Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, March 27, 2020

Rickety Bridges

I’m one of the fortunate ones.

My life has changed little since we began practicing “social distancing,” as I already worked from home and no children or students live in my house. Everything’s cancelled except dirty laundry. I haven’t missed my few regularly scheduled activities because staying home is my favorite thing in the world anyway. I had nothing on my calendar which, when cancelled, would have left me disappointed. I’ve been writing more, reading more, praying more, and working on my quilt project more. If all that’s not enough, there’s always my neglected piano. Or my neglected hubby. If he has his way, I’ll also be baking more. I’m not that desperate yet.

It’s surreal, isn’t it? Even though little has changed for me so far, the drop in traffic on my usually busy street, the nightly news, the online reports all seem hard to believe. No one knows what will happen, but everyone wonders. We’re all afraid. That’s normal and understandable.

In my church’s online service, one of our pastors shared his favorite C.S. Lewis story and it couldn’t be more appropriate for this time in which we find ourselves. Lewis painted such brilliant word pictures, didn’t he? (This one is called “Faith in the Face of Peril” and comes from the Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol 3, 448.)

Two travelers came to a rickety bridge over a deep, rocky ravine. The first man thought about the goodness of God and convinced himself the bridge would hold till they had crossed over safely. He called this assurance Faith.

The second man looked at the bridge and thought to himself, It might hold and it might not. But whether my life ends today or at some other time, whether here or somewhere else, I am always in God’s hands.

The two men started across. The bridge gave way and neither man survived. The first man’s faith was unfulfilled; the second man’s faith held firm.

I love this story because it forces me to ask, Where am I placing my faith? In our health care system? Science? Government? All of those are doing everything in their power to bring a swift end to this pandemic, to minimize loss, and to ensure we will be able to continue keeping ourselves fed and sheltered. They need and deserve our prayers. Indeed, all of us want to do our part. Will it be enough? Will the bridge hold?

Placing your faith in those things may or may not find fulfillment. But nothing can shake a faith in a good God who holds you in his hands, no matter what. I love the old hymn that says, “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Covid-19 has resurrected the original meaning of the phrase “going viral.” Let’s make faith as contagious as the corona virus. In a time when you’re inundated with mixed messages, with words from people who have no clue what our future holds, focus on what will never change. Instead of amplifying your fears, speak what you know to be true. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1 & 2)

There’s that word “though” again. When I picked it for my 2020 word, I had no idea what lay ahead for our planet. Then again, we never do. But we know who is ultimately in charge. We know he can be trusted. And we know he hasn’t cancelled a thing.

Friday, March 20, 2020

My Favorite Feminist

This is the month we celebrate International Women’s Day, and I felt privileged to attend the special event hosted locally. We heard from two inspiring speakers, both successful women in male-dominated careers: one a Red Seal carpenter, the other a hockey broadcaster. Both women shared stories of being respected and mentored by men, but also about being disrespected and dismissed because of their gender—by men and by other women. Even here, in our “enlightened” Canada.

Born into a time and culture where women had no voice and were considered a man’s property, one man took an astonishingly radical stand. His was a revolutionary mindset. In a religious culture where priests would pray, “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman,” this man’s treatment of women stood in glaring contrast. His approach was downright scandalous. No wonder those religious leaders hated and feared him enough to crucify him.

There’s a sad myth prevailing in our culture that Christianity keeps women down and we must turn our backs on it if we hope to achieve gender equality. My heart breaks to know the church has profoundly failed in this arena, feeding into this myth and leading many to reject Jesus Christ when in truth, Jesus demonstrated great respect for women. Read through the life of Christ as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and you’ll see what I mean.

First of all, he included them. He taught them, in a day when women were kept illiterate, not allowed an education. He did not perceive them primarily in terms of their gender, age, or marital status, but in terms of their relationship to God. While other men — especially religious men aspiring to be respected leaders — wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a woman, Jesus frequently engaged women in conversation. In public.

Secondly, he spoke to them with kindness, valuing them and defending them. He accorded them equal spiritual status, referring to them as “Daughters of Abraham.” He asked them questions and gave them time to answer. He valued their service and their opinions. He gave them a voice.

Thirdly, even while defending women, he also held them accountable for their own sinful actions. Opportunity for repentance and forgiveness were freely granted, but it was the woman’s own choice to follow or not.

It was a woman who first experienced Christ’s presence on earth, in her own womb. It was another woman who recognized him as Messiah through the response of the child in her womb. It was a woman who first saw him after his resurrection. Then he instructs the women to tell his disciples about it. In the first century, a woman’s testimony was worthless. Jesus makes these women witnesses to history’s most important event. He entrusts them with the greatest story ever told. No wonder women flocked to him.

If you are a woman who has been hurt by religion, whose church has let you down, if you feel unheard or disrespected—can I encourage you to take a fresh look at Jesus? His followers—men and women alike—get things wrong all the time. They did in his day, too. They will in the future. It’s not a reason to write him off. (Besides, some of them do get it right!)

He loves you. He hears you. He sees you. He values you. He longs to heal your heart and set you free.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Tale of Two Irishmen

I’m late to the party by more than 20 years, but I finally read Angela’s Ashes and its sequel, ‘Tis, by Frank McCourt. McCourt’s memoir won a Pulitzer prize in 1997, sold millions of copies, and was made into a movie by the same name. His story is best summarized in his own words:
“Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Frank McCourt
It’s hard to pinpoint what pulls you in so completely while reading McCourt’s work, other than his no-pretense descriptions of his early years told with frankness and humour. I found myself thinking in an Irish accent for days after I finished it.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1930 to Irish immigrants, Frank was the oldest of six children to arrive within the span of five and half years. Only three survived infancy. A seventh arrived after the family returned to Limerick, Ireland, where they lived in utter squalor.

“It was like Calcutta,” McCourt said in one interview. “Only worse, because Calcutta would have been warm and dry.”

His alcoholic father, who could never keep a job more than three weeks, eventually left the family to fend for themselves. Denied access to a Catholic high school, Frank worked odd jobs until he could save enough to sail back to America at the age of 19.

Eventually, he served in the U.S. military and talked his way into university on the G.I. bill. After teaching high school for three decades, he found time to write his memoir, never imagining what a phenomenon it would become. For a mostly sad tale, the book shines as a tribute to human resilience in the face of indescribable adversity.

Frank McCourt died in 2009, still despising the Catholic church but, in his words, “fascinated with faith.” While he held certain priests and nuns in high regard because of the good work they did individually, he saw the church itself as cruel. “All they did was instill fear.”

Ironically, McCourt’s story of poverty made him wealthy. Nevertheless, he died with two failed marriages in his wake and a lingering disappointment with God.

Eight years after Frank McCourt sailed away from Ireland, another Irish baby was born named Robin Mark. He lived through the unrest, terrorism, and violence in Ireland but became a musician who’s been leading worship for four decades at his home church in Belfast and all over the world.

Robin Mark
“Our job is to decrease so that he [Jesus] might increase,” Mark says. “It’s a purely servant roll. There’s no place for selfish ambition. The heart of a worship leader has to be extremely humble, preferring others over self. It’s an act of worship to rein back your own style of worship in order to engage others. It’s a sacrificial act.” His words ring true in his song lyrics as well.

Robin Mark says the strongest of his songs came out of the chaos around him in northern Ireland. “You’ve got to be able to address suffering and pain. David never shied away from every human experience. Jesus never shied away from it. Never lead people where you’ve never been yourself.”

What a contrast between these two men! While I respect both for different reasons, I consider only one a role model. I’m neither a musician nor a worship leader, but Robin Mark demonstrates by his life and words what it means to serve God by serving others. His is a living, breathing faith from which all of us can take courage.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!