Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Did You See That?!?

Maybe its just me, but the nights have seemed darker than usual. I know, I know . . . Maybe Im just a little too jaded and cynical in my old age.

Stoke that fire a bit, would you mind? The nights seem colder, too. At least, they do to me.
And maybe Im just tired of the same-old, same-old in my so-called career.” Herding sheep at my age? Sitting out here in the freezing cold, night after boring night . . . Good thing Ive got my friends with me around this fire, or Id probably go nuts.

Its like I was telling some of youoh, let me see, it must have been almost a year agothese so-called four hundred silent years have pretty much sucked all the faith out of me. And not just me, mind you. A lot of people.

Whats that? Are you kidding me? Do you actually believe that naive young punk, Joseph whats-his-name?

Yes, yes, of course Ive heard the story. Its a small town; word travels fast, especially when its so ridiculous. His girlfriends pregnant, and he claims shes still a virgin. Cmon, did this kid skip his human biology class? Thats not how it works.

Have you heard her version of the pregnancy? Dont laughthe angel Gabriel brings a message: the baby is really Gods offspring. I almost fell off my camel, I laughed so hard the first time somebody told me that one.

A quiet divorce, you say? Well, thats more than she deserves, I guess. Pretty decent of Joseph, no matter how gullible he is.

Oh, come on, now. You cant be serious. Now Joseph is claiming angelic messages? He went ahead and married her anyway? Wowtheres a sucker born every minute.
All this talk of angels, messages from Godguys, need I remind you that it's been four hundred years since anything has been heard from the Almighty? Get over it, already!

Wait a second . . . Whats that light . . .? Do you see what I see?
*     *     *
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
(Luke 2:8-20)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ssh! Did you just hear something?

Four hundred years.

Four-freaking-hundred years.

Thats how long its been since weve heard anything from God. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Not even a whisper.

He used to talk to us all the time, but those days are long gone.

Granted, it was usually through some annoying prophetIsaiah, Amos, Malachi, just to name a fewaccusing us of abandoning our Covenant with God. We usually just rolled our eyes at them. Maybe, just maybe, we shouldve listened.

Oh, watch your step, there. Its really dark tonight, isnt it? I can barely see a cubit in front of me.

Now, what were you asking about again? Oh, right, the four hundred years . . .

Now, when I said we, of course, I really meant our ancestors. None of us were around then, after all. So, why are we being punished for their lack of response? I mean, seriously . . . four hundred years of silence? Really? For something we werent even alive for?
Anyway, the local Pharisees (our religious leadersnow theres a grumpy crew) have been neurotically obsessed with keeping all the rules of the Covenant. And even adding new ones, just in case God may have overlooked something. Maybe they think thatll convince God to stop ignoring us.

Our other religious leaders, the Sadduccees, say this is the new normal and we just have to get used to it.

And dont get me started on the Romans and their occupying army. Everybody says were Gods chosen people,” but Rome does whatever it pleases on our streets and has for years.

Whats that? You think you saw something? Where?

In that corner house? You mean that bright light in the window? Yeah, now that you mention it, that does seem more intense than any lantern Ive ever used.

Oh wait . . . its gone now, whatever it was. Now it seems even darker out here. Watch your step, okay?

Anyway, Ive about given up any hope of God ever doing anything remarkable. I mean, four hundred years is a long time, wouldnt you agree? Maybe God has forgotten about us, or given up on us, or . . . who knows?

All Im sure of is this: four hundred years of silence gives me very little hope for the future . . .
*     *     *

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.” (Luke 1:26-38 NLT)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Canadian Fable: #wearewinter

Once upon a time, Canada was in an existential funk, pondering endlessly about her national identity.

Compounding the problem was the imminent arrival of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the pressure Canada was getting from all of her sport-endowed people.


Suddenly, in a burst of revelatory inspiration, Canada had her
eureka! moment. She decided to embrace, proudly and defiantly, that season which Canadians are by far the most familiar with: winter.

And thus was the spirit of #wearewinter invoked by an unsuspecting nation.



But little did Canada realize what she had unleashed upon herself and her people. For #wearewinter turned out to be the cruel and capricious sort . . .

The temperatures were colder, the cold lasted longer, and Canadians nation-wide tried to yell
Uncle! But #wearewinter plugged its ears and pretended not to hear.


In a rare show of sportsmanship, even the local wolves pitched in and did what they could to ease the suffering of the Canadian people.

But #wearewinter said
(in a weather sort of way): talk to the hand.
As the frigid torment dragged on and on and on, Canadians began to ask themselves that age-old existential question: Why am I here?

Laughing its cruel and frosty laugh, #wearewinter responded by pummeling Canadians even more harshly and heartlessly than before.

Fearing for their sanity and their frost-bitten extremities, some Canadians attempted to flee to Vancouver, if only for a weekend of respite. But the ever-vigilant and vindictive #wearewinter promptly buried the Coquihalla Highway under an avalanche, cutting off their escape route.


Panic-stricken, Canadians desperately sought to break the curse of the Abomination of Arctic Desolation, trying everything from what they mistakenly thought were sun dances,” to invoking the Benevolent Entities of the Internet. But alas, it was all for naught...


It was only when the Canadians triumphed and won the Gold Medal in Curling (men's & women's), and the coveted Gold Medal in Hockey (men's & women's) that the ice-cold malevolent power of #wearewinter was finally broken, whereupon Canadians coast-to-coast dealt the frosty and capricious entity its death blow. Repeatedly and with gleeful abandon.


Thus was Canada made free once more, to embrace with open arms the coming season of pulling dandelions in the scorching sun, staggering in heat exhaustion while mowing the lawn, and enduring endless traffic jams in sweltering cars with dysfunctional A/C.

And then, they will naively utter the fateful words: Cant wait for winter, eh?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Just Another Day in the Wilderness

A summer spent as a Re-Forestation Specialistor tree-planter in the common tongueyields many wonderful discoveries:
  • experiencing nature (black flies, deer flies, hungry bears, and coyotes)
  • group dynamics after living in the bush for four months (think: Lord of the Flies)
  • your own character (in adverse conditions, you might not be as nice a person as you assumed you were)
  • DEET, the breakfast of champions
  • the daily ritual of the morning fire-pit, with the cozy circle of steel-toed work-boots lined up around it (because cold steel boots are very painful on the feet)
  • breaking a hole in the ice-covered lake to wash your hair (rinse and repeat? Are you kidding?!?)
  • 14-15 hours per day shalt thou work, six days a week, come sun, rain, or snow
One fine morningsunny with blue skies and high temperaturesI found myself staggering and dizzy in the midst of the planting area, shovel in one hand and a carrier with a hundred little baby trees in the other. The planting area had been devastated by a forest fire some years earlier, causing it to resemble the surface of, say, Mars.

Dizzy? Staggering? Whatever for, you ask?

Our crews supervisor, the previous afternoon, had been driving our work van at speeds usually reserved for those fleeing in abject terror from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Logging roads are notoriously unpredictable, and when we hit . . . something . . . the back of the van lurched sharply up and then powerfully down.
As the occupant of the very back seat, I was thrown against the roof (no seatbelts available in steerage the back seat), and cracked my head on the exposed frame. As it turns out, the frame of the van was made of sterner stuff than, say, my skull.

A two-inch gash was my reward, and I'm reasonably sure I actually saw stars. Somebodys t-shirt was sacrificed to stem the bleeding, and Tylenol helped me sleep that night in spite of the pack of coyotes doing laps around our nylon tents.

But the Morning After . . . Have I mentioned deer flies? They have radar ability to scent blood like Ring Wraiths chasing Frodo through Mordor. So here I was, staggering and dizzy in the field, trying to ward off strafing runs from blood-crazed insectoid alien life forms. After four months in the bush, I thought I was losing my mind.
And, just for fun, try to picture what it must have looked like: a dirty, sweaty 21-year-old in ripped and filthy clothing, standing in the middle of a burned-out lunar landscape, swinging a shovel over his head at tiny but murderous insect assailants. To even the most casual observer, it probably looked like I'd already lost my mind.
And then it hit me, a revelation of almost biblical proportions: I wasnt a prisoner here. I could quit! Escape with my life and most of my sanity intact! Get my head examined! (too little, too late?) And so, still swatting deer flies away with my shovel, I began to calculate my escape plan.
  • Id have to hike a couple of miles back to our base camp for my personal gear.
  • It was a further 15 miles (24km) from base camp to the nearest town. With all my gear.
  • My winter gear was still stored in yet another town, 60 miles north. Id have to get that, too.
    An A-ha moment:  I remembered the additional van back at our base camp, which wasnt in use because it needed repairs.

      I informed my supervisor that I was quitting, and then hiked back to the base camp. My supervisor had expressed a certain lack of confidence (to put it politely) in my ability to repair the van, but she under-estimated just how desperate I was to escape hell return to civilization, now that Id made my decision.

      As Id suspected, it was a carburetor problem, easily and quickly fixed. Shortly thereafter, I pulled into the nearest town, bought a bus ticketit came only once a day, so the pressure was onasked the gas station attendant to watch my gear, and drove north to get my winter gear.

      A couple of hours later, I was back at the bus station/gas station/post office/general store, and added my winter gear (and guitar) to the pile that the gas jockey was responsible to safeguard.

      Before heading back into the bush, I filled the van with gas (seemed like the right thing to do), and drove back up the logging roads, and left it at the base camp.

      And started walking.

      Despite (a) my ambitious escape plan, (b) successful repair of the van, (c) bus ticket in my wallet, and (d) gear waiting for me in town, Reality began to rear its ugly head.

      The bus only came once per dayabout 45 minutes from now.

      I was on foot, with at least fifteen miles (24km) to go.

      Although it was still mid-afternoon, I would probably have to spend the night sleeping somewhere in the bush (the memory of the coyote pack from the previous night popped uninvited into my mind).

      Prayer seemed like a good idea. I had no intention of walking back to the base camp (nor was I certain if my supervisorrepaired van with a full tank of gas notwithstandingwould even allow it), but I had to face the truth: there was no way I was going to make it back into town in time.

      I had barely said amen when I heard a loud engine approaching from behind. Turning around to look, sure enough, a pickup truck came bounding over the hill, raising a huge dust cloud as it careened down the logging road. As I soon learned, a work crew from a nearby hydro-electric dam was knocking off early and heading into town for beers.

      I stuck my thumb out in the time-honored tradition of Escaping Re-Forestation Specialists everywhere. They only had space for me in the back of the truck bed, but it looked like Elijahs Chariot of Fire as far as I was concerned.

      And the next thing I knew, I was dragging my gear to the side of the road just as the daily bus appeared down the highway.

      I was reminded of two very important lessons as I stretched out my dusty and aching body as best I could in the bus seat, swallowing a few additional Tylenol for my omnipresent headache:

      And Im grateful for both.

      Saturday, January 4, 2014

      Brain-washed

      I’m worried about some of my friends. They’re really good people, and I deeply value our relationships.

      But I’m growing concerned that some of them may have been sucked into a mind-bending cult. They seem, well . . . brainwashed.
      They don’t appear capable of thinking independently any more. Any attempt to engage with them on an intellectual level is met with a glassy-eyed stare and the chanting of their favorite new mantra.

      And if you try to question or reason with them about this mindless mantra, you get a reaction similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
      And it seems to be spreading. Insidiously and relentlessly. For example:

      Try telling a Christian guy that he shouldn’t be living with his girlfriend, or they shouldn’t be having sex if they’re not married yet.

      Try suggesting that drinking alcohol in moderation is okay, but drinking to get drunk is wrong. Or that developing various addictions might not be a good idea.

      Cue the mantra.

      Usually delivered with a self-righteous & dismissive haughtiness because now you are guilty of that most heinous and contemptible of all sins: you “judged" them.

      They love to quote: “if anyone is without sin, let him cast the first stone”, but conveniently ignore that Jesus also said (in the same passage), “leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

      (What? Did Jesus just judge that poor woman, by insinuating her adultery was "sin"?)

      They are also quick to quote Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge,” in addition to mentioning specks of sawdust versus wooden planks in our eyes. (Matthew 7:1-5) But they seem immunized against the intellectual honesty of carefully considering what Jesus actually meant.

      And the mind-numbing nature of their mantra makes it virtually impossible to point out—logically, intellectually, or theologically—that there is a big difference between exercising common-sense judgment and being judgmental.

      If we were to say, for example, “human trafficking is evil,” we are judging. And by implying that those who engage in and profit from human trafficking are therefore also evil, we are judging.

      Name any justice issue, and you are judging. You have to decide what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable. What is justice, or injustice. What is right, or wrong.

      You have to judge.

      Which is completely different from being judgmental.

      John Stott comments eloquently on the “don’t judge” section of the Sermon on the Mount in Christian Counter-Culture:
      “In all of our attitudes and behavior towards others we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious and condemning) nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves), but the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and then seek to be constructive in the help we give them.”
      In the Christian faith, and for those who self-identify as followers of Jesus, it’s kosher to judge between acceptable and unacceptable, between right and wrong, between good and evil.

      Between righteousness (as defined by the Bible) and sinfulness (as defined by the Bible).

      It’s the attitude of being judgmental that is the problem: the snidely self-righteous, holier-than-thou, look-down-your-nose-at attitude best evidenced by Jesus’ most notorious nemeses: the Pharisees. The attitude that takes delighted glee in pointing out the failures of others (which excusing or ignoring their own).

      Does anyone have any experience with what type of intervention would be adequate to begin de-programing those who have been brain-washed by the “judge not” cult? (I would assume that pointing out that they’re being judgmental when they accuse others of being judgmental is probably a waste of time.) Because this goose-stepping, brain-sucking mantra is a diabolically nasty one.



      Coffee with Jesus (Radio Free Babylon)