My Fair Lady

In the musical, My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner, a professor takes on a cockney flower girl as his protégé and gives her speech lessons until she can pass in public society as a lady. And indeed he succeeds. Yet in the end this young woman finds herself caught between two worlds: she no longer fits comfortably in the cockney world she came from (a world she can never fully return to for her speech has forever been altered), but neither does she feel at home in the posh world.

I’ve come to see myself in a similar way, as a “My Fair Lady” of sorts. I would rather be myself, authentic, instead of pretending to believe this or that just to fully fit in on one side or another. But it means sometimes journeying through no man’s land. I will be misunderstood. A lot.

It’s my experience that people don’t ask questions, they just write me off. If they hear I’m a feminist they assume I’m pro-choice, if they hear I’m an evangelical, they assume I’m anti-LGBTQ. You get the drift. But I wonder … how many times have I made similar incorrect assumptions about others? Continue reading My Fair Lady

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The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

Joy is contagious. But so is misery. If you sit with a miserable person, you quickly begin to feel the same way. You mirror them. So if God is mourning with us, he is truly going to be a fellow mourner. And mourning feels terrible. It doesn’t feel warm like joy: it is cold, lonely, raw, and painful. If God is mirroring the same dark emotions that we’re feeling (sitting with us in solidarity because he genuinely cares), then in our pain and loneliness, we are going to feel like God isn’t there—because we only associate God’s presence with the feel-good emotions of happiness, joy, and security.

So, let’s talk about the art of validation. Continue reading The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

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The Mind’s Eye

A virtual reality, a time machine, a teleporter. I’ve heard it said that each person’s mind is like the Tardis from Dr. Who – a time traveling ship, bigger on the inside than on the outside, its corridors infinite.

Whenever I read literature written in the 18th and 19th centuries, I think about how much understanding of geography and history had to be gleaned from drawings and books in those days, unless one had the privilege of traveling. Today we have the advantage of cinematography.

I can fly over and through a gorge with a bird’s-eyed view. I can go on YouTube and look at virtual reality photographs and videos of famous landmarks. It’s all so detailed and sophisticated. But I bet the imaginings of those writers a century or two ago were just as vivid without all of that. Here’s why:

I used to play Sierra’s “Space Quest” as a child and to see it now, I’m reminded just how pixelated it was, how blurry and lacking in detail, compared to the games now available to my children. But back when I was immersed in those games, all the pixelation and blurriness vanished as my mind superimposed perfectly clear scenery into the game. I can easily remember the game both ways – how it really looked and how I transformed it. Either way, it was the same story.

Sometimes this happens with people too, especially when memories span across decades. I can easily superimpose their previous figure over their current one. One minute I see my grandpa as he is today. Bent over with a walker, face drawn into permanent lines that give him a look of perpetual sadness, eyes that no longer recognize me; next he’s suddenly standing upright, shoulders back, thirty pounds heavier, white hair now gray with brown weaving through, a wide smile and eyes alight with recognition.

There’s this one driveway we pass by on the way to the family cottage and I always see him standing there on the grass next to a decorative boulder, wearing a caramel leather jacket, strong and self-sufficient. It’s like seeing a ghost, but it’s only a memory from nearly three decades ago, and besides, he’s still alive. But the weird thing is, though I was standing right next to him when I made that memory (we’d taken a walk together), half his height and staring up to see his face, I now see that memory from twenty feet away, as though I had been the same height and was looking at him from across the street.
Continue reading The Mind’s Eye

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Experiencing God’s presence through love

Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:

God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming.

It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.

It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.

Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)

This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.

Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.

In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.

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An Open Sesame

Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
(Hebrews 12:28b)

Anything from a ray of sunlight warming my knees as I sit on the sofa, to the cheep of a chickadee, to a hot cup of tea, a tasty treat, time with loved ones, a good story, the hush of a snowfall, the laughter of a child, a power nap, a shared smile . . . and even the less obvious: enjoying the clean floors after mopping, hanging fresh clothes in the closet, washing the pots and pans that made a meal, and neverending clutter (the evidence of a living family!).

The simple (yet profound) act of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for each and every gift has opened the door to a much deeper and more intimate relationship with God than I was able to have before. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise.” It really is an open-sesame to the presence of God.

I know though, when life is grim, giving thanks can feel next to impossible. Food tastes like gravel, material possessions seem meaningless, and sunshine taunts an overcast soul.

But it turns out giving thanks is a veritable life line.

Continue reading An Open Sesame

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Experiencing God’s presence through our senses

We live in a physical world of matter, so much so that naturalists believe this is all there is, that there couldn’t possibly be a supernatural realm as well. But what if the two are intertwined? God is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere: all at the same time. Have you ever pondered the infinity of the universe? The scientists say the universe is expanding – yet how is this possible? There is no “space” outside of space, so where does the room come from to expand into, so to speak?

Well, think about it this way: if the universe exists within the omnipresent God, who is infinitely big, the universe can expand forever and ever and never come up against a wall. It’s fascinating to think about. But what’s my point? My point is that if you want to experience the presence of God, why not consider the senses as a gateway of sorts?

The omnipresence of God could be why pagans throughout history have been so inclined to worship nature. They sense (feel) the presence of God in his created things, but don’t necessarily look any further. So they worship the flower rather than the One who made it. It was God who created all matter and space – even linear time (the universe had a beginning). As C.S. Lewis said, “He likes matter; he invented it.” Being made of matter is what enables us to have a physical existence in a physical universe. It is also what makes it possible for us to feel the presence of God.

To be close to someone physically, we need to be in their presence.

Think of the infant whose attachment to mom is entirely through the senses. We need to either see the person, hear them, touch them, kiss them, smell them, or feel their spirit, to maintain a connection. The ways to achieve this are obvious with people and animals, but it may not be quite as obvious with God. Or so one might think.

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Diary of a Former Hypochondriac

When I was eleven, I developed an anxiety disorder which manifested itself primarily as hypochondria; with depression as its cousin companion.

I was not, however, the stereotypical sort of hypochondriac child that one associates with verbally fretting over every ache and pain, scrape and bruise; analyzing each sniffle and cough; feeling for lumps; or sighing and fainting with weakness. No, I was nothing like Colin in The Secret Garden. At least, not on the face, that is.

I kept it all a big secret.

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Why pocket change is nothing to brag about

Col. Pickering: “Have you no morals, man?”

Alfred P. Doolittle: “Nah, can’t afford ’em. Neither could you, if you were as poor as me.”

~ My Fair Lady (Alan Jay Lerner)

It creeps up in political debates or when you read the comments after an article about the atrocities going on worldwide or that took place in history: The idea that we’re better people because we know better.

We look with disdain at drug addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, thievery, racism, religious extremism, and the shedding of innocent blood. We shake our heads, click our tongues, and mutter, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers.

It’s like we think we can take credit for what the Victorian’s called “good breeding.”

I have tried many a time over the years to imagine what type of person I would be if I was born in another country, family, regime, social class, or time period. I can imagine myself recreated a thousand times over, like the theory of parallel universes where in some worlds you’re better and in others much worse. But this can be overwhelming, so let’s start with something seemingly small. Consider your good manners:

Were you born saying please and thank you, putting others first, and observing the Golden Rule, or was social etiquette grilled into you by parents and teachers over the course of many years?

I can think of many examples from my own childhood in which my natural inclination was the wrong one, and someone had to correct me.

To share just one, my parents were looking after a mentally disabled man who needed 24/7 care and couldn’t speak beyond the odd mumble. One day he was trying to eat an ice cream cone and was making a mess, struggling to get it in his mouth. A mere child, I began snickering as I watched. Immediately filled with righteous indignation, my mother took me to another room and admonished me for my behavior. I was ashamed and sorry for what I had done. And from that time onward, my heart successfully softened, I was very careful how I treated people with special needs. Yet if my mother hadn’t reacted that way, if she’d ignored my behavior or even condoned it – what then?

Victorian writers spoke of “good breeding” and the genteel class. These were carefully groomed and primed men and women of noble birth, who spent their childhoods being tutored in academia, learning perfect etiquette, proper English, how to draw, play musical instruments, and how to dress fashionably. In contrast to them were the tradesmen and laborers, the common people; many of which were illiterate. Then, as it still is today, those born into the upper class had access to incredible privileges that could only be dreamed of by the lower.

In his treatise on manners, Jonathan Swift said:
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Is Everything Grey?

I once overheard the following:

There is no such thing as black and white, everything is grey.

Do you see the irony in this comment?

It’s a black and white statement. There is no elbow room, no negotiating, no degrees of grey, just one single shade of it: the unbending opinion that there are no moral absolutes. Clearly it is a self-contradicting statement, for if everything is grey, what of the statement itself? How could it be the unquestionable truth that all things are grey, if one thing is not? That is – the black and white belief that all things are grey.

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The Peach Comes With a Pit – how the curse is the cure for ingratitude

The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. (Psalm 89:11)

In my last post, Pt.3, Good Himself, I looked at mankind’s love of storytelling and heroes. The same theme is used again and again of a good man, a saviour, willing to sacrifice his very life in order to save the lives of others: Good must always triumph over evil.

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn

Should never crave the rose.”

~ Anne Brontë

What we refer to as the Curse, the Fall, might also be the cure. The cure for ingratitude.

Ever wondered what an ideal life would be like? An Edenic existence?

Would it be like a luxury vacation, drinks on hand; housekeeping fairies to make your bed and put fresh towels in the bathroom; gourmet chefs to prepare your meals, staff to wash the dishes. Would it be like Downton Abbey where you don’t even have to dress yourself?

If yes, then many people already enjoy this ideal life. But are they happy?

Substance abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, divorce, and suicide rates amongst the very rich suggest they are not. Furthermore, those housekeeping fairies are actually real people who have to work hard. Not everyone can live the life of Riley, because Riley requires a host of servants.

Adam and Eve, however, led the original Edenic life, and they did not have servants. Nevertheless, they were required to tend the garden. And anyone who has tended a garden knows this is grubby work involving soiled knees and dirt-caked hands. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

Were Adam and Eve thankful to have all their needs provided for, working for pleasure rather than sustenance? Were they content? It seems they were not. Why else the forbidden fruit? Why does anyone taste forbidden fruit unless they hope, deep down, that this is the final thing they need to be fulfilled?

Ann Voskamp, best-selling author of One Thousand Gifts, says the first sin stemmed from a spirit of ingratitude. C.S. Lewis said it came from pride, just as it did for Lucifer. But these are not contrary statements, since pride and ingratitude go hand in hand: when we have a sense of entitlement (pride), thinking we deserve better (discontentment), we become ungrateful.

So, what happened to Adam and Eve when they became prideful and ungrateful, setting themselves up to be gods, and ate the forbidden fruit?

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

1) Tending a garden before the earth was cursed must have been a very pleasant thing, despite the labor involved and the grimy hands. Climatic conditions meant a perfect amount of water and sun to keep things growing optimally. Indeed even today many people enjoying gardening and consider it therapeutic. But after the Fall, this burden to produce all our own food became back-breaking labor for many people; particularly in unfavorable conditions like heat and drought. It would seem all the joy was sucked out of it.

2) The very thing (dirt) that brings us life is the very thing that will one day absorb the life out of us too (death). The peach comes with a pit.

3) What we refer to as the Curse, the Fall, might also be the cure. The cure for ingratitude.

Why? Because everything was handed to Adam and Eve, hassle-free, on a platter, and they were not content.
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