Wind

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Do you recognize this?  It is Chicago – the Windy City.  But do you know why it is called the Windy City?  I did not know the answer to that until I read the book The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson.  From Wiki:

The book is set in Chicago in 1893 intertwining the true tales of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect behind the1893 World’s Fair, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who lured his victims to their deaths in his elaborately constructed “Murder Castle.”

If you are a history buff, this book is for you.  It was a World Fair that changed America – an amazing number of inventions arrived on the scene that year.  And anyone who plans events will read with fascination and empathy what it took even to transport the nails they needed for the setup of the Fair to Chicago.

But back to the question at the beginning of this little post.  Apparently, Chicago had some very long-winded, annoying politicians – they called them “windbags”.  And that is why Chicago is called the Windy City.

Bring to mind anything today?  Hmmmmmm…

Ciao for now, but not for long.

Wind

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Crisis

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I bet if people were asked to think of a current crisis right now, at least in North America, many of them would talk about American Politics.  And the state of the union in the United States of America.

The notion that Trump could actually be elected President seems to qualify the nation as a nation in a state of crisis.  That there is a large group of people who actually want him to be president is utterly baffling to me.  It reminds me a little bit of when the nation of Israel asked for a King.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel…But his sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.  So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”  

Okay, I would just like to point out here that trouble had been brewing for a long time. Samuel knew his sons were up to no good.  The elders of Israel were right to be concerned. Who wants their land to be ruled by judges who are corrupt!?  Let’s at least acknowledge that something had to change.  Israel was in a crisis state.  But this crisis state did not just instantaneously, out of the blue, arise at one point in time.  No.  The trouble had been brewing for a long time, and Samuel had not addressed it obviously.  Instead, he created a flawed succession plan.

Trouble has been brewing in the U.S. for a long time.  Trump has outed, or perhaps loosed, the racists and bigots in the country by the very fact that he is one himself.  We have recently seen how deep that issue runs through the fabric of the nation with various shootings in various areas and unexpected responses to those shootings.  That is just one of the problems that has come to light to show that the nation has not been healthy for quite some time.  And the troubles have been swept under the rug in an attempt to maintain an image of a sort of holiness or perhaps rightness is a better word.  But the fact that Trump is where he is did not create the crisis.  The crisis has been created over time – trouble has been brewing for a long time.  And people are right to want a change from a political system that has been corrupted over time.  But the people have allowed a mostly prosperous experience to blind them to the issues needing to be addressed.  Now the system is flawed and the crisis is coming to a head.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you: it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them do.”

Makes me just want to shake Samuel.  Like what were you thinking, Samuel??  But God tells him it is God that Israel is rejecting as king.  Now this gets a little confusing.  But the notes in the Bible with regards to this say that the offence was not that they asked for a king, but rather the type of king they wanted.  Perhaps a king like the other nations?  Their reasoning is flawed.

In the U.S., the people who are backing Trump are playing on the desire to get someone to shake up the system.  It is not wrong to want to get someone in there to shake up a flawed system.  But two wrongs do not make a right.  Shaking up the system is not enough – it has got to be shaken up right.  The people are focusing primarily on shaking up the system without regard to consequences and outcomes.  Critical thinking and the ability to reason is pretty important.

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.  He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Wow.  Here’s the king they were asking for.  One who would enslave their children.  One who would steal the best land from his people.  One who would steal the people’s servants and livestock.  One who would enslave all the people.  The people were warned.

The Republican presidential candidate has been forthright about various agenda items. Here is a good little writeup on Wikipedia (normally not used as a reference, but in this case, it is a step up – check out the full writeup from which this came here):

Trump’s populist[4][5] positions in opposition to illegal immigration, various free trade agreements, and most military interventionism[6][7][8][9] have earned him particular support among blue-collar voters and voters without college degrees.[10][11] Many of his remarks have been highly controversial and have helped his campaign garner extensive coverage by the mainstream media.

Trump’s disdain for what he considers to be political correctness has been a staple theme of his campaign and has proved to be popular among his supporters,[12] although mainstream commentators and some prominent Republicans have viewed him as appealing explicitly to racism.[13] Trump’s most polarizing and widely reported statements have been about issues of immigration and border security, especially his proposed deportation of all illegal immigrants, the proposed construction of a substantial wall on the Mexico–United States border at Mexican expense, his characterizations of many illegal immigrants traveling over the Mexican border into the U.S. as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”,[14][15] and a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. (which he later modified to apply to people originating from countries with a history of terrorism against the United States or its allies).[16][17]

Trump is a self-confessed racist with little regard for humanitarianism or even treating people with respect, much less with the dignity with which God calls us to treat all people. Trump would like walls built.  Trump views people from other nations as “less than”.  And this is the president the people want?  The whole foundation of the United States is based on immigrants.  (Gosh, there are so many other roads to go down here, but can’t do it.)  The people have been warned.

So what happens?

But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  “No!” they said.  “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”  When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.  The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Seriously?  Read the previous little bit of scripture one more time to get that incredulous feeling.  All those bad things the king is going to do?  And they come up with “Okay, bring it on.”  Honestly, we can see their flawed reasoning today, can’t we?

And yet, with all the ridiculousness that Trump brings to the table and all the ways he comes up against and violates values long established in the history of the U.S., including Christian values, he is now the Republican candidate for the presidency.  Even if political correctness is the thing to battle (and personally, I don’t think it is the big war or the hill to die on), two wrongs don’t make a right.

The nation of Israel got King Saul – a very flawed leader who did the nation no good.  God gave the people what they asked for.  Will he do the same in the U.S.?  I pray not.

Crisis of this sort does not all of a sudden happen.  Trouble brews for a long, long time.

Elusive

Ivy-overgrown statue in the courtyard of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek
Ivy-overgrown statue in the courtyard of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek

One subject I found very interesting while attending seminary was an argument for atheism called the “hiddenness of God”.  To learn more about this and one perspective from Ravi Zacharias’ ministry, read this article:  Hiddenness of God.

I have to say that when I was an atheist, I would have agreed with the argument of the hiddenness of God.  After all, why wouldn’t he make himself clearly present and end all the ridiculous arguments?  And I also have to say that I find most of the responses from the Christian community that try to explain away the hiddenness of God to be unsatisfactory to my logical, evidence-based mentality and personality.  That would be 41 years of agreement with the argument.

But when I met Christ – when I realized that an event in my life was too coincidental to be a coincidence – my perspective changed.  I still find the typical responses to the argument to be unsatisfactory.  But as I looked back on my first 41 years, I realized that there were many pointers to the existence of God.  Personal invitations to believe.  Strange coincidences that only years later would indicate to me that God was directly involved in my life.  God was not elusive from me – rather, I was elusive from God.

And as for the reason for the hiddenness of God?  Well, I have become much more aware that there are questions and mysteries surrounding the way that God has designed or ordered many things.  And thankfully, I can now accept that some mysteries will not be unraveled even over a lifetime here on earth.

Of particular impact to me from the article linked to above, is the following paragraph:

In fact, God is often found in one of the last places we think of—the church. For when the church is at its best, the church tells fresh the story of God’s good news across the ages. But the church can become the living embodiment of God’s presence; encountered in the love and care demonstrated by the community for each other, for the sake of the world. At its best, the church can be such a community, and can be a symbol of God’s presence among us as “God-found,” and not “God-hidden.”  The church can be the arms of God around us when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years. Such a community can be like the faithful friends who carried their paralysed friend to hear Jesus. His faith didn’t heal him, but the faith of his friends did!(2) The church can be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet as they extend out into the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. Through worship and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church is to reveal the God who spoke and is still speaking.

John 13:35 – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

To the extent God is hidden today is the extent to which the church will be accountable.

Sanctuary

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A sacred or holy place.  A place of refuge.  A safe place.

Today I went on a walk around the Twin Brooks subdivision of Edmonton.  Much of the subdivision is bordered by a ravine, so the walk around its circumference is quite beautiful. I’ve described it before, but let me recap.  There is a path – mostly unpaved – around the circumference, and on one side are the backyards of some rather magnificent homes.  The landscaping that is done is phenomenal and for the most part includes gardens, fountains, pools, gazebos, etc.  And on the other side are the trees that buffer the ravine.

Along the way, we saw coyote scat (probably), dragonflies (thank you, Lord, for the protection from mosquitoes), and butterflies like the one in the picture.  We heard squirrels and birds and felt very far away from road traffic, although it is really quite close. There were openings in the forestry to allow unblocked views of the ravine – let me tell you, the views are spectacular.  It feels like a sanctuary when you walk this path.  Even though the experience is obviously partly man-made and partly natural.

My friend Margaret and I exchanged stories along the way, our experiences with the Lord, as we soaked in the beautiful sounds and sights of his creation.  It was truly a short, but uplifting, retreat. Walking there and looking out onto the ravine, one would not even guess we were close to Edmonton.  The Lord certainly created beauty in this part of the city.  I felt as if he had given me a gift today.  A holy and sacred gift of sanctuary.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
Psalm 73:26-28

Clock

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I don’t know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with clocks.  I have a love relationship with this particular clock since I saw it last year while in London.  But there are lots of other clocks as well….

As a child, I learned early on the song “Hickory Dickory Dock.”  You know the one where the mouse ran up the clock.  The clock struck one, the mouse fell down, hickory dickory dock.  And from very early on, I have had a certain fascination with clocks.  They are my favourite wedding gift to give.  Or almost any kind of gift.  After all….

Time is of the essence.

The hot commodity of today is time.  I feel valued when people spend time with me.  I don’t feel valued when people who are with me are glancing continuously at the clock.  But I know that is the way we operate these days.  We are busy, busy, busy, highly scheduled people.

God has something counter culture to say about time.  He says – take a Sabbath.  It is actually one of the ten commandments.  One that I think is often forgotten today.  Marva Dawn, in her book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, had a very insightful perspective on the Sabbath and time:

“We concentrate on our sanctuaries and call those places the church instead of realizing that “church” happens in the events of the Christian community and its outreach to the world, in time. We “go to church,” meaning a building, and expect to find God there, instead of experiencing the presence of God in the time of worship. (…) As we keep the Sabbath, instead of our possessing things or space, time possesses us.”

The clock is ticking…take some time to experience the presence of God.
Clock

Punishment

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Prison ministry is very interesting and has taught me many things.  Many of those things are about myself.

I remember one of my first visits to prison and experiencing how vulnerable the women were wiling to be.  I drove home thinking how they were willing to be more vulnerable than I was.  How they had come to a point in their lives that they were now ready to look up and be helped.  They seemingly had nothing left to lose.  But what about me?  I still had an image, if you will.   An image of “helper”.   And having an image to protect is a kind of prison in and of itself.

God worked on that in my dreams.  Actually, in one particular nightmare.  I dreamt that I went to prison.  I can’t remember what I went to prison for, although in the dream I know that I knew, but I was sentenced to 2 years.  Now, if I had been sentenced to 2 years less one day, I would have been sent to Provincial prison, but since I was sentenced to 2 years, I was being sent to Federal prison.  That means I would be going to the very prison I ministered in.

I remember the thoughts I had in my dream quite vividly.  Thoughts like:  “How can I get out of this?”  “I am not going to want to talk to anybody!”  “I won’t even want to leave my room or go to a Bible study like the one I was leading.”  I remember the desperate feeling of being trapped with no way out.  I could not believe it was happening.

What I was convinced of is that the prison of image is much harder to recognize and harder to get out of than the prison I was sent to.

Since beginning prison ministry, I pay a lot of attention to articles about all things prison. I remember one fascinating article that documented a recent move by a prison in another country (I think it was Belgium, but can’t be sure) to focus on dignifying prisoners.  This article focused on how the maximum security prisoners and the guards ate together at a properly set table.

So I began to ponder the need to ensure dignity for people who had broken the law and so were incarcerated and also to question what “punishment” is supposed to look like.  And I remember hearing someone say that when someone is sent to prison, the punishment is supposed to be separation from society.  Theoretically, there is not to be punishment in prison – prison (separation from society) is the punishment.

And then a little lightbulb went off inside my head.  Ahhhhh…..that makes total sense, I thought.  After all, punishing people inside the prison does nothing for rehabilitation or reintegration once a person’s sentence is done.

Let’s make it even simpler.  Prisoners come out of prison eventually and may live anywhere they wish.  When thinking about your next door neighbour having perhaps come out of prison, what kind of experience do you hope they had in prison?  One of dignified living?  Or one of continuous punishment?  We need to get smarter about this kind of thing.

Jesus came to free the prisoners.  That is us – we have all sorts of prisons.  Prisons like depression, addiction, laziness, image, control, etc.  Those prisons represent separation from God.  As he frees us from those prisons, he dignifies us.  He loves us into his kingdom.  Can you imagine if he just threw our “crimes” / “sins” up in our face continually, and we had to be punished ever after?  No one would choose to be saved under those circumstances.  It is the enemy who will throw our past up into our faces and who would like to punish us over and over and over again.

How do we view prison and punishment?  As the church, hopefully we are in the image of the one we serve – Jesus – and not in the image of the enemy.

 Punishment