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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Models of Radical Hospitality

   In the West, Hospitality has become an industry rather than a a trait of home owners.  Even though North American homes have many rooms, they are rarely made available to someone from outside. The recent trend of airbnb, by which people can share space in their homes for a fee, may be more of a manifestation of disruptive capitalism than hospitality.
   To find models of radical hospitality, opening your home to someone lacking shelter in a way that does not seek kickbacks, we must go back.  In the contexts that I share, radical hospitality was not offered by scattered individuals, but it was a community ethic, a way of life.

Abraham and three guests

   This story is told in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis chapter 18.  Three guests come to Abraham, a nomad living apart from any settlement.  The location given refers to the landmark of "great trees of Mamre."  If you read this narrative carefully, you will notice that the word "hurried" is used to describe Abraham's activity in greeting them, selecting a choice calf for dinner and instructing others to prepare meat and bread for the guests.  Whatever this elderly man had on his agenda that day was displaced by the visitors who came to him.  Caring for them with the best of what he had to offer preceded small talk; Abraham stood nearby while they ate and waited politely for them to finish before finding out the purpose of their visit.
   The welcome and hospitality he showed to these visitors was typical of the Ancient Near East. Travelers relied on residents to assist them with basics of food, water and shelter for survival;  it was understood that everyone will sometimes be in a position to receive as well as to give.  This was reciprocity extended to a wide community, paid forward because it was the right thing to do.

John Calvin's Geneva 

   At a hymn festival I attended this week in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, various historical anecdotes were shared between songs.  One item mentioned that I found striking was that John Calvin fostered radical hospitality in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. For those unaware of details of Calvin's life, he was forced to flee his native France and found refuge in Geneva.  It was his adopted home, but as he found himself a religious and civic leader there, he encouraged the care and reception of refugees from all over Europe.  When single and also when married he allowed people to board in his home.  When members of his congregation were expanding their homes (often by adding another story on top of the house), it is said that Calvin encouraged them to include a bit more room for refugees to be housed.  Geneva in the 1500's was truly a haven to those displaced by religious persecution because its citizens en masse practiced radical hospitality.

Netherlands and Denmark during World War II

   Radical hospitality was apparently in the DNA of many Christian people in the Netherlands and Denmark shielded Jewish people in their homes to protect them from enemies in the Third Reich. The acts of Corrie Ten Boom and her family, popularized by the book and film The Hiding Place, were not exceptional in their minds.  Great networks existed of those willing to risk their lives to provide hospitality to the oppressed.  In Denmark, likewise, a resistance movement enabled hundreds of Jewish people to be hidden and then successfully smuggled in fishing boats to neutral Sweden until the war ended.  The crisis of the time required courageous hospitality, and many in these nations rose to this challenge.

Today

   There are some people who still practice radical hospitality in our day.  My parents come immediately to mind.  Even though they have now downsized to a bungalow, they still have two rooms for guests.  Since their home is just steps away from a large high school, they were approached by parents of a young man wondering if their shy 9th grader could eat lunch at their home once a week for the year.  Those weekly visits filled a need for the boy and eased his transition to secondary school.
   A man in my city who has been an advocate for the poor and giving them tools to better their lives was recently featured in the newspaper for suggesting "tiny houses" might be a solution to homelessness.  One of the outreaches he oversees is a lunch cafe in which at risk individuals are trained to prepare and serve food, where the tasty vegetarian fare is affordable even to street people and where there is ample space for people to socialize, read or play a piano.  This is a way to offer radical hospitality.
   During the refugee crisis (which continues even when the news media have moved on to other stories), Pope Francis urged every Catholic parish in Europe to host a family of four as a realistic solution.  If they did this, the needs of refugees would be well provided for.  That his suggestion (and his own example of receiving displaced persons at the Vatican) was considered remarkable, shows that believers have room to grow in this area.
   May these examples inspire you to do what you can to show that you care more for others than for your own comforts. After all, that's what the Gospel's radical message entails.
 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A giving scale

      People give things away for various reasons.  Taking examples from donations received at food banks and thrift stores, we have a window into a few of these reasons:
  • Frank wants to be seen as doing the right thing.  When some teenagers come to the door at Hallowe'en asking for non-perishable food, he finds something in his pantry that he wouldn't eat anyway.  It might be past the "best before" date, but he doesn't bother to check.  At least he helped his neighbors, right?
  • Sam and Julie have just merged two households, and they have more than one slow cooker, two toasters, two blenders, etc.  How do they decide which one is given away?  They keep the newest or cleanest one for themselves and donate the other one to a thrift store.
  • Bill would like some positive publicity for his business, so he writes out a check for the food bank in the amount of $2,000. He wears a cap with his business name on it and invites a newspaper reporter to join him when he delivers the donation to the food bank. His picture appears in the next day's paper with the caption: "I've always believed in giving back to the community."
  • Linda is thinking about the recipient when she gives.  She has a cute jacket that her children have outgrown, so she washes it and makes sure it is in good repair.  She donates it to a thrift store, knowing another child will enjoy it.
  • Doug and Anna had a yard sale to de-clutter their garage, basement and attic in June.  The only put out things that were clean and useful.  The proceeds of the sale went to a charity.  Anything they had left from their sale was going to be taken to a thrift store.  They organized similar items into boxes and brought them to the receiving door of the thrift store, where the staff checked things over.  One box was not accepted because the thrift store already had too many Christmas decorations in storage.  Doug and Anna were fine with that and planned to donate that box in late November.
  • Dennis gets a turkey from his boss every Christmas.  They have been filling up his freezer because he doesn't actually like turkey.  Finally, he decides to take the turkeys from the past three years to the food bank.  He's glad for the extra space he now has for steaks and burgers.
  • Melissa and her family decide to give $100 worth of food to people in need.  They contact the food bank and ask which food is needed the most.  They go to the grocery store and load up their cart with $100 worth of peanut butter, which also happens to be on sale.  They carry on to the food bank to make the delivery.  They talk to the staff and greet some of the patrons while they are there.
  • Greg is overwhelmed as he tries to move all of his belongings from a house to a small apartment.  The possessions he has accumulated over the years now feel like a curse.  He sees two categories of items: 1) what he really values and wants to keep and 2) junk he has to get rid of.  Greg's municipality has a limit on the amount of garbage can be put at the curb each week, so he loads up a friend's pick up truck twice with category 2) items and leaves them at the thrift store donation area even though it's after hours.
Which donors do you most admire?  Go and do likewise.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Inquiry and the question "What is Truth"

  
   Using "inquiry" as a teaching method has become trendy in recent years.  "Inquiry" in this sense means using students' questions and interests to drive instruction.  In fact, using questions to teach has been a natural part of human development.  Think of any personal experience you've had with a curious pre-schooler and the barrage of questions she asked.  The Greek philosopher Socrates used questions to teach the young people of Athens, while Jesus asked and was approached with hundreds of questions recorded in the Bible.
   One of the questions that Jesus was asked came from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate during Holy Week.  When Jesus told him that he can come into the world to testify to the truth and that "everyone on the side of truth listens" to him," Pilate asks, "What is truth?"
   We are not sure if Pilate was trying to make light of the serious topic, as in "What does truth have to do with anything?"  He may also have been moved by Jesus' succinct and non-political aims.  Either way, Pilate does not expect an answer.  In our world today people may wonder about truth but they don't expect to find it.  This is the dilemma of the agnostic.  For those who teach "inquiry" from that worldview, I imagine it must be unsettling at times to appear to be leading students to truth even when one does not believe there is any absolute truth.
   So, even though Jesus does not address Pilate's question directly, we can find 25 special declarations of truth in John's gospel that Jesus introduces with the formula "I tell you the truth" (or as we may remember from the KJV "Verily, verily, I say unto you").  Here is just a sample of things to take particular notice of:

  • Before Abraham was born, I am!
  • Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
  • Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant also will be.
  • The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
  • Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
Something to think about: Why is truth so important?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Four Short Movie Reviews

   In the past few months I have watched some movies on video and at a screening that I think would be worthwhile for the audience that is interested in the topics on my blog.  I am recommending them to adults as they all raise topics that could be difficult for children and young teens to process.  While some scenes in each film may be upsetting, they are presented with realism rather than for shock value.

The Cross and the Switchblade (1970, rated PG)
   When I was just a child I remember hearing David Wilkerson, a preacher who reached out to gang members and addicts, preach live in my small town church in Canada.  He had with him a group of young men from his "Teen Challenge" ranch, and they shared testimonies of God's power helping them overcome a previously destructive lifestyle.
   The film tells the story of how this pastor found himself in New York City among the toughest gangs whose identities were closely tied to racial hostility.  The Mau Maus and the Bishops intend to ruin an church-like event Wilkerson has organized by turning it into a full-out fight between the gangs, but some of the gang members are touched by the gospel message and the fact that Wilkerson trusted them to take up the offering and not keep the money for themselves.  Hardened gang member Nicky Cruz, played by Erik Estrada, resists the preacher at first.  However, he also surrenders to God and becomes a Christian pastor himself (the latter not shown in the film).

Mr. Holmes (2015, rated PG)
   Even though I have read every short story and novel written about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as a spin-off series for teens and young adults Boy Sherlock Holmes by Shane Peacock, I don't usually watch movies based on the character because the plots of the movies tend to be sensationalized, violent and not true to the stories I hold dear.
   The film Mr. Holmes is not directly based on any of the detective stories written by Doyle, but it imagines what this brilliant man may have been like in his later years.  What memories would he have of his past career?  How would he keep himself both busy and cared for?  How would he be affected by the reality of aging?  All of these are explored in a way that is true to the character Sherlock Holmes.  The film also shows in a poignant way how each life touches others.
 
Woman in Gold (2015, rated PG-13)
   This film was recommended by Bob Waliszewski of Focus on the Family's PluggedIn media service, and is among his favourite movies.
   Woman in Gold  is based on a true story and deals with the reality of Nazi art theft during the second world war.  An American senior citizen of Austrian-Jewish background, Maria Altmann, discovers that the well-known painting of her aunt hanging in an Austrian museum rightfully belongs to her. Seeking justice rather than a fortune, she hires a lawyer to try right the wrong.  As she does so, she has to face her memories of the dark times she and her loved ones endured.

She has a name (2016, rated PG-13)
   I watched this film at a special screening sponsored by International Justice Mission.  It tells the painful story of sexual slavery as it continues to exist in Thailand and other Asian countries. It was difficult to watch, but it incites the viewer to take action against such exploitation.  The film was produced and directed by talented individuals with a social conscience who live in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.
   She has a name is not a documentary.  Though some parts are based on true events and cases, it is a fictional story of two different girls in Thailand.  One is trapped in an exploitative situation and is known only as "Number 18."  An American man trying to rescue her and others like her is trying to gather evidence and must earn Number 18's trust during visits that have to appear to the brothel owners as a regular transaction and yet are pure and noble.  He is determined to help her and to restore to her a name and dignity. The second girl is Mae, who is living at a recovery centre for rescued underage sex trade workers.  She also has a hard time trusting those who wish to help her, but in the end she tells her story so that the depth of this kind of abuse can be exposed and fought with greater conviction.
   


Thursday, 16 March 2017

A Different Perspective on Hydro Bills

   In the province where I live, the public is complaining about ever increasing hydro rates.  The government has promised to reduce rates by 25% to help consumers deal with this rising cost.
   Not many decades ago, electricity companies were encouraging people to buy appliances and maximize their use of electricity.  Note the ad to the right dated circa 1932.
  Yesterday I received my hydro bill and took a closer look at it. Even though the so-called price relief has not yet taken effect, our monthly bill was just $60.94.  To put this cost in perspective, I divided it by the 30 days of an average month and discovered it costs just about $2 a day to have the privilege of lights, furnace fan, and powered appliances and gadgets. When I consider that five people benefit from these things, the cost per person per day is only 40 cents!  Part of my reason for being pleased with my hydro bill is that I'm grateful for electricity.  I don't simply take it for granted or call access to electricity my right.  I've visited a country where the power supply routinely fails and where schools and households need to have their own diesel generators to function at an optimal level.
   Maybe you're wondering how we spend so little on electricity each month.  Here are some of our tips:

  • After we received a SMART meter outside our home, we did a family experiment.  Using the digital reading of how much electricity is being used in real time, we tested the amount of kilowatts used by various appliances, one by one.  It was enlightening.  A floor fan used far less electricity than the air conditioner; the water heater when powered up used the most.
  • We have a natural gas furnace, so the only electrical cost associated with heating is the furnace fan.  My husband has programmed our thermostat according to the time of use rates for the winter season.  Between 7 am and 11 am and again between 5 pm and 7 pm, the time of use rates are at their peak, so those are also the times when our thermostat is set the lowest.  It's almost unavoidable for us to not be cooking between 5 pm and 7 pm, so the heat from the oven and stove help warm our living space and we are seldom aware that the temperature is lower.
  • Our water heater runs only at night between 7 pm and 7 am on weekdays; we turn off the breaker switch each morning and reset it each evening, but we do not run out of hot water during the day.  On the weekends when time of use rates are at their lowest level, we keep the water heater on all day.
  • We live in a semi-detached house, so there is less square footage to be heated and/or cooled.
  • In summer we use fans instead of an air conditioner unless there have been 3 days of high humidity in a row.
  • If we are baking or cooking smaller items, we use a toaster oven rather than our large oven.
  • We wash dishes by hand.
  • Our flooring is mostly hard wood, so a vacuum cleaner is used less often than a broom or dry mop.
  • Our family hobbies include occasional movie watching and wood working, but not gaming or sitting in a hot tub.
  • We expect everyone in the house to wear an outfit more than once before it is put in the laundry, unless it was somehow soiled.  Towels are used for a whole week, and bed sheets are changed twice a month.
  • Laundry is done after 7 pm, but we have no clothes dryer.  We hang clothing from lines in the basement every other day so that humidity levels do not get too high.  In spring, summer and fall, we hang clothes outside to dry.
  • Our light fixtures contain fluorescent bulbs, but when multiple bulbs are expected in a lamp, we unscrew at least one of them.  How bright does it really have to be in the bathroom?
  • We have one refrigerator, deliberately the smallest that would meet our needs, and one chest freezer.
  • We power down our computer at night and hibernate it when it is not being actively used.
  • We use a power bar to turn off our television and DVD player.
I'd be interested in any ways you have reduced your electricity consumption.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Twenty year old things

   Last fall my husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary.  One of the slightly odd things we did when we got together with our children for the occasion was to go around the table one by one and try to name wedding gifts we had received.  When we couldn't think of any more, we checked the back of our wedding guest book, which listed them all.
   It got me thinking about the things we received as wedding gifts that we still use almost daily. They have stood the test of time, though you may notice some items have required minor repairs by my handyman husband.  If you are married, I wonder which of your wedding gifts you still have and use. How often do you think of the people who gave them to you?  Through these pictures, I reflect on the kindness of others to us twenty years ago and treasure the reason we all came together to celebrate: our marriage.

 


  A number of our wedding guests blessed us with cash.  We pooled this together to purchase 8 oak dining chairs, which remain sturdy and useful. They were crafted by Mennonites.
    Daily cooking with pots and pans is mostly done with the 7 piece set of Lagostina cookware given at a wedding shower by the neighbors in the rural area where I grew up.  The smallest saucepan and the Dutch oven have both needed handles to be reattached, but they continue to serve us well.




  The kitchen knife to the right was given to us by cousin Frank, who passed away last December.  We remember his kindness and struggles whenever we chop celery, peppers or onions.
  Two uncles from the Netherlands brought a group gift from nine aunts and uncles plus some cousins.  It was a full set of Sola flatware.  We were told upon receiving it: "Don't save it for special occasions; make this your 'everyday' silverware."

  This is just one sample of framed needlework we received.  The roses signify the business my husband used to be part of with his family.  The neighbor of my husband's parents made this carefully stitched picture, which now outlives her.
A plate decorated with stamps was one of the other hand-made gifts we received from my husband's nieces and nephews at a wedding shower.  My mother-in-law had previously invited these children to her home to make gifts for us.  This one-of-a-kind serving plate is a nice conversation piece when serving squares or cookies to guests.





   At first we were afraid to use this pottery milk pitcher, which holds milk that comes in bags.*  What if it breaks, we thought.  Even though it has been used while three young children could have been careless with it, it doesn't have one chip in it.



*In Ontario, Canada milk can be bought in cartons, jugs or bags.  Bags come in sets of 3, totaling 4 litres, and is usually the best buy.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Faith and Insurance

   To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with insurance.  On the one hand, I purchased a life insurance policy when I was 21 years old, long before I had any dependents.  My cousin was the sales rep, who pointed out the benefits of purchasing early in life, and he convinced me.  On the other hand, I question some forms of insurance because they seem improper for me as a Christian believer, who claims to trust in God to protect and provide.
   The Psalmist in Psalm 20 (NIV) shares a counter-cultural adage:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Time after time, the Old Testament people of God were rescued by divine intervention that defied the wisdom of military generals.  Consider the taking of Jericho by marching around it, blowing trumpets and shouting or the defeat of the Midianites in Judges 7 by an army reduced to 300 men carrying trumpets and water pitchers.
   Insurance can be one manifestation of a lack of trust, but the phenomena of trusting in "back-up plans" is really nothing new. King David faced the intense wrath of God for counting his fighting men because it demonstrated publicly that he did not trust in God for victory over enemies (2 Samuel 24).  Certain forms of insurance, such as automobile insurance and employment insurance, are required by law.  At which point is purchasing insurance an act of prudence?  When does it become an idol that soothes our fear of the unknown.  I don't claim to know the answer, but it's something a wrestle with from time to time.  
   Most recently, I purchased airline tickets and somehow missed the prompt to buy cancellation insurance.  By the time I realized my mistake, the 72 hour window had closed.  If the passengers, due to health or some other crisis, would not be able to take their trip, there would be no refund.  At this point I had no choice but to rely on God concerning this situation.  My prayers leading up to the trip were regular and asking for the plans to be allowed to come to fruition--that nothing would stand in the way of my mother and son going overseas to spend time with relatives, one of whom has terminal cancer.
Free range stock photo
   Five days before the airplane trip, family devotions came to a parallel event in the book of Ezra 8:21-23. Here the leader of a convoy of Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile calls for a fast to pray to God for a safe journey.  Ezra had made a conscious decision not to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen because he would be ashamed after testifying to the king that "The gracious hand of God is on everyone who looks to him."  I wonder if we are ever ashamed of creating elaborate back-up plans to give us security that ought to reside in God alone.
   The day before the airplane trip, I had a personal bread-and-water fast during which I asked the LORD to allow this voyage to come to pass.  And God answered this prayer.