life, circumstances having ripped into me and deflated my joy, and limp on home instead of addressing the injury? I do more damage, but because I can still function to some degree, I decide that's just the way it is and I'll live with it. I forget that help is available 24/7. A man is waiting for my call, ready to spring into action, and he has helped countless people before and he knows exactly what he is doing and if I just have a little patience and am willing to wait for him, he will come through on my behalf. Yes, I will call next time. I will get help earlier.

Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, fenced in and hidden, which you do not know (do not distinguish and recognize, have knowledge of and understand). Jeremiah 33:3 Amplified

This is another scene from the Laurentians last week. No manholes on this path.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

blessed

Dean left for China yesterday. I am at home alone for 10 days but won't be bored. Here is a partial list of things I want to accomplish.

1. Take Jazz to the vet this afternoon and have everyone come out unscathed. This is the first trip to a new vet, so hopefully we can begin with a clean slate and a better attitude (she has a record of violence at the old place).

2. Finish my application for a federal scholarship (SSHRC) which is a pretty intense process that includes writing a research proposal and bibliography. If I get it, it means I would be paid to go to school next year! I received the last important document in the mail today, so I will be handing the whole thing in to my department tomorrow.

3. Dust my house and clean the bathrooms.

4. Pay off all the visa bills.

5. Get together with friends on Thanksgiving and eat pumpkin pie.

6. Enjoy God's blessing in my life every day.

We talked about Matthew 5:1-12 a week ago at home group. It starts out with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." I have usually read these verses by concentrating on the bit immediately following the words, "Blessed are..." If I want to be blessed (and who doesn't want a full and happy life?), then I should see how I can position myself for this blessing, right? Wrong! Position has nothing to do with it, actually.

The focus of all these eight phrases is the latter part of the sentence, not the first. It is not a list of directives for us to get "under" the blessing of God. As such, it is rather a pitiful list if you look at it: poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness (which means you don't have a lot of righteousness in your current situation), merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted because of righteousness. I have usually seen this as Jesus asking us to become the dregs of society, the lowest and most unfortunate people, in order to get the nod of approval from him. But that is putting the emphasis on the exact wrong thing here. It is putting the onus on me and what I do instead of on God and what he wants to give. So backwards.

The point of this whole passage (at least in my opinion as of last week) is that no matter what situation you find yourself in, even the lowest and poorest of spiritual places, it is a place where God's blessing can be experienced in extravagant measure. In every station in our lives, we can have the kingdom of heaven right here (he said it twice, so it's extra important), we can find comfort, we can inherit the earth (God's original gift to humanity as a place of provision and beauty and responsibility), we can live with satisfaction, we can receive mercy, we can see God, and we can be called children of God (identified with him and receiving the benefits of his care).

How can I live a blessed life? By seeing that God has already blessed it. Life is a gift from him. The possibilities of what he can do with this life are amazing and wonderful. No matter what my present situation is, it is blessed because of the goodness and generosity of God. No matter how wretched things look at the moment, God is saying, "You want to know where this can end up, my friend? Let me tell you where it is going. We are not going to stay here. We are heading towards a time and place where everything lines up with my goodness and love. We are looking past the present discomfort and seeing the deep riches that come out of aligning yourself with me. Are you coming?"

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for. You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Matthew 5, The Message

This photo was taken on a walk in the woods in the Laurentians.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

what am I looking for?

I just returned from our second annual Vineyard retreat in the Laurentians. There were 19 people sharing a 4 bedroom chalet (4 people were camping in the front yard), and I don't remember anyone really complaining about anything during the entire 43 hours we were together. No wait, the children rolled their eyes when it was bedtime and a few people sighed at the thought of going home. Amazing, when you think about it.

The weather was foggy and rainy and cold on Saturday, but we went out on the boat anyway, and others enjoyed books and walks and chats by the fire and everyone was content. We had a talent show on Saturday night which everyone was encouraged to participate in. A few people were reluctant, but that sentiment soon faded when I reassured them that it was by everyone for everyone, and we would love whatever they would do, no matter what it was. And every last person brought something for the rest of us to enjoy, wonder at, laugh with, or applaud.

The theme of the weekend (besides having lots of fun and eating good food, and enjoying the great outdoors and each other's company and the goodness of God in general) for the 2 gatherings that we had was, "What Am I Looking For, What Is God Looking For?" I had picked this theme rather quickly just over a week ago because I needed to nail down what we were doing. I arranged for people to speak on each part and didn't give it much thought until a few days before I left. I was the one giving the talk on the first half of the equation: "What Am I Looking For?" I asked God about it, and he was quick to point out that it was a bad question. Oh well, so much for my great ideas.

I read Matthew 6:24-34, something that puts my predominantly self-focused life in perspective, especially the last few verses. In The Message it reads: People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things (the cares of life, see preceding verses), but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Here is the more familiar version of verse 33 with a few added explanations from the Amplified Bible: But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom (His way of doing and being right) and His righteousness and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

The picture that formed in my mind was that of a line-up, like you would be in at the bank. At the front, where the teller stands, is the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. This is the place where what God wants actually happens and it happens how he wants it to. And there is me, standing right in front of these two, looking towards them, keeping them as my focus because that is where I am going, that is where I am headed. Then, from behind, come all these other things that I spend time thinking about. Things like my health, projects, bills, homework, family, purpose in life, relationships, etc. They come up and butt into the line-up. They stand in front of me and demand my attention and my focus. They heckle me. They block my view of the Kingdom of God as they yell and scream and poke at me, demanding that I give them my time and energy.
What can I do? I tell them to get to the back of the line. They are not where I am headed and not what at I am looking at. They do not go first. They fall into line as I seek first, look at first, the kingdom according to God.

We enacted the line-up scenario at the retreat. There were a few interesting moments. When the person representing Bills and Finances came up and started hounding the person in the line-up, the line-up guy started to tickle the Bills lady and she succumbed with laughter, falling back in the line-up. Who knew you could tickle bills into submitting to the kingdom of God? Another time a particular troublesome relationship was not moving out of the way, despite repeated instructions to get to the back of the line. The person representing righteousness decided to lend a helping hand and gave Troublesome Relationships a friendly push from behind, firmly moving them back into place. It is true that His righteousness, his way of doing things, helps clear the way when our willpower and words are not enough.

So the question never was, "What am I looking for?" but instead it turned out to be: "God, what do you want me to be looking for?" and "What has to get to the back of the line?"

This is the view from the lake yesterday, beautiful even on a foggy day.