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Friday, 29 June 2012

Seeking Signs

When we are looking for God’s direction in our lives, we sometimes attach significance to “signs.” 
   We may recall the story of Gideon in Judges chapter 6, where Gideon asks for a sign that God is with him by laying down a wool fleece.  The next morning, if the ground was dry but the fleece was saturated with dew, then Gideon would be sure that God was sending him.  One problem happened, though.  Gideon was not sure if it was really God or just a random event.  Thus he asked for a second sign: a dew covered ground and a dry fleece.
   When we read a Bible story like this we often think of the actions of the characters as being the guide for us, either what to do or what not to do.  Since Gideon found God’s guidance through this method, we think to ourselves that asking for signs is biblical.  However, if we look at Bible accounts from the point of view of what we can learn about God’s part in the story we will see a different lesson coming out of Gideon’s experience.  That is, God stoops to our weakness.  That is reassuring.
   When I was 17 years old and on a summer mission trip I remember asking God for a sign to show he wanted me to become a teacher.  Like Gideon, the sign I asked for was completely unrelated to the issue at hand, and I see now was quite inappropriate!  I had heard from several people in this Michigan community that the pastor used to have a stuttering problem.  The sign I asked for was to hear this pastor stutter.  Then I would know God wanted me to become a teacher.  Well, much to the embarrassment of this pastor, the very next day when he was leading us in a Bible study he began suddenly to falter in his speech.  I never had the courage to tell him my part in this.
   I’ve since discovered that God’s guidance often comes through circumstances rather than signs: an open door, a closed door, a Scripture passage that comes to mind, the advice of a strong Christian friend, or things falling into place after a time of uncertainty.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Fallout from the Modern Moral Code

The basis for this post was an article I wrote for an “Opinion Shaper” column  in Durham Region’s  “This Week” newspapers in 2001, but in light of the Private Member’s Bill seeking to discover when human life begins I revised it here.

   People in our society do not like rules and restrictions placed upon them, especially in matters that involve “personal choice.”  On talk radio I have heard numerous callers state their ethic something like this: “People can do whatever they want as long as they are not hurting anyone.”  Now, what is wrong with this moral code?  It sounds civilized and enlightened.
   My main objection is that to justify doing “whatever you want,” humans are very good at simply redefining “anyone” and “hurt.”  In the past, entire categories of humans were denied the status of “somebody” and became victims of great harm.  But today every “anyone” has rights, and there are human rights watchdogs and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to guarantee them, aren’t there?  Not quite.  The very youngest members of the human race are not regarded as somebodies if it is more convenient for them not to be, despite the testimony of the ultrasound. 
   How do we redefine “hurt”?  When we are striving to please ourselves, it is easy to minimize any negative effect our actions could or do have on others.  When the “others” in question are not “somebodies,” we take no notice when embryologists announce that pain can be felt at 12 weeks gestation.  Most newscasts do not carry the discovery that for a period of time beginning at 12 weeks, the fetus’ natural pain-reduction system of endorphins and other hormones is not yet in place.  A pre-born baby at this stage feels more pain than any of us can imagine when it is violently dismembered or poisoned to death.
   The leading cause of death in Canada today (2005 statistics from www.phac-aspc.gc.ca) is not due to disease or accident.  The vast majority of victims are perfectly healthy.  Abortion killed 96,815 in 2005, with circulatory diseases coming in second at 71,749 deaths in the same period.  We are not used to cause-of-death statistics being reported in this way.  Why?
   If statistics Canada called abortion a death rather than something therapeutic, Canadians would have to admit somebody was hurt as they did whatever they wanted.  And then we would discern that because our enlightened moral code does not protect everybody, it doesn’t work for anybody.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Year of the Dragon

We are currently in “the Year of the Dragon,” according to the Chinese calendar.   Have you ever noticed that all of the other creatures in this twelve-year cycle (the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, goat, monkey, chicken, dog and pig) are animals we are all familiar with by direct experience?  Isn’t it curious that in the midst of these ordinary animals there is one mythological creature?  Does it at least suggest that what we consider mythical today may at one time in human history have been very real?
   In addition to the Chinese calendar, there are accounts of Australian Aboriginees never taught about dinosaurs in an academic setting recognizing them as entities that their ancestors feared and faced.[1]  An ancient carving from the ruins of the temple at Angkor Wat resembles a stegosaur[2].  Why do cave paintings of woolly mammoths have credibility and not those of dinosaurs except that they fit in with what science has declared to be true?[3]
   Both dragons and dinosaurs have a modern fascination appearing in films like Jurassic Park and more recent young adult fiction series such as “The Last Dragon Chronicles” by Chris D’Lacey and the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini.  These fantasies place humans and dragon/dinosaurs together despite the timelines taught to children from Kindergarten that dinosaurs died out long before humans appeared on planet earth.
   It is striking that the theme park “Canada’s Wonderland” chose to name its newest ride after a mysterious creature named in the Bible, namely Leviathan.  It joins the already popular ride Behemoth.  Their descriptions in the oldest book of the Bible, Job 41 and Job 40: 15 ff respectively are intriguing to the open-minded.

[1] Geelong Advertiser, July 1845, reprinted in the same newspaper in 1991. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Hearing God in Your Heart Language

   For centuries in Europe the only way to hear from God was in the language of the educated, Latin.  The language of spirituality was dissociated from everyday life.  The warmth of conversations between family members around the table and hearth could not be captured when the priest read from the Scriptures in a foreign tongue.
   One of the greatest gifts of the Protestant Reformation, in my opinion, is having the Bible in a language I understand best, not one I studied later.  From that time until now Christian men and women have been busy translating the word of God into the heart language of hundreds of people groups around the globe.  This task has been complicated by the fact that many languages did not have a written form at all.  For them, an alphabet and dictionary had to precede the Scriptures.
   The Bible-less language groups are predominantly found in Asia and Africa, but nine years ago I learned of the completion of a rather surprising Bible translation project.  The Old Order Mennonite language of Low German or Plautdietsch finally had its own Scriptures!  Prior to this, all Bible reading and faith practice used High German, a language less familiar to this Christian group, which stresses simplicity of living.  Yet for all these years as their spoken language deviated more and more from the language of the Scriptures they used, they could easily lose that heart connection with the God they serve.
   Perhaps there is someone who will want to read the Lord’s Prayer in Plautdietsch.  Even if you cannot understand these words, be grateful that you can read the Lord’s Prayer in your own tongue:
            Ons Voda en Himmel!
            Dien Nomen saul heilich jehoolen woaren.

            Lot dien Rikj komen.
            Lot dien Wellen oppe leed jrod soo jedonn woaren aus en Himmel.

            Jeff ons daut Broot daut wi vondoag brucken.
Verjeff ons onse Schult, soo aus wie dee vejäwen, dee sikj aun ons veschulcht haben.

            Brinj ons nich en Vesieekjunk, oba bewoa ons fa dän beesen.
            Wiels die jehieet daut Rikj un de Krauft un de Harlichkjeit fa emma un emma. Amen.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Avoiding the "Too Busy" Syndrome

The people I meet often describe themselves as “busy.”  For instance, some are working longer hours because their workplace is competitive or understaffed.  Some middle-aged people feel the pressures of caring for their children at the same time as their aging parents.  Calendars are full of activities, and our list of things to do lengthens by the day.   We need some checks that will stop us before we get to the point of  becoming “too busy.”  I was reminded of them again this week.
   The first check is my husband and children.  I consider them a high priority, and that means I want to spend time with them.  The way that happens consistently at our house is family meals around the table. We eat dinner together every night, and we often work together to prepare the food.  We purposely carve out this time and wait until everyone is at home.  I realize this may change when our children become teenagers, but family meals are still something valuable to strive for.  It gives stability to the entire family unit and shows everyone their value on a daily basis.
   Another check is Sundays.  I was raised at a time when stores were not open on Sundays.  We always managed to do our shopping on the other six days and  appreciated the idea of having Sundays off to spend with family and participate in faith activities.  Even today we enjoy taking a break on Sundays and make sure it is not at someone else's expense.   Seven-day weeks are a universal part of calendars even though they do not correspond to astronomy in the way years, months, and days do.  There is something about the rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest that helps me deal with life more reflectively.
   My choices of transportation also help me to keep a balanced pace in my life.  Even though my husband and I own a vehicle, I would rather take the bus or walk to local destinations.  Walking gives me time to think and plan; riding the bus allows me to read a book without worrying about city traffic.  These modes of travel also lend themselves to friendly interchanges with other people; they remind me my concerns are not the only ones that matter.
   Finally, I make a point of asking myself, “Am I too busy to help someone?” If the answer is “yes,”  then I know my priorities are mixed up.  People are more important than agendas.  My radar is tuned to people who may need practical help, and I try to do what I can to be a good neighbour.