Thursday, September 8, 2016

Zero To One: A New Wineskin

Preached at Melville United Church, August 28, 2016

Scripture: Luke 5:36-39

I was born in August of 1960.

The world was changing. The United States elected its first Catholic president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Smoking was linked to heart disease in middle-aged men. Xerox introduced the first commercial document reproduction machine. And despite their astronomical price of $219.95 for a 23-inch black and white television, there were over one hundred million sets in use world wide. The FDA approved “The Pill.”

In other ways, the year 1960 was much like the years and decades before it.

65 out of 100 children lived in a family with their biological, married parents, where mom stayed home and dad worked. Only one child in 350 lived with a single, never-married mother.

80 percent of Americans thought that people who wanted to be single were “sick” or “neurotic” or even “immoral.” Only 28 percent of the adult population was single—divorced, widowed or never-married. Gay men and lesbians were not only sick and neurotic and definitely immoral, but criminals as well, according to the laws of the time.

Almost everyone went to church on Sunday, and stores and entertainment venues were closed.

The FDA may have approved the pill, but it wasn’t legal or available to single women.

The average cost of a new house in 1960 was $12,700. A man in manufacturing in Canada could expect to earn $1.98 per hour. A salaried worker on average earned $116.41 per week. Given a forty-hour work week for that manufacturing worker, the average house cost just over three years’ worth of wages. A worker would earn the equivalent of about ten loaves of bread per hour, and it would take him over one hundred hours to earn the cost of that television set.

Back then, a moderately-priced computer cost about one million dollars and took up several rooms. Those are 1960 dollars, unadjusted for inflation by the way. Only government agencies, universities, and large corporations could afford a computer, and they rented out time on it to smaller entities by the hour, charging thousands of dollars a day.

It’s now 2016, of course, and the world has changed.

The average wage of someone working in manufacturing is now $21.06 per hour, according to Statistics Canada. Interestingly enough, if that worker buys the store brand of bread, he or she is still earning approximately ten loaves of bread per hour. Despite moaning and groaning to the contrary, food and wages seem to have kept pace with one another.

As for technology: that 23” black and white television has become a quite modest Insignia 32” 720 pixel High Definition LED Smart TV, only two hundred and nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents, on sale this week, only at Best Buy! Instead of over one hundred hours, it now takes the worker a little shy of ten hours to earn wages equivalent to the price of a decent television. And my Moto G cell phone, which I got for free when I signed up with Wind Mobile, has more computing power than that one million dollar gigantosaurus from 1960.

It’s not all good news, though. This week I looked up the average price of a house in Guelph. A modest house is now selling for about four hundred thousand dollars.

In wage terms, that’s about ten times a full-time manufacturing salary. But it’s obvious from the Stats Can data that a lot of workers are not working at full time permanent jobs, even in manufacturing. The average yearly salary is just over 30 thousand dollars, which is about 75% of a full time salary. Which makes a house worth more than thirteen times the yearly salary of a manufacturing worker.

In 2016, only 22 percent of children are living in homes with a mom and a dad where mom stays home and dad works. Another 22 percent live with single moms, and half of those moms have never been married.

Single adults are no longer seen as sick or immoral, and comprise about 44 percent of the adult population. It’s no longer illegal to be homosexual, and transgendered people are slowly making headway with respect to human rights.

Most people don’t go to church on Sunday. Stores and entertainment venues are open not only on Sunday, but sometimes 24/7. Even most banks are now open Saturdays.

Not that anyone uses a teller anymore. A worker is often paid electronically, pays the bills electronically, and pays for purchases electronically. In today’s world, you can be broke and get rich and go broke again, all without ever handling a single piece of cash money!

The world has changed. The reality that my children inhabit is vastly different from the one that I encountered as a young adult, and even more different from the one that many of you encountered when you were their age.

They meet their mates online, even if they’re old high-school friends. They play games online, get their news and weather and sports information online, they shop online and very often work online (and from home).

Most of our young women now attend college or university, and over 50 percent of university graduates are now women. A high school diploma is a necessity if you want to work at Linamar, or even get promoted to a junior management position at McDonald’s.

With student debt skyrocketing, and house prices soaring, fewer young people are able even to dream of owning their own home. Not that it’s always practical anyway—our society is much more mobile that it was, with the average person moving about every five years.

Everything seems to have changed…

Or has it?

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s in the United Church, I remember a little bit about the services. There was an opening call to worship, and some prayers, and three or four hymns, and two or three scripture readings, and a sermon, and the offering, and an anthem, and a prelude and a postlude. Sunday morning, ten-thirty to eleven-thirty, in the same building. Everyone sat in the same pew they sat in the Sunday before. Kids went off to Sunday School.

The hymns have changed, and we’ve changed the words to the prayers, and our theology has evolved. Most churches now don’t have the children go off to Sunday School right at the start of the service, but have them stay for a short while. We’ve added a children’s time.

But we still gather every Sunday morning, often in the same buildings we were meeting in then. We still have prayers, sing hymns, listen to the sermon, put money on the plate. And in most mainline churches, the people in the pews are the ones who were there ten and twenty and thirty and even forty or more years ago. We’re just older.

And we wonder why, with “all these changes,” our children and grandchildren aren’t coming to church. Where are all the young adults? We need them—to fill our pews and help us feel less alone, to bring their kids to our Sunday Schools, to put their money in the offering plate, to learn and perpetuate the values and traditions we hold so dear.

I was introduced a couple of weeks ago to the concept of “zero to one.” It’s a way of talking about innovation. Ordinary innovations are most often of the form “one to n,” which in commercial terms means it’s “new and improved.” We add features, or tweak existing features slightly in order to improve a current product.

Think of your basic kitchen stove. When I was a kid, our stove had four burners on top, and an oven on the bottom with two elements. If we wanted to broil, only the top element came on, and if we wanted to bake, they both came on.

Today's kitchen stoves are substantially the same, with a few tweaks. They’ve got digital clocks and timers so that dinner will start cooking when you want it to start cooking. You no longer have to guess whether or not the oven is up to temperature—the sensor beeps when it’s finished preheating. Some stoves have flat glass cooktops instead of those spiral electric burners most of us are used to.

That’s the “one to n” concept—adding to and improving a current product.

Zero to one happened for cooking with the advent of the microwave oven. The only thing my microwave has in common with my stove is a clock, a timer, and an electric plug. It uses the electricity to heat the food directly, instead of heating up the whole oven beforehand and cooking indirectly. As a result, it’s much faster.

It’s not a replacement for my stove. There are things my stove does well that my microwave doesn’t (like produce a luscious roast of beef or a wonderful peach pie), but there are things that my microwave does much better than my stove. For example, I can cook oatmeal, NOT the quick kind but the large flake, yummy kind in large batches in ten or more minutes on my stove, or I can put 1/3 of a cup of oats and 2/3 of a cup of water in a bowl and microwave it for three minutes, and it never burns.

In the church, we’ve been concentrating for nearly forty years on changing our services to hopefully bring in more young people. We’ve changed the music, we’ve changed the theology, we’ve experimented with different Sunday School curricula. What we haven’t done is changed the basic structure. We’re trying to appeal to millennials with a wineskin that appeals to their grandparents. And they’re mostly not buying it. The new wine, the spirit that is contained in our young people, is pouring out of and away from our old wineskins.

We need to ask ourselves why, in an era where the average working family is in debt up to their eyeballs and may never be able to afford a house, why are we asking those folks to contribute to the upkeep of buildings that are locked up most of the week? Why are we asking them to commit an hour or two of their precious spare time every single Sunday morning when many of them are working two or more jobs, often with irregular and unpredictable schedules?

Don’t get me wrong. We do need the church as it is. We need it because the fastest growing age group in Canada is the over-80 age group, and those who have tasted old wine prefer it to new, and are better fed by it. We need it because some of our young people have tasted the old wine and find they prefer it.

But I believe we need a new expression of church as well, one that can hold the new wine that is the spirit bubbling through our 20- and 30-year olds.

How will it look, this new wineskin?

I don’t know, but I have some ideas. With real estate currently priced at record high levels, and with it trending steeply upwards rather than down (I just read that in the first six months of 2016, the house prices in Guelph are up ten percent over last year), more church congregations will be landless. Many may not even meet physically more than three or four times a year. An active internet presence, with blogs, Facebook, Twitter and whatever comes next will be a big part of their ministry.

And I believe they will teach that personal spiritual practices, personal scripture reading, and personal reflection are more important than weekly bible studies and participation in church-run programs.

This last was brought home to me when I was reading an article about Willow Creek Church yesterday. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the mega-church to end all mega-churches, with eight different locations. It’s basically a denomination in its own right. The mega-church model is one that requires intense participation—in addition to the “celebration services” every Sunday, each member belongs to one or more small groups that meets weekly.

The leadership team of Willow Creek conducted a qualitative study, which means they were asking not about how many people were participating, but about whether the activities in which they were participating were helping them grow spiritually.

They found, to their surprise and dismay, that participating in lots of church-run programs did not predict whether someone was progressing spiritually, or whether they were becoming more of a disciple of Christ, or whether they loved God or people more.

Bill Hybels, Willow Creek’s founding pastor, summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn't happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

That’s actually really good news. I know a fair number of young people, and one thing that stands out to me about that generation is their passion for self-development, and having seen how computer technology has been used to transform education and gaming and shopping and banking and just about every other aspect of life, I can see how it might be used to help our young people develop as Christians.

When Jesus talked about new wine and new wineskins two thousand years ago, the Jewish culture was transitioning from temple to synagogue. Jesus preached on hillsides and plains, and asked no-one to sacrifice any animals. He did not follow all of the strict Jewish traditions around what one ate and when and where and with whom. He reached out to outcasts who would be turned away from even the most progressive synagogue. He was pouring new wine, one that was for everyone and not just a chosen people, and it needed a new wineskin. And so the Christian church was born.

A few hundred years later, Constantine wanted to unite an empire of disparate peoples, and he did that by embracing a faith that was for everyone, and not just a chosen few. The church transitioned once again, from being on the fringes of society to being the glue that held society together. The Roman Catholic church was born.

When the printing press was invented, and literacy rates in Europe soared, the church changed yet again to accommodate those who could and did read scripture for themselves. The Protestant Reformation was born.

And now, we find ourselves in the digital age, with a world that is beyond the imagination of the dreamers of the past. The church as we know it will transform yet again, but the faith of our ancestors, transmitted to us through the ages, is as alive and vibrant and new as ever. Amen.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poetry Jag!

I joined a writer's group in the fall, and every month we have a theme on which we all write. A couple of months ago, the assignment was to write a "For Sale" ad in 100 words or less. Mine came out as poetry. (Note that in the second example, the legal disclaimer wasn't part of the word count.) I wrote the poems days after the death of Prince, who is the "legend" referred to in the second poem.

Immortality Can Be Yours!

For Sale: Immortality
Don't believe me?
Tell me--
Do we remember Sun Tzu for his victories by the sword?
His battles are forgotten,
his sword turned to rust,
but The Art of War lives on,
read and studied still today.
Two thousand years and another half thousand,
and the name Sun Tzu lives on.
(Not that he actually wrote the book--
it is enough that he has been given credit.)
The pen is indeed the mightier.
For sale: Immortality.
Available at your local Dollarama--
a notebook and a pen.
Two dollars and fifty cents (plus tax).



Reflections on the Death of a Legend

For Sale: Fame and Fortune.
Ten million views on YouTube!
A hundred thousand followers on Twitter!
Many thousands of friends--
if only on Facebook.

Your Name In Lights!!!!

Two payment plans available:

Get it now:
ZERO DOWN!
(Balance payable in four installments:
Your self-respect,
your morals,
your soul,
your life.)

Or put it on layaway:
Small daily installments of blood, sweat, tears and toil required.
(With balance of
your soul
your life
payable upon delivery.)

CALL THE NUMBER ON YOUR SCREEN NOW! THIS OFFER IS TIME LIMITED AND MAY NOT BE REPEATED!

(Legal Disclaimer: Read the fine print before you buy. Side effects may include family and marital discord, alcohol and drug abuse, anorexia, plastic surgery, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions. This product is not recommended for pregnant and nursing women, children, people with children, or anyone who is already happy with life. Purchaser agrees to assume all responsibility and liability for any negative repercussions, listed or unlisted. Purchaser agrees to pay agent fifteen percent of all gross revenues earned while this contract is in force.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I Believe

The colours flow from the tube:
Cadmium Red
Ochre Yellow
Burnt Sienna
Cobalt Blue
The ever-so-descriptive Mars Black
The ubiquitous Titanium White.
Pure ribbons of paint
Mix
And become a rainbow.
Taken up by a brush and applied to canvas
A world emerges:
Green trees and brown fields and blue sky and puffy white clouds.
Sunset.
Moonrise.
If there is no such thing as magic,
Then what is this?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Things We Found in the Fire

Reading: Acts 2

My son David preached yesterday, and his sermon reminded the congregation that the images surrounding Pentecost of "tongues of flame" aren't always comfortable ones. In ordinary years, the average congregant might perhaps equate those flames with the warmth of a fire on the hearth, or in a wood stove. Perhaps we might think of roasting marshmallows over a campfire or a candle-lit dinner with a loved one.

Warmth, beauty, sustenance--these are the associations we might make with the fire and flames of Pentecost in an ordinary year.

But as David pointed out, this isn't an ordinary year. Fire still rages over vast areas of Northern Alberta, and the entire city of Fort McMurray has been evacuated. "Only" two lives lost (if one can describe anyone's death as "only two lives"), and those in a motor vehicle accident, not in the fire itself. But eighty thousand people are now homeless and unemployed, and many of those will never return home or work in Fort McMurray again. Parts of the city have been destroyed by fire, while much of the rest will likely sustain damage from the smoke and heat.

Tell the people of Fort McMurray or anyone whose home, business, school or place of worship has been consumed by fire that flames are warm, sustaining and nurturing! The truth is that those small, tame fires are merely seeds of something that can grow to be much bigger. Given the right encouragement, a campfire can consume a city.

Believe it or not, those raging, out-of-control fires are necessary. A forest fire is nature's way of clearing out dead growth and underbrush, and preparing a nutrient-rich seed bed for new life. Certain pine cones will only open to release the seeds within when heated to extreme temperatures. Numerous species of animals and birds, including deer and black bears, thrive in the aftermath of a forest fire. The death and destruction of the old brings about life for the new.

And so we come to a bunch of men and women, some hundred and twenty persons in all, hiding, meeting in small groups, comforting one another and grieving for the past, as those in transition are wont to do.

Then roaring through their gathering with the ferocity and violence of a Northern Alberta forest fire comes the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come.

If we had any knowledge of the true power of that invocation, many of us would never utter it again.

That roaring power immediately destroyed that tiny gathering of Messianic Jews. They began babbling in languages they'd never learned to speak. Onlookers accused them of being drunk--at nine o'clock in the morning! The tongues like fire raged, burning away their protective cocoon. They left the room where they were gathered and began to witness to the people of the city. They stopped speaking their own language, and told the story of the Risen Christ in tongues that their listeners understood.

And within days, one hundred and twenty Messianic Jews became over three thousand Christians. The raging fires of Pentecost had given birth to the Christian Church.

We sit in our pews today, and we have once again dwindled. Two thousand years of traditions and doctrine and being embraced by the political establishment have grown up around the pillars of our faith, sometimes choking them, and certainly smothering new ideas. We have become more afraid of losing our positions of influence with the governing bodies of our countries than we are of losing our evangelistic roots. Many of our churches today are insular, pursuing what they perceive as "their God-given mission," in isolation from other congregations of the faithful and from the world. The majority of congregations today aren't any bigger than that scared little group of first century Messianic Jews, and many of them are much smaller.

And so we huddle in our little congregations on Sunday mornings, speaking our own languages, preaching to the converted, and fearing the future.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come.

Burn away our fear and shame. Make us drunk with the possibility of new life. Blow away our cloak of respectability, and teach us to speak the languages of the masses outside our door.

Teach us to prophesy. Fill us with dreams. Boot us out of our sanctuaries and into the world. Impel us to act.

Prepare us as a seed bed to nurture new life.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

RIP Dad

It's finally over.

Two years ago (shortly before my son went berserk) my father slid all the way into dementia. He'd been showing signs for a few years, but sometime around Christmas he attacked my mother as she was sitting at the table. A couple of weeks later, he attacked my sister-in-law. My younger brother only found out because he'd phoned Mom to tell her that his son had been in a serious snowmobile accident (he recovered).

My brother called me, and we urged Mom to put Dad into a nursing home. Instead, she decided to ask for home care. The night before the home care assessment was to happen, Dad struck again, this time attacking my brother. They called 911, and Dad was taken to hospital. I'm told that once there, he got out of bed, wandered around a bit, then got back into bed.

He never walked again.

When I visited on the weekend, he was unable to speak coherently, and I wasn't certain he recognized me.

He was in the hospital for a few weeks, but once his condition stabilized, he was moved to the long-term care wing. At that point, his OHIP-subsidized stay ended. Unable to pay both a mortgage and my Dad's costs, Mom put the farm up for sale.

At this point, my brother and sister-in-law, who were both hoarders, both chain smokers, and both alcoholics, were living with my parents. Neither had worked in years, they lived out in the country, and it was winter. They were present for every single showing, and there were many at first.

Unsurprisingly, no offers on the place were forthcoming, despite its being over a hundred acres of bush in cottage country.

My brother and his wife did manage to get away on the long weekend in May, and I brought a friend up to the farm to clean. We did what we could, and by the end of the weekend the kitchen, front entrance, and bathroom were decluttered and cleaner, if not exactly clean. We put odor eaters in every room.

Then my brother and sister-in-law came home and immediately dumped their bags on the kitchen table, sat down in the living room, lit up and popped open beers.

Despite this, the next week garnered an offer, conditional on an acceptable home inspection.

A crack in the foundation was discovered.

Instead of purchasing the inspection report (it was offered for less than half of the cost of the inspection) and selling the place as-is, my mother elected to travel into major debt territory and call in a contractor to fix it.

My brother decided to stay and "help" the contractor, despite the fact that he'd lined up a place to live and a job in Welland, where his buddy lives. My brother still insists he saved my mother money, but I calculate her loss at thousands of dollars. He actually slowed down the contractor (he didn't follow through on jobs he'd been assigned), and I would not clean while he was in the house.

In order to encourage him to leave, and to save a little money, my mother cut off the satellite service. They watched DVDs instead. By this time, Mom had moved in with me, at least part-time, and we were making weekly three and a half hour trips (one way) to keep an eye on how things were going. My mother threatened in June to cut off the electricity, but before she needed to carry out that threat, the company hired to clean out the septic tank discovered major problems, and the water was shut off.

That forced them out, but by then it was the beginning of July, and the house was off the market. We'd missed the big wave of people wanting to buy in that area (by July, most of them had bought or were waiting until the following spring.) Cleaning began in earnest. I traveled up to the farm at least once every week with anyone who would come along to help. We emptied out the trash (seven dumpster loads), took about twenty car loads of stuff to the thrift store, and brought piles of stuff home. I filled up my basement, then a storage locker. We cleaned tar and ash and soot off of just about every surface. We cleaned mouse poop out of the pantry and every single cupboard. Then Mom decided that the kitchen needed to be redone.

Finances became critical. I was spending over a hundred dollars a week going up to the farm, and I had to take out a ten thousand dollar loan in my own name in order to keep the contractor working and the other wolves at bay.

Finally in October, with the house mostly cleared out and a new septic system and foundation, as well as the beginnings of a new kitchen, the house went back on the market. Being in vacation country, there were few showings during the fall and winter. And one of the showings resulted in one of the "prospective buyers" returning on his own, driving over the new septic bed with his pickup, and appropriating some of the tools my brother had left in an unlocked outbuilding.

The house did sell the following spring--Mom received two offers on the same day! The major debts were paid off, and we finally were able to sleep at night.

Meanwhile, Dad had been moved to a nursing home in Fergus, about half an hour from where I live. It wasn't great, but it was close enough for Mom and I to visit often. After about a year, Dad was offered a place in a better home only ten minutes away.

At first, Dad would often be awake when we visited. Sometimes he would recognize us, and sometimes he wouldn't. Once he even had a somewhat coherent conversation with Mom, but by winter of 2014 he'd stopped talking entirely. He did enjoy music therapy right up until the end, but he didn't respond to much else. Most of our visits in the final few months of his life were very short.

My brother and sister-in-law, surprisingly enough, are doing reasonably well. For the first time since they married, they have their own place, and my brother found a decent job which lasted for well over a year. He was recently laid off, but he's looking for work, as well as calling his former boss, hoping for a recall. They have friends and they do volunteer work. Life isn't perfect, but they are now adults and no longer anyone's responsibility but their own.

Dad died on Monday, February 15th, 2016 after a short illness. In the week preceding his death, my younger brother and his wife, my son and his husband, and my daughter all had a chance to visit and say goodbyes. His funeral was not large, but friends and family came from all over, including one of my childhood friends I hadn't seen in over thirty years, and a first cousin once removed who I'd never met, but who lives less than ten minutes away.

It's finally over, and new life begins for my mother, brothers, and me.

I'm glad.

I know Dad never wanted for this long drawn ordeal to happen. I'm sure he's glad too.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lessons from Olympic Hockey

I'll confess up front--I didn't actually watch any of the Olympic hockey games straight through. That being said, I do deliver the daily paper, and this being Canada, the fortunes of our teams have been front page news after every single game. It's very hard to miss, even if you live in a cave, which I don't.

The men's tournament has left me with some thoughts about life in general. The US and Canada, arch-rivals that they are, were both undefeated until they met each other in the semi-finals. However, the roads to the semi-finals seemed quite different from where I watched. The Canadian team, despite being one of the two favourites to win the gold, seemed to struggle. Their wins were not easy ones. The US team, the other favourite, won their games easily and went into the semi-final game with a confidence that the Canadians didn't have.

At least, that's how it felt here in Guelph. Before the semi-final game, those I talked to did not seem to feel that the outcome of the match was a foregone conclusion, and everyone agreed that Team Canada would have to tighten their collective laces if they wanted to advance to the finals. The US team, on the other hand, seemed to be brimming with confidence.

We all now know the outcome of the story, and our men came home with gold medals around their necks.

The US team, however, went on to lose their match with Finland for the bronze in spectacular style. It almost seems as if they gave up. Go for gold, or go home seemed to be the attitude.

Now, as I said, I'm not really "up" on all the news, and I don't know any of the players personally, so I don't have the inside track. I only know what it looks like from my little corner of Ontario. Nor am I trying to put down the US team or boast about Canada. I think, if Canada had lost the semi-finals and the US had won, that Finland still would have had more than a slim chance to take the bronze. The US and Canadian teams aren't really all that different, nor are our attitudes towards winning and losing.

What I really got from this tournament was the awareness that being really good at something, and having it easy (especially in the early rounds), is actually a disadvantage when the going gets rough, as it eventually most definitely will.

In my own case, I managed to make it through grade school, and high school, and undergraduate and even graduate school on the strength of my native intelligence and my ability to write well. Those were the preliminary rounds of life, and I aced them. Not one single assignment that I can remember submitting in all those years of school was anything more than a first draft. Very few of them took more than a day or so to write. Including a few twenty page tomes!

And now I'm out here in real life, and like so many others who did exceptionally well in school, I'm foundering, not because I can't work, but because I never learned HOW! I'm like the writerly version of the US team. I can write well, very well indeed. But when push comes to shove, I can't muster the effort to even go for the bronze, especially since I'm well aware that I have the talent to go for the gold.

So what have I learned from these last two weeks of hockey, skiing, hockey, skating, hockey... (You get the picture. Sometimes I think there's only one winter sport that matters to most Canadians...)

I need to lace up my skates, so to speak, and get my moves on. I'm 53 years old. I have stories to tell you, stories you will never read if I don't get to work and write them down, revise them, and PUBLISH them. I have to accept that maybe I won't win the gold. Maybe my stories won't win me the fame of J.K. Rowling or Tolkein or even Dan Brown. Maybe instead, I won't even win a medal.

But it's certain that I won't even be in the game if I don't start clicking the keys on my keyboard every day. It's certain that if I don't write and revise and publish, I won't even have a shot at the tournament, let alone a medal.

And I need to remember, as the US team does (and all of the members of all of the teams that didn't even make it past the preliminaries) that even making it to the Olympics (or to the level of being a published author) is so rare as to be an incredible acheivement on its own. Only one team, or one person, can be the top in anything. Almost all of the rest of humanity must be content with less than the gold. That doesn't make our efforts any less worthwhile.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

In the Silence Wisdom

This morning I read a blog post by a young woman who had facial reconstruction on Thursday. She writes:

"So, I had a lot of plans for my days off. I was going to finish writing my book, enjoy some comfy time on my couch with snacks and movies, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

REALITY CHECK.

Or, what I could really be doing, is nothing. NOTHING."

She goes on to say that, "But as I am learning more and more, I plan, God laughs. Maybe this is what I needed. Time for reflection. Time to be trapped in my head a little bit. Time, for once in my life, to focus on absolutely nothing but me, and just process. I can't say that I have ever in my entire life had time to focus on just me."

Her words resonated deeply, when less than an hour later, I was sitting in church singing "If you follow and love, you'll learn the mystery of what you were meant to do and be." (I Am the Light of the World, by Jim Strathdee)

And of course, a scripture verse came to mind, from 1 Kings 19:11-13:

[The Word of the LORD] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (KJV)

Her words resonated deeply because on Wednesday, I spent thirteen hours sitting in an emergency exam room, watching my youngest, who was zoned out on Atavan and codeine, as they tried to figure out why he had suddenly changed from a good-humoured but autistic young man into a raging demon who literally broke down walls (and other things). They did x-rays, and ultrasounds, and urine and blood tests, and...

Everything came back normal. The best we can figure out is that he MIGHT have an ear infection, which was what the emerg doctor said Monday morning. But the antibiotics hadn't made any noticable difference by Wednesday, which was why we ended up back in emerg. With a police escort, I might add.

At any rate, while he was lying zoned out on the bed, I had time to sit and think and read.

And to contemplate where I had been and where I was going to go. Those thirteen hours of being mostly alone in my head constituted a watershed moment for me.

First off, I finally came to accept in both head and heart that I would never, ever be able to take a job outside the home again. While this behaviour is definitely not normal, even normal events mean that someone (meaning Mom) has to be home. If the weather is bad and Robin can't go to work. If he's got a cold, or a dentist or doctor appointment. Even if he does go to work, I need to drive him there at nine, and pick him up at 3:30, and be on call in between those hours in case there's a problem.

My head knew this, of course, but my heart was saying, "But I've got these nifty degrees, and I'd love so much to work for a non-profit or a church or something. Maybe even just part time? Please?"

Reality? I've had trouble this week finding time to deliver my papers. And sleep. And do the dishes and the laundry.

So, in the silence, God was with me. "What are you doing here, Ruth?"

And out of the silence, a new seed was planted. Reading two recent books on how to make both a life and a living, and thinking about my real mission in life. About why I am where I am. About what I am doing here.

I am, of course, here to help myself, my family, and my brothers and sisters around the world to live a better life. I have particular skills that I have developed over the years, and some innate talents and passions that have always been there.

I can write about these, and help others develop them. I can speak, and preach, and do other things.

Partway through, I realized that I have family members who might be willing co-conspiritors, most notably my sort-of ex-husband ("sort-of" because we're separated, but not divorced, and we work together to raise our family and keep things running smoothly). Sitting in emergency gave us time to talk about that, too.

He read the first little bit of the book (Be a Free Range Human, by Marianne Cantwell) while I was at lunch, and remarked when I got back that he now had a clearer idea of where I was trying to go. We talked about some ideas I'd had, and even though he has no plans to quit his job (he loves it, even if he does complain about it daily), he's on board to help out as he can and encourage.

Out of the silence wisdom, and a fledgling idea that just maybe will lead to a better life for myself and others.

And a lot of work. I have no doubt about that, but I'm up to it.

I just need to remember to take time every once in a while to listen in silence, to hear God speaking, so that the path and the purpose will remain clear.