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Saturday, 31 May 2014

29 years ago today: Tornadoes

   I clearly remember the day a string of 13 tornadoes touched down in Central Ontario, Canada on May 31, 1985.  Some of the cities and towns affected were Barrie, Holland Marsh, Tottenham, Grand Valley and Orangeville through property damage, loss of life and injuries [1].
   My family has a strong recollection of that day due to an interruption of plans my parents had.  My parents' farm was about a twenty minute drive from Barrie, but it was not a common destination for shopping. However, on the afternoon of May 31 it was determined that they would take my uncle, who was visiting from the Netherlands, to that city to pick up a thing or two. Just minutes before they were going to leave, a red pick up truck edged with rust came up the driveway. One of my dad's friends from church was stopping in for a visit.  My parents are known for their hospitality and did not mention their plans to go away.  They just set those plans aside and had a conversation over a cup of coffee and cookies. There was nothing particularly memorable about what they discussed.
   By the time their visit was over, it was too late to drive to Barrie, plus the weather had turned foul. Thunder and lightning accompanied a downpour, and the power was knocked out.  Eventually, we became aware of the big tornado that hit Barrie at the approximate time and location where my parents would have been if their plans had gone ahead.
   Sometimes that annoying phone call when you are about to go out the door or the longer-than-usual wait at a stop light just might be meant to keep you safe from a danger you may never have considered.

[1]http://canadatornado.com/ontario/history/ will give some more details, under the year 1985, if you are interested.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Prayer for Abducted School Girls

How disheartening for the fathers, mothers and siblings of the girls abducted from their school in Borno State, Nigeria last month.  While the authorities may know where they are being held, they are powerless to rescue them.  Dealing with a terrorist group like Boko Haram is incredibly difficult. Like a starfish, when one part is cut off, it seems to grow back.  I invite you to use this prayer as you feel led to plead with God for justice.

Lord of the universe, God who has created each person on every continent in your image, I come to you asking for your mercy for the girls who were stolen from their homes.  For many days and nights they have lived in fear of what their captors will do.  They have been torn from their families and community. All of their security has been taken away.  But in the quietness of their hearts give them courage and strength to go on. Give them hope that You have not abandoned them.  Please, Lord, intervene on behalf of the powerless. Please allow them to escape or be rescued.  Allow Your justice to prevail.

Soften the hearts of the guards and militants who are keeping these girls.  Reawaken their consciences. Reawaken their humanity.  Allow them to see these girls as sisters and daughters rather than as means to selfish ends.  Thwart the evil intents of this group and all terrorist groups.  As at Babel, when men placed their own authority above the true God, confuse their languages and confuse their communication systems. Let each individual member of Boko Haram have his eyes open to the devastation he is causing and let him repent of it.

In Jesus' name, Amen

Monday, 26 May 2014

Quest for Integrity

   All around us we can see the need for integrity.  Those in positions of power need to wield that power with honour and respect, but the examples of true service are lacking.  When a person's actions do not match up to what they say they stand for, we have difficulty trusting them.  If we are honest, we see this plague on human nature in ourselves as well.  As much as we try to live and act upon what we know is right, we are easily distracted and need second chances, third chances and beyond.
   Since January I have been attempting to read the gospel of John in way that will make it stick.  My plan was to read the same chapter every day in different versions of the Bible for at least seven days and to write down any insights that came to me in a journal.  This week I started John 18, so I am staying on track, but there are days that get skipped.  Why is that?  Some days I blame the computer.  Yesterday, my quiet time got pushed to 9:00 at night.  I could not blame the computer because it was not turned on all day.  The problem is not out there.  It's in here--a distracted heart.
   Earlier this month while I was reading John 16: 29-30 (NIV), I was struck by something related.  Here is says a couple of hours before Jesus will be arrested:

Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.  Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God."

   Jesus is pleased that they "believe at last!", but he warns them that when he is arrested they will all run away.  Why does their epiphany not seem to help them when things get tough for their Master?  A few answers I came up with include:
  • They do not yet have the Holy Spirit, who will be poured out only after Jesus' resurrection and return to heaven.  Without the Holy Spirit they do not have the boldness that will later characterize them as they testify to the Lord and willingly face a martyr's death.
  • Their epiphany is just intellectual at this point.  People say, "Ideas have legs."  However, this is newly found knowledge that is still in the tadpole stage.  It will takes some time for their belief to translate into action.
  • It is through deliberate disciplines of our faith that enables us to translate what we know and believe into actions that set the course of our lives.  These disciplines have not been enacted in their lives as yet.
  • Although Jesus had been predicting his death, the disciples did not seem to grasp what that would entail for themselves.  Possibly, they allowed their minds to deny such an unpleasant  future.  Thus, when the arrest came, it shocked them and fear took over.
   Then I reflected that the same question can be asked of anyone who says, "I believe in Jesus."  If we really believe this, why do hold onto selfish ways?  If we know the benefits of reading the Bible and spending time talking to God in prayer, why do we leave it until last thing on our list or skip it entirely?  When I look at the list above that helps explain the disciples' lack of integrity at the moment of Jesus' arrest, I know for myself that the biggest factor is lack of discipline.  Every morning, I need to be deliberate about how I will live for the Lord and be rooted in His plans for me.  That kind of surrender will have legs.  Yes, I'll still trip and slip at times, but when I kneel to ask for forgiveness and get back up, I will be further along in living with integrity and faithfulness to the One who gave his life for me.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Lessons in Character from the Snowy Owl

   On a bit of a whim, I picked up a PBS documentary from my local library last weekend entitled Magic of the Snowy Owl (2012).  The film crew captured footage of one pair of snowy owls during the 82 day period from nesting/hatching to the time the owlets could take flight.  These impressive birds demonstrated a few striking qualities that we humans could learn from.  To avoid being preachy, I'll let my readers make the personal connections for themselves.

Loyalty & Teamwork

   Amid a hostile environment, the snowy owls recognize that they need each other to survive.  The mother and father are equally involved in the nurture of their young.  A total of five owlets hatched from eggs, about one every couple of days.  However, the youngest owlet, being weakest, did not get its fair share of the food in those early days when lemmings and small songbirds were not plentiful.  Eventually this owlet grew weaker and weaker, but its mother seemed to recognize its struggle and tenderly placed it under her wing. Abandoning the weak may fit Darwin's "survival of the fittest" model, but the film crew observed something quite different.  


   Two significant examples of persistence among the snowy owl clan stood out to me.  One was the father, whose instinctive task is to provide food for his mate and the owlets.  At first, he had difficulty finding enough prey to feed the brood.  However, the film crew observed that he continued his search, even though it took him an extra mile away from the nest.  His perseverance ended up paying off with many lemmings occupying the new hunting ground; later on the male is pictured holding a dead lemming in its beak with no takers.
   For some reason the mother owl begins leading the owls on a trek towards to the coast.  This is the direction where the male has found good hunting.  The naturalists also speculate that the coastal breezes are also favoured because they ward off the plague of mosquitoes.  As the awkward and flightless owlets trudge through the flat and grassy landscape, they come upon a river that blocks their path.  They cannot fly over it or wade through it.  But they do not give up.  These young owls flap their wings in the water and maneuver themselves to the other side.  This had never been documented or filmed before!

Acceptance of Life Stage

   The young owls learn to fly at the end of the Arctic summer.  They will not winter in the Arctic even though their parents will.  There is no shame for these novices to fly further south, where conditions are more favourable to their survival.  Whenever a snowy owl is spotted during a Southern Canada or the Northern U.S. winter, in all likelihood it is a juvenile owl beginning to master hunting and other skills that will enable it to eventually winter in the tundra.

Monday, 19 May 2014

A Few more Favourite (mostly Hand-made) Things

This mirror-frame is one of a few pieces hand carved by my paternal grandfather when he was a young adult. He picked up this hobby when he had to keep vigil overnight at the bedside of an ailing family member.  The detail is incredible and all the more precious because, despite encouragement, he never did any other carving in his later adulthood.  This particular piece was disgraced by one of my aunts, who painted it forest green in the 1970's.  Prior to my marriage, my mother spent many secret hours removing the paint in order to present it to my husband and me as a posthumous wedding gift from my grandfather.

This crocheted cotton-lace curtain in my kitchen window carries the memory of my maternal grandmother who made it many decades ago.  A little bit of Dutch heritage that catches the rising sun each morning.

This wrought iron courting candle was fashioned by my uncle, who has had his own custom welding business.  The idea of a courting candle was that the father would adjust the candle height depending on the approval rating of the boyfriend who had come over to spend time with his daughter.  Once the flame reached the metal, the "date" was over. At my aunt's encouragement this candle holder was one of the first decorative pieces my uncle made, and I continue to be its grateful recipient.

This traditional clay roof tile from a rustic house in the Netherlands somehow made it to Canada.  I took one look at it and said I reminded me of the tablets of the 10 Commandments.  My sister wrote them with calligraphy and made the paper look old.  These are words we live by at my house.

Related post:
A Few of my favourite things (from a year ago)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Clerical Errors, Part 2

   Today's stories refer to another use of the adjective clerical.   Not only office workers are clerical staff; so are pastors and preachers.  At one time the only literate citizens of Europe were the clergy, so the word clerk continues to cover both functions.
   All humans are prone to errors, so church leaders are no exception.  However, their actions and their failings have a significant impact on many people.  Since they serve uniquely as representatives of deity, their errors can easily damage the faith of those they are serving.  The reverend who sprinkled the water of baptism on my head when I was an infant was deposed from his position a few years later due to alcoholism and marital infidelity.  I was unaware of these happenings as a young child, but I do know that the congregation continues to bear the scars of these errors.  Did this pastor's faults render my baptism null and void?  No, because God is the true actor in baptism.  He is the one who reaches down to claim his children, young and old.  He never fails, though his human servants mess up again and again.  My father, in particular, never spoke ill of that pastor.  While acknowledging that this man's mistakes harmed himself as well as a church full of people, my dad also remembered his gift of pastoral care during times of hospitalization.
   During my husband's growing up years a particular pastor's brinkmanship rocked a congregation and resulted in a church split.  [He proposed a vote whether to leave or stay with a particular denomination and promised to abide by the results.  However, when the majority favoured the status quo, he essentially said, "I'm leaving. Who will join me?"] Half of my husband's relatives began to attend the more conservative church that split off, while my husband's parents and some aunts and uncles remained with the original church.  The crazy part was that these family members each believed fundamentally the same thing, yet some of them refused to speak to each other for months.  About ten years later, the preaching of a new pastor led to another wave of dissent such that the more conservative church gained new members.
   It dawned on me after my husband and I were married that these two waves of church dissent, aided and abetted by pastors on different ends of the spectrum, were one of the reasons we ever met in the first place. You see, my first teaching job was at a brand new school started by the more conservative church.  This church was not interested in starting a school until the second wave of members joined because, in part, it gave them the critical mass to do so.  If this school had not been established in 1994, I probably would have taken a job in the Niagara Region and never set foot in the town where my husband was firmly rooted.
   There are so many complex factors in the background of whatever we experience.  When we peel it back, we can be amazed at how God's plans move forward despite errors among the clergy.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Clerical Errors, Part 1

Freerange stock photo
 A clerical error is one made by an office worker, which comes from an older word for this occupation, a "clerk."  The clerk in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (circa 1400) is a literate and literary person because to do this job one needed to be able to read and write, an ability not widely possessed in Medieval Europe.
   Because even literate people are prone to mistakes, clerical errors through record keeping and lack thereof abound.  Usually errors have negative results, but could a clerical error ever be providential?

Corrie ten Boom

   Consider the Dutch resistance worker, Corrie Ten Boom, who hid Jews in her home during World War II. She and her family were arrested in the late winter of 1944 for their anti-Nazi activities; Corrie, her sister Betsie and their father were eventually sent to a Concentration Camp known as Ravensbruck.  There they faced many trials, ranging from hunger and fleas to harsh labour and the deaths of Mr. ten Boom and Betsie. However, at the very end of that gruelling year, Corrie was suddenly discharged from Ravensbruck.  She discovered, after the war's end in 1945, that it was a clerical error that allowed her to be set free from this inhumane prison camp.  One week after her mysterious release, all the female prisoners in Corrie's age demographic were executed.  [Read more in the book The Hiding Place, 1971.]
   After a time of healing, Corrie was raised up to testify of God's presence amid the horrors she experienced and of the power and necessity of forgiveness in order to move on from war.  She took this message around the world and helped establish homes for the emotional rehabilitation of trauma victims.

Mike Anderson

   A more recent example of a clerical error involves a Missouri man, Mike Anderson.  While out on bail for an armed robbery he committed in 1999, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.  However, due to a clerical error, the authorities never picked him up to serve his time.  Meanwhile Mike used his freedom to start a business, raise a family, coach sports and become involved in his local church.  Last summer, paperwork came before the state telling them Mike's sentence was finished.  Only then did they realize he had never been incarcerated in the first place.  As a result, eight marshals came to his home to arrest him and placed him in prison, presumably for 13 years.  However, the situation received a great deal of attention with petitions and an appeal asking that Mike's case be re-examined.  Earlier this month, a judge looked over the evidence of Mike Anderson's life and set him free after just ten months in jail. [For more on this story, click on this link:  USA Today version. ]
   Mr. Anderson seized the opportunity of freedom by learning from his error and building a solid life to benefit his community.  The ten months in prison that he nevertheless had to serve became a path to even fuller freedom, by no longer having to look over his shoulder, along with gratitude to the mercy of both God and the state authorities.

Response to Skeptics

   I realized that these two examples are not enough to convince anyone that God can use human errors to serve his greater purposes.  The skeptic may point to the fact that Corrie's sister and father perished, not to mention the numerous victims of Ravensbruck's gas chambers.  Why were they not recipients of freedom? As well, critics may point to all those imprisoned unjustly around the world.  What about them?  When I share stories of God's providence, I am always rooted in the understanding of God's sovereignty.  He has purposes that we cannot fully understand.  Sure, we may wish to cross-examine God and ask him why injustices take place even as the Old Testament saint Job longed: 
   "I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.  I would find out what he would   answer me, and consider what he would say" (Job 23: 4-5)
   Despite our perplexity, God had/has a particular purpose for the lives of the individuals named above.  In order for them to testify of His goodness and His power, he used clerical errors to put them in the right place at the right time.  If you look at your own life through eyes of faith, you may find your own examples.

Friday, 9 May 2014

How "Inscription of Hope" Comes Alive

   As a student I once participated in a non-competitive choir festival with other Christian high schools.  Each school was asked to learn a certain common repertoire so that all the choirs could come together and spend a day with a gifted guest conductor to become a mass choir.  An audience of parents, school supporters and interested others were then treated to an evening performance with 300 or more students singing, in addition to individual choirs singing two additional pieces on their own.
   I had not thought much about that event, over twenty-five years ago, until this year.  That's because last week this 38th annual choir festival came to my son's high school.  A few things have changed.  Two guest conductors shared the duties as the mass choir performed six joint pieces.  The enthusiasm and calibre of the singers, however, has not changed.  One of these pieces especially touched me, "Inscription of Hope," composed by Z. Randall Stroope.  

   The composer asks that the following be read aloud before each performance of this song:
   "The Holocaust is a stunning reminder of the tragic results of prejudice and hate toward other people. But it is also a reminder that hope held firm will eventually reign victorious over the greatest of odds. The following words were inscribed on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Hope was all they had to hold on to; hope was their only bridge to a brighter tomorrow." 

The first stanza the choir sang is as follows: 
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
and I believe in love
even when there's no one there
and I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Three Images of Hope

   I'd like to revisit my theme for the year, hope, with a couple more posts.  Hope is hard to describe, but the following quotations give us helpful images from everyday life that we can relate to.  When we picture these things, we see more clearly how hope sustains and strengthens us.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), a poet whose volume of writing remained hidden until after her death, said:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops--at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale--is heard
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I've heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of Me.

Dickinson sees endurance and selflessness embodied in hope.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave a sermon on November 13, 1859 concerning suffering that included these significant words:

    "And dost thou no know that Hope itself is like a star--not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity."

The anonymous author of the Biblical letter to the Hebrews gives perhaps the most common image of hope--an anchor--while discoursing on the certainty of God's promise:

   "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:19a, NIV)
from http://thegraphicsfairy.com/ 


Friday, 2 May 2014

Memories of Primavera

   Primavera is the word for spring used in countries whose languages originated from Latin.  In prima we hear the word "first", while vera refers to the opening up of flower buds.  The first flowers opening is just one sign of spring.  I'd like to share two memories of spring from my rural roots.
   When I was in seventh or eighth grade I would try to wake up early at this time of year (late April, early May) and go outside before eating breakfast.  I would head to the long barns housing the minks my dad raised, walk up and down the aisles and listen.  What was I listening for?  The sound of "peep, peep" that told me babies had been born in one more nest box. Each cage that housed a pregnant female had a stiff paper identification tag on it.  At the sign that the mother had given birth, these tags were moved to the top of the nest box, like a flag raised in triumph.  Before breakfast and before going to school, I wanted to be the one who discovered which females had given birth overnight.  After supper, I also loved the ritual of going around with my dad and recording in our notebook how many litters had come in that day, and how the herd was progressing in this "whelping season."  As the month of May progressed, the barns were filled with a unique spring chorus.
Day-old mink kits--blind and virtually hairless but able to say, "peep, peep"
   During another part of my life, when I lived on the site of a greenhouse operation, another spring memory involved a particular smell.  A fraction of the rose bushes in the greenhouse operation were pulled out each spring and replaced with new plants.  But prior to planting the new ones, the soil had to be steamed.  In this way it would be free of weed seeds and germs that might threaten the new growth.  The smell inside the greenhouse when the soil was being steamed is hard to describe, but my husband used to call it "cooked dirt."  If you literally baked a mud pie in your home oven, you might be able to relate to that smell.  Soon after planting the red shoots would quickly emerge.  I would take my toddlers out to watch the progress of the new plants, as the goal was to be able to harvest long stemmed roses by Mother's Day.

   Sometimes I miss these rural moments that defined my spring in days gone by.  My children are farther removed from the realities of the creatures that give birth in spring time and the farmer's field going from barren brown to lush green.  That's why making time for a walk in the woods, a trip to a family farm and taking the scenic route is so important to all of us.