A short article I wrote for The Banner this month.
Last night Fran and I finished binge watching the BBC’s The Hour. In the final episode two characters that we’d grown to love received news that the daughter they’d been searching for, given away at birth nineteen years earlier, died as a child during a second world war bombing raid. The father, Randall Brown’s grief was compelling. Throughout earlier episodes we were introduced to a man with an obsessive compulsive disorder; always straightening and reordering things on desks, totally controlled and precise in all he did. Then he got the worst news any parent ever could… and he grieved like a man with OCD would, in the only way that would be authentic to who he was. I couldn’t help but wonder if every human being on this planet has their own way to grieve.
They have nothing and their faces haunt me.
Earlier this morning, after laying awake since 5:00 am, I told my wife that I don’t know what to do anymore. For the past six months I have been whining incessantly about the increased air traffic over our home and now it looks as though nothing can remedy the matter. My complaining has cost me an embarrassing amount of attention, time and peace. I can’t stop thinking, “This is not fair”.
And now I see these people in this boat.
When Fran and I talked it through this morning I came to the realization that I need to let go. I need to give up my right to make it right along with my insistence on having it my way. I’ve been so caught up in my personal comfort that I’ve started to lose focus on what really matters. As Fran and I spoke, the story of Jonah came to mind; of how, at the end of the book, he was more concerned about the loss of a tree that was giving him shade than he was about a city full of people who didn’t know God.
As I read the closing chapter to Fran, I couldn’t finish the last few verses – because of my tears…. and my shame.
“God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up. But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!”
Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?”
Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”
God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”
Jonah 4:6-11, MSG
“God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”
Genesis 1:25, NIV
This weekend our church is going to explore some of that goodness at the Calgary Zoo and see if we can catch a glimpse of God through the animals he’s made.
“Ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?” Job 12:7-10, MSG
Every animal that you’ve ever seen was held, sustained and designed by God. And they had stories to tell and lessons to teach about who God is and how he thinks – if you had your ears to the earth.
To help you listen better this weekend there are three things you can do to prepare;
1. Meditate on the two bible texts you’ve just read. Read them aloud. Hang them on your fridge. Memorize them. Read them to your children (if you have them).
2. Start asking the questions now. Let the birds tell you what’s going on, along with the squirrels darting across your lawn, and all of the insects now coming to life. Try to notice what’s unique about each creature and ask yourself, “What does this unique thing teach me about you God?”
3. Watch this New Hope Church sermon on a wolverine. Write down some of the questions that are raised and take them to the zoo on Sunday. Pose them to the other animals you meet!
The images are all from the news… just let the tune run through your head.
Yesterday I preached on the iconic nature of germinating seeds; anchored into the soil and reaching for the sky, connecting heaven and earth, mysteriously moving from darkness to light. Every plant and tree that fills our city (and world) is a pointer to the incarnate Christ. As I walked this morning I pondered these truths with the chorus of a new Decembrist’s song running though my head;
“I am hopeful, should I be hopeful, all around me
When all around me…
Is the sunlight, it’s the shadows
Is the quiet, it’s the word
Is the beating heart
Is the ocean, it’s the boy
Is you, my sweet love
Oh, my love
And the light, bright light
And the light, bright light
Bright light, bright light
It’s all around me…”
At times it was hard to keep my eyes dry. Everywhere the gospel being preached… all around me. It took me three hours and 268 photos of trees in glorious bud to do my one hour walk. Here are a few of the images that slowed me down…
It seems that lately I’ve been calling everything a parable; people’s jobs, current events, films, songs and stories of germinating seeds. If all things are spoken by God, then I suppose this way of engaging his revelation makes sense (even through their falleness). God speaks through complex, eloquent, everyday stories – those found in the bible and those filling our world.
In a recent article for the Collegeville Institute, Susan Van Zanten writes about how reading (fiction mostly, but surely the connection can apply to real life stories as well) helps us grow in our ability to relate. As I read her words I kept doing the God-math! How does reading all of the parable-like stories God’s speaks (via fiction and real life) help us to know God more?
VanZanten writes, “Recent scholarship in cognitive psychology and neuroscience confirms [that] reading literary fiction… helps people perform better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence. Fiction helps create and inform a person’s capacity to attribute mental states to others and to explain people’s behaviors in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires. It changes how we view other cultural or ethnic groups more effectively than non-fiction.”
Did God give us reading to help us develop these capacities so that we could empathize, know and experience him more; the ultimate Other?
“Reading is capacious,” she writes. “It has multiple potentials. Reading doesn’t merely offer an escape from the world but is a path for Christians to engage with the world in multiple ways as faithful imagers of God. We read literature to encounter and grow in our relationship with God.”
Reading is incarnational. We image God as we enter into the stories of others and take on their flesh, emotions, hearts and minds. Through all of these things we can get a glimpse of the nature of their maker; even as we grow and develop out empathic capacities in general.
All of which makes me think I need to read more, so that I can know him more.
Whenever I encounter New York Times columnist David Brooks – on Meet the Press or via an online talk or through one of his articles – it’s always the same; I feel like I’m engaging the humble wisdom of Jesus Christ. Brooks and his writings are becoming iconic to me; especially his recent NYT’s essay entitled, The Moral Bucket List.
Here’s a piece I wrote on the essay for @thinkchristian (and of course he was born in Toronto!)
(image credit – “DavidBrooks” by Library of Congress. Original uploader was Biruitorul at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Nobunaga24 using CommonsHelper.(Original text : ). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DavidBrooks.jpg#/media/File:DavidBrooks.jpg)
After watching this news story tonight I couldn’t help but wonder if this judge was imaging the exasperated heart of God (watch the clip, then read the verses below)!
“Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.” Jeremiah 17:23
“Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.” Jesus in Matthew 13:13-15