Good Grief!

Good Grief!  I have no idea what that is really supposed to mean as a polite expletive, yet grief is one of the most profound common human emotions – it is good.

We grieve a lot of things in life, from death of a loved one to inexplicable little things. We grieve the passage of time to the loss of dreams. A child might grieve the loss of a teddy bear. An Olympian might grieve missing a medal by a fraction of a second. It can be the loss of a job or the parting of ways. Grief wraps our tentacles through our lives in unexpected ways.

Right now I am grieving along with one of the finest groups of people you will ever meet. Among them is a mechanic, a kitchen designer, an electrician, a handful of teachers, an IT manager, a retired missionary, students, childcare workers, retired folks, parents, long time Canadians, immigrants…so many different backgrounds, occupations and roles in society. They all have one thing in common. They are part of the church I pastor and that church is closing its doors after more than thirty years of caring ministry.

To warp the Apostles Paul’s words (this is the warped mirror after all), love does not pay the bills, but when there are no more bills to pay, still love remains. Where love and loss meet, there is grief.

As a church we are grieving. To be sure it is not the acute grief of the loss of a love one, but the process we are walking through is much the same – not in depth, but certainly in breadth of emotion. We have meant a lot to each other. Though we may continue in fellowship, things are about to change. We are losing our church. It is emotional. It hurts. It should hurt.

Grief stirs up all sorts of emotions. We may find ourselves feeling sad and maybe angry. We may want to appoint blame. We may feel that we have failed. We might even feel that God has let us down or that we have let God down. On the other hand we might feel excitement about new possibilities and even relief that the struggle is over. We might feel joy. We might even feel guilt over how we feel. Such it is with the emotional roller coaster of grief.

Some wear their grief on their shirt sleeves while others grieve much more privately. Some will feel the need to talk about it and let others know how they feel. Others will grieve more privately, but it is just as real. Some may feel a sense of relief. Others are hurting deeply. We need to embody grace seeking understanding and mercy seeking comfort. We need to offer one another kindness and gentleness – compassion and encouragement. If there ever was a time when we need to truly love one another and be here for one another, now is the time.

It can be easy in a time like this to wonder what will become of us. Change can stir up anxiety and anxiety breeds fear. No doubt, this is a difficult journey. Along the road we need to hang onto Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What beautiful words of encouragement. He will continue to do a work in us – a good work in us. We are not abandoned.

Be sure that the work will not stop because this church closes. Not at all. Our hope is in Jesus – not a particular church. In fact this may open up new doors to growing in Christ Jesus that none of us could have imagined.  Who knows what things God has in store for us? Though in the moment we grieve, it will not define us. Who we are in Christ will not change. He is not done with us yet. Not by a long shot.

Besides, none of us really knows what God has in mind – what plans he has for His church from day to day.  At some point we have to trust in the plans of a sovereign God who doesn’t always tell us what His plans are. We might be thinking that God has not answered our prayers…maybe, but maybe there is a reason far beyond anyone here. Maybe God sees a better plan. God is doing a work and He will complete it. We have to trust Him.

Yet in there lies another problem. We can feel like we let God down. Be sure that God is no man’s debtor. He will accomplish His plans. No doubt that over the last 33 years some things could have been done differently. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on those things to learn what we can from them, but I caution against playing the “what if” game. We have no way of knowing if different choices would have changed things for the better. We might think so, but we can’t know so.

Let’s leave the “what ifs” to novelists and screen play writers. “What if?” is a question we ask before making a decision. Once a decision is made we have to move on believing that God is at work. In the same way we have to trust that God has been at work in the past decisions throughout the entire life of our church.

We must also be careful not to point fingers at one another. Judgments like “If they had only…” create division and disrupt shalom. It’s a dangerous variation on the “what if” game that attacks the integrity of others – it can be deeply hurtful. Besides, how do we know that we are right? In a time like this we must be honourable and respectful of others. We must guard our thoughts and words. Love your neighbour as yourself.

So I say, friends, grieve…grieve well. There is such a thing as good grief. It is grief that overflows with grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. Grieve well my friends.

This post is a shortened version of the sermon I preached on Sunday March 8, 2015.

Friday Humour

What do you get when boredom, a wild imagination and a Bic pen cap collide?

I don’t recall exactly when, but sometime in elementary school I had a dramatic revelation of life changing implications. The universe would never be the same. The thread worn fabric of space time unravelled before my eyes.  It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Well I have news for you, the pen cap is mightier than the laws of physics.  Yes, the very laws of physics were warped and morphed before my eyes.

It was probably in a social studies class or maybe math, certainly nothing important, that boredom collided with my wild imagination at the very moment I pulled the blue cap off my pen and set the pen down in that little slot we had on the old school desks. You know, the groove across the top of the sloped desk to keep pens and pencils from rolling noisily onto the floor at which point the teacher would surely know that our minds had drifted to far away places.

With my pen secure in it’s idle place, it dawned on my that the cap was sleek and aero dynamic. It could be the nose cone of a rocket ship or a physics defying intergalactic spaceship, a gift from some alien race. Sometimes it was an airplane, a lumbering giant or a nimble fighter. Yes, may a dog fight was won by the cap of my pen. It took flight as often as my teacher was looking the other way.

I’m sure if my teachers knew what was racing through my young mind they would have grounded me at once. I also might have done better in the two previously mentioned subjects. But before you scoff and mock me, have you ever noticed that the Virgin Galactic space craft looks strangely like the cap of an old Bic pen?

image

May you find inspiration in the ordinary.

It’s All In Your Head! No kidding, it’s mental health

“It’s all in your head,” has to be one of the silliest things you can say to someone suffering from anxiety or depression. Of course it is. It isn’t a stubbed toe we are talking about. According to the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), 20% of Canadians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime, 8% will suffer from major depression. The CMHA reports that only about half those affected talk to their doctors about it. In other words, the real statistics could easily be significantly higher. Of these, a remarkable number are youths, of who (according to the CMHA) only 1 in 5 receive the help they need. The malady is real, and yes, it is in our heads.

Recently I was invited to participate in a mental health support / advisory group in our community sponsored by the local public schools called Stronger Together. No doubt, while it is a school focused initiative, the whole community benefits. It has been encouraging to sit around tables at meetings with a diverse group of people to talk about the issues and what each partner can bring to the table to help support children and families who are struggling for any number of reasons. The partners include school administration, students, health professionals, social services, police, non-profit societies, advocates and the people like myself. Perhaps what is most encouraging is working with people who on other issues we might find less common ground, but here the focus is on helping others, particularly youth.

That brings me to an important point. Maybe, just maybe, our differences would divide us less if we focused on well being of others more. Is not the second greatest commandment to love our neighbour as our self? The practical reality is that when we focus on loving and caring for others, the things that divide us become meaningful discussion points rather than walls. It isn’t about ignoring differences, rather about seeing beyond them to what we can accomplish together precisely because of the diversity. Maybe that is the greatest lesson in all of this.

What if our youth saw the unity and mutual caring, dare I say the emerging love among diverse people? What if they saw that we can work together as fellow humans toward a mutual positive goal?  What if our youth saw that people from diverse walks of life cared deeply enough about them to work together as a team for their benefit? Maybe then, merely by working together, some of their anxieties and depressive thoughts would abate, leaving them stronger and more hopeful for tomorrow. We are stronger together.

I don’t pretend for a moment that merely the meetings of diverse people and skills are the solution to all anxiety or depression among youth, but knowing that the village has your back in the time of need is powerful medicine. That goes for adults too. We need to know that others have our backs too.

The flip side is that if youth think that few people care, if anyone at all, it only serves to deepen the dark foreboding in the soul that crushes and devours hopes and dreams. When we fail to visibly care, we are part of the problem. Indifference is a crushing poison.

By the way, if you are wondering how this fits in with my ministry as a pastor, the answer is simple. Jesus went out of His way to heal the sick and set people free from demons. Many of those same people had been ignored by the religious elite, the Pharisees. Shunned would not be too strong of a word – nor would oppressed. Indifference destroys lives as efficiently as hatred. On the other hand, love, mercy and grace bring hope and a future. Setting aside the “religious” to bring mercy and hope to the struggling, the oppressed, the outcast and the sick, is not an option, it is the call of Jesus on our lives.

Fifty Shades of Ethics

My facebook and google+ accounts have been flooded with Fifty Shades of Grey posts. Most of them have expressed less than muted shades of dismay at the movie. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be some tunnel vision ethics in the mix.

Let me be clear. I am not promoting, condoning or otherwise supporting the values, ethics or premise the story is founded on.  I don’t plan to go see the movie nor have I or do I plan to read the books (much to the relief of my pastoral colleagues and church I am sure). That said, there are many “good” movies people suggest I go see that I pass on, not to mention many “good” books.

I’ll get to the point of this article. I take issue with the rash of bash and slash posts littering the Christian blogosphere that take a narrow aim at Fifty Shades of Grey. In particular, I question the narrow ethical focus that has put one poorly written book (or so I’ve heard for literary reviews), and it’s ensuing cinematic offering, in the cross hairs of a verbal sniper scope. To be sure, many legitimate concerns have been raised, from abuse of women to the cheapening of sex, however I can assure you that this particular book and movie are far from alone in this particular warped genre.

Let’s be clear, Fifty Shades of Grey is a fictional story. However warped you may think the story is, it is just one instance of tens of thousands (if not millions) of works of fiction that delve into the dark side of humanity. It is certainly not the first one to exploit submissive or abusive relationships, let alone sexual power games (to be euphemistic). Yes, this particular work of fiction has put a spot light on the genre, but let’s not pretend that it is something new.

Truth be told, apart from fiction that delves into the dark side of humanity, the literary world and movie makers would have little to publish other than a handful of lackluster offerings. The basic building blocks of plot are conflict and complication. In most cases, that means stealing, murder, hate, forbidden love, forsaken love and so the list goes. Even the stories that pit a protagonist against the forces of nature almost always include inter character tension AKA conflict. Whether it is arguing with a volley ball called Wilson over the need for more rope to build a raft in the movie Castaway, or the heart wrenching scene when Chuck Noland is finally rescued only to find his beloved is now married to his dentist, conflict is at the heart of our stories.

There are of course numerous fictional stories that intentionally speak to the dark side of humanity, exposing them to the light of day. I recently read the Ojibway author, Richard Wagamese’s excellent book, “Medicine Walk.” It is a profound walk through the darkness of soul (I think that is an appropriate term), exposing the agony and suffering of the oppressed so that healing might begin. There are of course many many books and some movies that do this exceptionally well, some subtly, some overtly. Through their imaginative tales we come to understand our own stories in ways that sneak around our defenses and stir our hearts. The power of story should not be underestimated, but what it reveals in us is often more interesting – and sometimes dark – than the story it self.

By the way, did you notice how for a moment I took the focus off of the abusive sexual power play of Fifty Shades? I did so in part to make the point that not every book or movie that delves into the dark side of humanity is to be easily discarded. Sometimes we need issues brought to light through fictional stories. Art in all of it’s forms can do that, though doing it well is not half as easy as it seems. I do believe, however, that there is a difference between exposing and exploiting the dark side of humanity, though it is not always clear cut.

There are those literary works that tell the story of the darkness of humanity and darkness of the soul, exposing it to the light in the hopes of bringing understanding, healing, even redemption. Then there are those works that blatantly exploit the darkness of the soul for titillation and profit (I suspect Fifty fits in here). No doubt the line is fuzzier than I hope – certainly there is both the writer and reader, their own stories mingle with the fictional world, to evoke responses that defy categorization. It is more of a gradient of ethical greys. What to one person is mere escapism can be traumatic to the next when it intersects with their own stories. What is exposing to one may seem exploitive to another and the flip is also true.

So what’s my beef with the roast and toast blog posts? A lack of consistency, or perhaps selective vision. Fifty is hardly the first Hollywood or Indie film to exploit the notion of forbidden sex to turn a quick buck by titillating its audience, nor is it the first one to wrap sex and abusive behaviours together for that same purpose. May be it is the first one some bloggers have heard of, but a little (very little) research reveals that it is nothing new. If you are going to flame the movie (and book), then address the gratuitous exploitation of sex and exploitive power in all movies, not just this one.

For that matter, what about movies that exploit murder, stealing, adultery, coveting, lying, cheating…you know, the stuff that makes up most fiction literature and cinema (I’m not touching “reality” TV here, but I could). Since when has stealing made people heroes? Since when has creating mass carnage in a city, gratuitously depicting the destruction of innocent lives in a movie car chase, been any better than whatever all happens in Fifty? Are we also speaking up against the old western movies that portrayed North American natives as disposable savages, back when killing a white man would get you hung, but kill a native and – one less Indian to worry about? Now that was shameful. What about movies of blood sucking vampires? From a point of social ethics, what does it say about us when we flame one dark genre but ignore others?

We have a generation where a large percentage of kids have blasted or shot innumerable people in the virtual world of gaming. Oh but that’s just a game. Those old movies? They were just unenlightened writers. Oh those vampire movies, it’s just fantasy, no harm. Isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey just a book and a movie based on a warped fantasy? Where is our ethical consistency?

If you are compelled to speak out against the movie, let me offer a few well meaning suggestions. Speak out against the abuse of women in all of it’s forms and in all of it exploitive portrayals. Speak out against people – male and female – who abuse their positions to control and enslave people, including corporate executives who treat people as a disposable resource. Speak out against those who treat sex as a commodity to be traded for. Please don’t stop there. Speak out against those who exploit stealing, hate, assault, murder for entertainment profits. Speak out against those who exploit the darkness of the soul for profit.

At least that’s how I see it in the warped mirror.

Something New

I have had this blog for a while. I like it, but I must admit I have been less than spectacularly inspired to keep it going. The problem was simple enough. It needed focus.

The solution was simple too. Take a wander over to my new blog thewarpedmirror.com AKA The Warped Mirror

If you have been following this blog in the past, please update your book marks, links etc.

See you there 🙂