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Friday, 27 September 2013

Chinese Tree Stories

   I’ve long been fascinated by the Chinese writing system, where each character represents one or more words.  Different characters can be minimized in order to blend together into new words.  A book entitled Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve by Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry has opened my eyes to some of the stories embedded into certain Chinese characters.
   By looking in particular at the base-word “tree” in Chinese, we can see a progression from an actual picture of a tree to an ancient etching on a bone fragment to the modern symbol for tree. 
The symbol for tree appears in a number of Chinese words; for example “stop, rest” has a “person” symbol beside a tree.  This makes sense because resting in the shade of a tree is a common experience that the original “readers” of the Chinese language could all relate to. 
   However, there are some puzzling combinations as well.  “Law” is composed of a single tree with a human mouth superimposed on it above the symbol for God.  Why would law be associated with a tree?  Furthermore a pair of tree symbols side-by- side also appear in the words  “sorrow” and “desire/covet.” In “sorrow” there are two trees with a person between them.  In the oldest versions of this character, the person is represented by a mouth (eating) and a foot (standing/staying there) or by a figure of a hand reaching up.  Why would eating between two trees mean “sorrow”?  Could there be a story of someone who ate something at the site of two significant trees that led to great sorrow?   Likewise, “desire” and “covet” have a female figure with a prominent eye standing between two trees and gazing at one of them. 
What does she want from the tree?  Did it have something to do with a “law” God had decreed? 
   If we believe that all human cultures had access to the first stories of history (creation, fall, flood) prior to the dispersal of nations and the confusing of languages in Genesis 11, it should not be surprising when creation and flood myths abound in ancient oral and written cultures.  This small sampling of tree-words in Chinese gives a glimpse of a story where coveting a piece of fruit from a certain tree led to the greatest sorrow imaginable.

   The tree of life (one of the two trees in the centre of Eden’s garden) resurfaces in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.  A future hope is given to Ezekiel and to the Apostle John that the tree of life will be available to humans once again that they may live forever in God’s presence.  How can the way to this tree become accessible again?  Only by the One “who bore our sins in his body on the tree”  (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis mine).

Monday, 23 September 2013

Prayer for the Persecuted

   Dear Father in heaven,
   My brothers and sisters around the world are suffering so greatly for the sake of your name.  Today the situation in Kenya made the mainstream news but so many are afflicted in obscurity, with nobody to empathize or advocate for justice.  And yet they entrust themselves to you.  Strengthen the believers who feel all alone, who have been removed from family members or who live in hiding.  Enable them to know your presence, through Your Holy Spirit.  Let your word hidden in their hearts guide and sustain them.
   Let the persecutors no longer think that by their actions they are doing a service to God.  Soften their hearts so that they will see Christians no longer as the enemy but as human beings like themselves.  Confuse the communications of those who conspire for evil against your people.
   Lord Jesus, hold each one close to yourself.  Give them courage to face death, if that should be required of them.  Be the great provider for those families whose breadwinner has been killed or imprisoned.  Be the comforter that they need in times of trouble.
  In Jesus name,  Amen

Friday, 20 September 2013

Harmony and Oil?

There’s a description of unity and harmony in Scripture that is hard for the modern mind to appreciate.  The psalmist says that when people get along it is as valuable as the following:
   “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes” (Psalm 133:2).
   I would guess that the image of oil running down a man’s head and face, saturating his beard would lead to thoughts of disgust to most readers today.  When a person tends towards oily hair, specific shampoo is chosen to combat it.  Imagining such a quantity of oil, say a bottle of Italian dressing, being poured on someone does not have any positive association.
   Let me help you understand this image a little more.  The value of olive oil in ancient times was huge.  As the only type of oil available, it was used not only for daily cooking and baking but also as medicine, cosmetics and soap.  Add to this the Hebrew custom of saving oil of finest quality for the religious practice of anointing—setting apart a person (Aaron, and those who succeeded him) for service to God by pouring oil on his head.
Panathenic amphora,
from the British Museum website.
   While chaperoning at a field trip to the Royal Ontario Museum, the value of oil was underscored in a new way.  The guide referred to a large amphora vase from Ancient Greece that was given as a prize to the winning athletes at the ancient Panathenic Games.  With a capacity was 10 gallons (or 37.85 litres) of oil, it represented a lifetime supply of oil!
   In monetary terms pouring something this valuable on a person seems like an incredible waste.  But, in fact, it was saying that the relationship between God and his people is more precious than the most valuable commodity the culture knew.  Now, if this is the comparison for the value of unity between fellow human beings, we had better take notice.

   What are the most valuable commodities in our culture?  Let’s begin with property, net worth, pension plans, retirement dreams.  Pride, three square meals a day, standing up for your rights quickly follow.  If we really grasped the value of relationships, would we not swallow our pride and even spend time in fasting and prayer in order to restore a broken relationship?  Wouldn’t it be worth giving up some of our rights to win over a brother or sister?  In God’s economy, the most opulent thing is harmony and the love that makes it possible.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Polish First Aid Kit
   I’ve made several trips to the emergency department with my children, but two weeks ago I went there for myself.  I’ve been embarrassed to talk about it because I felt so foolish that a careless encounter with a tin can required four stitches on my left ring finger.  Even though healthcare seems free in Canada, I try to live such that I will not need emergency care until I’m quite a bit older.  I didn’t mind having to wait several hours before the doctor and his student came to attend to my cut.  Gratitude for living a short distance from medical care also came to my mind.  I was well aware that there were more urgent cases than mine; I just hoped I would be able to teach the next morning.     As the doctor explained things to the intern I became aware that I could have damaged nerves or tendons but graciously this had not occurred.
   As the healing process went on I was amazed anew at God’s design for the healing of cuts and broken bones.  After some cleaning up, in most cases all that’s needed is to put the two ends of the severed skin or bone together and wait.  With time the skin grows back together or the bone repairs itself stronger than before.  We take it for granted, but it should be remarkable in our eyes.
   Everyday wonders should be duly noted.  When they are we can see a providential God caring for us down to the small details of our bodies.


Friday, 13 September 2013

Good Question

  Even when he’s sleeping my teenage son carries around a question.  It is printed on a plain bracelet—IS IT HOLY.  This challenging query was given to him at a Youth Convention last May.  The speaker, Justin Lookadoo pointed out that as humans we like to justify our actions by saying something like, “Well, what’s wrong with it?” or “What’s so bad about that?”  As Christian believers we are called to the much higher standard of holiness, which is etched over 550 times in Scripture’s Hebrew and Greek pages.

   Holy has its origin in the triune God who created heaven and earth, ransomed sinners, and gives them a new life.  Time after time in the Bible, God calls his people to be holy, set apart, unpolluted, motivated by truth and goodness, marked by obedience. 
   The book of Ezekiel, which I just finished in my “Bible-in-One-Year” marathon, is especially interested in the concept of holiness.  One obscure verse in particular caught my eye this week:  “When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts next to my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 43:8).  This description of two buildings (God’s holy temple and one of Solomon’s other edifices) shows a duality of heart.  The entrance to human enterprise was set right next to the entrance to God’s presence, but that human enterprise gave no consideration to God’s laws and directions.  This kind of hypocrisy is offensive to God, not to mention loathsome to those who are looking from the outside.

   What we do from Monday to Saturday needs to be infused with holiness just as much as Sunday worship.  Keep asking IS IT HOLY, even if it makes you stand out.  Holiness does not trumpet itself, but it sure gets noticed.  To God be the glory.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Learning from a J.W.

Over ten years ago when my husband still worked at a family greenhouse business he had a regular customer who had an interesting perspective about celebrations.  As a Jehovah’s Witness he did not celebrate birthdays.[1]  He explained that as a result of this he gave special honour to anniversaries instead.  He bought roses not only for his wife but for couples that were his friends who had a special day.
   He pointed out that while birthdays celebrate staying alive, an anniversary involves something extra—the effort of staying together and working at a relationship.  So, not only the milestone anniversaries deserve to be marked.  Every anniversary is an achievement of love and cannot be taken for granted.
   Sticking with your spouse is not as common today as it once was.  It stands out and ought to be celebrated by those who are close to the couple.  It’s hurtful when this day is ignored.  A friend recently shared that on her anniversary she especially misses her deceased parents who always made a point of holding such a day in honour.  In contrast, her parents-in-law do not even phone and acknowledge the day.
   Many readers have witnessed dozens of weddings.  These events are full of excitement and joy, but they also involve a duty to track with these couples, encourage them as we have opportunity, and to celebrate their anniversaries one by one.  Maybe it’s time to take a second look at how much value we place on those special days that celebrate commitment.

[1] The only two mentions of birthdays in the Bible have highly negative associations.  The birthday of Pharaoh in Genesis 40 was the occasion of executing his chief baker and a day of feasting.  On the birthday of Herod the Tetrarch in Matthew 14 & Mark 6 there was drunkenness, provocative dancing and a call for the head of John the Baptizer.  This is the main reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Routines and Household Jobs for Children

This post is longer than my usual, but it didn't seem easy to divide into parts.  I hope you find it helpful.   

  With the start of school, families with children may welcome the return of routines.  It seems like an appropriate time to share how my children contribute at home in order to earn a weekly allowance pay cheque.  I need to give credit to Sheila Wray Gregoire who led me in this direction through her book To Love, Honor and Vacuum.  I’ve stated before that I grew up on a farm, and that naturally led to us children pitching in and doing jobs for the benefit of the family.  Living in an urban setting is different, of course, but there are still plenty of ways to teach children important life skills through doing jobs and managing the money they earn from that.
   When our youngest was 5 years old, we started our current system of jobs and allowances.  The number of weekly jobs was equal to the age of the child.  The allowance was $1 per job, with half of that being directly deposited into the child’s savings account every month.  The remainder was given into the child’s hand to spend on school pizza days, church offerings, and as they got older clothing, birthday gifts for friends, and any non-essentials they wanted to save up for.
   Now that my children are 15, 13 and 11 (later this week) some may be wondering how to come up with that many jobs for each child.  Some suggestions follow:
·        Jobs for younger children (5 to 11 years old)
1.    help with cooking supper (tear lettuce for salad, arrange a cracker plate, make dream whip, put muffin papers in the pan and scoop in the batter, etc.) one assigned day per week
2.    sort dirty laundry into lights/darks/towels
3.    water plants outdoors
4.    sort silverware into the drawer after it has been washed and dried
5.    wash or dry dishes one day a week; or empty dishwasher once per week on an assigned day
6.    organize a kitchen drawer or pantry shelf each week
7.    set the table for one meal (breakfast or supper) every day
8.    clear the table after a meal (supper) every day
9.    put away fridge items after every meal, every day
10.  tidy bathroom vanities and restock toilet tissue
11.  fold clean towels as needed
12.  straighten shoes at front entrance as needed
13.  light dusting with a cloth (designated area) once per week
14.  clean own bedroom once a week (make bed, clear and sweep floor)
15.  sort recycling into paper and containers
·        Jobs for older children (age 12 and up)
1.    trim grass at edge of lawn and around trees with hand-held clipper
2.    cut lawn/shovel snow/rake leaves as needed during the appropriate season
3.    mix up frozen juice as needed
4.    help with cooking supper (grate cheese, peel potatoes, fry meat, chop vegetables, etc) one assigned day per week.
5.    change bed sheets of self and siblings, in rotation, once a week
6.    take clean clothes off the clothesline or out of the dryer as needed
7.    bake once a week for the family
8.    clean own bedroom to a higher standard
9.    practice piano or other instrument for which the child receives lessons
10.  sweep or dustbuster under the dining room table, daily
11.  fold clean laundry
12.  put out garbage or recycling to the curb
13.  make own lunch for school each day
14.  water house plants
   You may notice that “dirty jobs” are deliberately left off the list.  Cleaning toilets or emptying the compost will have to be learned and done eventually, but I don’t want the children to feel like slaves.

   A few questions I could anticipate:

What if the child does not do the assigned jobs?
In our family we have an all-or-nothing approach.  Allowance is not paid unless all the jobs are done by Saturday at suppertime.  Extensions are granted if the child has been away for all of Saturday (birthday party or excursion).  In fact, since there is an automatic deposit into the child’s savings account, we actually impose an equivalent fine for not doing their jobs that week.  In the past two years I cannot remember having this problem.
Doesn’t paying your child to be helpful around the house create a sense of entitlement?
Not in my experience.  Since my children now earn a sizable allowance, along with their paper route earnings, they pay for almost all of their own clothing and save up for bigger items.  Entitlement is more likely to result when a parent is lax about enforcing chores and yet continues to be “moneybags” whenever the child wants the latest electronic device or “needs” a whole new wardrobe for back-to-school.
Have you found any disadvantages to this system?
Sometimes my children become discouraged at how much time it takes to save up for items they want when they see their peers do not have to do the same.

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